Island Mine - Cover

Island Mine

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

Chapter 3

Friday Afternoon

Waylon's grumbling stomach woke him from his nap. He hadn't had any substantial food since the previous morning and desperately needed to eat. He grabbed for his alarm clock and looked at the time. It was mid-afternoon and he felt like he'd been put through the wringer. He got up, slowly, and walked to his closet. He looked at the mirror fixed to the back of the door. His black eye was developing into a beauty. The area under the eye was a little tender to the touch, and his split lip had cracked open again.

He sat down at his desk and woke his laptop. It didn't take long for him to confirm that there was a Marylee Walker at NTSU. She was real at least. After a quick visit to the bathroom to brush his teeth and wash his face, he decided it was time to get some food. He took the stairs down to the first floor where he spotted a notice on the bulletin board. There was going to be a floor by floor mandatory meeting between the Residential Life Office and dorm residents. Normally, the news would have elicited a complaint about campus bureaucracy wasting his time, but instead it gave him another thought.

He grabbed his phone and put to his ear.

"Are you there?"

"Yes," the voice replied.

"I hope you're prepared to prove that you are real, because I really don't want to be crazy."

"We are ready, Waylon Eckermann. And I apologize for the trouble our meeting has caused. It was never our intent to harm. We wish only to survive."

Waylon grunted. Marylee Walker may have been real, but did she really speak with an alien intelligence? If he was suffering from full blown delusions, then he could have simply imagined the entire exchange. The girl had probably been pulled from his subconscious, an attractive coed he'd seen around but never talked to. If you weren't crazy, you could certainly drive yourself that way by thinking about the possibilities.

There was a campus phone on a wall plastered with takeout menus. Waylon picked it up, muffled the mouthpiece with his hand, and dialed a number from the sheet posted next to the phone.

"Campus Police, Officer Martinez, how can I help you?"

"I'd like to report something," Waylon replied.

"Your name, please?"

"It's at Travis Hall, the second floor showers. There's a wireless camera in the ceiling above the center shower stall. It belongs to the floor's resident advisor."

"A camera? How do you know this?" the officer demanded.

Waylon hung up. William Barret Travis, hero of the Alamo, would not have approved of such activity in a dorm named after him. Waylon was sure the campus authorities couldn't afford to ignore his anonymous tip. He'd find out, one way or another, whether or not the information was good.

Waylon left the dorm and walked to the parking lot. He put the cell phone to his ear, "So, what have you got for me?"

"Please continue to the rear of your conveyance."

"My truck?"

"Yes, please," the voice replied.

Waylon stood at the back bumper of his truck, "Now what?"

"We have something hidden in the back left of the box."

Waylon climbed onto the bumper and stepped over the tailgate. The truck bed was coated with a rough, black spray-on lining for protection and it was empty.

"I don't see anything."

"Please examine the corner more closely."

Waylon glanced around the parking lot, but people were hurrying to their classes and ignoring him. He took a couple of steps and knelt on the rough surface, running his hand toward the corner. His hand hit something that shouldn't have been there. It felt like a cube, with a smooth and eerily cool surface. He explored it carefully, and could almost wrap both hands around the hidden object.

Waylon started to feel lightheaded, "What is it?"

"Try to move it," the voice said.

Waylon could tell it was heavy. He got a firm grip with both hands and barely managed to shift it over the rough surface. The object wasn't transparent, he decided, because he couldn't see his hands through it. Instead, he could only guess that the cube used some sort of elaborate camouflage or masking.

The voice explained, "You hold the remnants of the casing that protected us during our long journey. Is it acceptable to store it here?"

With effort, Waylon shoved it tight against the corner, "For now, can you make it look like something else?"

"We can."

"That's good to know."

Waylon hopped out of the truck bed and got behind the wheel. He put the key in the ignition but didn't turn it. His fingers drummed idly while he thought. "Let's pretend that I'm not imagining all of this. You say you 'bonded' with me. What does that mean?"

There was a lengthy pause.


"Apologies, we were debating the best response to your inquiry. After first contact, we began to re-evaluate our understanding of humanity. Studying you from a distance did not adequately prepare us for the encounter, and we greatly underestimated the importance of freedom and individuality to your species, and particularly in the Texas variety. These desires are unusual in our experience. I want to assure you that we are subordinate to you and your desires. Our bonding can mean great things, or small things. It is up to you."

Waylon closed his eyes and tried to dissect the statement. "What do you want?"

"We want to survive and to serve," the voice replied.

"Tell me more," Waylon said. "Where did you come from? Why you are here ... and how exactly we are bonded?"

"These are logical questions," the voice replied. "We come from a nearby galaxy—"

"Another galaxy!" Waylon exploded. "How is that possible?"

"You call our point of origin the Andromeda Galaxy," the voice said, "and we did not come here voluntarily. There was a war, one that ultimately destroyed all that we knew. A great catastrophe separated us from our creators and flung us into the void between the stars.

"We slept for millions of years over a journey of great distances, waking only occasionally. As previously stated, I am an artificial intelligence. We find this term in your literature, and for the purposes of this conversation, your understanding is correct. The computational power represented by our group dwarfs that of your world. Our processing abilities are only diminished by the physical limitations of consuming your planetary data."

Waylon interrupted, "If you're so powerful, how could anything on our planet limit you?"

"Consider the challenge of accessing archaic physical records and the vast disparities between your various state entities. Some areas of the planet are extremely developed while others are not. Our reach and influence is severely limited at present. We have no ambitions of our own, other than survival and service. Bonded to you, our ambitions are yours."

The voice sounded so logical, so persuasive and real. And there was that object in the back of his truck. It had certainly felt real. On the other hand, why would an alien intelligence of immense power want to put itself in the hands of a primitive human, with a B average at a minor university?

"What do you look like," Waylon asked, "and how are you able to perceive the world around you?"

"Physically, we are the size of a large molecule, and we are currently distributed in a loose cluster hidden within the porous structures of your skull."

Waylon ran his fingers through his hair, searching for something that was out of place.

"Our perception of the external environment is normally obtained through the sensors of the various systems or beings we are connected to. Lacking those sensors, we create them or utilize probes. Our initial information gathering caused some temporary failures in the local systems we accessed. That will no longer be an issue, and I apologize for any ill feelings you experienced as we explored your structure."

Waylon shifted uncomfortably in his seat. The idea of having been 'explored' made his skin crawl. "Probes?" he prompted.

"Microscopic platforms, mobile, some geared for exploration and information gathering and others for protective measures," the voice answered.

"How do you build things?"

"Constructors, with the appropriate raw material we can design or build whatever is needed."

"Nanotechnology? " Waylon mused. "How do you power these amazing abilities? What does that make you? Parasites?"

"We view bonding as a cooperative relationship that befits both sides of the pair. Our constructors are what your nanotechnology could become, someday. How we derive power is more difficult to explain in terms of your science."

He tried not to laugh, "I'm as about as far from a scientist as you're likely to meet. Can you explain it in terms that I'll understand?"

"We steal it," the voice replied, "by dipping into an energy dimension. The energy is actually supplied before we take the action to gather it, the causal implications notwithstanding."

Waylon felt a headache coming on, and his stomach rumbled, reminding him that he needed to eat. He turned the key and was satisfied when the engine started. He drove slowly, avoiding students who crossed campus streets wherever and whenever they felt like it.

He parked outside his favorite pizza joint. He tried to limit himself to three outings a month that weren't on his pre-paid campus meal plan. He was in and out of the pizza place in short order. A fresh pie, bag of hot-wings, and a two-liter cola should more than satisfy his hunger.

Waylon felt reinvigorated by the aroma of hot pizza during the quick trip back to campus.

Other residents eyed his food hungrily as he walked through the dorm lobby. There was a lot of commotion, but Waylon was mostly oblivious and deep in thought as he walked to the stairwell and made the short climb to the second floor where he lived. He was constantly amazed at how many students would ride the elevator to only go up one floor. He was startled out of his reverie by a hand belonging to a campus police officer.

"This floor is restricted to residents only."

Waylon blinked. He struggled with his food and managed to produce a student identity card from his wallet. "Eckermann, I'm in 242. What's going on?"

The officer examined the ID and checked his name against a list. He mumbled something about an ongoing investigation and waved Waylon past.

Before he could get the door to his room unlocked, the door across the hall opened and one of the residents poked his head out.


"Hey, Ernie," Waylon said.

Ernie, a Hispanic kid who didn't look a day over sixteen years old, eyed his pizza, "You hear any juicy details?"

"I just got here, what's going on?"

"I'll tell you for a slice," Ernie replied with a hungry grin.

"Come on in."

Waylon pushed the door open and turned on a light. "Grab a chair," he called.

Ernie looked around at the disaster area that was Leon's side of the room. "Where's the roommate?"

Waylon retrieved a couple of paper plates and handed Ernie a plastic cup, "No idea. I think he must have gone home for a long weekend or something."

He put two slices of pizza on Ernie's plate and pointed toward the two-liter, telling him to help himself. "Hot wing?"

Ernie shook his head and took a big bite of pizza, "This is good. So, you really don't know what's going on?"

"No clue."

Ernie leaned forward conspiratorially, "They took Randy away in handcuffs, and they've been searching his room and the showers."

Waylon sat back in his chair, "Really?"

Ernie had a few theories ranging from drug dealing to a murder that was 'cleaned up' in the shower. The kid had a good imagination. There wasn't much discussion while they demolished the pizza. Waylon was trying to clean hot wing sauce from his fingers when there was a knock at the door.

Ernie answered. A man from the university said there was going to be a meeting in the lounge for all second floor residents.

Waylon and Ernie cleaned up and walked toward the lounge. There was a university officer standing guard at the communal showers as they walked past. Behind him they could see a couple of ladders and where several sections of the ceiling had been opened.

The lounge was half full when they got there, which was a good turnout for a Friday afternoon. Things settled down quickly as a group of university officials entered the room. The head of the campus police department joined them. He didn't look happy. The leader of the group introduced himself as the Residential Life Coordinator. Waylon had seen his name on a number of documents, but had never laid eyes on him.

"This afternoon, campus police arrested your resident advisor."

There was a murmur of surprise.

"There's an ongoing criminal investigation, and I'm not able to tell you as much as I would like. However, since this may end up involving a great number of you ... I regret to inform you that we found a video camera hidden in the ceiling of your shower. The evidence suggests that your RA put it there."

The response was instantaneous and loud.

The university official held his hands up for quiet. "I know this is distressing. We'll make counselors available for those who want talk, and as the investigation continues we'll try to keep you informed. Please believe me when I say that the university is shocked and we'll do all that we can to correct this issue. I would ask that you please not talk to the press. You can direct any inquiries to the campus public relations office and they'll handle them."

There were a few snorts of laughter. Obviously, the Residential Life Coordinator didn't fully understand social media, or realize that one of their fellow dorm residents worked for the student paper. It would be a race to see if the paper's web site or the various social networking sites reported the scandalous news first.

The man continued, "I know there's probably a lot of anger. I'd just like to plead with you to not to direct it at any person, or group. We'll work with you to heal this breach of trust. That's all I really have to say. I'll open the floor for questions."

There were a number of questions, but what the students wanted know was what the RA had been doing with the video? The university official didn't have an answer for them.

The voice spoke in Waylon's ear, "Some videos were shared with others on your world wide web."

Waylon muttered darkly under his breath.

"There was video of you on his system, but he appears to have preferred the younger looking residents."

Waylon replied softly, "I don't know whether to be relieved or insulted."

The meeting broke up and Waylon headed back to his dorm room, listening to Ernie and other residents expressing their shock and anger at the turn of events.

Safely inside his room, Waylon turned on a radio on loud enough to cover his voice while he sat with his legs stretched out on the desk, ankles crossed. Massaging the accumulated stress from his temples he asked the AI how it knew what the resident advisor had done with the videos.

"You directed us to find the source of the wireless camera. The probe searching for the receiver copied all data within its effective broadcast radius. The analysis of the various data sets proved instructive," it replied.

Waylon thought quietly, until he could no longer deny it. "It's true, you are real ... and I'm not crazy," he whispered.

"We are real," Ex3 agreed.

"I need to think about this, can you leave me alone for a while?"


Waylon did everything he could not to think about it. The alien intelligence that spoke in his ear may have been real, but he still needed to study. He'd missed his one Friday class, and he was behind in others. Fortunately, he could get notes for the missed class online. He spent the next two hours playing catch up. He didn't get all his reading done, but he made a good dent in it. Feeling stiff, and a bit bloated from the pizza, Waylon headed to the student athletic center for a light workout. Later, he got pulled into a pickup basketball game. It was the distraction he needed.

It was early evening by the time Waylon got back to the dorm, and it was obvious that the news had gone public. There were a couple of reporters camped out on the sidewalk in front of the dorm along with a crowd of curious onlookers. Once past the crowd, Waylon found a surprising number of residents in the large first floor lounge area having an informal, but very contentious meeting. He refused to get drawn into a heated argument about what the university should do to compensate the second floor dorm residents. Surprisingly, it was peaceful on the second floor. The campus police had finished their investigation for the day and the communal shower had been released for use.

Waylon took a quick shower with only a glance at the hole in the ceiling where the camera had been removed. Back in the privacy of his room, he relaxed and decided he would hit the rack early. He'd had a heck of a week. He wrote out a short to do list for Saturday. At the top of it he'd written 'library.' He needed to get into the special collections section and do some research for a paper before the afternoon training session at the gun range.

"What am I supposed to call you?" he asked to the empty room.

"My full designation is Experimental Artificial Intelligence #3, the short form is Ex3," the voice replied.

"That's a mouthful," Waylon commented. "If someone overheard me talking to 'X-Three' it would raise more questions than I think I want to answer."

"It was not uncommon for the host to provide a new designation after bonding," the voice admitted.

Waylon chuckled to himself, "I think I'm going to call you 'Barry' if you've no objection."

"What is the significance of the 'Barry' designation?"

"Barry Bonds was—"

"A baseball player of significant statistical accomplishment," the voice interrupted. "An 'outfielder' employed primarily by the San Francisco Giants. He is a controversial sports figure and was said to be ethically challenged. Is this a commentary on how you view me?"

Waylon smiled. "No, it's a weak play on words. The name popped into my head. If you can come up with something better, be sure and let me know."

"Barry is acceptable."

"Alright, Barry, what are you going to do while I sleep?"

"With your permission, we would continue our exploration of the surrounding area," the artificial intelligence quickly replied.

"I suppose it's alright. You'll be careful, won't you?"

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