Michael checked his e-mail. After reading several messages, he stopped at the one titled “Invitation to Mr. Palmer from Professor Richardson.”
Michael clicked on the heading to open the letter and scanned it. Interested, he began to read carefully:
“Dear Doctor, I have taken interest in studying your works on the theory and practice of fission of elementary particles. I must confess that I am impressed by the results of your work in the field of nuclear and quantum physics. There is no questioning the accuracy of the conclusions drawn from those practical experiments that your research group has conducted, thanks to your painstaking work. The results of your research will undoubtedly influence the development vector of the study of the nuclear physics fundamentals.
I have had the privilege to familiarize myself with your published works. I find them to have brilliant evidence based on impeccable mathematical logic. But the beauty of dry figures hide the very essence of the discovery, its birth. Unfortunately, your articles do not reveal the nuances that prompted you to take such a revolutionary approach to physics. Namely, the source of your intuition, which makes a researcher’s unerring instinct possible. Therefore, I would be happy to meet you in order to discuss face to face how you manage to determine the right direction of your research that leads to a discovery. In return, I am ready to share with you my unique ways of creating conditions conducive to creative ideas.
I humbly ask you to accept the invitation to visit my estate. All financial, transportation, and other expenses will be covered by me.
The estate is located on a small private island in the Pacific Ocean. I am sure that a vacation in a place far from civilization will do you only good. Nevertheless, you will not be out of touch with the world as the island has a good broadband. Therefore, this place is a good fit not only for rest, but, if necessary, for work as well.
I hope you will not reject, but accept my invitation. Looking forward to hearing from you!
Best regards, prof. Bob Richardson.”
Michael knew the invitation was timely. The past five years had been quite intense for him. He had been so absorbed in his research that he frequently worked twelve hours a day seven days a week. Michael realized that he indeed needed to get rid of the accumulated fatigue. Some rest was all he needed at the moment! In a month and a half, the Large Hadron Collider would be shut down for two years. The collider had exhausted its capacity and needed a large-scale modernization. Therefore, now almost all work would be associated with the received data. And that could be done anywhere! It was the perfect time to set aside a couple of weeks for a trip to a private island with the ocean, the sunshine, and the warmth. Moreover, here, at home, in Lancashire, winter was rather nasty. So he was now sitting in front of the computer in sheepskin slippers and a warm knitted sweater so he wouldn’t freeze. Of course, he was used to this way of life. Yet, sometimes he wanted to bask in the sun as well.
“Yes!” Michael decided. “I will certainly go!”
Michael Palmer was a forty-eight-year-old nuclear physics researcher of average height and with brown hair. He was single, never married. Despite being busy he visited the gym regularly, but the age started to inevitably overshadow his appearances and a small treacherously belly began to show itself.
Michael kept his entire wardrobe in perfect order. His belongings were flawlessly ironed and stacked on the shelves. He went to his barber once a week. He was moderately prim, pedantic, and attached great importance to even petty things.
Michael’s house was on the outskirts of Lancashire, but recently he had worked a lot at CERN and had a small cozy apartment rented there.
For several years now at a research center near CERN, a team of nuclear scientists led by Palmer had been chasing tiny particles deep underground in a huge collider to smash them into smaller elementary particles. It is worth mentioning that Michael took pride in having had this fascinating activity bring several discoveries in nuclear physics.
The plane made a circle over Tahiti and the turquoise color of the coastal ocean flooded the window. A few minutes later Michael entered the Faa’a airport building. In the arrivals hall a half-naked Tahitian woman with huge gorgeous feathers on her head was dancing to the ukulele tune played by two musicians. As Michael stepped outside into the crowd, he saw a short balding man in creased pineapple print shorts and scuffed flip-flops holding a sheet of paper with the name ‘Mr. Palmer’ on it.
Michael walked over to him and introduced himself.
“My name is Jack,” the man said, “and I’m a helicopter pilot. Mr. Richardson asked me to take you to the island.”
They waited for the luggage, then headed to the helicopter sector of the airfield, where Jack completed the flight formalities. About an hour later, they were flying in a small Bell 407GXP helicopter. Another hour and a half later, they were approaching a small but incredibly beautiful island.
“Here we are,” Jack reported, shouting over the roar of the helicopter blades whirring.
They hovered over a small mowed lawn, where a conspicuous red stone H-shaped sign marked the helicopter landing site in the center. Six small bungalows stood about three or five hundred feet apart from each other in the lush greenery around the lawn.
Jack carefully landed his Bell on the lawn and turned the engine off. The blades gave it a couple more turns and then stood still.
A tall man in light linen trousers and a motley Tahitian shirt walked out onto the lawn to meet the helicopter. A straw hat was protecting his head from the sun. He seemed to be in his early to mid-fifties, but despite his age, he moved with quite an ease. Michael guessed that it had to be Professor Richardson. The man’s eyes met Michael’s as he approached the helicopter, then he gave a welcoming laugh and opened the door of the helicopter cabin.
“Hello! My name is Bob,” the man said reaching out his hand in a greeting, “and I’m glad to see you on my island. Welcome!”
“Thank you, Professor Richardson!” Michael replied as he shook Bob’s hand.
“Actually,” Bob winced a little and shook his head, “I’m no Professor.”
“What do you mean? You’re Mr. Richardson, aren’t you?” Michael felt confused.
“Yes, I am Robert Richardson, but I’m not a Professor. I had to make the right impression on you so that you would accept my offer. I’m aware of some snobbism in the academic world and I didn’t want to take any chances. Please forgive me for taking this liberty. However, I’m sure you won’t regret coming to the island!”
Michael’s face changed. First, there was a grimace of discontent and he wanted to rant, but Bob’s entire appearance was saying that, yes, he was at fault, but it was really such a petty thing. On the one hand, it looked like an undisguised trick, but on the other hand, it was a winning naivety. And he did it with such dainty that Mike gave up. He was thinking: “Indeed, most likely I wouldn’t have accepted an invitation from Bob without this prefix ‘professor’. There’s no sense in complaining now! I’m not going to fly back to Britain immediately, am I?”
“So what am I here for?” Michael asked, a hint of irritation in his voice.
“Please, let’s calmly talk about it at my place,” Bob pointed to one of the bungalows which could be seen through the palm trees. “I will explain everything to you.”
They crossed the lawn. At a closer look, the bungalow turned out to be quite big. Two sides had an L-shaped terrace under a shared roof covered with a thick layer of straw. There were gaps between the floorboards of the terrace, to allow rainwater drip to the ground. Two hammocks were attached to the log supports that held the roof. In the middle of the terrace there was a huge round stone table with ceramic terracotta tiles covering its tabletop. A barbecue pit with a grill and coals was at one side of the table. Wicker rattan chairs were placed around the table, while two rocking chairs stood closer to the wall.
The bungalow itself was a frame construction covered with planks. This provided enough room for huge modern plastic windows and floor-to-ceiling blinds. If necessary, the terrace could be enlarged; the window panels would be shifted and the inside of the bungalow would become a part of the open terrace.
Bob opened the door and invited Michael in. Inside it was chilly and dim, the air conditioner was working, and the blinds were keeping the sun out.
“This is my home! Have a seat,” Bob gestured at the dark cherry leather sofa with a bamboo coffee table next to it.
Michael looked around. This was a living room combined with a country-style kitchen. Wooden blinds on the windows blended in with the wood paneled walls, matching their color. Almost all the furniture lacked doors, probably to improve the airflow due to the high humidity. Ethnic masks of local tribes decorated the walls. Terracotta vessels with primitive Polynesian patterns stood on the shelves.
There was a dining table with four chairs in the middle of the living room. Above the table there was a fan with a lamp attached to the ceiling beam. Modern household appliances added more comfort to the decor.
“Have a seat,” Bob repeated.
Michael sank into one of the chairs.
“Which do you prefer?” Bob asked, “Whiskey, rum, tequila? Some wine, perhaps? I do have quite a collection! Or, maybe, some coconut milk? Tea, coffee?”
“Sure, I could use some strong liquor. The choice is yours. I don’t know much about alcohol.”
“Then Dominican rum it is,” Bob picked up an open bottle of honey-colored Barceló Imperial, “you’ll definitely appreciate it! It is a delightful drink.”
Bob took two glasses, poured some rum into them and sat down at the table.
“Once again, I beg your pardon! Sometimes I deviate from the generally accepted moral standards if the ends justify the means.”
Michael realized that Bob was referring to his ‘professorship’ trick.
“Your ends or mine?” Michael retorted. He took a little sip of rum. It tasted exotically divine. That was just the drink he needed now.
“Mine, of course… Nevertheless, I try to be grateful while pursuing my own benefits. Moreover, I’m sure that by being on my island you will, first of all, have a wonderful rest. Judging by the way you have been working in recent years, you simply need a break. Secondly, if you want, you can continue your work. You will find yourself in full privacy here. Thirdly, I hope you will still get to know and use our unique method of generating creative ideas!”
“But what can you offer me, a physicist, here, on this island?”
“I’ll turn your world upside down,” Bob smiled and leaned back. “And I hope it won’t be just yours, Michael. With your help, we’ll change the outlook on the physics of this world.”
Michael thought: “I am in deep trouble. Looks like the man in font of me is a lunatic. Though he deserves some credit, he’s well educated, but apparently Bob is not a physicist! He’s not even hiding it!” Nevertheless, Michael was already there! And it would be unwise to leave such an exotic island without getting some rest. When would he decide to fly here again? Most likely, never. And the rum seemed to be quite good! The glass was empty very soon.
No response to his statement, Bob refilled Michael’s rum and continued.
“You don’t mind talking to me, do you?”
“What do you mean, Mr. Richardson? You paid for my flight. I’m grateful for the opportunity to be in such a heavenly place. And of course, I’m at your service,” Michael smiled as the rum started to work.
“Wonderful,” Bob was delighted, “then let’s switch to the first name basis. Call me Bob, will you?”
“Okay!” Michael agreed.
“That’s great,” Bob said, rubbing his palms together.
“But is that all you wanted to tell me about the purpose of my arrival, Mr. Richardson?!” Michael exclaimed in surprise, instantly forgetting that they had switched to the first name basis.
“Generally speaking, yes! But I’d like to give you a couple of days to settle in and then we’ll definitely continue this conversation.”
He smiled, got up, walked towards the exit, gesturing to Michael.
“Let’s go explore the island!”
Michael emptied his glass quickly and set it on the table, then followed Bob outside.
Once back outside, Michael looked around. The landscaping included well-kept banana and palm trees. There were no paths, because the ground was covered with a thick carpet of cut grass, inviting everyone to walk barefoot in any direction. But what particularly delighted Michael was the smell; it came from the flowers that grew everywhere. Bushes of white tiaré flowers framed the bungalow plots, calla and gardenia grew on the lawns, ginger and orchids bloomed all around. The whole place was filled with the singing, chirping, and tweeting of the birds. After walking for abound three hundred feet, they found themselves in front of a large dining gazebo shaped like a wooden podium. Log pillars in the corners of the gazebo served as a support for the roof, which was covered with a thick layer of straw matching the roof of the bungalow. Inside there was a large table. The tabletop was a huge tree trunk sawn across in half, then unfolded upwards. The tabletop lay on two logs. The benches on either side of the table were made similarly to the tabletop but from smaller logs. At the end of the gazebo there was a small kitchen with a gas stove, a sink and a kitchen table. A cook was bustling in the kitchen, she was a heavily-built woman, apparently a local. At the table people were eating and drinking from dishes that emphasized the general style of the island – crude bowls and mugs of red clay made on a potter’s wheel, and in the middle of the table there was a huge terracotta pot with a lid. Everyone were eating something resembling porridge.
“Enjoy your meal!” Bob greeted the people at the table.
“This is our team,” Bob said smiling to Michael as they entered the gazebo, “I think you’ll get along with them. Each of them has their own task. Researchers from different parts of the world have gathered here. I don’t think we can bore you on this island.”
“This is Dr. Steve Craft,” Bob introduced a thin longhaired man in his thirties. “He’s a botanist”.
Steve stood up and nodded in greeting. He looked like a hippie from the sixties in his ripped, frayed jeans and a T-shirt with a huge marijuana leaf printed on it.
“And this is our star,” Bob pointed at a pretty woman, also in her thirties, “Jessica. She’s a mycologist.”
Jessica greeted them with a smile, waved her hand and asked Michael:
“Do you know what mycology is?”
Michael got slightly embarrassed and replied:
“I’m an expert on mushrooms!”
“Do you pick them?” The moment Michael asked the question, he realized that he had said something wrong.
“I study them!” Jessica smiled.
“Peter is a mathematician,” Bob introduced a somewhat heavily built man who looked about forty-five years old.
“And what is a mathematician doing here?” Michael asked with a slight irony in his voice. Without the rum he would not have taken such liberty.
Peter glanced at him and replied briefly:
“Mathematics is needed everywhere,” said Bob, “Peter is an ingenious programmer. And these days you can’t do without programmers!”
“Anna is a psychologist,” Bob introduced a middle-aged woman.
Anna had an absent gaze. She looked as though she didn’t care about anything around her; and when she was introduced she did not even turn towards Michael as if her name had not been called at all.
The last person to be introduced was a woman at the end of the table.
“This is Marie! She is in charge of the hotel complex.”
The woman turned her head towards Michael, a slight smile brightened up her face. She looked at Michael with an eager gleam in her big brown eyes.
Michael smiled back at her. He could not determine her age. She radiated a certain power, which could bring happiness or destruction. This notion made Michael uncomfortable.
“Have a seat, Michael, you need to eat after the flight,” Bob said.
Michael and Bob sat down. The cook brought two bowls, removed the lid from the pot on the table and scooped up porridge into the bowls with a ladle.
“What is this?” Michael asked, pointing at the contents of the bowl, which gave off a pleasant sweetish aroma.
“Try it! This porridge is made from the seeds of the Polynesian breadfruit tree.”
Michael picked up the spoon and, with disbelief at first and with a great appetite soon after, quickly ate the whole bowlful of porridge.
“Are you up for seconds?” Bob asked.
“Thank you, I’m full!”
The cook brought a glass of freshly squeezed orange juice and placed it on the table in front of Michael.
When Michael and Bob finished eating and drinking their juice there was no one else at the table except for them.
“Shall we continue our journey?” Bob suggested. He got up, inviting Michael to follow him further.
They walked another five hundred feet and came to a small octagonal bungalow surrounded by tiaré bushes.
“This is the famous Polynesian flower,” Bob noticed that Michael was admiring the flowering fence. “The locals simply adore it. Apart from aesthetics, this flower here is a sort of a clock.”
“How so?” Michael was puzzled.
“The tiaré flowers open between noon and two in the afternoon. If the islanders see that the flowers have not opened yet, they think it is still morning. Yet, if the flower has opened, they think it’s already afternoon. This clock isn’t very accurate, but given the Polynesian way of life, they do not need a more accurate timing!”
Michael and Bob walked up to the bungalow’s glass door, with a small bronze bell hanging on the right side.
Bob opened the door and invited him to come inside.
“Here are your quarters! Make yourself comfortable, make yourself at home! In a word, enjoy your stay!”
They stepped inside. Just like in Bob’s bungalow, the living room was combined with a kitchen in the same room, but the area was smaller. Despite its modest size, it felt cozy and welcoming. The bungalow was a harmonious combination, on the one hand, of the comfort of modern life and on the other, of the spirit of a Polynesian village.
The bedroom was a separate room. Michael peeked inside. In the middle of the room there was a double bed made of thick bamboo, with a cascading mosquito canopy. Its head consisted of five thick bamboo stalks tied with a hemp rope.
After teaching Michael some of the subtleties of using the dwelling and sharing the Wi-Fi password, Bob informed him that in an hour he would send over his assistant. She would help Michael deal with some household issues and she could also show him the island. Then Bob headed for the exit.
Michael stopped him with a question.
“If you don’t mind my asking, how did you get this island?”
Bob returned and sat into a chair, his entire appearance showing that the question was rather complicated and had to be answered in detail.
“I’d like to have this conversation with you a little later, when you get more comfortable here. But I’ll tell you something right now, just please, be patient and don’t ask too many questions. Alright?”
“Alright,” Michael agreed.
“About six years ago we launched a research project, I’ll tell you more about it sometime,” Bob began, “but after a while we realized that without financial and legal support we couldn’t continue our research, so we began to look for investors. I got lucky then. An old university friend of mine who had started a small software company had made insanely big money in just a year. When he found out that I was looking for investors, he believed in our project and invested into it. And he bought this very island for me!”
“As simple as that!” Michael exclaimed. “It’s hard to believe it!”
“It’s all about the project,” Bob continued calmly. “My friend learned about it at its planning stage. He realized that the chances of finding the funding for our project were close to zero, as we didn’t always stick to legal research methods. When he suddenly became rich, he didn’t know where to invest his money. Yet, he found it prudent to invest in our project. What a stroke of luck for both of us! He bought the island so that there would be fewer legal issues. I’ve set up a science center in this remote corner of the world, away from all kinds of prying eyes and ears.”
“Look, I don’t know what kind of research you’re conducting here. But if it’s as covert and semi-legal as you say, aren’t you afraid of undesirable consequences and unwelcome guests to the island?”
“Our research is more mental than technical. There is no need for such security measures as barbed wire or security towers with gunmen. They will only attract unwanted attention. It was decided to limit ourselves to highly qualified experts in our research field and to pay them a decent salary. And as a cover, our island serves as a kind of a tourist spot located on private property. There’s a small hotel complex on the western side of the island. This is a V.I.P. resort with terms of greater anonymity. Tourists coming here want to keep their trip a secret and, in turn, they don’t snoop around. But even if a spy is sent here,” Bob laughed, “they still won’t be able to ‘dig up’ anything because of the specifics of our research.”
“And what if I’m a spy?” Michael asked with some irony.
Bob stopped laughing, sternly looked into Michael’s eyes and replied:
“Michael, I found you myself!”
“Ah, yes, that’s a good argument! But what if you reveal your secret research to me and then certain agencies come and recruit me over to their side?”
“It’s too early to talk about it now! When you find out everything, you’ll decide for yourself what to do. For now, you should rest after the flight. I’ll give you a couple of days to get acclimated, get to know the island and its residents. After that I’ll be sure to provide a very exciting and rich program.”
Bob got up, opened the bungalow door and bid his goodbyes:
“Make yourself comfortable, enjoy your stay! I’ll leave you alone for now!”
Bob closed the door behind him.
Michael took his time to unpack and shower. Then he sat down on the couch and plunged into work with his laptop on his lap.
About an hour later, he heard a bell ringing outside. Mike got up and opened the door.
A slender girl of about twenty-five in a light colorful dress stood at the door. A necklace made of tiaré flowers adorned her neck. She smiled and introduced herself:
“Aloha! My name is Maya! I’m here to help you, answer any questions you may have.”
“I’m Michael,” Palmer introduced himself and reached out his hand.
“Nice to meet you,” the girl smiled and went on. “There’s a button here,” she pointed at the orange button with a telephone receiver image by the door. “If you have a question at any time, push it and I’ll try to help you over the phone. Or I can come over, everything is within a walking distance here. Should you want to see me personally, my bungalow is the one over there”, the girl nodded her head towards the building about fifty steps from his house but still barely seen behind the thickets of bamboo, tiaré bushes and palm trees.
“Alright,” said Michael.
Yuri Korobaev: Writes under the pseudonym “Budimir”. Lives in the Russian Federation, Anapa, near the Black Sea. This is the excerpt from the work originally written in Russian, – translated by Irina Stoliarova. The book is written under the influence of growing interest in psychedelics, both official science and society as a whole, against the background of their legalization in some countries. Therefore, I am sure that the book will be a commercial success.Maya turned around and walked away. And Michael headed back for the couch to his computer.