Chapter 41: Profitable
It took Celina and Jack more than three hours of toil for them to finally dig their way out, both of them ending up being scratched and bruised in the process as forest mosquitoes pestered them near the end of the ordeal.
Jack was the first to call Norway and reach Steven, who was in his room with Chrissy. It had only taken a silence of less than a second for Steven to understand that the Castaways were out of the Facility and using the FastCom. In Africa, Jack was the first to point out that he was sure Steven had understood. After all, Steven was a computer hacker. He was a man who was self-trained to think outside the box and constantly think of ways to take advantage of any situation and, more importantly, not to let the system take advantage of him. For the number of times that they discussed the problem of not being able to take equipment out of the Facility, Steven had seen in Jack’s eyes that the problem was eating at him. Although no one had remotely mentioned anything about it, the half a second that Jack had taken to continue his sentence over the comm had been like an eternity for both men. Jack was interrupted by the realization of a dream that was abruptly shattered three years earlier, which made him feel like a poor guy who had bought lottery tickets all his life. Like that man, Jack stopped to hope a long time ago, but was unable to stop himself from buying the damn tickets each week. And now, he had just won the grand prize and hoped he would collect it soon.
Chrissy proposed to approach Eirik about it. She was a little closer to him than Jack. Steven was aware of that, but his concern was Jack’s level. Helping Eirik take equipment out meant being an enabler for Jack, something that was eating at his conscience.
However, seeing no other options, he just hoped that the Builders’ equipment had the same protections inside and outside the Facility. So, he made the call.
“Jack, it’s Steven. Can we talk in private?” Steven asked.
“I’m with Eirik. Celina is still at the top, too far away to hear us. We have a few minutes,” answered Jack.
“Jack, it’s about what you imply earlier. You know, about the exit door and stuff,” said Steven.
“I assumed as much,” replied Jack, looking at Eirik with a smile which said I told you so. “Does anyone else know?” and he smiled again, as Eirik gestured with his hands to show two large breasts in front of his chest. Jack immediately understood that he referred to Chrissy.
“Only one more,” acknowledged Steven, grabbing Chrissy’s hand.
“Let’s be extra careful with that project. In the meantime, we need to rush the first phase. I want to send a lot of things your way. At least if the link breaks on our end, we won’t lose everything,” explained Steven, remembering with excitement the good old days.
“Alright. We were thinking tech first, money later.”
“True. But we’ll need money to get the tech out of the country later.”
“Celina will need to be told, but she and Eirik, you know...”
Steven smiled and looked at Chrissy, who shook her head. “We didn’t know. But we like her and she is street smart enough”. Not to mention at a better level than you, thought Steven. “So let’s select some stuff and copy those five times to prevent jealousy.”
“Indeed,” Eirik concurred, again ignoring the repartee. “I have a nugget of 100g in my room; it is in a sock with the rest of my underwear. Make a lot.”
“Let’s not discuss it openly at anytime, if we can help it. Also, don’t tell anyone that we are already out, at least not yet” proposed Jack, ending the conversation.
For that, Steven had a plan. They could easily write notes and send them along with the equipment. The first note was written by Chrissy, in her beautiful handwriting, as Steven went to Eirik’s room, hoping to find the nugget that the latter mentioned. The note was brief but to the point. It contained a list of all the items she believed would be small enough to be shipped and useful to them on the outside. As she checked the item, she contemplated replicating. She realized that Jack was unable to use most of them, but she would make one for him anyway, in order not to create frustrations and because they had already agreed. Also, like Steven, she didn’t really mind assuming that if the Facility had the ability to prevent their usage inside, it could likely prevent it from being used outside as well. The second part of the letter was a brilliant idea and she marvelled at how it totally fit their purpose.
Steven entered Eirik’s room easily. Assuming that Eirik was like all other men, he opened the top drawer. Sure enough, his socks and underwear were all neatly placed by colour and types. He smiled at the sight. His socks were also in the top drawer, but unlike Eirik’s, his were thrown carelessly in a pile without any logic or order. He squeezed each sock until he felt something hard and wrapped in a heavy plastic. As he extracted the plastic from the sock, he saw a gold bar for the first time. It had nothing to do with the large ones that he saw in movies. This one was placed in the middle of a business card-sized carton indicating the name of the bank, the weight of the bar—100 g—and the certificate serial number. The gold, to Steven’s surprise, was about the size of a large postage stamp and less than a centimetre in thickness. He paused to look at it. It would make for an easy item to replicate and hide, he thought. He didn’t know much about the stock market, but he remembered reading that gold was around three hundred dollars an ounce. But how many ounces were there in 100 g? He cursed at himself for not remembering it, and cursed the Americans and British for not joining the twentieth century, like the rest of the world. Hell. Even the Ethiopians were using the metric system.
Chrissy, who was now in their quarters, finished the second part of the letter. Every item on the list had a corresponding number. So far, 226 was the total number of discovered items on the list. Unfortunately, most had a physical description rather than a name or a function since no one had managed to discover their purpose. Some had names, of course. But whoever chose these names didn’t make it easy for the reader to identify the gadget. Since most of them had been chosen by either Jack or Eirik in the early days, she would have liked to know what a Chakotay animal guide finder was. The description for that was: Stereopticon of animals inside the mind. But it still didn’t tell her what a Chakotay was. She would make it a point to ask Steven or check her note, as they had already tested all the items themselves. She then later discovered that it was, of course, again a reference to Star Trek and that the device seemed to display a large list of land and sea animals, but only if you close your eyes to allow the image to appear in your mind. Chrissy remembered now, but still she was curious to know what pushed Eirik to close his eyes when he used the device. It must have been intuitive, she decided.
Steven returned to their room and she took a minute to explain her idea. She had searched for a word with ten letters, non-repeating, and realized that PROFITABLE was fitting nicely. Steven agreed, thinking that they had just found the code name for that little secret project. Chrissy assigned a number from zero to nine to each letter and would send the key, at Steven’s request, in a separate message. All they would have to do was to tell her over the FastCom what item they wanted. For example, FE for item 40 and RL for item 29.
P R O F I T A B L E
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
They felt that this part of the plan was rather easy since they both had the ability to replicate anything they wanted on the list and on the project’s side. No one would question their use or the replication of the items since they had been doing it for weeks and tested people with these. Steven and Chrissy had never sent anything through the portal yet, but they were sure they had access to it as well.
Just as they started pondering on how they would manage to transfer all that stuff to the second Facility with everyone present, Jack called them and respected Steven’s directions. He maintained the communication cryptic, but downright encrypted would have been closer to the mark. The message was very short, but it spoke volumes. “Steven, Celina is still at the top and she forgot her communication device. Can you send her a note using the right transporter to make sure that she gets it? Oh, can you also replicate a handful of chocolate bars and send it to her in the meantime, please? Thanks.”
In that one sentence, they both understood that Celina was now onboard with the plan, that Jack wanted her to use another location to send the items and note, likely knowing that the other pads weren’t being monitored by anyone. Also, that he would now have to replicate a handful, or five of each item, and that they wouldn’t have to lift everything to the top if they could figure out how to send items directly to the right pad.
Steven took the list and note from Chrissy and then directed it to the fifth series of transporter clockwise. The logic was that if the transporter in the first Facility had a corresponding pad in the other, he would count from the pad they had used to transport the first time and add one for each corner. He knew that the other Facility had one more corner, being hexagonal as it was. The worst case scenario would be that they wouldn’t receive the papers and he would have to print another list, write another note, and try again.
Celina, being fit and the thinnest of the three, was able to crawl with ease to the other side and was now waiting for Steven to send the goodies. Then she would return all the way to the bottom of the ladder to check on Eirik. Although he had only planned to send the note through, as he approached the transporter, an idea started to form in his mind and he wrote it down clumsily on the paper, holding it against the wall. He then used the papers to wrap the five Mars chocolate bars and one gold bar and placed them on the pad in between his feet. He then activated the display which revealed two bright geometric shapes and a few grey ones. Fear grabbed him as he pressed the second Facility and jumped off the pad. He’d been told the delay was a few seconds. But knowing what was waiting for him if he was swept away to the other side was not what scared him the most. It was his relationship with Chrissy that brought a knot to his stomach. It was just starting to pick up and he didn’t want to risk losing her. The transfer was successful and he grabbed the communication device, and told Jack that the chocolate bars and the note were on their way. It was Eirik who replied, saying that he preferred Snickers instead and that he would communicate with him later as soon as he heard from Celina. Steven acknowledged.
Chrissy and Steven only spent a few minutes replicating gold nuggets. Just like anything they replicated, they exponentially increased the nuggets from 2, 4, 8 and soon up to 512 within half an hour, which was more or less seventy kilos of gold, which she roughly estimated at more than half a million dollars. They gathered the replicated nuggets and placed them neatly in a carry-on bag. “That’s why we have antigravity units,” she concluded, still smiling at Steven for thinking of the carry-on. The clinking sound of the gold was identical to that of the lead and no one would suspect that they were carrying gold instead of scuba diving lead weights. Who said you couldn’t transform lead into gold? He thought.
Before going to sleep, they had already completed the list of eighteen items and would be sending them in the morning. Eirik always liked Scrabble, and since Celina was making sure he was not moving from his bed for him to recuperate from his injuries, he would take the time to make a letter including all the items’ codes and transmit them. It proved to be rather easy, since the letters in “profitable” were rather common.
Later the next morning, Eirik communicated with Chrissy to give her the list. She was listening from a desk in her room and noted them while repeating them in phonetic alphabet. The first word had been “fat,” and she had replied “Foxtrot, Alpha, Tango.” The rest were as follows: table, Italy, bait, potable filtered water, fiber, fortitude, and another ten more. At filtered water, her heart skipped a beat. There is no d and w in “profitable”, she thought. But she soon understood Eirik’s idea and shortly thereafter, she had already crossed out all the letters that were superfluous. She then rearranged the letters in groups of one, two, and three, until she had eighteen items that would fit in the teleportation device. She could have rearranged them in different groups, making 567957; 5,67,95,7 or 56,79,5,7 but she was sure that Eirik would have preferred a personal shield device that seemed to block anything, from bullets to water, instead of a table that they wouldn’t be able to replicate and teleport. Of course, they would send the confirmation of the inventory to be duplicated. But for now, she was pretty confident to have it right.
They had agreed that Chrissy would be the one to replicate the equipment and more of the gold. Steven would make the transfer to the second Facility. He wanted it to be fast because the tunnel to the surface was scheduled to start this week, which would increase the flow of visitors. One of the first visitors on the list would be the King, who had been unable to stay in the Facility because of his own entourage, which they had deemed to be an unnecessary risk. Their visit would likely mean an increase in the amount of guards and security measures. It was even rumoured that the employees be confined to specific floors or evacuated before the visit. But Steven felt that, like most rumours, they were likely exaggerated, though not totally impossible.
Another problem was the fact that Eirik was still hurt and that the effort to bring him out was going to intensify the fatigue that everyone felt due to the ordeal that they were in. The other surprise was the last request from Colonel Lawson before his departure for the United States: At the morning meeting, he had asked Jack if he felt confident to use explosives again, to which Jack replied that he had not used any since demolition school. However, he would gladly do it, if needed. That meant the Colonel had likely received the order to test the effect of explosives on the African Facility. Lawson also requested to be informed the moment they would be standing outside with the communication device. Although they all knew that this moment would happen, it chilled Jack’s and Eirik’s bones to think that they had just opened the flood gates for the release of Builders’ technology.
In addition to the urgency of sending the equipment through, they had to find a solution to take the equipment out of Congo, if they were really in Congo, which was also another concern for everyone involved. If Celina was right, it would be a far cry from a walk in the park or a day at the beach. The Colonel was not concerned about it too much. He led men in Africa for years and he had already reassured people that the group could be evacuated by helicopter or walked to the neighbouring country and then flown out. But that was with the resources of the United Nations, a luxury that the five conspirators didn’t have.
In Norway, Steven was on his way to make the first transfer composed of the gold and half of the equipment. He looked at his life sign detector again. He confirmed that he was still alone and then started placing the first load of boxes containing the equipment on the pads and the gold with a new note on the last. He looked again at the detector and started transferring the equipment one by one. The equipment vanished from the pads in a glow of lights and sounds. He started to feel more and more relieved as the antigravity units emptied.
The detector worked perfectly. It, too, was discovered by Eirik. Chrissy had used it in the first week to measure the people’s level. Although not at all accurate, it had given her and Steven a good base to start. All she had to do was calculate the number of people the user could see. The more you could see, the higher was your level. To their delight and amazement, they soon found out that they could see everyone, including each other. But no one could see them, not even Eirik or Celina, who seemed to be the next to spot the most people. At least, everyone could see the dog. That single piece of equipment was a blessing for what they were doing. It had been one of the first items Eirik selected. But with all the animals in the jungle, he would soon discover that it worked best in a confined environment.
The day was almost over when the Colonel announced to a few guards that explosives would arrive tonight. They would have to secure them until a protocol could be established for the transfer to the other Facility. C4 would be used for its stability and capacity to be dropped without exploding. The problem was that no one could predict how the explosives would react with the transporter. It was theorized that the matter-to-energy conversion could ignite the charge. The other problem was that in order to teleport anything, it needed someone to initiate the transport. Even if the people had a few seconds to run and hide behind a shield, the confined space of the corridor coupled with the hardness of the walls would magnify the concussive force of the explosion and likely kill the people anyway.
Steven had volunteered the idea to use the personal shield, though he never offered to test it personally as the shield had to be worn to be tested. Although a brave soul had agreed to be shot in the arm, since he had felt confident enough after it stopped a knife, taking the full force of a C4 stick was another matter. Noting that the sound of the gun had been deafening despite the presence of the force field, the C4 would likely burst his eardrums off. To prove the hypothesis, the same marine was now requesting to be tested with a flash bang grenade, a non-lethal device used by SWAT teams around the world to momentarily disorient people before the team entered a room. The theory was that if the flash bang affects the shield, then any other shockwave would and that would mean no protection at all.
Steven entered the cafeteria and noticed that the Colonel seemed to have already made his address because the people were already deep in conversation. He had already informed everyone that Allen Johnson, the head of Human Resource, would be the acting Facility Director until his return from the United States in less than a week. The oil rig had apparently arrived ahead of schedule. A first, Steven thought. The Norwegian would finish the repainting of it on site and they would start using the helicopter to bring the next batch of people. It meant that within a week or so, the Facility would be fully augmented and would be ready to receive the Royals for their first official visit.
Steven picked up a few bottles of wine and headed to his quarters. Chrissy arrived a little after him, kissed him and whispered in his ear that all the replication was completed. She sat down to check her email and noted that she had received one from her father. The email was several hours old, as the files on the server were only downloaded two times a day from the shore. He would be visiting in two weeks and was coming with a few members of the Council to evaluate the progress and discuss the accident, which referred to the loss of three key members of the project. Chrissy, knowing her father well, ignored that melodramatic part of the message and replied, as a daughter and not as an employee of the expedition, that she had become friends with all three. She also added that she was in communication with them and that if he was to ask them if it was an accident or if they felt in danger in anyway, they would say no.
She closed the laptop cover and raised her eyes to look at Steven. “Damn. I knew I forgot to add a post-script. I wanted to tell him about us. Oh well, he will learn of it soon enough,” she said, grabbing his hands.
“Can’t wait to meet daddy,” he chuckled. “Do you think he would approve of me?” Steven asked rhetorically.
“Not that I’d care, of course. It is always easier if your parents approve of your boyfriend. But in that case, I have the feeling that he will not. Any father would prefer their daughter to either remain a kid forever or have her marry a prince or a rich man of good lineage, that sort of thing,” answered Chrissy. “But for my part, I know what you’re worth. That’s all that matters to me.”
Steven felt warm to the heart at the statement. Although he would have liked to say something equally romantic in reply, at that moment he didn’t feel anything he could say would come close to mirroring what he had just heard. So, he simply smiled at her and it was enough. During dinner, Chrissy took the communication device and checked on the Castaways. Celina was the one to answer.
After the usual repartee, she added, “I’m almost done cataloguing these samples. Would you be able to send me more of the watertight containers, enough to put all my samples in?” ended Celina, hoping to be understood, thinking that it was rather childish of them, if someone was eavesdropping. No amount of cloak and daggering would make a difference to a trained intelligence gatherer.
“Sure will. I’ll get right on it,” replied Chrissy, her eyes focused as if in deep thought. Steven had seen that look before, which was when the mental calculator was at work. “Fourteen, yeah, fourteen should be enough.”
“These are huge,” he interjected.
“On the outside, yes. But with all the thick plastic and the padding inside, there is not that much space in them really.”
“Okay, then we will need more. We have to make sure that if people asked for the samples in the future, she can produce the container and the samples at a moment’s notice,” added Steven. He had the habit of thinking ahead about when the police would come because eventually, the police would always end up coming.
It took them three hours and they had to use one of the replicators near the transporters as the containers were too big for the room-sized one. Only one fitted on the pad at the time. Since Steven had to stand on the container in order to activate the transporter, they couldn’t stack them any higher. The idea of having to jump off the platform made no sense to Chrissy. She felt that it was likely that they didn’t understand the system enough to trigger the transporter remotely. The rest of the containers and equipment to be sent were stored in an empty room next door in case someone came, but no one did. The Facility was huge and that sector was not populated, nor of particular interest to anyone.
Noticing the time, they placed the last two containers one after the other on the pad and then the gold. Ever watchful of the life sign detector, they sent them away and returned to their room to sleep during what was left of the night.
Celina saw the note and bent her knees as she pulled on the container. Jack pushed on the other side, but it barely moved. They unclipped the four metal locks by rotating the handle and then pulled to dislodge the grip, and removed the cover. The shining ice in the light of their flashlight was blinding. Celina was the first to extend her hand and touch the ice. It was warm to the touch and the feeling between her fingers felt like she had just placed her hand in a bag of rice. There were no mistakes. She had courses in that field, too, but without a magnifying glass and the poor quality of light, there was no way to be sure. “.75, E, I would say.”
“Come again?” asked Eirik, totally shocked at what he was looking at, despite the pain and the exhaustion from having just climbed to the top of the African Facility.
“.75 carat and E means colorless, which is about the best quality one can get in a jewelry store,” answered Celina. “And before you ask, I don’t know how much diamonds of that quality is worth and how many they are in these two containers, but a billion dollars’ worth would be my guess,” she estimated rightly. At first, she had not objected to the plan, thinking that Jack and Eirik had waited long enough for this and shouldn’t be robbed of their reward after three years of Stoil. But now, she was the one getting excited with the prospect of securing her future and perhaps, for once in her life, having the chance to finance her own digs.
It turn out that Chrissy had unmade her ring and replicated the diamond on it and repositioned it on the clasp. Then, she had gone wild with the replication. Gold was heavy and harder to sell with its certificates and money had serial numbers, but diamonds! They were the perfect commodity: Small, light and abundant in Africa.