Caasha never expected herself to end up as a privateer commander. She had a quiet, hard-working, risk-averse kind of personality; she was the opposite of thrill-seeking swashbuckler. But she felt that it was her duty to become a commander. She strongly desired to have a smooth and secure life with Saalax—to whom she felt extremely loyal. But it had become clear that she would have to take action in order to obtain that life. She knew that only Saalax and, maybe, Warsame were her equals; only the three of them had the necessary combination of knowledge, motivation, skill, and work-rate to succeed at defending their society from the foreign threats.
Caasha had had the first overall pick in the privateer draft, but her pick was a stunner—Libaax Jaamac Afraax. Libaax's burns still had not healed enough for him to resume fishing, and he hadn't been a particularly noteworthy fisherman even before his encounter with the Spaniards.
But Libaax was well-educated. He was a cultural genius. He was a master of the arts and had an amazing ability to understand other people. Caasha liked that he shared her appreciation for aesthetics, but she choose him because he would be the most useful person for her plan. She probably couldn't execute her plan at all without him.
After Caasha had explained her ideas to The Windmills, they headed for the café's exit. Warsame and Saalax were still engaged in discussion with their groups. Caasha and Saalax both felt that expressing affection in this situation would be nothing but awkward. As she walked out, Saalax simply said, “See you later.” She nodded.
The Windmills used two skiffs, like The Supernovas had. But Caasha did not divide the skiffs into groups of seven and six privateers. Instead, Libaax and ten others herded into one skiff. Caasha and a navigator took the other skiff. It was no coincidence that Caasha and the navigator were the two members of The Windmills who were the most proficient with a kalachnikov.
Both skiffs headed northward. They carried extra fuel on Libaax's skiff; they were prepared for a fairly lengthy voyage. Caasha had made it clear that they were going after the toxic waste dumpers.
A few hours into the journey, a fisherman on Libaax's skiff shouted, “I see a ship!”
Everyone looked to the northeast. Indeed, in the distance, there was a small vessel traveling southward.
“Let's get a better look at it.” Caasha meant it literally. She wanted to know what kind of vessel it was and who was on it before taking further action.
Caasha ordered Libaax's skiff to keep going straight while Caasha's veered closer the mystery vessel. The first thing that she noticed was that it flew the red and white flag of England. When they got a bit closer, she realized that it was a private yacht.
“Let's get back to the others.”
The navigator followed Caasha's orders. He maneuvered the skiff back toward Libaax's until they were right next to each other. “Was there a problem?” Libaax was confused. He and the rest of the skiff had expected Caasha to board the vessel.
Caasha replied, “Yes. We didn't plan for a yacht; we planned for toxic waste dumpers.”
The men groaned. Caasha didn't want to hear it. She spoke up quickly.
“Our duty is to stop the toxic waste dumping. I have put tremendous effort into assuring that we succeed. If we don't follow through with our plan, we might all end up like Xaaji, or worse.”
The men said no more. They quickly learned to fully appreciate Caasha's irrepressible determination.
But hours passed by without another ship sighting. After they used the last of the fuel reserves, The Windmills started to show signs of panic. Even Caasha started to lose her rationality. Externally, she remained confident. But internally, she was starting to feel depressed and regretful. Why didn't she, at least, take fuel from the yacht? Why not tie the skiffs to the yacht and use it to find one of the toxic waste ships? She obsessed over everything that she thought that she had done wrong.
Just as the solemnity of the situation was setting in, Libaax spotted another vessel straight ahead, traveling northward. The two skiffs charged ahead without hesitation. Caasha didn't care what kind of vessel it was this time, but, once again, she wanted all of the information that she could get about it.
She couldn't quite see the flag clearly enough to identify it. But as they closed in, she could read the big letters on the vessel: MV Bitoni. Bitoni? Could it be an Italian name? She looked toward the flag again. Green, white, and orange. Yes, it was Italian. She had found exactly what she was looking for.
Suddenly, the Bitoni sped up and starting weaving back and forth. It was taking evasive actions. They had been spotted. The skiffs were almost undetectable using radar. There must have been someone looking out.
But Caasha had planned for this exact situation. She knew that the commanders had been lucky when the Malhotra hadn't noticed their approach.
The Bitoni wasn't too fast, but Libaax's skiff wasn't able to gain on them. With so many people aboard, the skiff couldn't reach its maximum speed. But Caasha's skiff had only two people and no extra supplies—except for the two kalachnikovs. It was hundreds of kilograms lighter, and, thus, faster.
Caasha's skiff went ahead at full speed, and it was able to catch up the Bitoni. Caasha knew that attempting to board an evading vessel would be very difficult. And so, the plan was to get them to stop—by shooting at the ship. They intentionally avoided aiming at the crew. They figured that the crew would be terrified, and they would not have the ability to fight back.
The plan worked perfectly. The Bitoni's crew surrendered, realizing that they could not escape from Caasha's lighter skiff. Libaax's skiff caught up soon after, and they all boarded the ship. It was time to initiate part two of the plan. It was Libaax's time to shine.
Libaax's family originally lived in Muqdisho. Libaax knew an old man in the city who would tutor him. Libaax—a natural artist—dreamed of becoming an architect. He was fascinated by the Italian structures in the city, and he became enamored with Italian culture in general.
But when the city became violent to the point of being unlivable, Libaax's family had to flee for their lives. They traveled by boat along the coastline until reaching Eyl. Libaax still hoped to become an architect one day, but he had to become a fisherman in order to stay alive. Ironically, it was after escaping to the supposed safety of Eyl that he became a victim of Spanish violence. He joined the privateers as an act of rebellion against those who had interfered with his dream.
Libaax examined the captain of the Bitoni. He was a tall, long-haired, handsome man, although he had a bit of acne. He radiated the impression that he was a joyful, warm-hearted person.
Libaax spoke to the captain in fluent Italian. “We know what you're doing. Who are you?”
The captain immediately recognized that the situation was not an ordinary pirate attack. “I am Captain Sergio Marinello of the MV Bitoni. Perhaps you know what I'm doing, but I don't know what you're doing. Help me understand you.”
Libaax almost lost his composure. Sergio wanted to understand him? It was as if Sergio could read Libaax's deepest inner thoughts. The ultimate reason that Libaax wanted to be an architect was to be understood through his actions. He wanted to demonstrate his love of the whole world.
Libaax didn't like trying to exert control over Sergio, but Libaax remembered why he joined the privateers, and he remembered that Caasha believed in him. He continued.
“The toxic waste that you are criminally dumping along the Somali coastline is causing widespread disaster. Fishermen and coastal residents are dying. Babies are dying or born deformed. Our livestock and fish are dying. Our water supply is poisoned. Cancer rates are skyrocketing. Thousands more are suffering from physical ailments.”
The actual dumping had never been more than an afterthought to Sergio. He had applied for the job for the opportunity to experience grand adventures. He had been operating under the assumption that he was keeping the Italian people safe by cheaply disposing of the industrial and chemical waste materials in the middle of nowhere. He had never considered what would happen to the waste after he dumped it. His body became tense as he thought.
“I didn't realize. I'm so sorry. I thought that I was doing something good while having fun. What can I do to make things right?”
Libaax knew that Sergio was sincere, but he also knew that Sergio was a smooth talker. “Compensate us and make sure that no one ever dumps toxic waste here again. You're disgracing our beautiful coastline.”
“I'd have to...”
“I'd have to call the owners of the ship...”
“You should know that this ship and most of the toxic waste disposal companies are owned by the Mafia.”
After saying it, Sergio suddenly felt like an incredible fool. The Mafia certainly knew what they were doing. Of course they weren't doing it for the safety of the Italian people. Somalia was a perfect dumping ground because the Mafia could make huge profits and the Somalis couldn't do anything about it. But now the Somalis were doing something about it.
Sergio was ready to make the call, but Caasha spoke to Libaax first. “Tell him that he should call us privateers instead of pirates,” she said.
Sergio agreed and went ahead with the call. He was surprised by the incredibly calm reaction and the brevity of the conversation. The man on the other end of the phone told him little more than that they had a special negotiator for these kinds of situations. Sergio would receive a call back very soon. The discussion ended.
They waited in silence, but the call did not come immediately. And so Sergio broke the tension by chatting innocently with Libaax, learning more about who he was and what was going on. After a while, Libaax steered the conversation in a different direction.
“I noticed that you have a minor acne problem.”
Sergio was embarrassed. His acne always made him insecure. He couldn't stand constantly thinking that his face might disgust someone.
Libaax continued, “I know how to solve it.”
Sergio instantly became excited. “Really? How?”
“I discovered the secret after I moved from Muqdisho to Eyl. Back in Muqdisho, I used to eat a lot of cooked food. I'd cook my goat meat really well. And I always had some acne. But after I started fishing, I'd just gut the fish and eat them raw. Everything that I eat is raw now. And I never have acne anymore.”
“That's all? Eat raw food and acne disappears? I do eat a lot of spaghetti and cooked meat.”
“Yes. I think that when you heat protein, it somehow results in acne. Maybe your body is trying to warn you that heating food is unhealthy.”
“Thank you. I'll remember that.”
The call finally came. Libaax answered so that he could translate Caasha's comments to the special negotiator, but Sergio listened in. The special negotiator did not bother to introduce himself.
“How much are you demanding for the ship's release?”
Libaax relayed the question to Caasha. She tried to quantify the amount that could realistically serve as compensation for the damage that had been done to The Windmills.
“100,000 American dollars.”
The special negotiator showed no sign of outrage nor surprise at the amount requested. “We would like to see the safe return of our ship and of our loyal sailors. Our offer is the following: you compete against me in a game that can be played over the phone without the possibility of cheating. The game must be zero-sum and cannot go on longer than a few hours maximum. You will have the choice between deciding on the game or taking the first move. If you win, we will pay the amount that you have demanded. If we win, you will release the ship immediately, unharmed, and without compensation. Are you willing to continue?”
Caasha had a lot of information to process. Would the Mafia rather sink the ship than get it back? No, the special negotiator called the crew “loyal.” It was probably difficult to find skilled men who could keep their mouths shut about what they were doing. Replacing them would be arduous. Additionally, the Mafia would not want the media to ask questions about what happened to them if they died at sea. It would be a front-page scandal. They definitely wanted the ship back, as quietly as possible.
Why would they use this strange all-or-nothing negotiating tactic, then? The Mafia must have used it in other situations, and it must have worked in their favor every time. They must think that it is a no-win choice. If the player takes the first move, the Mafia pick a game in which the second player can force a win. But the first move is probably advantageous in most typical game choices.
Of course they would cheat. They meant no games that require trusting the other person. They make it seem like there are a lot of options, but they've really eliminated a lot of possibilities. Caasha wanted to play a game in which the first person to dump toxic waste on the other person's coastline lost. That method wouldn't really solve the problem, though. She knew that she couldn't negotiate the end of the toxic dumping. In order to stop the dumping, The Noble Somali Privateers would have to make it unprofitable for the Mafia to continue doing it.
Caasha was certain that she should accept the offer, because she didn't believe in no-win scenarios. She didn't care for game theory the way that Saalax did, but she strongly agreed with his view that knowing how to win games is vital to knowing how to succeed in life. And she had a natural desire to always succeed at her goals.
But what choice would be best? Certainly the choice of first move must be dismissed. She must choose a game from among the limited options in which the first move does not guarantee victory. The false dilemma that they presented almost presumed that chess would be the game, since most people know that the first move is preferable in chess.
Caasha briefly considered that the special negotiator is a chess grandmaster. But that would be too much of a gamble for them. She figured that it must be just a guy who is good with a computer. She'll be playing against a computer in whatever game she chooses.
And then, she got an idea. If they wanted chess, they'd get it.
“We accept your proposal. We would like to play a variant of chess.”
“Excellent. Which variant?”
“Maharaja and the Sepoy. It's your move.”
The special negotiator went silent. Either he had never heard of this game, or he had heard of it and knew that he was in trouble.
In Maharaja and the Sepoy, black has all of its standard chess pieces—the sepoy—but white does not. White has only one piece—the maharaja. The maharaja is a superpowered piece that can move like a queen or like a knight. Both sides have the same goal: achieve checkmate. The only special rules are that black cannot castle nor promote pawns.
It is quite possible for the maharaja to checkmate the black king. But the reality is that a reasonably skilled player should win win as black, and a computer would be guaranteed to win—as black. But the Mafia computer would be playing as white.
After an agonizingly long two minutes of silence, the special negotiator finally replied.
“I resign. An airplane will drop the cash on your boat sometime tomorrow.” He hung up.
Both Sergio's and Libaax's mouths went agape with shock. US$100,000! Libaax somehow managed to communicate the victory to Caasha. The Windmills spontaneously broke into a frenzied dance of pure elation. After a few minutes, Libaax finally returned to his rational self. He spoke to Caasha again.
“Incredible! He knew that he was beaten before the game even started! How'd you do it?”
“He does not understand how a game should be treated. A game should not be treated like mere entertainment nor like a part of a family of activities that resemble each other. Mathematical geniuses attempt to solve games without understanding that it is that possibility of perfection that makes it a game!”
“Yes. A game should be considered intentional actions that have a potential perfection.”
“I'll give you an example. If you shoot your kalachnikov at random, you're not playing a game. Maybe you're celebrating or you want to test the weapon. There's not intentionality toward perfection. But imagine if you set up a target and shot your kalachnikov at it. You would be intentionally attempting to achieve a perfection—hitting the bullseye. There's potential for competition with others.”
“But what happened in your game?”
“Perfection and winning are not the same thing. The possibility of perfection is always there, but often we are not skilled enough to achieve it. Sometimes we aim at winning rather than the perfection. But if black plays perfectly in Maharaja and the Sepoy, then white cannot possibly win, even with perfect play. I taught him a harsh lesson about blindly valuing winning and ignoring perfection.”
As promised, an airplane appeared the next morning. It dropped a crate, and a parachute eased the crate's descent into the nearby water. Caasha and the navigator took their skiff out to the crate and retrieved it. When they returned to the ship, Caasha motioned for Sergio to open the crate, away from the others—just in case. But there were no tricks. Caasha got a look inside and pulled out the contents.
It was US$100,000. But was it real? Caasha worried that it could be counterfeit. Of course, all American dollars are, really, counterfeit money—they are no longer tied to gold, and the use of gold instead of dollars is forbidden. And, sure, if enough private organizations counterfeited American dollars on a grand scale, they would destroy the counterfeit currency, and everyone could go back to using real money. But Caasha didn't want to be the one caught holding counterfeit money that no one would accept.
Caasha picked out a random US$100 bill. She held it up to the sun and looked on the right side of the bill. She saw the hidden second image of Benjamin Franklin. It was a genuine US$100 bill. Indeed, the Mafia wanted to move on from this debacle as quickly and as quietly as possible.
Unlike Samatar, Caasha did not make a rousing speech in order to excite her group. They had celebrated all night. They would be happy enough to get their shares.
She simply called each man by name, announced their compensation, and handed him the cash. The first ten privateers each received US$5,000. She called for the navigator, and she awarded him US$10,000. Finally, she called for Libaax, and she awarded him US$15,000.
The men all applauded. Yes, they all knew that under normal circumstances, the navigator would have earned a higher payout than Libaax. But they all considered his extra pay to be a victim's bonus. They were happy to see him get the justice that he deserved. Caasha thanked him, and Libaax humbly thanked her even more.
Caasha concluded, “I am keeping 25,000 for myself. Does anyone object to that amount?”
No one spoke. They knew better than to challenge her, but the way that she asked only solidified the fact that she fully deserved it. She had proven herself to be a strong leader.
It was time to depart. Libaax approached Caasha cautiously. She already knew what he was going to say.
“There's nothing for me in Eyl. With this cash, I can realize my dream. I want to stay on the Bitoni with Sergio. We'll have more exciting adventures on the high seas as we head to Italy, and then I can help create the structures that I've always wanted to.”
“Of course. Good luck, Libaax.”
“Thank you. I'll call someday soon.”
The Windmills boarded the skiffs without Libaax and headed back to Eyl. Caasha was, for the moment, content. She wasn't worried about Libaax, she could buy whatever she needed for a while, and she had disrupted the toxic waste dumping. But she still had a feeling that the privateers would not always have good fortune against foreign aggressors.