Archer was sitting on the side of a bed, his coat off and looking beat.
“What happened then?” came a voice out of the air.
“I gave the whole spiel, right out of your playbook. The Emperor would move a mile-wide iceberg from the Antarctic into the desert near the refugee camps. Meltwater would solve the immediate drought problem and create an oasis there for agriculture that would persist for years. The President would hold a press conference taking credit for the humanitarian action and recognize Imperial rule.
“Right from the beginning, he didn’t buy it. Maybe he doesn’t understand the word ‘humanitarian’. He sic’ed his bouncer on me and I was never so relieved when I was able to hit the switch on my watch. He had me in a bear hug and I was afraid I would pass out.”
The voice said, “I’m sorry about that. I’m working on improvements to the system. How about a keyword you could shout that would trigger the abort as well?”
Archer checked the stiffness in his arm. “I’m not sure I’m up for this kind of pitch. I’m a salesman, not a politician.”
“It’s what you signed on for. It’s not just your commission check this time. I’ve already got your Grand Cayman portal set up.”
Archer grinned, “You know how to dangle a carrot.”
Then he frowned, “What happened to the other guy?”
“Don’t worry about him. He passed out in the gas chamber just as fast as you did. He’s my problem.”
Archer nodded. “It’s just ... this is the first time it’s turned nasty.”
“And I’m sorry I put you in danger. And I’m sorry I need you to go to plan B.”
“So soon? I’m a mess.”
“We need to move fast. CNN has the story. There’s even a nice video clip of you.”
“Oh, my.” Archer felt a sinking feeling. He had been working at a furious pace for the past two weeks, making a couple of deals a day. It had almost started to feel like a real, but high-stress, job.
But now, people knew his face and would be hunting for him. And not to get his autograph either.
He was getting used to the Emperor’s voice. Either that or the distortion had been turned down. “Yes, the world now has a face to put on the Imperium. If you had doubts before, now’s the time to get rid of them. If I’m the Emperor of Earth, then you are a protected diplomat. If I’m just a crazy man with a gadget, you are just a crook’s henchman.”
Ngarta Habre, bodyguard for President Nadjima, woke on the beach, aching and hungry. It was hot and very humid. He stripped to the waist and wandered along the shoreline, looking for any sign of another human being.
There were palm trees, with coconuts. And surely there were fish in the sea, but without fresh water he would die.
When he turned back and started checking in the other direction, he quickly discovered a small creek, wide enough to step across, but containing cool fresh water.
Shortly on the tail of that discovery, above the high-tide mark, he found a couple of yellow packages, stamped with the UN globe symbol and ‘World Food Organization’. He tore it open. Biscuits. He ate the entire first package, and felt energy returning.
Food, water, shade. He would live, but how long would he be trapped here?
James watched the CNN coverage, wondering, with the rest of the world, who was the man who vanished before the security cameras.
It’s not Dad. He’d never been so relieved to find that Oriel had been wrong when she said that the Emperor had been arrested.
But for the first time, people could see the vanishing act. News commentators were confidently using the word ‘teleportation’ in their reports. One reporter said ‘beamed away’, but that had stopped over an hour ago.
Star Trek had given the idea to the world, but there weren’t any sparkles. Now news commentators were talking to physicists and science fiction writers about what it all meant.
James put a bag of popcorn in the microwave and sat down to watch the news for as long as he could.
One of the writers being interviewed gave a list of novels that talked about the societal implications of teleportation. And James wrote down the names.
What did it mean to the world that teleportation existed?
What does it mean to me? The world doesn’t have it yet, just the Emperor and me.
He glanced at the clock and realized it was midnight. That would make it 7 AM in Paris.
I could go back and have breakfast with her. If she still wanted to talk to him. He’d vanished when they were at dinner. He hoped she’d been able to pay for it.
If he wanted to talk to her, then he should at least be able to pay for her breakfast. He checked his cash box. But they didn’t use dollars over there. It was euros.
How could he get some euros?
There had been that money exchange place.
He started the sphere program and after a few minutes, he located a different money exchange shop.
He re-programmed his watch and went to Paris. The shop had just opened and the man behind the counter spoke English. He traded his small stash of dollars for euros. They were interesting, different colors and sizes.
He moved out of sight and pressed ADJUST.
“Oriel.” He appeared behind her.
“Eek!” She jumped and turned to face him. “Un moment s’il vous plaît.” She wrapped her arms about herself and dashed into another room.
James realized she didn’t think she was dressed properly, but it’d been okay by him. She wasn’t by any means naked. Is this one of the ‘societal changes’ of teleportation? Will everyone have to be fully dressed all the time?
She opened the door, in a dark dress.
He nodded. “Bonjour Oriel. Vous aimez aller déjeuner. J’ai des euros.” He had practiced how to invite her to breakfast, but he wasn’t at all sure of the accent.
“Oui. Merci.” At least she understood.
She led the way to a sidewalk cafe and James discovered French pastries. He loved the strawberry ones. He supplied the cash, but counting change he left to her.
Oriel was stern, “N’héritez pas mon appartement comme cela. J’ai été embarrassé.”
The translation was beyond him, but he got the meaning. Don’t drop in on her like that again.
I guess I won’t mention the time I saw her in the shower.
He tried to phrase a response, then threw up his hands.
“Only in an emergency, I promise. Otherwise I will knock.”
He smiled. Her forehead wrinkled most charmingly as she struggled with the English.
“Ok. Une urgence.”
She was eager to know anything about the Emperor. She knew from the stories on the news that he was interested in the needy. The government had called on the populace to report anything strange, but indignantly, she said she saw nothing bad in the Emperor.
“Pourquoi devez-vous apprendre le français? N’y a-t-il pas des agents français de l’empereur?”
“Talk slower, please.” He didn’t want to give the wrong impression. “No English agents. No French agents. No Russian agents. Not yet.
“L’Empereur desire des agents français, but he has to be cautious.” He knew he mangled it.
But she nodded. He could tell she wanted badly to believe that the Emperor knew how important the French were.
He remembered something Coach Barlow said. He tried to rephrase it in his own words.
“L’Empereur is the emperor of all de monde. He knows the French have been important players on the international stage for centuries, and he is looking for honest people who can be des agents français.”
She put her hand on his arm and with an earnest gaze she said, “Je ferai n’importe quoi aider l’empereur.”
He didn’t need to translate it. The meaning came through instantly. She would do anything to help the Emperor.