Island Mine - Cover

Island Mine

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

Chapter 15

Crystal City, Virginia

Captain Arnold, United States Navy, retired, felt something pop as he tried to stretch the sore muscles in his back. The unscheduled video conference had drained what energy he had, but at least this meeting was taking place during regular business hours.

"So, the short answer is that we don't know what happened last night?" Claire Chellos from the National Security Council asked.

"No, ma'am," replied a China specialist from the Defense Intelligence Agency, who had joined them for the meeting.

"We know that a missile was launched," the CIA representative said. "The Indians watch Tibet closely, and they're usually pretty good at understanding the Chinese mindset. From what we're hearing via our agency to agency contacts, they're as puzzled as we are."

"What about strategic assets, could the Chinese have felt threatened?" Chellos asked.

The Air Force representative signaled that he wanted to speak, "Anything is possible, but we've confirmed that the Chinese were notified of the flight route ahead of time. It was no surprise, or shouldn't have been. We're looking at it from a different angle. The leap forward that the Freehold aircraft represents is, in our analysis, significant. If it were military it would certainly be labeled a first strike delivery system. The Chinese missile failure, if their target was the Freehold aircraft, only exacerbates the technical disparity."

Captain Arnold cut in, "Surely you're not suggesting that the Chinese feel threatened by a lone South Pacific Island with a population of less than twenty?"

The Air Force man shrugged, "The world's lone superpower has a high level, multi-agency intelligence group meeting on a regular basis in an attempt to solve the Freehold question."

"Point taken," the captain replied. "Continue if you would. What else is the Air Force thinking that we haven't considered?"

"The incident does have an upside. It revealed more of the aircraft's capabilities. The change in sustained speed and service ceiling, it's extraordinary. We've revised our estimations of its true capabilities. It seems likely that Freehold could circumnavigate the earth, nonstop, in less than four hours."

That got a reaction from the video conference members.

"But, forget that astounding fact for a moment. What nobody has asked is this — how did a civilian sub-orbital aircraft know that it needed to take evasive action from a ground launched missile?"

The conference link was silent.

Captain Arnold cleared his throat, "When will the Carl Vinson Battle Group be in range to launch a surveillance flight?"

"Twelve days at present schedule," Claire Chellos replied.

"What if Freehold is selling the technology, perhaps to Israel? It would be an ideal strike platform if they wanted to hit Iran's nuclear program," the Defense Intelligence Agency guest asked.

Arnold muted the man's microphone. "It's pointless to speculate. What we need is an open channel to Freehold so we can get a better sense of their thinking. Has the FBI made any progress there?"

The FBI representative had been quiet while the discussion focused on strategic military issues. "We've hit a brick wall. Eckermann's lawyer in Texas made it very clear that his client has no interest in communicating with the government. That's not to say that he's necessarily turned hostile. We checked something his lawyer mentioned, Eckermann did file an early tax return covering the last months of his American citizenship. In fact, he paid big on a very large diamond transaction that the IRS would never have known about if he hadn't filed."

"So, he's honest but has no interest in talking to us?" Captain Arnold summarized.

One of the conference participants signaled that they wanted to speak. Arnold relented and opened the man's microphone.

"What can our friends at the State Department offer, Mr. Woollcott?"

"We may have a way into Freehold."

"Can you explain what you mean?"

"It's a sensitive matter."

"Everything we discuss here is a sensitive matter," Arnold punched a button and cut the State Department's feed. "I've had enough for today. We'll reconvene for our regular session."

Freehold, one week later

Tweaked biology notwithstanding, Waylon realized he needed to return to a regular exercise schedule. His legs were stiff and his shoulders were sore as he sat at his desk in the underground control room. He'd spent the morning helping move equipment to the greenhouse construction site. The project had gotten off to a bumpy start, but was finally making progress.

Omo didn't read English, and neither did the work crew. Jaidee was drafted as their primary translator. Her English was good, but she wasn't fluent in construction speak or small scale farming. It was proving to be an interesting learning experience for all parties. Arman had told Waylon that the work crew was completely besotted by the pregnant girl. The men, with Omo's help, had crafted a rocking chair for her that was the envy of her mother and sister-in-law.

The thought made Waylon pause. He made a mental note to confirm the trip to Tahiti so the young woman could see an obstetrician. Regular prenatal care wasn't common practice in Indonesia, or even the islands as far as he knew.

"Waylon, are you doing it again?" AI Barry asked.

"I was reminding myself to make sure that Jaidee gets to Tahiti soon."

"You know we can make those kinds of notes for you."

"Are you saying that it bothers you when I want to remember things on my own?"

"Of course not, Waylon, but your brain does such interesting things when you make those mental notes. It makes us curious. Besides, Jaidee already asked Penelope to help her secure an appointment in Papeete."

"She did?"

"It's on the schedule for next week," AI Penelope replied.

"Well, if it's not too much trouble, try to keep me in the loop?" Waylon asked. He was only slightly irritated. The AIs did a terrific job of keeping him focused. "How much time do we have left?"

"Twenty-five minutes until touchdown."

Waylon decided to go topside. The orbiter was returning from its latest mission. It was a milestone of sorts. The flight would be its last without being configured for human occupation. The AIs were going to retrofit the vehicle to add a cockpit and living space, based partly on what they had learned in the simulator and with his microgravity training.

Waylon had to navigate through a crowd of androids in white protective suits after exiting the elevator. The hangar doors were open and the smell of fresh rain was heavy in the air.

"Doesn't the cloud cover make this charade somewhat pointless?" he asked.

"Those who want to observe our activities do not rely solely on the visible spectrum. While there are no satellite platforms within range at this time, we do have other visitors on the island. It is good to be consistent," AI Barry replied.

The androids were interesting to watch. They weren't sentient, but had programming that kept them busy. They mixed together in random patterns, or checked equipment. The only thing they didn't do was talk, which made the whole thing a little eerie.

Waylon noticed one head taller than the others.

"What are you doing here?" he asked the Defense AI.


"Make sure that no humans observe you."

"The other androids are allowed limited contact with the humans, and they have no high order AI controlling them. Why should I be treated differently?" the AI asked.

"Because you're not very good at this."

"Why have you not given me a name?"

Waylon sighed. He didn't know why, but when he thought about this android the only names that came to mind belonged to dead Nazis. It wasn't fair to the AI. Maybe he was holding its development back.

Waylon walked a couple of paces away from the android, "Barry, there was a Prussian military strategist I had to read about once ... Clausewitz, I think."

"He is a well known military theorist."

"What's the full name?"

"Carl von Clausewitz or Carl Philipp Gottfried von Clausewitz to be complete."

Waylon glanced at the android that the Defense AI inhabited. "What do you think about, Von?"

"Waylon, in German 'von' is the—"

"I know what it is, Barry. It's either that or Gottfried. It's not like he's going to need to fill out a family genealogy."

He turned back to the android. "We're going to call you Von."

"It is acceptable," the Defense AI replied, before walking away.

Waylon dismissed the AI from his thoughts and walked to the hangar entrance. The steady drum of falling rain dancing on the tarmac helped him relax. He had the irrational urge to rip his shirt off and go running through the rain.

"AIs Norm and Chief have reports if you would like to hear them," Barry said, interrupting the peaceful moment.

He sighed. Barry would have said if it was good news. "Go ahead."

"The surveillance probe has finished checking all the hospitals in Nanning. There is no record of Wei's mother having been admitted to any hospital in the area," AI Chief said.

"It was a ruse then."

"It would appear so."

Waylon's suspicions had been proven right. It didn't take long for the probe to learn that James Wei was missing from his casino offices and home. Macau's odd mix of computerized and written records had proved to be of little help in the investigation. It had taken four days before the probe finally overheard two casino workers gossiping about Wei's absence. The story was that Wei had been called out of town on a family emergency. Reportedly, his mother had been hospitalized after being struck by a taxi.

With that piece of information, the probe was able to discover that Wei had travelled to Guangzhou from Macau, and then west to Nanning by train. From there the trail went cold. The apartment that Wei provided for his mother in a city high-rise development was empty.

"What now?" Waylon asked.

"The probe will expand the search parameters," Chief replied.

"Norm, tell me you have good news."

"I have good news, Waylon," Norm replied. "The construction crews have worked through most of Arman's punch list. The late start to the greenhouse will not negatively affect the schedule. The men should be ready to return to Tahiti by the first of the coming week."

"They'll be finished by then?"

"The greenhouse, as the foreman explained it to Arman, is simple construction. They claim it will be ready for final inspection on Saturday."

"The orbiter is approaching," Barry announced.

It appeared through the rain. The spacecraft must have been near stall speed as it floated gently over the runway's threshold and touched down. Two thirds of the way down the runway, it rolled to a stop.

Steam rose from the orbiter as it sat motionless in the rain. The white suited androids and their odd looking vehicles left the hangar and sped towards it.

"Is it really that hot?" Waylon asked.

"We only mask the thermal effects when stealth is required," AI Norm replied.

"Would I understand how you do that if you explained it?"

The AI didn't reply immediately.

"Never mind then. You guys don't need me here. I'm going to see what everybody else is up to."

"Waylon, we did not intend to insult you and would gladly explain the technology to you. It takes a moment to translate the concepts to your frame of reference."

"I'm not insulted, Barry, but I know my limitations."

"What about your afternoon training session? You were looking forward to exploring the space station module."

"Let's do it tomorrow. You can have me for the entire day if needed."

The Night Watch: Colorado, Air Force Space Tracking Squadron

The senior airman was using a software tool to measure an object from the latest set of pictures to come in from the International Space Station. The American astronaut aboard ISS, a colonel in the USAF Reserves, had taken the photos and forwarded them through a NASA backchannel.

The geosynchronous orbit of the object near the Freehold satellite was difficult to image with their standard platforms.

The structure was larger than he had originally estimated. When he compared the recent images with the older, it was clear that something had changed. He started building a three dimensional wireframe of the object based off of what he could see, and some educated guesses.

After an hour of tweaking his model, he rendered it and examined it from several different axes. He tried to write up his suspicions, but gave up after several starts.

The young analyst pushed his chair back from the computer station, "Master Sergeant, do you have a moment?"

The older man walked over and examined the screen.

"What does this look like to you?" the analyst asked. He alternated between his graphical rendering and the images he had selected for comparison.

"What's the scale?"

The analyst hit a key and brought up a grid.

"We better let the major know," the master sergeant said, as he reached for the phone on the desk. "It's going to be a hell of a morning briefing."

The analyst made notes. He was going to have to generate some briefing slides.

The master sergeant tapped him on the shoulder and handed him the phone, "You found it. You get to tell the man."

The senior airman took the phone gingerly and pressed a preprogrammed button.

"Sir, it's the Imagery Analysis desk on the watch floor. We have something you should see. No, sir, I'd rather not prejudice your opinion. Yes, sir. I understand, sir," the analyst took a breath and locked eyes with the master sergeant. "It appears that the Freehold group may be building a space station."


The morning offered a welcome respite from the rain. It was a Friday, Waylon noted absently. The day used to mean that he'd have a weekend to look forward to. He decided it was a good thing that the calendar meant so little to him.

The morning meeting after breakfast was short. Arman reported that the work crew had met and exceeded his schedule. He dropped a less than subtle hint that a bonus might be in order.

"Anything else?" Waylon asked.

"Three of the nylon rain covers for the utility vehicles are coming apart," Arman said. "I don't think they're worth repairing."

No quick constructor fixes for this problem, Waylon realized. "We've got another month or two of rain. What do you suggest we do?"

"We could order a few hardtop kits. I found a deal online, they'll throw in several sun shade top covers with the purchase."

Waylon liked the idea of the sun shades. "Okay, sounds like a plan. How big an item are these kits?"

"We can get them on the plane, but the problem is the cost."

Waylon looked at the printout that had been handed down the table to him. At four grand a pop, they weren't cheap, and that was before you added shipping to Tahiti. Waylon understood Arman's hesitation. He needed to sit down with the man and tell him that he had blanket permission to make purchase decisions up to a certain limit. It wasn't like the island was lacking for funds.

"Buy 'em. I'm going to be busy all morning and probably for most of the afternoon. Arman, if you're satisfied with the work the crew has done, sign off on it, and if you think they deserve a bonus, that's good enough for me. We'll get it taken care of."

The meeting concluded and Waylon snuck into the kitchen to fix himself a sack lunch for later. He didn't think he'd have time to take much of a break between training sessions.

"Mr. Waylon, what are you doing? I can prepare that for you," Jaidee brushed past him and took the loaf of bread from his hands.

"I can make a sandwich."

"You shouldn't have to."

Waylon wanted to argue the point, but the young girl had been taking lessons from Deni. Her glare was formidable.

He changed tack, "Are you excited about your visit to Papeete next week?"

She put the bread knife she was holding down, "I don't like to fly."

"I can guarantee a smooth flight."

Jaidee made a face before holding up a papaya for his inspection and including it in his lunch bag.

"Is there anything you need for the baby?

"Mr. Waylon, we have everything we could ask for." She handed him a bag containing his lunch and left him standing there.

He inspected the bag. He could have made the same sandwich, but he doubted he would have included the fruit or the napkin.

"She's unsure of herself and her place here, Mr. Waylon."

He turned to see Deni standing behind him, "Is she scared of me?"

"I don't think so. A baby changes everything, I think she's feeling overwhelmed."

"Is there anything we can do? Fly her parents in or something? I was only thinking along the lines of baby furniture, cribs, that sort of thing."

Deni patted him on the arm. "I will talk to her, Mr. Waylon. Only good happens here. She will see."

"It's not paradise, Deni. There will always be a little bit of bad with the good."

"It's paradise for me, Mr. Waylon."

Waylon didn't know how to respond. They'd never talked about what had happened with her cancer.

"Have you heard from Miss Walker?" she asked.

"Not lately, she's busy with school."

"Don't worry, she will come."

Deni smiled, picked up a tray, and left him standing there holding his lunch.

Waylon headed for the control center. He was looking forward to training on the new space station module, but Von the Defense AI had requested an urgent meeting.

He found the android standing in front of the bank of wall monitors watching an overhead view of an aircraft carrier as it powered its way through the ocean, leaving a long white wake behind it. Waylon realized this was a staged scene. The AI mind controlling the android didn't need to look at the screens.

"Spying on the Navy?" he asked.

"This unit, and one other, is headed toward Freehold," the android said. "Do you know it?"

Waylon could read the hull number on the forward bow portion of the flight deck. While he knew some of the west coast based carriers, he didn't have every number memorized. "It's one of ours, or one of theirs I should say. How far away?"

The viewpoint switched.

"Show me the latitude, please."

The information was displayed.

"Okay, thanks."

Waylon turned and started to leave. He was eager to get started on his training.

"We should prepare our defenses," the android said.

He stopped and turned around, "I thought you had studied Earth's military history? A carrier and one destroyer escort are not an attack force."

"They may probe our defenses, test our weaknesses."

Waylon walked back to the wall of monitors and smacked the screen with his index finger. "Look at where they're at. Barry, find the rest of this battle group."

The screen shifted and a cluster of ships were highlighted.

"Look, the rest of this group is headed to Hawaii. The carrier and her escort broke off to the south, probably as part of some blue on blue exercise. They'll move toward each other and do a simulated attack or play cat and mouse.

"The important piece of information here is the position of the carrier. They're about to cross the equator. If you're still watching, you'll get to see them conduct a line crossing ceremony. It should be educational for you. Start using that super intelligence of yours. We are not a hostile force and they are not going to attack us."

"They are an alien military unit with significant firepower coming within range of this facility. You cannot know their intent."

Waylon took a hard look at the android. "Listen to me. I was a member of that military, stationed in Pearl Harbor. The big carrier groups pull in there all the time. This is what the Navy does. So what if they do take a look to see what's here? They'll find a happy little island. We'll deal with it when and if it happens."

"Your military career was not very impressive," the android said.

Waylon clenched his fists and took a deep breath, "Stand here and watch that carrier real closely for the next forty-eight hours. I don't want to hear from you until then."

He turned on his heels and left the room. When he was in the hallway he stopped. "Barry, what would it take to upgrade Android Bob to cover that thing's duties?"

"The unit has been alone for a very long time, by choice. That may have been detrimental to its function. It is possible to reprogram one of the dormant AIs, after a full personality wipe, but the creation of a new intelligence matrix is a delicate undertaking. Unfortunately, 'upgrading' one of the lower level AIs is not recommended. Do you wish for me to deal with the Defense AI?"

Waylon recognized that neither one of them had used its name. He felt damned silly to be having a pissing match with an alien computer. He didn't think of Barry and the other AIs as programs, they were unique personalities to him. There was no doubt in his mind that they were sentient beings, and he regarded them as his friends.

"It needs an attitude adjustment. I've worked with difficult people before, but I shouldn't have to put up with it from my own team."

"I will personally work with the AI on its attitude," Barry said.

"Waylon, would you like to try on your space suit and begin the training session?" AI Penelope asked.

"Penelope," he almost had to laugh. The AI was going to get away with the distraction and knew it. "Yes, I want to try on the spacesuit."

They had suggested an interesting training evolution. He would take off in the simulator and fly an abbreviated mission to the space station. Once in virtual geosynchronous orbit, he'd practice docking. After successfully completing the maneuver, he'd crawl through the access hatch of the simulator into the space station training module. It sounded like fun.

One of the other androids was waiting for him at the entrance to the simulator. A table and chair had been recently added. The components of his spacesuit were laid out in an organized fashion.

"Helping me get dressed?" he asked, as he felt the fabric of the suit and examined the gloves

"The android is here to assist you if needed," AI Norm replied. "However, a space suit that you cannot get into and out of on your own would be of limited use. Please disrobe."

Waylon mumbled something about the AI not even offering to buy him a drink first, but stripped to his underwear.

"Waylon, you need to remove everything."

"This thing doesn't require ... how do I say this ... plumbing connections does it?"

"It does not," Norm replied. "We examined the various human space programs in great detail before designing the station environment and systems you will require. American astronauts use an absorbent undergarment to collect waste material. Our suit uses the same concept, but with specialized constructors that will remove and process the material."

"You could have just said 'space diaper' and I would have gotten the picture."

He dressed following the AIs instructions. First he put on a pair of tight fitting shorts, followed by a full body 'long john' style layer and a pair of socks made from the same material. It was thin and slick to the touch. Each layer was impregnated with different kinds of constructors, designed to handle hygiene issues or act as a secondary safety system.

Norm explained that while in space he should wear the body garment at all times. It could serve as a rudimentary protection against vacuum in an emergency.

The next part required him to sit in the chair. Unlike the suits used by the various Earth programs, the Freehold suit was one piece with the opening in the front. The material was dark blue and thinner than he thought it would be as he struggled with the legs. He stood and pulled the waist of the suit up and shrugged into the arms. There was no large backpack, but it had thick armor like padding that covered the shoulders and ran the length of his spine.

Waylon wiggled and twisted to adjust the fit. "How do I close it? There's no zipper."

"Put the right flap over the left, and run your hand up the length of the seam."

He did as instructed. A notation appeared within his field of vision informing him that the seal was complete.

"This will hold?" he asked.

"There is no seam now. The suit will adjust itself once all the connections are complete."

Waylon tugged at the front of the suit, but as claimed, he could find no seam.

"Do the boots and gloves work the same way?" he asked as he sat back down to put on the footwear.

"The process is slightly different. The connections lock into place, but are no less secure. The suit will keep you informed of its status. Suit management is achieved either through vocal commands or via the hand-thigh interface you are already familiar with. Please note that there are several safety steps to prevent suit removal at inopportune times."

Waylon clicked one boot connection into place and began work on the other. The android handed him the gloves and Waylon put them on and secured them.

He stood up and jumped. Then he jumped again. The suit tightened noticeably, adjusting itself as the AI said it would. It wasn't exactly a second layer of skin, but it was surprisingly comfortable and lightweight. The boots were bulky, but not awkwardly so. The gloves were very flexible. When he tapped on the table, the fingertips hardened.

"No backpack unit?"

"There is an auxiliary stores unit that can be added much like a backpack. Connections are made between the unit and the suit automatically. It typically contains extra oxygen, water, and a nutritional supplement in addition to raw materials for extra constructors in case tools or implements are needed."

"I need a mirror."

One of the wall panels turned reflective and Waylon posed in front of it. The man in the mirror had a huge grin on his face.

"I'm wearing a space suit!"

"We take it that you are pleased?" Barry asked.

Waylon grabbed the helmet, locked it into place, and turned to examine his profile.

"Waylon, the helmet is unnecessary for this training evolution."

He ignored Barry and undogged the hatch to the simulator. Unlike the simulator across the hall, the orbiter simulator didn't require gimbals or movement on an axis to provide the sensation of movement. Instead, it manipulated gravity to provide the forces necessary to make the simulation realistic.

Take off and initial orbit were simulated in real time. It did not take long. Transition to geosynchronous orbit was shortened and Waylon made several runs approaching the space station. In reality the AIs flew the craft most of the time. The orbiter had its own limited AI, and Waylon was never really sure where it left off and his hosted group of AIs began. There was a big difference between Waylon's piloting abilities and the precision controls and understanding of orbital mechanics needed for spaceflight. He recognized that and appreciated the way the AIs avoided bruising his ego when the subject was discussed.

He kept the helmet on for most of the vehicle's ascent, but eventually removed it. At his request, the orbiter and space station were set to microgravity conditions while in simulated orbit. The AIs humored his request and admitted that it was good training. Once docked with the station, Waylon swam through the connecting tunnel and entered the space station module for the first time.

The module was full scale, but only represented the main living area and one work section. That brought to mind a question that Waylon didn't really want to ask. What was he supposed to do on the station? He understood the basic premise of a fallback position, having been through it once before, but he wasn't alone any longer.

The module itself was impressive. The look and feel of the station interior reminded him of a cross section of the B site's original living quarters mixed with plane and boat design elements. There was a noticeable gravitational bias since that would be the condition the station normally operated under. Down was toward Earth and up was away. Cabinets all had latches to keep their contents secure. The walls and 'ceiling' looked like they could all be walked on if the station's orientation were changed for some reason. Panels of natural looking fabric were interspersed throughout the area and there were alternating sections of muted color to provide visual relief from what would have been sterile white walls. Had the AIs been thinking about this space station when they constructed the B site, or was it simply a shared aesthetic? He wasn't sure he wanted to know that answer.

After exploring for a while, Waylon pulled himself through the living quarters to the observation area. He'd gotten pretty good at maneuvering in microgravity thanks to his training sessions in the sphere. The view from the observation area, even in the virtual environment, was breathtaking. The AIs informed him that the view was a real time feed from their satellite.

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