"There are 10^11 stars in the galaxy. That used to be a huge number. But it's only a hundred billion. It's less than the national deficit! We used to call them astronomical numbers. Now we should call them economical numbers." ~ Richard Feynman
Minerva, Chapter 14
O'Toole turned down the radio at the commercial break. Most of the NPR analysts had simply assumed the fledgling island would be retaken by the Lotosian forces, and had proceeded to reflect on the social and cultural lessons of the episode.
O'Toole glanced in the rearview mirror. Danny was in his carseat, and Tara had insisted on sitting in the back of the rental car next to him. She was lightly tickling his stomach and whispering in his ear. Tara caught O'Toole's eye in the mirror, just long enough to stick out her tongue and retract it again.
As Tara returned her attention to Danny, O'Toole's mind returned to the coming encounter with her father. O'Toole had never met Larry McClare. Tara had wanted to elope, and that had been fine with O'Toole. The couple had moved to Minerva for Danny's birth, and McClare did not intend to visit the 'desolate' island, even to see his first grandchild. When Tara wanted to spend time in the States, O'Toole had suggested working in a visit to her father's vacation home in sunny southern California .
Tara ran her fingers over Danny's shirt. She was still completely enthralled with just touching his tiny body: his tiny tummy, his tiny fingers, his tiny toes. Tara leaned over once again to smell Danny's head and gently kiss it.
Daniel looked out the window at the passing trees, which were a very strange sight to someone born on Minerva. His mother's warm breath and gentle cooing were very relaxing. I'm happy.
* * *
'Are you a Scotch man?' McClare asked. The desired answer was clear.
'I am if it's Johnnie Walker,' O'Toole responded, after first verifying that that was indeed the brand.
'So tell me Peter,' McClare asked after they had both sipped their drinks. 'Now that you've had a few years to get readjusted, what sort of work are you doing on this island? You haven't become a fisherman, have you?'
'No sir,' answered O'Toole. 'I'm still on salary from the Minerva Corporation. I give talks here and there, explaining the company's policies.'
'So you're Callahan's press secretary,' McClare summarized.
'That's one way to put it,' O'Toole said and smiled. 'I've also formed a hedge fund with David Mason, the brains behind Minerva. I'm sure you know of him.'
'Yes,' McClare said. 'He's the professor who fooled not only his teenage students, but also middle-age investors. An impressive fellow indeed.'
'On the island we tend to think so,' O'Toole said. He took another sip of his drink. 'Anyway, he's accumulated some inventive strategies over the years, but couldn't try them in a regulated stock market. Naturally, Minerva presents us with a golden opportunity.'
'I wish you all the best,' McClare said, hoisting his glass. 'I presume that a large portion of your initial capital consists of my daughter's, which is to say my, assets?'
'Yes sir, that's correct,' O'Toole answered. 'I sold our shares in the Minerva Corporation shortly after we moved to the island. That provided a sizable portion of our startup capital.'
'I trust that with the ensuing invasion,' McClare said, 'you and your professor have diversified your holdings away from the island?'
'No,' O'Toole answered without hesitation. 'In fact, we've sunk just about everything in real estate on the island. Contrary to most speculation, we are quite confident the battle will be short and relatively painless.'
'Oh, I speculate it will be short too, Peter.' McClare walked to the bar to pour himself another drink.
'Are you a religious man, Peter?' The man apparently had bored of their previous topic; O'Toole could almost see the mental switch in gears.
'I . . . don't belong to an official church, but I was raised Catholic,' O'Toole responded.
'Weren't we all, Peter,' McClare said and chuckled. 'How are you raising my grandson? I don't know that I've done the best for Tara'I had counted on her mother for that'but I do know that a boy must be brought up properly.'
'We're going to homeschool Danny,' O'Toole said. Though incredibly patient, O'Toole was tiring of this conversation. 'Although we're not going to indoctri'bring him up in any particular faith, he will receive an excellent moral education.'
'Well, I guess we'll all find out,' McClare said, though in a barely audible voice. 'And should I be expecting any more grandchildren?'
'Tara and I thought it best to wait for things to settle a bit on Minerva,' O'Toole answered. 'But yes, I think we'll want more children, once things calm down.'
'So Danny was an accident?' McClare asked, eyebrow raised.
'No.' O'Toole looked at his father-in-law. 'My boy is no accident.'
* * *
'Story!' Danny yelled, clapping his hands.
'Yes Danny, you can have a story,' Tara answered, relaxing on top of the covers next to her son. She looked at the wallpaper, with its goofy trains going around and around the room in a never ending pattern. Her father was certainly a character.
A few moments later, she began her story. As happened so often, somehow the ugliness of the world crept into her creative work, no matter how hard she tried to keep it out.
'Once upon a time, there were the Red people and the Blue people. And they were at war. The Red people would not be happy until they had killed all of the Blue people.'
'Why?' Danny asked.
'Because Danny,' Tara said in a neutral tone, 'they were at war. The Blue people had killed many, many of the Red people in the past. Every one of the Red people had had friends and family killed by the Blue people.'
'Are they bad?' Danny asked.
'I just told you that they killed Red people, even children.'
'Now,' Tara continued, 'the Blue people would also not be happy, until they had killed all of the Red people. One day''
'Why?' Danny asked.
'Because Danny, they were at war. The Red people had killed many, many of the friends and family of the Blue people.'
'Are they bad?'
'The Red people killed thousands of little children of the Blue people.'
'Oh.' Danny looked confused. 'Why?'
'Because they were at war. Can I finish my story, Danny?'