Typhoon Omeka passed but the winds were still too strong to send a drone over the distant island.
Premier Tong scrolled through Micronation’s scheme for selling citizenships and passports, changing banking regulations, and licensing biogenetic research labs.
“I like these designs for collectable stamps and coins.” He lifted his eyes to the Representative, who peddled his company’s proposal with boundless enthusiasm. “I’d prefer to sell those.”
“Construction of a floating nation will cost more than you can raise with trinkets,” the Representative said. “I’m afraid your national coffers can barely keep up payments on the land you’ve bought on the continent.”
“Vetting your nation’s finances was an important part of our proposal.” The Micronation, Incorporated representative spread his hands apologetically. Tong’s eyes flicked to a satellite view of the Pacific on a wall screen. Omeka’s spiral of clouds filled the image.
“All your citizens are off the island, aren’t they?” The Representative’s concern sounded sincere. “They’re here with you and your government in east Africa?”
“Half my people are scattered across the world. Most of the others are here, yes. About fifty thousand.” Premier Tong pressed his lips together in a tight frown. “But we always maintain a presence in our own country.”
“Someone rode out the storm on the island?” The Representative exhaled slowly and glanced at the weather screen. Omeka was a Category Five typhoon and she’d hit the tiny nation head-on.
“Our last island. My people once lived on a chain of atolls, some only meters above sea level. Rising ocean levels took those away when I was a young man. High tide reaches halfway up the main island these days.” Tong’s voice became hoarse as he talked and he cleared his throat. “Show me your proposal while we wait.”
The Representative jumped up eagerly.
“As long as we tether the rafts to your island, you maintain your legal status as a sovereign nation.” He tapped open a tridimensional diagram. “This is what I mean by a raft. Acres of joined floats encircling an artificial lagoon – a vast underwater cage open to ocean flows and stocked with corals and fish. Every species we can rescue from your own reefs or whatever you choose to introduce. Perfectly safe for fishing and swimming. With a marina along the outer edge, here, for boats and sea-planes.”
“It looks top-heavy.” Tong touched one of three towers depicted around the artificial lagoon.
The Representative flicked the image and the diagram rotated to show underwater structures. “We use the latest stabilization technology and include extensive subsurface quarters and workspaces. Room for six thousand people in Phase One.”
“But not for my people.” Tong slapped the desk. “Only those you want as your employees, cleaning and cooking for wealthy foreigners who buy apartments or stay in the hotel.”
“No sir, they will not be Micronation’s employees.” The Representative had rehearsed his pitch well. “Phase One, and all subsequent phases, will be financed by us but entirely owned by you. With the management contract awarded to Micronation, of course, for ninety-nine years. No one would accept the risk for less. We’ll create jobs for as many of your people as economically reasonable, but our investors expect an early return. Phase One must bring international money to the project and that requires foreign guests.”
He swiped the diagram again. “Later, residential rafts will be built, arranged in the same pattern as the original thirty-three atolls.”
“Phase One includes entertainment.” The words were sour in Tong’s mouth. “My people dancing in costume for tourists.”
“Living history, yes, in tribute to your ancestral culture.”
“It’s not my people but the Hawaiians who host luaus, you realize that?”
“My apologies, sir, for a slip in our research.”
“I’m not inclined to schedule hotel construction before homes for my people. By the time these later phases are completed, today’s children will have grown up as Africans.”
Tong’s eye’s jumped to the wall screen again. A window popped open in one corner. A ship following the storm had launched a drone.
They sat in silence for some time as the Premier stared at the screen.
“Who’s on the island?” the Representative asked.
“One of our security teams. My daughter…” Tong cleared his throat. “It was her turn in the rotation.”
The drone flew below the clouds, its cameras scanning a steel-gray ocean dense with foam. Tong crossed the room and peered at the drone’s latitude and longitude coordinates on the bottom of the screen. “We should see the island by now.”
The drone began a crisscrossing search pattern until a pale shadow appeared below the waves – the remnant of a submerged reef. There was nothing else. Tong stumbled backwards until he hit his desk and balanced there, steadying himself with both hands.
“Premiere Tong.” The Representative held his hands out helplessly. “I’m so sorry. I’ll reschedule our meeting. This isn’t the right time.”
“No. Bring out the contract.” Tong’s words were barely audible. “This is the right time.” He fumbled in his shirt pocket for a pen.
There was no other choice.