Island Mine - Cover

Island Mine

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

Chapter 13


The Monday morning meeting was a long one, but Arman handled it with growing aplomb. The group hashed out the final load for their first waterborne cargo delivery. Construction supplies dominated the list, but there were plenty of dry goods and household items. The plan, such as it was, called for the island residents to move the cargo to one of two temporary storage areas to be sorted later. The ship would use its own cranes to offload the cargo to the pier. Waylon was thankful that the AIs had designed the pier to be as robust as it was. It could easily handle the weight of the front end loader which was going to make the entire plan doable.

Waylon made a mental note to check which of the Truong brothers was best at handling the big machine. He could always drive it himself if required. The dock was not the place to take any unnecessary risks.

Rowen had several good ideas about how to handle the arrival of a ship and its crew. Against Waylon's better judgment, they were going to allow the crew to come ashore, but restrict them to the immediate port area. That brought up another subject, firearms training. Rowen was quick to emphasize that he didn't want to associate the pending port visit and the training, but it couldn't be avoided.

Arman took a seat and Waylon took his place at the head of the table. He used a rag to wipe the chalkboard clean and pondered what he wanted to say. The sounds of chalk tapping on the slate made him think about school days long gone as he wrote, 'Freehold vs. The World.'

The simple sign generated smiles around the table. Marylee sat with folded arms and met his gaze with a small nod. The weekend had them both on edge, but at least she was still talking to him.

Waylon took a sip of coffee and refocused his thoughts. He explained about the pros and cons of Freehold citizenship. On the plus side, there was no taxation and residency didn't put their French or British citizenships in jeopardy. On the down side, Freehold wasn't recognized internationally and had very little to offer in the way of medical or other social services.

Arman raised his hand, so Waylon motioned for him to speak.

"Waylon, we've discussed this amongst the family. You took a chance on hiring us. It's not much of a risk for us to take a chance on Freehold. We're in. All the way."

"All of you?"

"Well, Omo would like the equivalent of guest worker status."

That got a laugh. Omo was still insisting that it was going to take him at least twenty years before the island started to look like his grand vision. Waylon had been skeptical, but the new swaths of color around the port buildings and his own home had changed his mind. If the elderly Tahitian wanted guest worker status, he'd get it.

After arranging to take new photos for the passports he was going to issue, Waylon broached the issue of media contacts.

"One thing we need to talk about is the interest that the press is starting to take in our little island. I think we can all expect to be contacted by reporters via email or even by phone. How you respond is entirely up to you, but I wanted you to know that you have the option of directing any inquiries to Penelope. She's very good at handling nosey reporters."

"Mr. Waylon," Deni said, "if you do not want us to talk to the press then we will not."

The rest of her family echoed the sentiment.

"I appreciate the support, I really do, but I'm not going to tell you what you can or can't say. That's not a road I want to go down."

"We will not tell tales to outsiders," Deni said.

From the looks around the table, it looked like that was going to be the last word on the subject.

Marylee raised her hand, "I have a suggestion."

"Please," Waylon said.

"Establish a web site. I think putting information out on your own terms may help satisfy some of the curiosity, or at least help you manage it."

Waylon nodded slowly as he thought about it, it might just work.

"We learned about updating web site content in my training course," Remy Truong said, as his wife looked on proudly. "The internet is very important in the hospitality industry."

"Why don't you look into what it would take to set up a web site and prepare a proposal for next Monday's morning meeting?" Waylon asked.

Remy was quick to accept the challenge.

"I'd like to say something else," Marylee said. "I'm going home for the holidays, but before I leave I wanted to say that you've all been wonderful and I've really enjoyed my time here. Thank you."

"You will always be welcome," Deni said.

The Truong ladies gathered around Marylee and exchanged warm embraces. The meeting was over.

Rowen negotiated around several chairs to stand by Waylon. "Your lady friend has made fans of us all. You'd be crazy to let her get away."

"Advice from the converted?" Waylon asked with a smile.

Rowen shrugged.

Faa'a International Airport, Papeete, Tahiti

Remy and Felix accompanied Waylon on the flight. They were going to handle the cargo while Waylon saw Marylee off. He completed his shutdown checklist and stowed the computer tablet in a side pocket of his seat.

"We'll get the cargo sorted out, Waylon," Felix said from the other side of the aircraft. "Take your time."

Waylon checked his watch, "Thanks guys. I'll try not to be gone too long."

He ducked into the cabin and found Marylee struggling with her bags, "Are you ready?"

He took her bags and followed her down the plane's steps. As requested, the airport had a vehicle and driver waiting for them. The trip around the airport's perimeter didn't take long.

They were let in through a door on the tarmac side of the commercial terminal and escorted to the ticketing area. There was a small crowd gathered for the early morning flight. After getting Marylee's luggage checked in, they walked to the security checkpoint and stopped off to one side.

"This is as far as I can go," Waylon said.

Marylee clutched at his arm, "I'm not sure I want to go."

"You know how I feel, but you need to spend some time with your family and think about the future with a clear head. I envy your chance to finish school."

"And if I want you to come get me?"

Waylon took her gently by the shoulders, "If I thought the Australian authorities would allow it, I'd be there."

"Anywhere else you're worried about?"

"New Zealand, Canada, and the States," he said, ticking them off. "They've got a mutual cooperation pact with your government and I'd rather not chance it until we have a few things straightened out. North Korea's out, Iran's probably a bad idea. Belarus—"

She slugged his arm.

"—but if you need me I'll come anyway. I'd rather buy you a ticket back here to Tahiti. Singapore's a good alternative. Port Moresby is closer to Sydney, but it might take some negotiation on our end."

"Do you want me to come back?"

He took her head gently, in his hands and locked eyes with her, "Yes."

They kissed and she cried in his embrace.

He finally managed to untangle himself from her, "You better get going."

"My face is a mess," she complained.

He wiped her cheeks with his thumbs, "You look great."

She pulled herself together and Waylon handed the carryon bag to her.

"I'll call," she said as she turned and walked to the security check in.

She waved from the other side and Waylon watched until she was no longer in sight.

Waylon had been gone almost an hour when he finally got back to the private aviation side of the airport. Remy and Felix were standing under the port wing, taking advantage of the shade.

"Cargo here?" he asked.

"We're waiting on the final truck. The rest is onboard. You might want to get the cabin air running," Arman said.


"Take a look," Arman replied.

Waylon couldn't interpret the expressions on the Truong brothers' faces. He climbed the steps to the aircraft two at a time. He reached the doorway when the dime dropped. The length of the cabin was packed with chicken crates. The smell was the worst. The noise he could handle. The aircraft wasn't configured for cargo mode, and it sure looked like there were more than a dozen birds.

He held his hand over his mouth and nose and rushed to the cockpit to start the standby power systems. Fresh air began moving through the aircraft.

"Waylon, the birds are not in distress, but the heat would have been harmful to them if it built up any further," AI Barry said. "Do you wish us to do something about the odor? Our security system aboard the aircraft was not configured to recognize foul odors—"

He laughed.

"—I did not mean to make a joke about 'fowl' odors, Waylon."

"I know!"

"For your information, we have identified a hazard. The chickens are infested with a type of mite."

"That's just great. Can you deal with the infestation?"

"If you can keep the Truong brothers occupied, we will deal with the parasites."

Waylon exited the aircraft as quickly as he could. Arman and Remy were in good humor when he joined them the under the wing. Anything Waylon was about to say was interrupted by the arrival of the final delivery truck.

Between the three of they made quick work of the job and loaded the last of the boxes into the cargo hold.

The sound of a jet's engines caused Waylon to look up. A Qantas passenger jet was turning onto the active runway. He paused and walked until he had a better view. The airliner paused for a minute and then started to roll, its engines growing louder and louder until it passed his viewpoint and climbed into the air.

"She'll be back I think." Arman said from behind him.

"I wish I had your confidence. Where's Remy?"

"Checking that the cabin cargo is secure."

"That's mean."

"It's what older brothers are for," Arman said, smiling.

Waylon shared the smile, "Let's get the hell out of here and go home."

Crystal City, Virginia

Captain Arnold straightened his notes and signaled to his aide that he was ready to proceed. There were eight heads pictured on the video wall. They were experts from different branches of government and obscure agencies scattered around the country, brought together for the purposes of solving a mystery. Their task had grown more difficult since the first meeting. The Freehold issue had gone from an interesting intelligence problem, to something that had reached the highest levels of government.

"We had a saying in Naval Intelligence, 'Having data is good, not having data is bad.' We've got data now, but it's only raised more questions. Let's start today by hearing from our Air Force representative."

"Thank you, sir," the man said. "Our space group has produced some very interesting analysis. There is no doubt now, Freehold has a launch and return capability. We got lucky on imagery and have a nice shot of the vehicle on the ground."

The image, obtained through a commercial satellite service, was displayed for the group.

"There's a lot of activity around the vehicle. We've run this by NASA and it looked very familiar to them. They did some of the same things after a shuttle landing; testing for hazardous fumes, inspecting the airframe and so forth. Any similarity between the two space programs ends there."

Arnold broke in for a moment, "Give us the highlights, our concerns are more strategic."

"I'm not sure how to even narrow the list," the Air Force man said. "How did they develop this capability? They launched, delivered a payload, and recovered the vehicle—apparently without any hiccups—yet we have no knowledge of a testing program? Then there's the runway they're using. It's only five thousand feet long. How are they braking? Another question, possibly related, how are they controlling the vehicle's attitude on orbit?

"Our analysts cleaned up the image as best as they could, and NASA noted the same thing we did. The vehicle doesn't have any recognizable thrusters. We may be looking at an entirely new technology and we have no idea what it is. The strategic implications are enormous and we have no understanding of their goals or objectives. That in and of itself is destabilizing."

Captain Arnold found himself nodding. There were important questions that they had few answers for.

The State Department Intelligence representative, Woollcott, indicated that he wanted to speak, but the captain ignored him. He had not been happy to learn about Woollcott's background or link to the Freehold case. He turned instead to the FBI woman and asked that she brief them on what they knew of the island's reluctant public face.

"We've built a profile of Waylon Eckermann," she replied "What his exact role is we cannot answer at this time. I'll try to summarize what our profilers put together. There is nothing remarkable in his schooling, academic testing, or military assessments. By all appearances, he's a normal twenty something male of average intelligence."

Arnold did not like this kind of thinking, but kept the thought to himself. Some of history's most dangerous characters were 'average.' It was what couldn't be measured that made them unique.

The FBI woman continued, "He has no criminal record and by all indications is, or was, a law abiding citizen who was willing to serve his country. There are three key events in his life that stand out. The first occurred during his military service. He had no specialized training and was assigned to a general labor pool at a base in Hawaii. After the death of his mother, Eckermann volunteered for duty in a combat theater and extended his enlistment for a year beyond his obligation to do so. There's nothing unusual in the family background. Parents divorced, and the mother retained custody. Eckermann never personally saw combat, but that he was willing to volunteer for hazardous duty may be significant.

"After military service he returned to Texas and enrolled at a small state school. Interestingly, he earned money working as a firearms instructor. The second key event occurred when he interrupted an armed robbery. He shot and killed the two assailants. Local authorities ruled it a justified action. We have the video from the convenience store and I suggest you all watch it. There are no medical or psychological records after his military service ended, but from the interviews conducted by our field personnel it appears that Eckermann suffered no emotional trauma after the shooting."

"What does that tell you?" Capt Arnold asked.

"If I may, I think it's important to address the third event before offering a conclusion."

"Of course, please continue."

"After the shooting, Eckermann was expelled from the state university by an overzealous official. An action, please note, that the university was forced to apologize for after he sued them. He bounces back from this setback by starting a small one man business, the details of which are unclear and are not addressed by this profile. The business was successful and he bought property. During this period he is isolated, solitary, but interviews with people he encountered in the course of business reveal a generally well adjusted personality. In fact the one trait our sources were consistent about when asked to assess his demeanor was that Eckermann was 'happy.'

"It's at this point where Eckermann's business runs into trouble, although there is no direct evidence of any wrongdoing on his part. He is subjected to what was clearly illegal harassment coordinated by government personnel who grossly exceeded their statutory powers. So egregious is this behavior that one of the agency's own people blew the whistle on them. An investigation by the FBI into this mess is still ongoing, as are several congressional inquiries."

Captain Arnold admired the skill with which the FBI agent had just delivered the knife blow. Obviously, he wasn't the only one who was disgusted by Woollcott's inclusion in their working group.

Woollcott glowered from his video monitor before standing stiffly and walking out of camera range.

Arnold stabbed a button and disconnected the State Department from the video conference.

Claire Chellos, from the National Security Council, ignored Woollcott's departure, "Are you suggesting that if Eckermann has anti-government feelings that we created them?"

The FBI woman smiled grimly, "I haven't offered any conclusions yet, but it appears that he certainly would be justified in those feelings. What the profilers pointed out was that this law abiding citizen, who was betrayed by the very government he risked his life in service of, hasn't expressed any overtly hostile attitudes toward the federal government despite provocation."

"He left the country and renounced his citizenship!" the National Security Council woman said, her voice growing heated. "Is the FBI suggesting that Freehold doesn't represent a threat because Eckermann didn't join a militia?"

Captain Arnold glanced at the remaining video conference participants during the exchange. There were several thoughtful looks as the information was digested. Claire Chellos was a different picture. Her face was doing a fine imitation of a puffer fish.

Arnold's terminal chirped softly.

"The FBI profilers are suggesting," the agent replied, "based on analysis of documented behavior, that if Eckermann is the decision maker, he will not seek confrontation with the United States."

The captain glanced at his screen. One of the other intelligence professionals had sent a text message over the secure network, 'Interesting analysis by the Feebs.'

Arnold quickly typed back, 'Unusual for them to cut against the current.'

Claire Chellos wasn't buying what the FBI was selling, "We have a virtual unknown displaying a functional technology that threatens to destabilize the entire region, and you're telling us that Eckermann isn't a threat? Unbelievable."

Different opinions were vital to this kind of work, but Captain Arnold couldn't afford to let those differences devolve into open conflict between team members.

He decided to change pace and signaled his text buddy that it was his turn at bat. Arnold had worked with the man before and appreciated his listen first approach.

"The FBI has provided an interesting profile," Arnold said. "You can read the full report on the server. Does CIA have a take?"

A quick 'F. U. very much' popped up on his screen.

"Langley has gone at it from a slightly different angle, looking at what sort of organizational structure it would take to pull this off. Our initial analysis is similar to the NSC paper. Eckermann was most likely recruited to be the public face of Freehold after his story went national. Freehold may see itself in a similar underdog role."

"Thank you," Chellos said. "NSC concurs."

The CIA man wasn't done. "However, our team has also posited an interesting bit of counter-analysis that has us taking a second look at things. They suggest an explanation for the Wayout Ventures puzzle that we've been unable to crack. Given the time to construct the island, it's fair to assume that Freehold was exploiting resources in the South Pacific for years prior to discovery. What if Eckermann was recruited much earlier and Wayout Ventures was actually a Freehold front. A test run in fact."

Arnold checked his notes quickly, "And the placer gold was what?"

"Purchased, through parties unknown, and salted not to defraud, but to obscure the true origins of their resources. The last shipment was the real test, and their plan went Tango Uniform when the Defense Logistics Agency bumbled into the picture and stepped on their dicks."

The FBI agent shook her head, but smiled at the CIA representative's phrasing. Claire Chellos, from the National Security Council, looked both puzzled and offended as she tried to translate the military slang.

Captain Arnold had to admit, the analysis had a certain elegance and it explained a lot. He needed to let it filter through his subconscious. Long experience had taught him to be cautious of easy explanations.

"We've had a spirited exchange of ideas today, thank you all. Any pending business before I close out this week's session?" Arnold asked.

One of the technical people spoke, "Any progress from our friends on getting a look at their electronic communications?"

The French had been dragging their feet. Arnold's group wanted a look at their phone and email traffic. They knew all of Freehold's communications had been going through a satellite hookup via the primary telecommunications provider for French Polynesia. It was conceivable that the new satellite would eliminate that window on Freehold's activities.

"That's being negotiated at an interagency level," Arnold said. "We'll get it eventually."

"What about better imagery or a live sniff of their signals?" the Air Force man asked.

"Miss Chellos?" the captain prompted.

"The Carl Vinson carrier battle group, currently near San Diego, is working up for deployment to the Persian Gulf," she said after checking a note. "When they transit to Hawaii, we're going to divert a portion of the group toward Freehold under the guise of conducting a reconnaissance training mission."

Control Room, Freehold

The Artificial Intelligences were doing all they could to help Waylon keep track of his 'to do' list, but he was frustrated. Marylee hadn't responded to his latest email. They had been trading notes on and off for weeks. On Christmas Day he called and they spoke for thirty minutes about nothing he could remember later.

The business trip to Israel had been pushed back a week. Their big cargo delivery was due in and Waylon had been forced to admit that they would need every available hand to deal with it.

Compounding his irritation, after weeks of silence James Wei had suddenly contacted him via email agreeing to another exchange. So far, all of Penelope's attempts to get Wei on the phone to iron out the final details had proven fruitless. The man was always out of the office or in a meeting.

"I need a break," Waylon said.

"You could go to the shooting range. You enjoy that," AI Barry replied.

"If I do, so will everybody else, and that will throw off Arman's schedule."

Waylon picked up his computer tablet and checked his email. There was still no reply from Marylee. He had no idea what sort of calendar Australian universities used. In the states a spring semester wouldn't typically start until the end of January.

He searched and found the university's web site. He followed several different links learning about the different campuses and course offerings. Waylon's concentration drifted as he thought about his all too brief studies.

Waylon banged the tablet off his knee, "I'm an idiot."

"Why would you say that?" Barry asked. "We have always found you to be of sufficient intelligence."

"Thanks, I think."

"It was a compliment."

"I just found the university's academic calendar. It's their summer."

"Inverse seasons will take some getting used to, Waylon. It does not mean a lack of intelligence on your part."

"They're on the quarter system, and their summer sessions have already started."

"You think that Miss Walker's cessation of communication means that she is enrolled in classes?"


The newest android entered the room and stood near Waylon's desk.

"You do need a break," Barry said.

"I wish to reassess the island defenses," the android announced.

Waylon sighed and stood up. They had already hashed the issue out once. The recently reactivated Military AI had a list of defensive and offensive systems it wanted brought online. Waylon rejected almost the entire list and put off decisions on what remained.

He had to look up at the android. "Have you gotten taller?"

"I have modified this body," the android replied. "This facility remains vulnerable to attack. It is unacceptable."

"We are not turning Freehold into an armed camp. There is no threat in our little corner of the South Pacific and any country with the ability to attack us has no reason to do so. If we put our fangs out then they're going to want to find out why."

"Our weapons and technology are superior," the AI controlled android replied.

"We are one tiny island," Waylon tapped the android's chest to emphasize his point. "Any major power could easily overwhelm us."

"Not if I was allowed to create the correct weaponry."

"If we employed the weapons you want to make, it would unite the major powers against us. You need to study the political and military history of this planet."

"I have no interest in such things," the AI replied.

"It wasn't a request. Stay here and study the records of this planet. Learn about our wars, our history, and the political situation that Freehold faces. Then, and only then, do I want you to consider this island's defenses. We will talk about what you've learned later."

Waylon stalked out of the room and walked toward one of the elevators. The muzak playing over the hidden hallway speakers did little to change his mood. The elevator doors slid open.

"I thought you guys brought the new AI up to speed before loading it into that body," he said.

"Waylon, the AI is still adjusting. You should be patient with it. It is an excellent Military AI," AI Barry replied.

The elevator began to speed toward the surface.

"Your empire lost its war didn't it?"

The morning light reflected off the water as Waylon squinted through the telescope. It was the start of the rainy season, but so far they hadn't seen many rain storms. The white cargo ship he was watching had slowed, barely making headway as it inched toward the port. The cargo ship's yellow cranes and international orange lifeboats stood out against the white hull.

Escorting the ship was Freehold's fast moving rigid inflatable boat manned by Felix and Remy. He couldn't see Arman, the oldest brother, but knew he was waiting dockside. Rowen, acting as the island's official representative had already boarded the cargo boat. His cell phone had been equipped with an RFID reader to process their visitor's passports.

Waylon wanted to be in the middle of the action, but had decided to let Arman and Rowen run the show. He trusted them, and it was time he acted like it. After the vessel had docked, he'd make his way down to the port and mingle with the guests.

His cell phone chirped. He had an inter-island call from Rowen.

"Problems?" he asked.

"Only a minor one, boss," Rowen said. "I hadn't even considered it, but there are eight passengers who would like to come ashore in addition to crew and the laborers that we were expecting."

Arman had talked Waylon into hiring the laborers. Having them travel aboard the cargo vessel showed that Arman had a great grasp of logistics and planning. The extra hands would help shift the cargo and then be put to work building the greenhouse and several other projects before being returned to Tahiti.

"Why not," Waylon replied. "As long as they understand that this is not a resort, and they have to follow the same rules as the rest of the ship's crew. What are they doing aboard anyway?"

"It's a cheap, or at least cheaper, way to travel around the islands. They seem like nice folks."

"Okay, I'll call Deni for you and tell her we're expecting more guests."

Waylon puttered around the house for another hour and a half before finally driving to the port.

Pallets of cargo lined the pier. Felix was at the controls of the front end loader moving a bundle of lumber up the hill. Waylon parked and got a wave and a thumbs-up from Felix as the big machine went by in a burst of noise and a cloud of diesel fumes.

Tables and chairs were setup outside the community building. Jaidee was writing on the chalk board. Omo had built a nice easel for it to sit on since the board served as their island news source.

"Hello, Mr. Waylon," the shy bride said. She rested a hand on her belly and stepped away from the board.

Waylon could see that the menu had been written in English and French. The Polynesians, who made up the majority of the cargo ship's crew, spoke many different island dialects, but French was the language that bound them together.

"Are we ready?" he asked.

"I think so, but we should be charging these people for lunch."

Waylon smiled. He appreciated her entrepreneurial spirit. "Probably, but it's the first time we've received visitors. So, we'll call it a celebration and eat the costs."

She giggled at his inadvertent joke.

"Have they let anyone off the ship yet?" he asked.

"Only the new workers. Remy says the crew and passengers won't be released until after the cargo is unloaded."

Waylon wandered inside the building and found Rava and Deni working in the kitchen.

"Are they here?" Rava asked.

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