Island Mine - Cover

Island Mine

Copyright© 2013 by Refusenik

Chapter 8

Site B

Waylon woke slowly. He thought about his 'to do' list and rolled out of bed. He stepped into a pair of slippers and shuffled to the bathroom, yawning the whole way. He wasn't normally a slipper kind of guy, but there had been a lot of changes lately. It had been two weeks since they'd fled Texas and he still couldn't believe what the AIs had done, or built. The B site was nothing short of a marvel. Clearly, the AIs had been humoring his minor ambitions all this time.

Waylon splashed hot water on his face and rubbed some shaving gel between his hands. Maybe it was better to think of it as slowly easing him into things, as opposed to simply humoring him. If AI Barry had told him this scheme that first day at the university, he really would have checked himself into the psych ward.

The complex looked like it had come right out of a slick design magazine. It was very modern. The décor had touches of Scandinavian minimalism crossed with some very impressive technology. Light panels, combined with efficient environmental systems, gave every room an airy feel. Throughout the facility there were natural fibers and rich colors to offset what could have been cold and impersonal spaces.

Waylon dried his face. Barry said the AIs could fix it so that he wouldn't have to shave each morning, but he declined. Waylon still remembered his teen years, and how eager he'd been to grow something worth shaving. He wasn't going to give it up for the sake of convenience.

He dressed and walked to one of the many interactive panels scattered through his quarters. He checked the weather report. He had a Weather AI now, and he was debating if he should name it. After a quick walk through the spacious living area he arrived at the gym. It had every exercise machine he'd ever need along with a lap pool and sauna, all surrounded by a running track. There was an even larger space beyond the gym if he really wanted to stretch his legs.

It would have been an idyllic paradise, if it wasn't for the roof. The complex was buried in solid rock and steel, with two hundred feet of Pacific Ocean above it.

He hit the gym equipment hard and worked up a sweat. He wasn't claustrophobic and he didn't think that the ocean would come suddenly crashing in on him, at least not all the time. He was a little overwhelmed at his sudden Jules Verne like existence. The exercise helped.

The AIs were keeping him busy, and he couldn't argue the need for planning. It was just that he felt a bit foolish. A group of super intelligent quantum computers from another galaxy weren't really challenged by a mediocre college student with the grand ambition of building a house on the property of a former junkyard. Waylon hadn't even figured out a career for himself.

Barry and the other AIs never complained, at least to him. They were bonded, and happy to serve, or so they claimed. Clearly, he had been aiming too low. The AIs had survived the destruction of their entire civilization. Compared to that holocaust, what was a little legal trouble and a government raid?

He needed to cool down after his workout so he went for a walk. There was a hallway adjacent to the gym which led to a massive set of doors. Waylon waited for them to unlock and slide open. Compartmentalization the AIs called it. He was familiar with the concept thanks to his Navy training.

Waylon walked into the large space and felt a breeze. That was another nice touch of the AI's design. They called this area 'the lock.' About the size of two football fields, it was expansive and easily four stories high with not a single support interrupting the view. His Dodge Charger was here, along with the front end loader. The loader had received an overhaul and looked like it had just come fresh from the factory. His pickup truck was around somewhere, but he hadn't found it yet. There were huge blocks of raw steel and other materials wrapped in a type of plastic to prevent corrosion.

Among the blocks of raw materials were several tons of gold and other precious metals, including a significant horde of the troublesome rare earths. The AIs had been diverting the bulk of their mining efforts to the backup site. It was secure storage, the AIs reminded him. Technically, they could afford to fight any legal battle since one ton of gold was worth a bit shy of fifty million dollars. Realistically, their funds were limited to what the AIs had managed to squirrel away before his bank accounts were seized. All the gold and diamonds in the world wouldn't help their cause if they couldn't sell them.

It was a problem that was going to take some finesse to fix.

Waylon walked aimlessly, cooling down from his workout. It was a bit like walking through the world's strangest bulk goods store. Everything was stacked in an orderly fashion. The full inventory was known only to the AIs. At the far end of the lock was a massive transport. Waylon couldn't be sure if was the same one from Texas or not.

Through another door was what had been described as 'the farm.' It contained row after row of flora native to the South Pacific. It was all part of the backup plan.

"Waylon? Did you have a good workout?" asked AI Penelope.

"I did, thank you. Is it time?"

"It is. You are needed in the control room."

Waylon retraced his steps. The control room was next to his quarters. The AIs certainly didn't need one, but they'd built it for him. He thought of it as one man's ultimate home theater setup. The control room was built like a small amphitheater with massive screens showing different data or video feeds. It had a really comfortable captain's chair and a large table like monitor that could render and project images in three dimensions. Waylon took a seat and waited for the call to connect.

The underwater site was located roughly four thousand miles southwest of Levall, Texas, and ten degrees south of the equator, putting their location in the South Pacific. The nearest neighbors were a group of sparsely populated islands located a thousand miles west, with another grouping a thousand miles to the south. They were secure for the time being.

Things back in Texas had taken a turn for the worse. A classified National Security Warrant had been issued for his arrest and detention. Chief, the ever efficient Security AI, had dug up a lot of information over the past couple of weeks and it presented an ugly picture. The government, or at least a tiny portion of it, suspected that Waylon was some sort of 'agent in place' for the Chinese. It was the only way they could explain how a sole proprietorship business in Texas had managed to sell over ten million dollars worth of gold and silver, and an ingot of a rare earth element. The government was curious about the precious metals, but it was the ingot which had been driving their actions.

It wasn't like Waylon could walk them through the process to explain his innocence. They had brainstormed a few ideas but nothing that would stand up to scrutiny. A mining operation, and its associated processing equipment, left a big footprint that one man couldn't account for. If they had stuck to a rich haul of placer gold ... well, it didn't matter now.

MetMilCorp's lawsuit and the IRS audit had all been orchestrated by personnel of the Defense Logistics Agency. Specifically, they were from DLA's Strategic Materials division. He had been neatly boxed in between the various government entities. The rare earth mining company was funded in part by the federal government which held a minority interest. Its quasi-governmental nature was legal, but hardly in keeping with the spirit of free enterprise given its patronage on Capitol Hill and in the Executive Branch.

The Kafkaesque thing was that the arrest warrant was classified, which meant there was no public case against him for his lawyers to fight. If he had been arrested by the police, or while trying to leave the country, he was to have been detained, but not questioned, until 'other' authorities came for him.

That left one way to fight the charges against him. Bring it all out into the light, but it was going to take careful planning. The phone call he was about to make to his personal attorney was part of the long game he was now playing with the government.

"We're ready, Waylon. The call is connecting," Penelope said.

Using regular phones was clearly out of the picture. Instead, the AIs had a quantum link with the communications probe they'd left behind in Texas. Its onboard AI could spoof any point of origin and inject the call into the regular telecom system.

They'd used one of the surveillance probes to leave an electronic trail heading away from Levall. There was a Wi-Fi connection at a coffee shop in New Mexico where 'Waylon' had checked his email, followed a few days later by a gasoline credit card purchase at a station in southern Colorado. The rundown station's surveillance system just happened to have malfunctioned, so there was no video evidence of the purchase.

This phone call was going to appear to originate from a cell tower at the edge of the Arapaho National Forest in north central Colorado.

The law office receptionist put him right through.

"Rusty, I finally got your message," Waylon said by way of greeting. "Sorry that I didn't call before, but I'm on vacation and my cell coverage has been crappy."

"Waylon, thank goodness you called."

"What's so important?"

"First off, there's something funny going on with your bank accounts. Your last check bounced back with the strangest of explanations."

"Well, I apologize for that. I had a devil of a time trying to check my balance earlier, but I figured it was my poor internet connection. You've got my limited power of attorney. Can you use it to check into things for me?"

His lawyer said he could, but needed Waylon's permission. Waylon gave it to him and permission to settle or pursue any additional legal issues that came up while he was on vacation.

"That's not all, Waylon. The feds raided your property. It made the newspaper, but nobody knows what's going on. I asked my contacts in the sheriff's office and they said they were being kept in the dark. Plus, people are saying there's nothing left out there. The old junkyard's been stripped clean."

"Well, heck," Waylon replied, "that shouldn't surprise anybody. What do you think I was doing all that time? I made a bundle off of recycling the old scrap. The only thing left out there, besides my building, was the trailer, and I've got that hooked to the back of my pickup."

"So, nothing's been stolen?" Rust asked.

Waylon explained that there wasn't anything left to steal. He'd cleared the entire property since he was going on an extended vacation.

"Waylon, you should really think about cutting your vacation short and returning to Levall."

"Would being there help any?" he asked.

Rusty admitted that it really wouldn't, but said it might look odd.

"I'm not in any big hurry," Waylon explained, "and I'm not sure I care what people think. I've earned this vacation. There's nothing but beautiful country out this way. You should pack your kids off to their grandma's and take your wife on vacation."

"I'm too busy working, for you," his lawyer replied.

"You keep saying that and before you know it, it will be too late. If I'm back before next Christmas it will be too soon."

"I envy you, Waylon. I truly do."

"Then I'm not going to tell you about all the hunting and fishing I plan on doing in the back country."

"Gee, I appreciate the consideration."

"Anything for my favorite lawyer."

They discussed a few more issues, including instructions that Waylon wanted passed on to the Dallas legal team. Rusty had no idea that all his phones and computers were tapped, or that government agents had already been through his files in the middle of the night.

"I'll do my best for you, Waylon," the lawyer said. "Enjoy your vacation."

"I'll plan on it."

Penelope broke the call down and Waylon leaned back in the chair. The AIs were pleased and declared Waylon to be an 'excellent actor.' The government agents were going to have a fun time trying to chase down the vacationing Waylon. They may not have bought the story, but they couldn't ignore the trail of breadcrumbs that had been left for them.

Waylon stood over a large monitor that the AIs were using as a kind of 3D drafting table. He 'grabbed' a small building and moved it slightly. The road and other necessary utilities connected to the building adjusted along with his movements. He had only wanted to build a house, the AIs wanted to build an entire island.

It wasn't as audacious as it sounded, or so Norm, the Construction AI, claimed. The B site was located on the edge of a large seamount. The seamount's highest point was only a hundred feet beneath the waves. The AI plan was to build a small portion of the undersea structure up and create an artificial island. Norm was insistent that such an island wouldn't be too outlandish. Humans, he reminded Waylon, were building artificial land all around the planet. From airports to resorts centers, even islands, it wasn't an uncommon activity. Waylon was skeptical, but the AIs showed him article after article on the subject until he was convinced.

Working in their favor, was the extreme isolation of the construction site. There was minimal satellite coverage. The commercial and government satellites circling the globe didn't waste power by imaging blank spots in the open ocean. Scientific and ocean survey satellites were another matter, but they generally relied on wide area observations.

There was shipping, normally heading to or from the Panama Canal, but it was infrequent and the primary sea lanes were to the north. Commercial fishing in the region didn't appear to be an issue.

They were unlikely to receive many drop-in visitors. The two nearest island groups were both a thousand miles in different directions. The Pitcairn Islands, of Mutiny on the Bounty fame, were located to the south-southwest and had less than seventy full time residents and no airfield. The islands were an overseas territory of the British.

The Marquesas Islands were to the west and had a population of eight thousand islanders and an irregular tourism industry. The Marquesas were one of five administrative divisions that made up French Polynesia, and by all accounts, they were the closest to Paris politically. The other divisions flirted with independence and accounted for the bulk of Polynesia's quarter of a million residents. The majority of that population resided on Tahiti, the center of French Polynesian government and tourism. Tahiti was another thousand miles southwest of the Marquesas. Only time would tell how they would react to the appearance of a new neighbor.

Waylon used the design aid to move more features around the rendering of the proposed island. He didn't feel particularly qualified for this kind of work, but the AIs insisted he make it his own.

"Do you like the location of the airfield?" AI Norm asked.

Waylon scrolled the map to that section of the island and shrugged. "I'm not a pilot, but it looks good to me."

"You will be in time."

Norm showed Waylon several variations they had come up with for the island layout. It wasn't a huge island, as islands went. The latest plan called for a north – south orientation. Maybe two miles wide by four long, one plan suggested. The northern end would be the highpoint, styled to look like an ancient peak with gentle slopes. The island would thin in the middle and spread back out again on the southern end to accommodate an airstrip. At the thin point, they'd build a small port on the leeward side of the island.

"Waylon, we could build a home for you on the slopes of the peak and you could have your own private beach below it."

"Isn't the entire island going to be my own private playground?"

"You should hire a staff to help maintain the island," Barry suggested. "Besides, you need human companionship."

Waylon didn't want to get into an argument about his social life.

"Waylon," a voice called from behind his shoulder.

He scrambled around the table. "What the fuck!" he yelled. "Lights."

The lights came up to full brightness.

"Did we surprise you?"

Had they surprised him? They'd nearly given him a damn heart attack. Standing not far from him was a robot, or was it an android?

"We thought a physical platform might prove useful."

Waylon gingerly walked over to it and took a closer look.

"Are you displeased?" Barry asked.

"Something deep in my brain keeps telling me to kill it."

"This is not a desirable outcome," the artificial intelligence said. "Can you describe why you feel this way?"

Waylon circled the thing, trying to repress the part of his brain that was telling him it was wrong. "Is it a robot, or—"

"An android is a robot that is designed to look human."

"—okay, android then. The skin and features are pretty close. You've copied the look, but not the behavior. We're animals, we breathe and move. We can't stand still like that, or at least we don't like to."

"We will make adjustments."

"The eyes are wrong too, but I don't know if that's something you can fix. What did you plan to use it for?"

"You need a flight instructor and a copilot. Other units could be created for airfield and security personnel on the island."

Waylon poked the thing's face, getting a sense of the texture. "You guys have come up with some amazing gadgets, but I'm not sure that you'll want to let this one get too close to any other humans. We've got this animal thing deep in our gut that tells us when something isn't right. I don't know if your technology can fool it."

"Do you mind if we keep developing the unit?"

"Go for it. Just don't make any fembots."

"You could use some company, Waylon."

"I'll find my own dates, thank you very much."

The AIs had grown entirely too human. One of them, he wasn't sure which one, made a noise that reminded him of a sound his mother used to make when he promised to clean his room.

The artificial intelligence known as Barry was pleased. The backup plan had been implemented without a hitch, but now they needed a new fallback position. Their next encounter with the human authorities could prove to be more dangerous for their host. Plans were outlined and new assignments issued.

So far, Waylon had adjusted to his new circumstances. Barry knew that several of the necessary steps were going to be difficult for the human to accept.

AI Norm estimated that it would take three months before they were ready to push a new island above the world's ocean. The area surrounding the seamount was rich in resources. The ocean could be exploited for all kinds of materials, including precious metals.

They had time to prepare Waylon.

The Simulator

Waylon was back in school. He never had any ambition to be a pilot, but Barry was insistent. Air travel was necessary given the distances crossing the Pacific. After a rough start, Waylon embraced the challenge. He hadn't really known how hard it was going to be, but he completed the AI's ground school without losing too much hair. The reward for all his hard work, the AIs said, would be simulator training. They swore that it was going to be the best video game he'd ever played.

For the simulator, the AIs cleared out a small corner of the lock and built an egg shaped pod. The pod had retractable stairs that led up to a hatch. Waylon was at the foot of the stairs examining the simulator's instrumentation layout with his tablet study aid.

"Waylon, are you ready to meet your instructor?" AI Barry asked.

"I guess."

"Greetings, pilot candidate Eckermann," a voice said from behind him.

Waylon turned to see his favorite android. "Good grief, did you have to make it anatomically correct?"

"We have redesigned the unit to mimic every aspect of a human male. You are not pleased?"

"Why is it naked?"

The android turned and walked away. It returned minutes later fully dressed. It even had a name tag that read 'Pilot.'

"Better?" asked the android.

Waylon walked around the humanoid figure before stopping right in front of it. He held his hand out. The android hesitated for a moment before clasping Waylon's hand. Handshakes were going to take a lot of work.

"It's better than the last one, but it still gives me the creeps. I can't put my finger on why exactly ... maybe giving it some glasses would help?"

"We will continue to refine the design," Barry replied. "Please enter the simulator."

The Pilot AI took great delight in creating failure scenarios and throwing them at him in ridiculous combinations. They kept him so busy that he had little time to complain.

Sweat was dripping from his face when he climbed from the simulator two hours hour later.

"That's just cruel," he complained as the Pilot AI followed him.

"You will thank us for it later," Barry assured him.

"If you guys aren't there to save my ass, I'm going to be screwed."

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