Foggy Kea

27 Dec

“The fog is always present and never disappears,” explained Amphion to the governor of Kea Island.” “It is insidious and has a life of its own.”

The two of them peered out through the transparent silex window on the tenth floor of the government building, the tallest structure of the harbor city. Below them lay the motionless wall of misty precipitation, the famous fog that held the isle prisoner, a hostage to itself.

Governor Sarkis did not know that his walrus moustache, black and bushy, twitched as he spoke.

“Every year it grows thicker and higher,” he grumbled. “No one knows what to do about the problem. It is destroying the sea commerce of Kea City. Ships do not dare dock here in this eternal fog.”

“Don’t they have laser visibility?” retorted the atmosphere expert.

The Governor frowned. “Greek captains and pilots trust only their own eyes. They must see clearly where they are going. No one will risk a pea soup fog such as the one we have on Kea.”

Amphion grinned sadly. “This is a chicken soup up in the air, with a lot of egg and lemon mixed into it.”

The Governor stared at the economic menace floating below them.

“Take yourself a couple of weeks to look around and study what causes this horrible condition we suffer from,” he slowly muttered. “I would like to receive a report from you about what you think can be done to clean up our air. The people of the island are becoming aroused about it. And the import-export merchants are frenetic.”

The two looked down at the perpetual gray mass that never moved or vanished.

Governor Sarkis invited the meteorological scientist to dinner at his hilltop penthouse, high above the fog level, several weeks later.

Only the rich and powerful escape the opaque gas of the lower elevations, Amphion said to himself, climbing one of the stairway paths leading upward to the summit above Kea City. The arched eaves and roofs of houses towered into a cerulean sky unlike anything down below it. But wisps of the fog crept even up these tunneling walkways meant for pedestrians. A few people groped along, their vision limited to a tiny area ahead of them. A few mercury lamps gave a minimum of diffused illumination to the strollers out that evening for exercise. Everyone seemed to be stumbling, slowly climbing up or down the poorly paved path.

Amphion sensed a feeling of defeat in every person he came across, as he had each day since arriving on Kea Island. What can I possibly do to life this horrible shroud of fog from these unhappy inhabitants? he wondered.

The home of the Governor was a large, luxurious mansion on the peak of the tall hill. A uniformed servant opened the enormous mahogany door and led the guest into a shiny, glittering reception hall full of plenty of expensive, impressive furnishings. Amphion had never expected to see such a mountain of finery on this fog-drenched isle. This was an exclusive, exceptional location, the visitor realized immediately.

As the atmospheric specialist stood there admiring the magnificent setting, a spectacularly beautiful brunette in a blue and white cellulose gown appeared from a side doorway him.

“You must be Amphion!” she said with a pleasant smile on her radiant face, extending her hand to him. “I am Urania Sarkis.”

He took her hand and lightly shook it, thinking what a gem the Governor must have for a daughter.

But then this Urania instantly pricked his bubble of illusion.

“My husband will be here shortly,” she informed him. “He called by wireline from his office in the city and said that we should start without him. There is some kind of emergency going on down below that he has to attend to.”

That will be just fine! mused the handsome young scientists to himself

“Follow me, please,” she softly murmured to the house guest from the faraway continent that she had never been too, just like most Keanites.

Urania led him into an ornate formal dining room that seemed to gleam with polished silver. There were places set for four, Amphion could see.

“You are to take the chair to my husband’s right,” she said, pointing to the location she meant.

“There will be another dinner guest this evening?”

“Yes, my father. He is deeply interested in the study you are engaged in. You see, my father is the head of the Kea Minerals Company.”

“I see,” said Amphion as if a light had gone on inside his brain. Yes, indeed. Money and power will break bread together everywhere in this Hellenic galaxy. Urania is both the daughter and the wife of important men on his foggy island.

A distant bell rang, interrupting his thoughts about the forces that met in the beautiful young woman providing him company.

“Excuse me,” she smiled. “Either my father or my husband has arrived. I must go and see who it might be.”

Amphion watched her leave the dining room with confident steps. What a woman! he repeated to himself. Though out of sight, her features remained as if impressed and imprinted in his memory. He recalled what he had seen: the almond eyes, the juicy lips, olive skin, hair of pure jet. And she was married to a man as old as the Governor!

As he pondered the tragic waste of youthful beauty, Amphion was brought back by the return of Urania with an elderly bald man who was as short as she was.

“This is my father, Petros Kotas,” announced the woman of the house.

The richest magnate on Kea was only a wisp, as thin and light as a skeleton. A brisk meltani wind on the continent would have toppled him to the ground, realized Amphion. The short man’s limp, small body seemed to shake unsteadily.

The owner of Kea Minerals grimaced like a lizard of some sort.

“I understand you will attempt to solve our fog problem, young man,” he mumbled from deep in his throat. “It will be a miracle if you succeed, that’s for sure.”

Was the old man trying to be humorous? considered Amphion. But there appeared to be a hint of warning in the words of the billionaire, the scientist sensed.

“I will give it my best, sir. That is all I can promise anyone.”

Petros Kotas grinned eerily. “You must have a look at my underground tunnels,” his voice rasped.

At that moment, the entrance bell rang. The Governor had arrived home.

The mining magnate ate little, muttering with bitterness between infrequent bites of the lamb stew, bluish rice, sautéed mushrooms, and sour pomegranate sauce.

“The first pioneers who traveled here through space terraformed and redeveloped the surface of our island, but the underground region is the same as it was before any Greeks came.”

“That was the plan drawn up before the earliest settlement,” said the Governor. “The objective was to create an Aegean type environment for the new inhabitants. Remember, our ancestors immigrated here over two millennia ago. The Greeks who came from Matera Earth wanted to feel at home on the planet Micronia. They wanted to carry on their old, familiar occupations the same way they did back in the homeland. So, this planet of sea and islands was chosen and this specific isle was given to a population from the Cyclades archipelago in the old world back there.

“The mountains and rolling hills were planned to be suitable for sheep, goats, and donkeys. They were terraced to hold our vineyards and gardens. From Matera Earth, the first settlers brought the olive, lemon, fig, date, and orange. Our bay and harbor were engineered to furnish us an excellent port. The waters around Kea were stocked with Aegean fish, octopus, and sponge for us to exploit.

“Everything possible was done to recreate the old, familiar life. Even the palm and eucalyptus were planted along our sandy beaches to make everyone feel at home.”

As the Governor paused for breath, Amphion decided to contribute a thought.

“But there was one important factor left out of the planning calculations,” he declared. “I have gone back over the archival records. No one seems to have considered that there would be a meltemi trade wind. This blows constantly from the sea with unflagging strength. It originates in the icy snowlands at both polar caps. At times it comes from the north, at other seasons from the south. It helps to create the permanent fog that afflicts the island of Kea.”

Governor Sarkis suddenly grew excited. “How is that possible?” he demanded with unexpected emotion. “Can the wind accomplish such an outcome?”

“The meltemi cools the sea and the air around Kea to such a degree that the heat from the city’s activity and energy use results in a continuous air inversion. The unforeseen, clearly unforeseeable fog is the product of the inhabitants of your city and their use of fuels.”

All of a sudden, Petros Kotas began to noisily grumble. “None of my mines has ever disturbed the surface topography of Kea. The hills and mountains are the way they were originally designed. Even the trees of our forests are the results of transplantations from the old world of our ancestors.”

“Hasn’t that been costly?” inquired Amphion.

Kotas glared at him with anger. “It is extremely expensive, but the law of Kea makes it absolutely necessary. I have no complaints on that score, though the final cost is a high one. My company has extracted and exported copper, tin, aluminum, chromium, titanium, and scores of other metals and minerals that were inside this planet before the coming of the Greeks. But I have always been willing to pay much of the price for preserving the forests and flora that was brought by our first generation of Keanites.”

Urania now decided to ask Amphion the question in everyone else’s mind.

“How can our air be cleared of its perpetual fog, Dr. Amphion?”

The scientist turned his head and grinned sweetly at her.

“I have been searching for some force or factor that can scrub the atmosphere clean,” he slowly revealed. “Some small progress has been made, but how it could be accomplished I still do not know for certain.”

“How will you find out what the answer is, then?” persisted Urania.

“Much testing and experimentation,” he answered. “An endless series of both.”

The rest of the dinner proceeded to an end in silence.

Test followed test. Experiments mounted to over a hundred. Amphion despaired of success as the weeks and months passed.

One morning he had a surprise visit to his lab office from Urania Sarkis.

“Amphion!” she called out with a laugh. “My father asked me to invite you to see his newest, most advanced mine. He thinks it is time you have a look at how things are done down below.”

“That sounds interesting to me,” replied the scientists, seeing how it would take him away from his stubborn, seemingly impossible mission on Kea.

“Can you ride a horse?” she asked.

“Why?”

“That is how we are going to be transported,” she grinned. “Unless you should prefer a mule or a donkey.”

“I’ll try the horse,” he told her with a grimace. “Does everyone on the island travel into the uplands on an animal, Urania?”

“It’s that or walk,” she slyly chuckled. “Our laws on Kea make anything mechanical illegal over the hills or mountains for private individuals.”

“How does your father get to all his mines, then?” wondered Amphion aloud.

“By private gyroplane,” she answered, still grinning. “But all the ores must be carried down to Kea City for export by animal caravan.”

“Well,” jokingly said the atmosphere expert. “You and I shall have to settle on using horses, won’t we?”

The narrow path up to the mine entrance was steep and winding.

As the two tied their riding horses to posts, Petros Kostas came out of a low, cottage-like stucco building.

After exchanging greetings all around, the three walked to an electric elevator tube.

“All our work underground is totally mechanized,” explained the billionaire. “Human beings simply observe, make tests, and direct the excavating augers and the moving conveyers.”

Once they boarded the elevator cab, their descent was swift and smooth.

Walls of black rock sped past their eyes.

The elevator cab came to an abrupt halt.

“We will now take a shaft car,” announced the magnate.

He led the way to a small carrier that barely held the three of them. A miner in protective glass clothing approached and handed them metallic helmets to put on. The passengers then boarded the small car which began to move forward along a shaft.

Amphion watched through a silex window as stone and rock passed quickly by. The movement was no longer vertical, but horizontal.

All at once, the dark brown walls of the shaft turned an ebony black.

Petros Kotas touched a braking button and the carrier came to a stop.

“Can you imagine what it is we have discovered down here, my friend?” asked the wealthy owner of the mine.

“It’s solidly black and looks hard,” groped Amphion. “I don’t believe that I’ve ever seen anything so dark. It is something unusual, almost eerie. But I can tell that it isn’t coal.”

Kotas lowered his voice. “Have you ever heard of obsidian?”

“Of course,” replied the scientist. “It existed on Matera Earth, I have read. Once a long time ago I saw a sample of it in a natural museum.”

“This is the first discovery of that substance here on Kea, or anywhere else in the Cyclades planets. Do you have any idea what it indicates?”

“I am not a professional geologist,” said Amphion. “My knowledge in that area is general and very limited.The subsurface of this world is largely a mystery to me.”

“Kea, at some point in time before the migration of the Greeks, contained a powerful volcano that experienced titanic eruptions on a regular basis.”

“Why have I never read or heard anything like that?” asked Amphion. “Is it a secret known only to a limited few?”

Petros Kotas gave him a reptilian grin. “I thought it wise to keep mum about this recent discovery by my Company geologists. It appears that the great ancient volcano was located where the bay and harbor of Kea City is today.”

“Why. then, did you take me down here today and tell me that secret?” asked the scientist, holding back his anger with great difficulty.

The older man hesitated a moment, glancing to the side at his daughter.

“I am ill and will not live much longer. But before I leave the scene, there is one last thing that I must accomplish.”

Amphion glanced sideways at Urania for a second. She seemed stricken and shocked at the last words spoken by her father.

“I want you to test the defogging possibilities of burning the volcanic rock that lies under the city and the bay,” the magnate managed to wheeze. “That is where I believe a solution to the problem lies.”

The suddenly weakened billionaire started the carrier in reverse back toward the elevator and the vertical ground well. He had no more to say to the atmospheric expert.

The two riders paused to water their horses in the fog that thickened as they descended along the path. All about them, they could see the permanent fog of the city and the bay.

Urania sat down on a huge rock to rest, Amphion beside her.

“You did not know that your father is mortally ill?”

“No,” she sobbed. “It was a surprise to hear it.”

He put his arm around the grieving daughter. Within seconds, the pair were embracing, then kissing each other.

The two horses gazed with curiosity at the passionate love-making of the two young humans.

Urania visited his downtown apartment many times the next several weeks. As the momentum of his search for a scrubber material rose, so did his need for his lover. Both of them had fallen into a deep trance together.

Governor Sarkis often visited the testing lab. How was the research progressing? When could results be expected? Patience, advised Amphion. More time is needed to reach the goal.

One day, Petros Kotas himself hobbled into the lab with a cane. His face was gaunt and yellowed. Amphion fetched him a chair and sat down opposite the old mining magnate.

“I think we have something new from the mine,” the owner croaked.

Amphion noticeably perked up. “What is it?” he asked.

“Pumice. Many different varieties of volcanic pumice.”

“Can I test them at once?” excitedly asked the scientist.

“The first samples are on their way already. I wanted to come and tell you this good news myself.”

“I see,” muttered Amphion.

“You will send me the results as soon as you have them?”

“Certainly.”

As Petros Kotas started to rise, Amphion jumped up to assist him.

“Thank you,” whispered the sick old man as he was taken by two servants to the horse cab in which he had traveled through the fog.

Urania now came openly to his rooms near the docks every day.

Her lover spoke about his research, she of her dying father and cold, unfeeling husband.

When she posed to Amphion the question “What is going to happen to us?”, he avoided a direct answer as best he could.

“I don’t intend to leave Kea, my dear.”

“Even when your job comes to an end, Amphion?”

“I’ll find something else to do here,” he cooed to her. “I may get me a cottage in the hills and become a hermit.”

Urania burst out in laughter. “If you will have me, I shall run away and live there with you.”

“But then how could I be a hermit?” he grinned.

The two lost themselves in each other’s eyes.

Amphion felt like shouting “Eureka!”

He had found the right form of pumice to scrub the fog away. It was now time to tell old Kotas the good news. The mine owner lived up in the highlands above the highest level of fog. Amphion rushed up the pedestrian street, cutting through the mist soon to vanish.

The tall butler opened the front door of the great mansion.

“I have to see Mr. Kotas immediately,” puffed the scientist. “I have vital news he must hear at once.”

Urania suddenly appeared, hurrying to the door.

“My father has his doctor with him,” she gasped. “He is going fast.”

“I have the news he has been waiting for.”

Urania’s face flushed. “The defogger material?”

“Yes,” her lover nodded to her.

“Come in and tell him before he loses consciousness.”

Amphion entered and followed her to the old man’s bedroom.

The doctor stood by the headboard. Only the patient’s darting eyes indicated there was still life left in him.

Amphion drew near the bed. “I have good news, Mr. Kotas. The material that we need is in our hands. It has passed every test for final use.”

The dark eyes of the dying man signaled that he understood.

“As soon as possible, we will set up the scrubbing screens. The defogging will proceed at full speed.”

The lips of Kotas twitched slightly. Then his eyes all of a sudden closed shut.

The doctor spoke to Urania. “He lacks enough strength to stay awake. Rest is the best and only thing for him now.”

She tip-toed out of the bedroom, followed by her lover.

In the hallway, all to themselves, the two of them embraced.

Amphion bent to kiss her forehead. The noise of a footstep on the polymerized floor impelled him to look up to see what it was.

Governor Sarkis stood a short distance from them with a small iron pistol in his right hand.

Amphion opened his mouth, but before he could say anything the first of the transparent crystal bullets had struck him.

The natural death of Petros Kotas came only minutes later.

The Governor summoned and surrendered to the police immediately. He was taken to the prison located at the entrance to the bay. Urania had fallen into shock, but recovered in time for her father’s funeral. The body of Amphion was buried without ceremony in an obscure country graveyard near the new mine from which pumice was now being extracted.

The fog began to thin out, then disappear, with the new scrubbers in operation. The blue of the sky became visible in the city. There existed a landscape once again. Breathing became a pleasure, life grew happier and more hopeful.

Urania, though, could not escape her guilty depression. Everything she valued was gone for her. She decided to leave Kea forever. It took several weeks to settle her personal and financial affairs. She was now ready to leave the island.

The ship departed in the early morning. Urania boarded early, eager to escape her bad memories. She felt relief as the vessel moved away from the quay. Something drew her to the deck for her last look at the defogged harbor and city.

As they passed through the entrance of the bay into the open sea, she heard a low rumbling. What could it be? she wondered. At first, no one on the deck knew what it was. Finally, one man shouted out the truth.

“A seismic quake!” he cried out hysterically.

“The ground is sliding into the bay!” shrieked an elderly woman.

As the ship moved into the sea waters, Urania leaned on the railing and watched the destruction of Kea City. Her mind suddenly cleared.

It was not a seismic quake or volcanic eruption she was seeing.

Buildings crumbled, toppling as if made of paper.

The entire city slid downward, into the blue waters of the bay.

In minutes, death and ruins reigned.

Urania had an eerie smile on her face.

Mining for pumice had weakened and loosened the rock levels underneath the island of Kea.

The material used for defogging no longer held up the hillsides.

She continued to stare as the island grew smaller and distant.

There was a strange gladness inside Urania. Retribution had come to Kea. This was the awful price for its defogging and atmospheric cleansing.

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