Greg Archer entered the lobby of the Holiday Inn, and looked at the chart on the wall for the Lincoln conference room.
He entered. It looked very deserted.
I’m here at the right time. Is this the right Holiday Inn? The message left on his answering machine had been brief, and he could hardly understand the man with the distortion on the line.
He looked around for the speaker, but there was no one there. He looked up at the public address speakers.
“Yes. My name is Archer.”
“Have a seat.” He did so. That’s the same voice, distortion and all.
“I am in need of a sales representative who can travel extensively and deal with people of different nationalities.”
“I can do that. What are you selling?” Archer decided to ignore the odd circumstances. Maybe it was a test.
“Unique high-tech services. We will get into that later. What I need to know first are your personal circumstances. Tell me about yourself.”
Greg stifled the unease, and began to talk about himself. He was good at that. With no family left, he was free to spin a shiny, wholesome childhood in Ohio, and give good reasons why he didn’t finish his degree at Purdue. The distorted employer wanted a salesman, so he concentrated on that part of his history. It wasn’t as if he were a felon on the run, but he did have his share of failures, and he was used to carefully not-thinking about them. His successes were much more interesting, and he knew how to describe them lovingly.
After a while, the voice asked him to take out his passport and thumb through the pages.
“Humor me. Pretend there is a camera looking over your shoulder.”
Archer glanced around, but could see nothing. Do what the man said.
He turned the pages. There were some good memories. It was amazing what images came back, just by looking at the round inked stamp of the Cayman Islands. He hadn’t seen Connie in years, and where did he put his snorkel and flippers? But, most of the pages were still blank.
“You like the Caribbean?”
Archer jerked. It seemed like the voice was closer than the public address speakers. He looked around again, but there was nothing.
“Yes. I like it warm.”
He put away his passport.
“Sir, could I ask what this is all about? This is the strangest interview I have ever seen.”
“Can you agree to work for a non-US company?”
“I can work for anyone, I suppose.” Doubts started nagging at him. “I can’t do anything illegal.”
“In international work, sometimes there are different laws in different areas. How do you define illegal?”
Uh oh. “Well, I suppose that some things are just crimes, no matter where you are. I wouldn’t quibble about little stuff, but I couldn’t work where people used guns. I’m a salesman. That’s all I do.”
“Good enough. What is your opinion of the Emperor?”
“The Emperor?” Suspicions started to crystallize. “Uh, you mean the one at the UN?”
“Exactly. He needs a salesman.”
“The Emperor is a terrorist.”
The voice laughed, and through the distortion, it sounded very strange indeed.
“Who has he terrorized? No one. However, the Emperor is sitting on technology that can completely revolutionize the world. He wants to sell unique services. The first year target is a billion dollars in sales. How does a ten percent commission sound?”
Greg Archer’s mind skipped a track.
His voice rasped a little as he asked, “What are you selling?”
The Emperor listed a dozen different services.
“I will be working directly with you. Just like this—we won’t be meeting face to face. I’ll give you an assignment. You make the sale. I provide the services.”
“And this isn’t illegal?”
“There are hundreds of nations. Some will declare this commerce illegal, I suspect. It is new, different, and unsettling. You will always have the opportunity to turn down an assignment, if it exceeds your personal boundaries. I won’t compel you to do anything.”
Archer was already sold. He knew that the moment his vision of his bank balance began to blur.
“What do I do?”
James fell flat on the sidewalk. A man walked up and asked him something in high-speed French.
“Sorry,” he muttered, and allowed the man to help him up.
“Bonsoir.” The man nodded and left.
I know that one. “Bonsoir,” he called back. Good evening.
He dusted off his jeans and looked down the darkened streets. I don’t see her anywhere. Did she lose her watch?
There was a rumble beneath his feet. It wasn’t until he spotted the Metro sign across the street that he put it all together.
She’s on the subway. Dad’s software strikes again. He felt a shiver. If the teleportation sphere had materialized next to her, he would have slammed into the inside of a moving train car at high speed. It could have killed me, and probably other people too. The software had detected that, and moved him to the nearest clear, non-moving, location.
Paris at night was cold. He was wearing his jacket, but it was easily ten degrees colder than Central Texas. He could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, so to kill time and to keep moving, he headed in that direction.
There were a few places open, but most were closed.
He window shopped, attracted to a corner store that sold sexy clothes for women, like a Victoria’s secret, but with all the fetish underwear out there on the city street for all to see. He checked to see if anyone was watching him and then went on.
If I’m so horny I get a kick out of that stuff, why am I running away from Suzie? He shook his head.
He turned a corner, as he realized the Eiffel Tower was not to his left. This city is a maze. It seemed that every building was exactly seven stories tall, and some of the streets were tiny. Hardly room for one car. Some he passed were parked up on the sidewalk.
He paused at a shop. There was a bank ATM machine in the wall, and inside looked like a tiny little bank. A money exchange place. There was a chart giving the exchange rates for several currencies. There were a lot of vacant lines on the chart.
They use euros now, and so do a lot of other countries. No need to exchange that money.
He felt in his pocket. Fifteen dollars, not enough to do much with, but it highlighted the fact that he didn’t have the right money, even if there had been a store open at this time of night.
Just to drive the point home, the next corner had an open restaurant with a number of people eating and laughing. The railing went all the way to the edge of the street. He stepped off onto the pavement to go around, rather than walk through, among the tables.
I don’t know the language. I wouldn’t know what to say if anyone spoke.
Time to go home, I guess.
If I could face to the west and prepare myself, I’d bet I could avoid falling down.
But which way was west? The sky overhead was glowing with the reflected lights of the city, but there were no stars. It must be overcast.
He walked another block, and realized he was getting really close to the Eiffel Tower. It was a wide avenue and he could actually see more than just the storefronts.
He headed briskly towards the tower, and into a park.
The tower was imposing. He walked into the wide-open space beneath the legs. Closed ticket offices, he guessed.
Pilier Est. He looked over to the next of the four bases of the tower. Pilier Sud.
“Hmm.” He walked over to the other side. Pilier Nord.
“Ah, ha!” He tried to pronounce “Pilier Ouest”, but his tongue tangled in his mouth. North, East, South, West. I hope they aren’t just kidding.
He trotted over into the trees, aligned himself ouest and pressed ADJUST.
Nothing happened. After a second’s confusion, he pressed LIGHT LIGHT LIGHT. There is a time out! ADJUST.
It was like taking a missing step in the dark. He stumbled, but with a little dancing, managed to keep on his feet.
Home. He was in the deserted storage shed. The lights were off, but the sky was still light and he could see. He crept to the door. It was after sunset. It’s not midnight anymore. The lights were on in the house, and he could see movement. His mother’s car was in the driveway. And my car is still at school.
He pressed ADJUST. A little step and he was standing on gravel.
The place wasn’t black. It was huge, a cave with a large hole in the ceiling with sunlight streaming in, and row upon row of computers.
Around the corner, he could hear someone walking.
In panic, he stabbed at his watch.
ADJUST. He fell clumsily against a brick wall. Was that Dad he had heard? He couldn’t afford to take the risk.
He stood back up.
Back at school. Around the corner, he checked out the parking lot. His car sat alone.
I wonder how long she stayed?