Exciting economic development news from the island nation of Oslea. And a security threat!
The vehicle approached a group of roughly a hundred people gathered on the tarmac near the hanger. The U.S Embassy’s official transportation came to a halt near a white curtain with the ashtabula.biz logo emblazoned on it. Chief of Staff and Security Officer Larry Ballencek exited the driver’s side and surveyed the situation. Satisfied it was safe, he walked to the passenger side and opened the door to allow Ambassador William Harman out. Harman then opened the rear door and held Jennifer’s hand as she exited. Bill Jr. had already popped out of the passenger door behind the driver’s seat.
Guillermo Jackson walked up to the Ambassador and shook his hand. “I’m glad you came.”
“A pleasure as always, Mr. Mayor,” Harman replied.
“All that counts is here and now.” Jackson turned to Jennifer and bowed slightly. “I’m glad you can spend a little time.”
“Bonne après-midi.” She acknowledged.
Jackson ruffled Bill Jr’s. hair. “All that counts is here and now.”
The teen combed his hair back into place with his fingers and rolled his eyes.
The Mayor led the trio toward the gathering. “Time is slipping away from us, so stay.” Ballencek walked slightly behind them, continuing to keep a watch for any potential threats.
Gerald Crawford was talking to another man as they approached. He waved at the four and motioned for them to meet the new arrival to Oslea. “Ambassador, Mrs. Harman, and Bill, this Jace Raini CEO of ashtabula.biz” A round of hand shaking.
Harman looked through the small crowd “Isn’t Prime Minister Pierce going to be here today?” he asked.
“I’m afraid not,” Jackson answered. “His office advised he would not be available today. I will be acting as his representative.”
“I suppose we should get started then!’ Raini declared.
Gerald turned to Bill Jr. “This is where you shine.” The teen nodded and dashed behind the curtain. Raini pulled notes from inside his sport jacket while climbing the stairs of the platform. Jennifer and Jackson followed him and sat behind the dais.
The speakers surrounding the platform popped when the CEO tapped on the microphone. “Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. Thank you for coming to what ashtabula.net hopes will be the start of a strong and profitable relationship for my company, the city of Dennado, and the nation of Oslea.”
The small crowd applauded the beginning of the remarks. Jace Raini’s amplified voice boomed across the airport. “Our motto is 'Spawning Great Shopping Experiences From a Small Source.' We plan on building an online shopping and delivery platform that we will test here and expand globally.” The crowd clapped and cheered enthusiastically. “Educator Mrs. Jennifer Harman of the U.S. has helped significantly.” Raini stepped away from the dais so Jennifer could speak. Flashes lit up from India Gleaner reporter Vinod Ramesh’s camera.
“Thank you, Mr. Raini,” she started. “When ashtabula.biz approached us about building their business in the South Pacific one of their priorities was partnering with governments and agencies to ensure local residents would benefit, both as customers and as skilled employees.”
A high-pitched whirrrr rose from behind the curtain. “To that end,” Jennifer continued, “a generous grant from Gerald Crawford allowed the Dennado School System to fast-track a high school and adult education STEM program.” The sound grew louder.
Raini stepped to the rear of the stage and pressed a button. The curtains parted and revealed about two dozen high school students with remote controls. Floating near each student was a small drone. In unison the quadcopters rose about 5 meters, then zoomed through the posts of the stage and above the crowd. Bill Jr. waved at his dad.
Most of the drones took station around the crowd and hovered in place. Several others slowly made their way back above the crowd. The teens were well practiced and well synchronized. “In appreciation of your attendance here today, we have a few gifts,” Raini announced. The drones dropped their payloads onto the gathering. The items were snatched up quickly. The people who had snagged the gifts opened the plastic wrapping and found t-shirts with the ashtabula.biz logo or snacks.
Bill Jr. walked up to his dad. “Which drone is yours?” the Ambassador asked.
The teen grinned and replied “None of them.” He displayed to his father a slightly larger remote. “Wait ‘til you see this.” He focused on the remote’s video screen. “Should be here in a minute.”
Raini stepped back to the podium to continue his speech. “With the help of the Oslea Economic Development Agency, the Dennado Public School System, and others we have designed a system that will bring air-based delivery to the so-called ‘last mile,’ or directly to the door.”
He yielded the microphone to Mayor Jackson. “We have offered reduced price leases to ashtabula.biz for a number of warehouses around Oslea that will hold items that can be purchased through their online store. Mr. Raini tells me that the air-based system will offer deliveries within a four hour time frame of ordering, and in many cases one hour.”
The attendees clapped enthusiastically. “There’s nothing more exciting than having toilet paper at your door in an hour,” Jackson noted.
Harman’s secure radio beeped for his attention. He pressed the button to activate it. “Incoming!” Ballencek exclaimed. “At your four o’clock!” He turned and squinted in the distance but could only make out a growing black speck. He saw Ballencek running toward the speck with his gun drawn.
The speck drew closer to the gathering. Ballencek stopped on the runway and followed the object with his gun. He fired two shots.
“Dad!” Bill Jr. shouted. “Don’t let Ballencek shoot it down!”
The Ambassador touched the transmit button on the radio, “Lieutenant, let it pa—” Before he could finish, the Security Chief fired off another round, striking the object. It dropped to the ground and shattered into pieces. Ballencek holstered his weapon as he walked over to the downed aircraft.
Jackson was the first to arrive at the scene of the crash. “Oops, you did it again,” he admonished. Ambassador Harmon, his son, and Raini joined them a moment later. Bill Jr. was crestfallen. Plastic and metal were strewn over about twenty meters from the aircraft skidding along the runway before it came to a stop.
The business executive examined the wreckage. What was left of the craft was a drone about three meters long, painted dark blue with the ashtabula.biz logo on the side. “Well. This isn’t good.” He started rummaging through what was left of the drone.
Jennifer, Crawford, and Ramesh walked up to the site. The reporter for the India Gleaner snapped some pictures. “This is even more exciting than you coming to the Embassy, Mr. Harman,” Ramesh declared.
“Didn’t anyone tell Ballencek what was going on?” Crawford asked. The Security Chief shook his head sheepishly.
Raini found a plastic box that was cracked on one side and opened the lid. “Aha! At least it’s not a total loss!” He exclaimed. He started passing out the contents. “Here you go…”
Ballencek accepted one of the small packages and unwrapped it. “Super Cool!”
Harman unwrapped his own package. It was marked “Butterscotch Marshmallow Pie.”
“Uh, oh,” Jackson warned. “This is contraband.”
Ambassador Harman looked at Jackson then looked at the snack. “Why is that?”
Jackson pointed to a part of the packaging. It read “Product of Aneolwah Isands.”
“This is subject to a 63 percent tariff due to the trade war,” he explained. “These marshmallow pies are an illegal product.”
Ballencek looked around guiltily as he took a second bite.