Island Mine - Cover

Island Mine

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

Chapter 16


Breakfast was a lively event. The previous day's flyby was still a topic of conversation, but one that Waylon would just as soon forget. He'd been angry at the Navy's arrogance, but after he'd cooled down he realized that using the drone to return the favor may have been monumentally stupid.

There hadn't been any fallout, so far. The carrier and her escort had departed the area immediately afterwards. That worried him. While he couldn't see the U.S. Government wasting a lot of time and effort on the affairs of a small South Pacific island, he'd pushed back when they came to sniff around. If it happened again, how was he going to deescalate things?

"Mr. Waylon?"

He looked up to see Arman and the rest of the group staring at him.


"I was asking if there were any additions to our 'must have' list from Papeete," Arman tapped the chalk board, where he'd written several items, for emphasis.

"Sorry, guess I've been a little out of it. I don't have anything to add. Do we have a final passenger list for the flight?"

"No changes from what we discussed, it's Remy and Jaidee, with Rava going along for moral support," Arman said. "If that's all, then I think we're done for the morning."

"Make sure you're all available to help this afternoon," Deni said, reminding them.

There were mumbles of assent from around the table. If the weather cooperated, they planned to send the work crew off with a big beach cookout and party.

"Need anything from me?" Waylon asked.

Deni bent her head toward Rava for a moment, and the two whispered. "Can you bring any ice?"

"Something wrong with the ice maker?"

"It isn't making much ice."

With that announcement, the men headed for the kitchen to examine the recalcitrant machine. Felix went to find a flashlight and Remy stuck his head inside the ice maker to take a look. Arman thumped the side of the machine for good measure while Rowen and Waylon watched.

Remy pulled his head out from the machine and shrugged. "It's not making much ice."

Rowen turned to Waylon, "And what are you doing?"

"Helping you supervise?"

"I think the four of us can handle it. You must have something better to do?"

Arman put a hand on Rowen's shoulder, "Actually, I'm supervising and I thought you were going to put together a list of rescue equipment for the boat locker this morning?

"I think he's saying he doesn't need us," Waylon said, smiling at Rowen's expression.

The two men left the kitchen, reluctantly. Rowen set off down the hill toward the pier and Waylon hopped into his vehicle and drove toward the airfield.

"What's wrong with the ice machine?" Waylon asked aloud.

"A piece of ice is obstructing the tub sensor and the machine thinks it is full," AI Barry replied. "We were not monitoring the non-networked equipment, as you instructed. Although we still dispute the idea that some things must break for normalcy."

"I'm not blaming you guys, and I guess it's unlikely that we'll have to worry about a service call on cloned equipment."

"Distance does provide a measure of security in that regard."

Waylon parked next to the hangar and went in through a side door. His footsteps echoed through the large, empty space.

"Speaking of security, any changes since the last report?"

He stood still, and the elevator began dropping.

"AI Von reports no changes. The Chinese surveillance ship continues to loiter a few miles from the barrier and the American battle group shows no deviation in their course to Pearl Harbor."

"Somehow, I don't think we're going to remain this lucky."

His morning was spent in the simulator. The AIs felt the best way to encourage learning was to put him through every conceivable system failure or possible crash scenario. The training required a detailed knowledge of the flight software and systems. The stress of simulated failures exposed the areas he was deficient in. Waylon was pretty sure that many of the incidents weren't survivable. For that matter, the AIs would have taken over control of the vehicle long before he got into trouble, but he stuck with it and learned.

By afternoon, he was more than ready for a break and the beach party. Despite the enhancements to his body, he was physically wrung out and emotionally drained from the intense training.

He walked toward the elevator to the surface, lost in his thoughts.

"Waylon, you forgot something."

He turned to see Android Von holding a large bag of ice.

"Thanks, I better put that in a cooler before it melts."

"Unnecessary, the material the casing is made from is an excellent insulator."

The brief image of a forgotten bag of ice lying on the beach after the party, with its un-melted contents flashed through his head.

"Okay, thanks again, Von."

He drove to the community center and took the bag of ice to the kitchen. He intended to add the bag's contents to the ice machine bin, but found it almost completely full.

"They fixed it, Mr. Waylon," Deni said. "Dump your ice over here please."

Deni was standing by a galvanized tub that she was stacking with bottles of beer. He dumped the ice in the tub and contemplated one of the beers, then volunteered to take the tub to the beach.

"Well, as long as you're going," Deni said.

The cold beer was unloaded by a very eager work crew, but Deni took charge of unloading the rest and the men jumped at her commands. With her in charge, the chaos on the beach was quickly organized. A fire was started. It was fueled by old cargo pallets and a large chunk of driftwood that had been retrieved from the ring barrier several weeks earlier.

Rava and Jaidee were making the island version of shish kebab, meat and vegetables which had been marinating in an interesting concoction, and then placed on skewers. You could cook your own, or wait and have it cooked for you if you asked politely.

Remy had gotten a Frisbee from somewhere. A friendly game with the brightly colored disc quickly devolved into a small scale battle between opposing sides with very questionable rules on scoring. It felt good to run and laugh on the beach and not have a care in the world, at least for that evening. It only lacked one thing to make it perfect for Waylon.

Later, with a full belly and a second cold beer, Waylon relaxed and watched the fire burn down. The party had been a great success according to all. The work crew was particularly happy. Their leader had kissed Waylon on both cheeks and delivered a mostly sober speech. The translation provided by a very amused Felix, was that when Freehold needed more labor, the men would consider it a privilege to return. That caused Waylon to wonder how big a bonus Arman had actually given them. The finale of the night was a round of songs in a mix of French and Tahitian that Waylon didn't understand, but he clapped along to the beat.

He had almost fallen asleep when Felix dropped down next to him.

"Good party, Waylon."

"They worked hard for us. They deserve it. Hell, we deserve it."

"It's probably a good thing we ran out of beer," Felix said. "I have looked at several home brewing kits. What do you think about making our own?"

"Sounds adventurous. You should run it by Rowen, he might have a thought or two on the subject."

Felix pointed at Omo, who was passed out drunk yet again. Deni and Rava were trying to get him up and pointed in the direction of his home.

"Were you serious about flight training if we were interested?" Felix asked.

Waylon tried not to yawn, "Yeah, I was."

"Arman and I have talked about it. We'd both like to try."

"Tell you what, I'll talk to a few people while I'm over at Faa'a International tomorrow."

"Thanks, Waylon."

"Don't thank me yet. You haven't done ground school."

Crystal City, Virginia

The Central Intelligence Agency and the National Security Council, in the forms of their respective representatives, were having a vigorous argument. It was CIA's contention that sending an aircraft carrier to investigate Freehold wasn't exactly subtle, to which Claire Chellos from the NSC retorted, "I wasn't asking for a failed assassination attempt."

Captain Arnold typed out a quick message to his CIA friend, 'She zinged you good with that.' The CIA man looked up from his computer screen and scratched his forehead with his middle finger for the benefit of the camera.

Their argument continued and it was understandable. The Navy had not been pleased, to put it mildly, when they learned that they hadn't been fully briefed on the nature of the 'Reconnaissance Exercise.' The plain fact of the matter was that the working group didn't make policy, and Captain Arnold needed to put a stop to the bickering.

"The mission may not have been a great success, but we did get data," he said.

"We still need better information," the CIA man said.

"On that much, we agree," Claire replied.

"That may be," Captain Arnold said, daring them to continue, "but let's listen to what the analysts have for us anyway."

Arnold hit a key to bring a new participant into the conference. The screen revealed a young looking Navy lieutenant who adjusted his collar, before taking a sip of water.

"Any time you're ready," the captain said.

"Yes, sir," the lieutenant replied. "We, ah, believe that—"

"Excuse me. Son, are you the analyst?" Arnold asked.

"—what? Uh, no, sir. It's my section though and I'm fully prepared to brief you."

"Why don't you put the analyst in the chair? I'll see to it that your section gets the credit it deserves."

The lieutenant blinked and slowly got out of his chair. After a few moments an older man, a chief petty officer, sat down and looked at the camera expectantly.

"Chief, what can you tell me about the target?" Captain Arnold asked.

"It's an interesting island, sir. Would you like me to discuss some of the oddities before discussing the airfield complex?"

"It's your briefing, chief. This isn't a formal report. I want to hear what you know, what you think it means, and what you suspect."

The chief rubbed his chin and closed his eyes momentarily. "We got excellent coverage of the target. In some respects it looks like any island you'd find in the region. Upon closer examination, we discovered several unusual items. More precisely, it's the lack of things which is interesting.

"For example, there's no desalination plant or water treatment facility. There are no above ground water or fuel storage tanks, yet we can see fueling points here and here."

The chief used the conference software to highlight an area near the port and the airfield on an annotated photograph of the island. Then he circled what had been labeled a vehicle barn.

"Additionally, there are no above ground power lines or cabling of any kind."

The chief paused, waiting for questions, but there were none as the conference participants digested the information.

He continued, "If the island, or part of the island, is artificial, as has been claimed, then it is mostly like the southern end where the airfield lies. Given the oddities that I've noted, it suggests that there maybe be a significant infrastructure below what we are seeing.

"Consider also that if the peak is natural and as recent as what the national agencies suggest, then the growth patterns are all wrong. The island should be nearly barren with no soil to support the plant life we see."

"Could it be landscaped?" asked Claire Chellos.

The chief inclined his head, "The work required would have been phenomenal, and they would have had to transplant mature trees. The growth patterns remain an anomaly otherwise. We do see evidence of an expanding agricultural program so they do have some abilities along those lines.

"The airfield complex is interesting. There are at least three different aircraft operating from the field, although they haven't been doing it for very long, at least on the present surface."

"How do you know that?" Chellos asked.

"Tire marks, ma'am. We can still make out individual marks on the runway, measuring the width of the different sets gives us three different aircraft. The windowless building is interesting. It butts up against the larger hangar. Given the space available, they're probably using this as a vehicle preparation building to support their orbiter. The double fencing around the area tells us how much they value it. It's the only sign of physical security apart from the ring barrier."

"Anything else strike you?" Captain Arnold asked.

"Well ... it's not in my report, but the fancy house on the north end of the island, separated as it is from the more modest housing around the port, suggests an interesting hierarchy."

"Chief, that was an excellent briefing. You've given us a lot to think about. Please extend my thanks to your entire team."

The chief looked relieved as Captain Arnold closed the feed.

The group discussed the information and tried to compare it against what they thought they knew, and what the new information proved or disproved. Arnold loved this portion of any investigation. They had information coming in which often generated more questions, but he was starting to see the shape of things. They were going to solve this puzzle.

"Anything else before we break?" he asked.

The FBI woman signaled that she had something.

"We've been looking at Freehold's finances again. Actually, we've been looking at Eckermann's finances which appear to be the same thing. They finally moved the money from the seized accounts."

"I'm sorry, what money?" Claire Chellos asked.

"The Defense Logistics Agency arranged to have Wayout Venture's accounts seized, nearly ten million dollar's worth. After that blew up in their faces, the funds were supposed to have been released back to Eckermann."

Nathanial Woollcott had sat quietly through the conference. It looked like he was going to respond, but thought better of it. The other conference participants had been studiously ignoring him for weeks. Maybe he had finally gotten the hint.

The FBI woman continued, "We managed to put a temporary hold on the funds until we had a better picture of what was going on. The hold was lifted and the money was left untouched until recently. They moved it quickly and the majority of it seems to have been donated directly to several different human rights groups."

"I suppose Eckermann's altruism is to be commended, but why do we care?" Clair Chellos asked.

"We should be interested, because all the money was earmarked for campaigns involving human rights abuses within China. A large chunk of that money also went to one group that operates from Taiwan."

Arnold's feeling of pending accomplishment started to fade as he mulled over the new information. What the hell was going on?

Freehold, Two Weeks Later

Waylon had earned a lunch break. He spent the morning going through the interior of the orbiter. Other than the view out the windows, it was nearly identical to the simulator. It had a crew living section and an access tunnel to the cargo area that the simulator didn't, but the cockpits were interchangeable.

At the community center, he found Arman and Felix waiting for him. They'd asked him to join them for lunch. Rava brought him a plate before he could even think to get his own. It was some kind of rice and bean dish, and smelled wonderfully spicy. Waylon tucked in and ate with gusto.

He looked up when he realized that the Truong brothers were picking at their food. He took a quick drink of water and wiped his mouth with a napkin.

"Somebody want to tell me what's going on?"

Felix looked at Arman, and Arman sighed.

"We've discussed the flight training, but can't decide who should go first. If we pass on to the advanced training after getting our private pilot's license, it could mean an absence of several months."

"You two really can't decide? What about Rava, is she ready for this adventure?"

Arman nodded, "She would like to see her family while I'm training in Papeete. She's a little more concerned about the advanced training in Thailand. I know you'll pay for our apartment and living expenses, but other than the islands around Tahiti, and here, she's never been anywhere."

"And the problem with going first is what?" Waylon asked.

"I'm the older brother," Arman said. "I've always been first. Felix should get the chance to go in my place."

"And I keep telling him that's nonsense," Felix said. "Besides, he's worried about studying. He's actually smarter than he looks."


Waylon chuckled and the two brothers relaxed. He reached into his pocket, but of course he didn't have any change. He stood up and spotted Rowen. "Got a coin?"

"Sure, what do you need?"

"These two can't decide who should go to flight training first. Care to do the honors?"

Rowen walked over and put a hand on each of the Truong brother's shoulders. "A game of chance is it?"

"Why not?" Felix said.

Arman quickly agreed.

"Okay, gentlemen," Rowen said, showing them the coin. "This was my father's. He always said it was lucky. Heads is King George the Sixth. Tails is the Scottish lion and crown. Arman, call it in the air if you please?"

Rowen flipped the coin into the air.

"Heads," was the call.

Rowen caught the coin and slapped it on his arm and they all looked. It was heads. Felix patted his brother on the back and congratulated him.

"Rowen would you sit with us for a minute, there's something I think we need to discuss with Arman and Felix. Let them decide if it changes their minds at all."

Felix and Arman were curious while Rowen grabbed a nearby chair.

"You know I had a business partner in Macau, named James Wei. Rowen met him."

The brothers nodded.

Waylon looked at Rowen, who inclined his head.

"Mr. Wei was in the casino business and had several business partners. One of them is a very unsavory character with ties to the Chinese government. This man arranged to have Wei, and his family, arrested on some trumped up charge. They've since disappeared, and from everything we can find it appears that James Wei is most likely deceased."

Arman frowned and exchanged glances with his brother. "I'm sorry the man is dead, Waylon, but I don't see how this affects either of us?"

"What Waylon is trying delicately to step around, is that the Chinese government isn't above threatening émigré families to get them to do certain things. They may start soft by appealing to their heritage or move on to more serious leverage. Maybe threaten family members still residing in China," Rowen said.

"Oh," Arman replied, and sat back. "It's not something we really talk about. Even with what the communists from the north did to our mother's family, she, I think, has always thought of herself as more Vietnamese. Our family had been in Vietnam for generations. I can't speak for my brothers, but we were all born in the islands. I guess I think of myself as an islander first. Our Chinese ancestors, however many years back, left for a reason."

Felix agreed and said that cultural identity was something that other people worried about. "Besides, we're Freeholders now."

"The first Freeholders at that, but what Rowen is trying to help me say is that you still may be approached. If not directly, perhaps indirectly through others who may feel a closer connection to the mainland or have family still living there. I don't think it's a big risk, and really doubt they'd do anything stupid in another country. But, I wanted you to be aware of the possibility."

Arman took a drink of water before answering, "I appreciate that, Waylon, and I will talk it over with Rava. Both of us have always felt safe in the islands and I don't expect that to change."

"I think that's all I can ask for," Waylon said.

"When can he start?" Felix asked.

"I could fly the two of them over next week," Waylon said. "What do you say, Arman? We could get you settled into an apartment and you and Rava could take some time off. There's no formal class schedule. They'll start the lessons when you're ready. That changes if you go on to the advanced school in Thailand. They start new classes every three months."

"I say, let me talk it over with Rava."

"Good man," Rowen said.

Aboard the Rapid X

They had dropped out of hypersonic flight thirty minutes early so that Arman could get some stick time. The aircraft was cruising, subsonic, at an altitude of forty-two thousand feet. Arman's grip on the controls had relaxed. He had finally learned the airplane wanted to fly and didn't need him making large adjustments. Waylon was pretending not to watch him while studying a photo of the airport on his tablet, making sure he had the layout committed to memory.

The flight had come together on short notice. Representatives from the Republic of China, better known by most of the world as Taiwan, had made an interesting proposal. Waylon was intrigued enough to agree to fly in and talk it over in person.

They were taking the scenic route, flying around the northern end of the large island and would approach Taiwan Taoyuan International from the Taiwan Strait. The strait separated the island from the mainland by a good eighty miles at its closest point. The pollution visible in the atmosphere over Taiwan and in the distance over the mainland had made an impression on both of them.

Arman got on the radio and contacted the airport to give them their relative position and speed.

"I get nervous talking to them," Arman said, after giving his position report.

"You did fine," Waylon replied. "You're going to be spoiled from sitting right seat in this baby when you start your flight training, but I bet both you and Felix end up becoming better pilots than me."

Red warning icons began flashing on both sides of the cockpit.

"I think we may have made a mistake," AI Barry said in Waylon's ear.

Waylon stabbed at an icon and studied the information on the screen.

"What does all that mean?" Arman asked.

"I think somebody is trying to jam our communications," Waylon replied. "There's a group of fast movers headed our way."

"We believe they intend to intercept," the AI said.

"Fast movers?"

"Fighter jets," Waylon explained. "From the Chinese we haven't come to see. They must have a base pretty near the coast. I'm going to try and get us closer to Taiwan. See if you can contact the airport."

"Waylon, we could disable the jammer and the hostile aircraft," Barry said.

Waylon looked over at Arman while he whispered, "Only if it goes bad."

Arman repeated his calls to the airport, but there was no answer. He changed frequencies and tried to contact other civilian aircraft in the area, but was unsuccessful.

A fighter flashed by the cockpit and Waylon bit off a curse. Another appeared off the port wing, on Waylon's side of the aircraft, and slowly crabbed until it was below and to the left of the cockpit.

"Would you look at the missiles on that thing," Arman whispered over the headset. "What do they want?"

The Chinese pilot waggled his wings and pointed to the right.

"He wants us to turn. Check your side for other aircraft."

Arman leaned over and scanned out the cockpit window. "Merdi! There's one right above us."

"They're trying to box us in. Force us to fly to China."

The fighter on his left was inching closer, but Waylon held his course and refused to give way. The jet repeated its wing waggle and the pilot's gestures became more animated.

"Tighten your belts," Waylon said. "I'm going to try something."

Waylon reached for the throttle control and gently eased it back. He kept reducing speed as he tightened his own restraints

"What are you doing?"

"I'm betting our stall speed is a lot lower than theirs."

The fighter pilot had to quit gesturing at Waylon and adjust his throttle. The slower they went, the more unresponsive the Chinese fighter would become.

A burst of tracers flashed out from the aircraft above them. The warning shot was the last straw.

"Hang on!" Waylon shouted.

He hit the equivalent of the Rapid X's speed brakes, and the two PRC fighters appeared to leap forward and fall off to their respective sides as they fought for speed. Waylon immediately rolled the aircraft while pushing the nose down, and shoved the throttles as far as they would go. He had only performed the maneuver in the simulator, but the split-s was his best option.

Arman yelled something incoherent as the G forces pressed against them. Waylon pulled the aircraft through the inverted turn as his vision began to tunnel and go black. He grunted, and tensed the muscles of his torso, attempting to keep as much blood in his brain as possible.

The G load eased and Waylon was surprised to find himself in more or less level flight, and pointed at Taiwan. He trimmed up the aircraft and began to climb. This was no gentle ascent. He wanted as much distance between him and those fighters as possible.

Waylon glanced over at Arman, only to find that his copilot had passed out, his head rolling uselessly on his shoulders.

"Increase oxygen to the cockpit," Waylon said.

"Already doing so. We have also turned off the transponder and masked our heat signature. The hostile fighters will not be able to lock a missile onto the aircraft."

"What about radar?"

"They will find it useless, although it may no longer matter."

"What are they doing?"

"They appear to be turning back. They cannot keep up with you, and there is a flight of Taiwanese F-16s moving to intercept."

Waylon watched the Rapid X's speed and altitude climb.

"Contact the airport for me and express our apologies, but we're not sticking around."

Waylon reached over and gently shook Arman's shoulder. His copilot's eyes rolled around as he tried to shake free of the cobwebs. He regained consciousness and stared at his lap for a minute, shaking his head every now and then.

"What happened?" Arman asked.

"You blacked out," Waylon replied.

"My head is fuzzy. Did we get away?"

"They can't touch us now."

"So, what do we do now, Waylon?"

"I don't know. We stay the hell away from China, that's for certain, and rethink a few things."

They reached their preferred cruising altitude and the island of Taiwan fell rapidly behind them. The return flight was mostly uneventful. Arman developed a headache and wasn't in the mood to practice flying. The radars at the American ballistic missile test range in the Marshal Islands beat on them for a while until they too were left far behind. Waylon didn't feel much like talking and the AIs remained silent in his head.

They were all glad to see the island. Waylon was flying the landing approach, almost on autopilot, when he retracted the gear and steered away.

"Didn't like it?" Arman asked.

"Had a thought," Waylon replied, as he searched out the cockpit window.

He flew around the ring barrier until he spotted his objective. He set up a turn and smiled at Arman's questioning look.

"What the hell are you doing?" Arman asked. "We're too low!"

"I learned something from that little visit we had a few weeks ago. Back during the cold war, Navy pilots used to do this to nosy Russian trawlers."


Waylon pushed the throttle forward and the Rapid X went supersonic as they roared over the Chinese spy ship only fifty feet above her masts.


The screens in the control room displayed thinly detailed news accounts of the incident that had occurred in the international waters of the Taiwan Strait. An official protest had been filed, but it wouldn't amount to much. On the scale of fur balls that had occurred in that region, it was a minor drop in the bucket.

Waylon was sitting at the desk with his eyes closed, thinking about the morning. Android Von had wandered off after their discussion. Predictably, the Defense AI had advocated for a more vigorous response to the Chinese aggression.

Their reconstruction of the events made it clear that the Beijing government, or at least its military, knew they were coming. They suspected that leaks from inside the government in Taipei and a handy tipoff from the Chinese spy ship had helped set the trap.

To top it off, a few hours after Waylon and Arman's return, the James Wei impersonator called and attempted to secure yet another meeting. He claimed disappointment over their missed business opportunities and couldn't wait to meet with his good friend again.

Waylon had lost his temper, shouting into the phone that he knew what they had done to James Wei and invited General Zhou and his business partners to go fornicate themselves.

To read this story you need a Registration + Premier Membership
If you have an account, then please Log In or Register (Why register?)