Our hero Clete remains incarcerated, sentenced to drudgery meant to improve his character and cultivate good Buddha nature. Qi is about to learn that such a penal system will never work on an engineer. They will just continue to refine processes and materials to make things more efficient.
We move on to his second day in jail, but this time from Fei's point of view.
The story continues ...
[Reporter’s note: It seems that the Second Chilin Guardian Princess [Fei] was actually self-aware enough to keep some notes about this time period. This is totally out of character for her. I actually complimented her on the fact that she could write something that was not a tutor’s assignment. For some reason, she thought I was being sarcastic and became petulant reluctant to share—this is her true character. At her mother’s insistence, I must add, she finally cooperated.]
[A relevant entry from Fei’s journal]
Island Time: Dragon, Month 7, Day 1, Xingqi 5
[U.S. Time: Friday, August 17, 2012]
[U.S. Time: Friday, August 17, 2012]
I am not one to keep a diary, after watching our houseguest Dr. Wong last night taking the time to write everything down that happened yesterday, I asked him about it. He said it is a good habit to form. “Record observations over time. It is absolutely essential to be a good scientist, or even just a person who wants to improve oneself.” He has said this in our classes. But I see that he does it himself. I am going to try.
We finished our weeding duties in one of the north gardens early, so we were released. Some of the Seconds were going to practice diving with the snorkels. I was invited but there were other things I needed to do. I came back home and found Dr. Wong outside in the yard. I still had to get used to seeing him out of his usual khaki bush outfit. He had brought a table out into the sunlight and was hunched over looking carefully through a mounted magnifying glass and was working with some tools.
“Hello Dr. Wong.”
“I think I hear Faye there. Hello! You’re early.”
“Work is completed. Would you like me to help you with prepping today’s mash?”
“Your skin is not accustomed to being exposed to the sun. You are starting to burn.”
He did not look up. “Am I? I hadn’t noticed.”
“May I apply some thanaka?”
“An orange paste made from tree bark that we wear to cool and protect the skin. It’s something one of the grandmothers from the Third Branch tradition brought from her country.”
“Oh really? In my country we call it sunblock. Sure. Need me to get up?”
“Stay where you are, I’ll grind some.”
I made up some the paste and put it on his back, shoulders, and face. I drew little flowers and faces into the paste so that he would have patterns in his tan after he washed up. That will be very funny. He was doing some very close work with some of the bugs.
“So do I look like I have war paint on? Ooogah boogah!”
“Don’t mind me. Just being racially insensitive. I think I just offended three ethnic groups.”
“What are you doing with those bugs?”
“Attaching artificial legs.”
On the table he had set up an enameled tray. Several tiny creatures, insects, spiders, centipedes, and the like, were all gathered about as he was carefully gluing tiny, hair-thin silver wires onto a beetle. I started to ask him about this when there started a rumbling sound from behind the cottage.
“Sounds like another batch is done. Come on, I’ll show you what I’m doing over there.”
Behind the house was a machine with a metal drum spinning with things that were clattering about inside. He shut it off, unloaded as many coconuts as would fit inside that could be agitated. All been worn smooth as buffed metal. He threw them into a large basket. He then reached inside and gathered all the wet fibrous material, the coir, that had been knocked off the nuts. He put that all into and area he had set up to dry in the sun.
“Another three batches and we’re done.”
“That’s amazing. You just started doing that this morning? That takes forever by hand.”
“Nothing like an industrial tumbler. Started it up as soon as your mother left. I’m surprised she left me alone. I think I convinced her I would not escape.”
“Sorry. Poor choice of words. I am staying here for a bit.”
“About that. Why ARE you staying with us? For how long?”
“Another couple of days. As to why, ask your mother about that.”
“This fiber has been really tenderized. It’s almost garment-soft. We use it for making rope.”
“Your mother is not due back early is she?”
“No. If anything, she’ll be late. Why?”
“Faye, I am going to surprise her at some point at how quick I am with these assigned tasks. So let’s just keep my machine work a secret, shall we?”
“You got it Dr. Wong. I like secrets and surprises.”
“You’re not hurting those bugs are you?”
“No,” he said as we walked back to his worktable, “or I am not trying to. I noticed so many of the bugs that live in your perimeter are injured and missing body parts—missing legs mostly. I had gathered a few to see why they behave the way they do here. They’re docile. Got me wondering why. I realized I had some titanium wire about the size of their legs and decided to design and graft little legs onto them to return some of their balance and mobility, just to see if I could. That’s all. Their reflexes are all off. See how they all gather together as I work on this guy? That should not be happening. They’re all different species. They should be attacking one another.”
“It’s not strange. They are helping each other out. They’re guiding the new limb into the best spot as you attach it.”
"Don’t be silly. It’s probably a chemical imbalance.”
“All creatures can be very collaborative, Dr. Wong. What kind of glue are you using?”
“Sap from the tree in the corner. I tried spirit-adhesives in my kit but they were too toxic for the little guys.”
“Is the end of the new leg sharp or dull?”
“Everything at that micro a level is sharp to us. Titanium, however, is more rigid than any part of their exoskeleton. They could puncture me if they wanted to, but they’ve been behaving themselves.”
“How many have you done?”
“I stopped counting. They kept showing up. I’ll try to gather them up again tomorrow and see how they’re all doing. I’ve given some little loops or hooks on the ends as well.”
“I was asked to bring you your phone. Mother said you need to call your banker or your office?”
“Excellent. Excuse me for minute.”
The Professor punched in a number and gave instructions to someone on the other side. He was speaking in his English business jargon, so I did not quite understand everything he was saying.
“Do me a favor Faye. Before you take that phone away. Snap a couple of pictures of me as I sit with some of the Soul Birds. They’ve gotten used to me. I want to send them as joke to a ornithologist friend of mine. She’ll get a kick out of seeing these weird birds and she’ll laugh her ass off seeing my own flabby tush in a fundoshi. She’s Japanese. She’ll think I’m on a drunken bender. Hah!”
At the time I wanted to ask why he thought I would be taking the phone away. But I did as he said and he then pushed a few buttons and sent his pictures on their way.
“Battery’s low—plug it in to recharge and give it to your mom when she gets back.”
“What are those two containers of fluid?”
“The cloudy one is my sweat, collected. As I was sitting here working I was swarmed by everything in the yard.”
“They weren’t biting you were they? They’re not supposed to.”
“No. I think they were licking the salt in my sweat. Waving them off didn’t keep them away. So I sat out in the sun for a while in such a way as to let the sweat drip off of me into that container. Once I had enough I just set it alongside me so they’d go there instead. Gross hunh? But it worked. They all got off my face and back. That’s the leftovers.”
“That’s a LOT!”
“You haven’t noticed have you? I’ve done nothing but shed moisture since I came on this damn hell-hole of an island. Getting twice that much was easy!”
“And the dark one?”
“I drew out about 4 ounces using my medical kit. All the bugs here are moving in slow motion. I thought if I offered them a blood meal, karma free, they’d get a little better. Everybody who wanted a sip has been. That’s also leftovers.”
“Do you think there is there something special about your blood and sweat that the bugs like?”
“No. I’m type O-negative. That’s about it.”
“Mind if I take them?”
“Why? This not some kind of weird voodoo ritual of yours is it? You going to turn me into a zombie? If so, no.”
“I know someone very sensitive to various salts. You are a novel source to The Island. I have an idea.”
“Really? I smell a research project. Let’s hear your hypothesis. Now you have ME curious.”
“Not yet. Please?”
“OK, but be careful working with human physiological substances. We need to have the bioethics lesson sometime. I suppose I should start prepping our dinner then. Rice porridge and fresh herbs and greens?”
“Don’t bother. Auntie Feng will be sending Wen over with dinner for us tonight and Wen will join us.”
“I don’t think your mother will approve. She wants me to do the drudge work.”
“She never refuses Feng’s cooking, EVER. Don’t worry. Why are you doing labor here for us anyway?”
“Again, ask your mother. I apologize for being here and disrupting your household rhythms.”
“Why apologize? I enjoy hearing you and Mother have spirited conversations. It’s a lot of fun. You two joke with each other a LOT.”
“Faye? Hang on a minute. Let’s get this straight. Your mother and I do NOT like each other. OK? Don’t be mistaking our banter for anything other than verbal sparring in animosity. Do NOT associate our behavior with anything positive. I do NOT want you taking away false impressions that will cause you to have bad relationships with men. Got that? We are NOT a good example.”
“Whatever you say, Professor. You sure say ‘DO NOT’ a lot. Are you sure you're not somebody's father?”
© Copyright 2012 by Vincent Way, all rights reserved.