Monday, May 30, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 35 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Oriel asked, “Can’t you go inside the gun and remove the bullets?”
James shook his head.  “I can’t.  Those guys ... I’ve been reading reports.  I....”
His mother said, “We aren’t going to do anything yet.  I’ve been up thirty some hours, and so have you.  They are keeping him alive, for whatever reason, so we need to let them do that.  That rig they have over his face, it is keeping him breathing.  If we pulled him out, we could kill him.
“James, get some sleep.  When it’s time to move, I want you fresh.  I’ll stay here.  I know how to drive this thing now and I will keep out of sight.”
He nodded.  Oriel went with him, as the Empress stayed at the screen.
There was one bed, and he sat down on it—his father’s bed.
“I will come back and check on you in a little while.”
“No, wait,” he said, holding out his hand for her.  Oriel sat beside him.  “Thank you for coming to help.  This is too big a job.  My father tried to do it all himself, and it may have killed him.  I feel dead myself.”
“I understand.  My father is dead, and I can remember that time.  It is very much like now.  You must sleep, I know this.  I will bring some more food in a little while, and we will rescue your father, and rescue all those agents.”
She kissed him, and slipped out of his hand.
He was asleep before she had gone five steps.
Oriel scanned the status board.  There was always something new to deal with.  She glanced through the items, turning off the alarms before they had a chance to sound.
One caught her eye.  “Island Exit activated, South America,” followed by a set of coordinates.  Later she would look at it.
Diana was sitting beside the other screen, her hand resting on the mouse, doing nothing.  It was the picture of Oriel’s own mother, as she had waited beside the bed of her father before the cancer took him.
Rebellion flared a little.  I hope they don’t just wait there until he dies!
Maybe they are too close to him.  Too afraid to move.
After disposing of the most critical items on the status board, she walked over to Diana.
The lady looked tired, and worn out.  Not at all like the Empress of the Earth.  She smiled at Oriel.
“No change.  They have him in a private room—with a nurse and three gunmen.”
Oriel pulled up another chair.  “Is there any chance they have seen the monitor?”
“I don’t know.  No one has reacted.  I keep the peephole tiny and hide in the shadows.  They can’t hear us talk, can they?”
Oriel shook her head.  “No.  The sphere goes to a camera off in some rock chamber, James told me.  It is just like a television when we see it on the screen.
“Do you want me to watch awhile, while you get some sleep?”
Diana put her hand across her face, massaging the aches.  “No.  Not for awhile.  I can’t lose him again.”
They sat in silence.
One of the gentle alarms went off several minutes later.
Oriel got up and said, “I’ll take care of that, and then go get some food.  Is there anything you want?”
Diana shook her head.  “Thanks for sitting with me.  I kept wishing for my mother.  But I couldn’t bring her into this.  We all might be killed.
“I guess I sound like Bob.”
The Admiral listened to the report, frustrated at the man.  Years ago, he had given up paper reports.  Everything had to be done face to face.  No paper trails, no way for subordinates to hide behind cut and paste wordage.
“Is there anything there?” he demanded.
The technician shook his head.  “I can’t tell.  The room is supposed to be radio secure, but I get some slight noise.  I did a manual sweep of the room and I thought I had something, but it turned out to be a wristwatch.  I was ready to confiscate it, but when I checked my watch, I detected the same noise.  They are tiny computers, after all.”
Forsythe dismissed the man.  It was frustrating, knowing that there was someone still running the teleporters—more reports were coming in all the time of systems being reactivated—and not knowing if they were aware he had their Emperor.
Being a hidden power had its advantages, but it also had its drawbacks.  How can I threaten them with his death, if they don’t know I have him?  I can’t go to the media.  And if I am still as hidden as I pay my people to be, they won’t even know I’m here.
But, there was always the second plan.  And if that worked, then things would be different indeed.
Mayor Norris of Big Lake pointed to the ripple in the fast flowing stream moving over the spillway.
“I think it’s cutting under the concrete apron.  If that weakens, I worry.”
The town had nothing like an engineering department, but Jess Folsom had been around when the dam had been built.  He nodded.  “I don’t think it was ever designed to handle this much flow.  A big thunderstorm, maybe, but that was all.  Can’t we stop it?”
The Mayor shrugged.  “I have no way to contact him, if he doesn’t pick up his money.  We could go public, but I don’t know what the feds would do to us.  Local people know this is Emperor work, but none of the big news people have paid us any attention.”
Jess looked over at the spillway again.  “Which is worse?”
The creek was bank full already, winding its way down the valley.  No one had ever considered the idea of flood-plain building restrictions.  For the first time in history, the highway into town had water flowing over the asphalt.  If the dam broke, nothing would be left.
“You’re right, Jess.  Get some people and make some sandbags, and then I’ll call KLAS-TV in Las Vegas.”
“Sandbags?  Make ‘em out of what?”
“Plastic trash bags, I guess.  Use your imagination.”
Oriel snapped awake.  She had stepped back to her apartment and on impulse, had called her mother, just to hear her voice.  They had talked a few minutes—she was always worried about her little girl off in wicked Paris.  Oriel had let fall a hint that she was seeing someone.
That had started a marathon questioning session.  “Yes, he is nice.  No, we haven’t had sex yet.  Yes, he is respectable.  He has even introduced me to his mother.  No, no more questions.  I love you Mother.”
She had collapsed on the bed, for just a minute, and from clock on the wall, she had slept for three hours.  What must they be thinking back at Base?
She changed clothes and headed to pick up the food.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 34 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

“Gravel?” asked one of the black-suited agents.  There were a dozen of them in the briefing room.
The Admiral looked at him sharply, “Is that important?”
“I seem to recall something about gravel when I was reviewing the hospital records looking for our subject.”
“Follow it up.”
The man left.
“Officer Hobert’s statement listed the older woman as Diana, Empress of Earth.  No names for the other two.
“He also reports that Empress Diana believes her husband was poisoned and is intent on tracking down those who did it.”
“Anything else.”
“Not at this time.  He is sedated after minor surgery on his leg.”
The room cleared.
So, there are still more of them.  Hobert was already a news story—no chance of silencing him.  They would get the poisoning rumor soon enough.  We will need to skew that a bit.  Teargas?  Something like that.
He looked again at the wall map they had made of the Mt. Rushmore underground base.  How long would it take to drill a shaft down to that depth?
Too long.  I’ve just got to hope they make another mistake.
Ngarta clung to the ladder he had constructed out of a palm tree, with stakes driven into the sides.  It balanced precariously on the pile of rocks he’d carried one by one up from the shoreline.  The opening in the rock, with its EXIT sign was almost within reach.
He pushed himself up another step, and it was in sight.
There was a man-sized, perfectly spherical cavity inside the huge stone ball.  Inside, he could see something that looked like controls.  Hurriedly, he climbed another step, and jumped into the opening, even as his ladder skidded against the rock and fell hard to the ground.
I am here.  I made it.
But where had he arrived?  It was a simple stone cave, with an inch of water at the bottom.  The controls, when he saw them, gave him a sinking feeling in the bottom of his stomach.
There was a spin wheel, like from a simple child’s game.  He tapped the arrow, and it spun freely.  Seven zones marked with a pencil; Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.
The only other thing was a red button, plainly glued to the side of the rock.
It was plain what it was, a cruel joke—on him.  This was not an exit, just a child’s pretend version of a teleporter machine.
He looked carefully out the opening.  His ladder was far below, and to jump down to the rock pile was to invite death.
He looked again to the destination wheel.  Anywhere in the world.  He didn’t feel like laughing.
The water at his feet, a little muddied by his well-worn shoes—how long could that keep him alive?  He was already starved.
In frustration, he spun the wheel again, and stabbed at the button.
James paced the aisles of computers, unable to sit down while he ate.  The ham sandwich on a hard baguette tasted wonderful.  He had been lavish with his praise for Oriel when she returned with sandwiches and a large plate of pastries.
She apologized for taking so long.  “I called my mother and told her I would be on vacation, and then called my store to tell them I had to take off to help my sick mother.”
The two women sat down to eat, discussing how to arrange the rescue of the imperial agents.
James couldn’t sit still.  Dad was still out there somewhere, dead or alive.  His brain was churning.  He had surveyed a good portion of the computer system his father had built.  Long years of looking over his father’s programming had really paid off.
And then, when he couldn’t make any more headway, he had tracked the FBI watches he had tagged, located their supervisors, and then the destination of their reports, all the way up to the FBI Emperor Task Force.
Interpol Agent Ghest had been a great find.  His reports, with a knowledge of the FBI and yet with an outsider’s perspective gave a great overview to the more stilted FBI reports.
And it was clear the FBI reports were deliberately leaving things out.  For example, the official rosters of the task force briefing meetings never mentioned the person Ghest quoted as ‘NoBadge’—some high level person who was never officially there.
It was NoBadge who first leaked the idea that the Emperor had gone silent.  It was NoBadge who knew exactly what was going on about the arrests of the imperial agents.
James tagged everyone he could find, but NoBadge had not attended the task force meeting when he had eavesdropped.
From Ghest’s reading of the man, NoBadge would poison his own mother if he needed to.
James stopped in his tracks.  On one of the computer racks, there was a sticky note, in his father’s handwriting, “Power supply let out the magic smoke.  Don’t turn it back on unless you open the air portal.”
The tall rack-mount computer stood black, unlike the others that had a nice set of indicator lights blinking on their front chassis.
One of the mirrored computers failed.  Dad just left it sitting.
James could understand that.  His father had to have worked day and night to do all the things he had done here at Base.  When this one failed, the others took up the slack, and there was no time to fix computers.
When did this happen?
He dropped the rest of his sandwich and unplugged the dead computer’s network cable, isolating it from the rest of the systems.  These things were arranged in five-computer banks.  He stepped over to the next bank and powered down one at random.  Power supplies were plug-in units, designed for quick field replacement.  He unplugged it and had the original failed computer booting up within three minutes.
His father had several carts with fat rubber tires that could handle the gravel.  He chose one of the half-dozen computer terminals that weren’t in use and wheeled it over to the isolated computer.
When it came up, the system was slightly confused by its missing brothers, and it took additional time to correct hard disk errors caused by its abrupt power loss.
But soon enough, it was up.
It thinks it is three weeks ago.  Module ‘crashandburn’ was still in the library.
Flying fingers dug into the code.  As he thought, the encryption password was there in clear text, ‘The man who insists that everyone understand him will always be disappointed.’
I could have guessed that one, given enough time.
The code also included the transport code originating at his watch and dropping him at location ‘St. Matthew’, a hospital, obviously.
He opened another window and scrolled through the locations.  St. Matthew was there.  It hadn’t been on the main system, he would have noticed it.
He tried to open a monitor window to St. Matthew, but there was an error.  Isolated from the network, this computer wasn’t connected to the teleporter hardware either.
James grabbed the sticky note from the computer and wrote down the co-ordinates of St. Matthew’s Hospital.
“Mom!  I’ve got a hospital!”
Back at his usual screen, he programmed in the new location and added it to his watch’s menu.
“What are you going to do?”  asked his mother.
“I’m going to go get him.”
“No.  You almost got blown away by that hurricane.  Look before you leap.  I don’t want to lose you too.”
His fingers vibrated against the keys.  “Okay.”  She was right.
He opened a monitor window to the hospital emergency room.  Women in white uniforms were working at computer terminals.  He moved into a potted plant where he could see the screens as a lady worked, admitting someone for a broken arm.
It was painfully slow, but he was able to watch as she switched menus and had to type in her login and password.
That was all he needed.  He flew his viewpoint around the neighboring offices, until he found an unattended terminal.
“Mom, help me with this.”  He opened a medium sized sphere.  He reached through, pulling the terminal, mouse and keyboard and all through to Base.  He left only the network cable, carefully shrinking the hole down to its size and making sure it was positioned out of sight.
They plugged the monitor into Base power and brought it up.  “Let me have that,” said his mother.  James hesitated but got out of the chair.
“It’s been twenty years since I worked at a hospital—a volunteer worker—but it looks like the software has hardly changed a bit.”
She logged in, and quickly navigated to the admissions records.  “There.”
An unconscious man had been discovered at the entrance to the hospital, resting on a small pile of gravel.  He was admitted as a John Doe and placed on a ventilator when his coma deepened.
She said, “No.”
“What is it?”
“He is being checked out, now!”  She pointed to the spot on the cluttered screen.
James found the room number.  He opened a viewpoint and flew up to the fifth floor.
“I don’t like this,” said a man in scrubs.
“I’m sorry, but this is national security.”  The man in the black suit was holding a badge.  “My associates are handling the paperwork as we speak.  Arrange a gurney.  We will be leaving immediately.”
The doctor hesitated, but then hurried out.
“Davis, put your pistol to his head.”  The other black suit complied.  “If anything, and I mean anything, starts to happen, pull that trigger.”
He nodded, and arranged the covers to hide the gun.
James and his mother watched helplessly as more agents arrived and wheeled him out to a waiting ambulance.
“I can’t get a sphere around him fast enough.  And as likely as not, the guy with the gun would come too.”
“I know.”  She put her hand on his shoulder.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 33 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Typhoon Koppu steered inland, lashing Yokohama and Tokyo with winds over a hundred miles per hour.  The merchant fleet had several days warning, and a large fraction of them had moved down the coast towards Nagoya.
But on the shore, the buildings shook.
In the center of a large parking area, two new buildings creaked and groaned.  They had been erected in a hurry, without the re-enforcement common in the typhoon plagued area.
The atmospheric pressure dropped steadily as the core of the storm approached.  The windowless buildings began to bulge.  All doors were locked, and sealed with chains.  The air inside had to push hard to get out, but there was a lot of air inside.  Each contained a large sphere that shared its interior with Chicago, currently experiencing a seasonal high pressure.
Sheet metal screws began to snap.  The metal began to tear, and as a gust of wind from the storm stuck the buildings, they exploded, one a few seconds after the other.
The metal sides and girders were caught by the winds.  Soon nothing was left.
Two spheres, slightly darker than the cloud-draped landscape, stood alone in the lot.
In Chicago, two other buildings stood draped with yellow police warning tape.  The noise had brought police to investigate.  One man made the mistake of opening a door, to investigate, and it was immediately ripped from its hinges.  The man was blown off his feet, and was swallowed up like a dust bunny in a vacuum cleaner hose.
The wind howling through the opened doorway resonated like a steam-whistle.  The entire building shook and the rest of the police retreated.
Ripping metal added to the noise as the metal building collapsed.  Walls crumpled inward, and then the roof popped free of its crossbeams and imploded.  Shortly the walls followed, vanishing into the sphere.
A vortex formed, with its point locked to the revealed sphere.  The moisture-laden air from the lake condensed, revealing a strange sight—a waterspout dancing on land in bright sunlight, with not a cloud in the sky.
The vortex twisted and danced around the place like an angry snake.  The police brought in re-enforcement to hold the crowd back.
Wild winds struck the neighboring building, and it was enough.  The second one began collapsing, this time in front of a dozen filming news crews.  As it vanished into its sphere, a second vortex formed.  The brother winds danced and entangled, for an instant merging, and then breaking apart.  Helicopters were warned back, the vortex gusts were reaching several hundred feet into the air.
In Japan, a Chicago policeman with a broken leg and a lacerated arm crawled slowly away from the howling blast of winds.  A permanent explosion formed over the remains of two buildings.
Oriel called out, “James, come here.”
He nodded, and typed the command to print the list he had just captured from a monitor screen.  The printer began buzzing.
“Coming.”  He got up, and felt the aching muscles.  He was stiff and starving.  How long had he been at it?
Regardez ceci.”  She pointed at the television screen.  Strange tornadoes were spinning slowly around each other in the middle of a city.
“I think that is one of ours,” she said.
“What’s going on?”
Diana said, “The commentator said it was a teleport gate between Chicago and Tokyo, designed for trucks to drive through.  A typhoon hit Tokyo and it’s sucking air through the gates.  It’s totally destroyed the facility, and a policeman has been sucked through.
“What do we do?”
“Was there any alarm?”
“Not that I can see.  Bob didn’t plan for that, I guess.”
James scowled.  An alarm would have the controls for those gates already identified.  Now he would have to look for it.
“Is there any background?  When was the gate created?  The name of the company?”
He’d found the list of active portals before, but they weren’t named, just a sequence of numbers.  Portals were created and disposed of many times a day, and the computer kept track of it all.  He started at the beginning, tapping the next key staccato, giving the status window just an instant to form the words before he went on to the next one.
Familiar names and locations flashed by, throwing him off his rhythm.  The most common were watches.
How many watches does he have tagged?  For each, there had to be an active portal.  He had seen that code—a hundred watches shared a common radio detector.  For a hundredth of a second, each would check its location against the persistent buzz of the watch’s circuitry, before it was the next watch’s time.
How many had he tagged?  His own, Oriel’s, a couple of dozen FBI men, and one Interpol guy.
There!  Trans-Pacific Trucking Eastward Portal.
He opened the control panel and dialed it to zero diameter.
“James!  One of them stopped.”
Right.  There were two of them.  Then next click brought up the Westward Portal.  He closed it as well.
“They’re both stopped now.”
James opened a monitor port to the Chicago location.  Police were funneling in through the fenced gate.  He zoomed his viewpoint over the mob.  They looked like they were searching for something among the wreckage that hadn’t been sucked through.
Oh yes, the missing policeman.
Oriel came up behind him.  “What are you doing now?”
“Switching over to Japan.  There’s a man, maybe injured, out in that mess.”
The screen showed near whiteout conditions as the storm winds were whipping rain sideways.
“Did the news report say which way he was sucked in?”
“No.  Just that a door blew in and took him with it.”
“I’ll have to search a spiral, then.  Do you know how to run one of these monitor screens?”
“From the top sphere control window, right?”
“Yes.  Start at the location named Chicago-Port and find me a hospital emergency room.”
She left.
I can’t move him directly—can’t have a tornado form in a hospital.
He opened a baseball-sized sphere between Tokyo and the vacant area where the breathing windows opened.
There was a shriek like a monster tea kettle.
He yelled, “I’m lowering the air-pressure in here.  Watch your ears.”
The search spiraled out a half-dozen times before he saw the man.  
James opened a temporary man-sized portal and ran to it.
Eight time zones and a hard wet rain tossed him on the ground.  The wind rolled him several times before he caught his balance and blinked against the stinging raid.
Where was he?
“American!” he shouted.
“Here!”  To his left.
He crawled.  No way could he stand against that wind!
“Are you injured?”  Every word had to be yelled.
“Broken leg.”  
James could see that the man had wrapped his arm to stop it bleeding.
“Can you move?”
“Yes, but I can’t walk.”
“You won’t need to.”
James scooted next to the man, wrapped his arms around the man’s chest and pressed a button on his watch.
The sphere blossomed around them, fast, but now that he’d seen the code his father wrote, he marveled at what it did.  It expanded to six feet, enclosing the both of them, and then fluctuated in diameter, using the differences in altitude between the origin and the destination to detect changes in the enclosed mass, adding a safety margin so nothing important, like a foot, would be left behind.  At the same time the computer bank at Base adjusted the destination location so that no significant masses, other than air, would overlap.
The result had two men, a lot of wet air, and a half-sphere of rock, dirt and concrete materializing in the base.  The concrete surface under them was now tilted at a steep angle and they rolled off onto the gravel floor.  The sphere collapsed, returning the concrete and most of the rock and dirt back to its origin.
“Ehhh!” cried the policeman in pain.  His broken leg had twisted.
“Sorry.  We’ll get you home easier.  Just lie there.”
James got to his feet.
“Do you have that hospital yet?”  he yelled.
“Just another minute.”
The policeman gasped, “Who are you?”
His mother was walking up.  She kneeled down to check his makeshift bandage.  “I am Empress Diana.  I’ll need your name and address, so we can check up on you later.”
“Fred Hobert.  456 Yesel Lane, Springdale.”
James moved over to the closest computer screen to enter in the information, and to quickly tag the man’s wristwatch.  His fingers were wet and slipped on the keyboard.
“You should be okay.  I apologize for this.”  Diana’s voice changed slightly,  “Tell your people that we are doing everything we can to get things under control.  Tell those who poisoned my husband to put their affairs in order.”
He heard the steel in her voice, and nodded.
“Ready,” called Oriel.
Diana stood up.  “Wait just a moment.”  She picked up a fat envelope from a table and handed it to the man.  “A little cash to cover your immediate needs.  We’ll get back to you after the emergency.”  She nodded to Oriel, and the policeman and a pile of gravel appeared in a Chicago emergency room.
James asked, “What was that you gave him?”
His mother shrugged, “Ten thousand dollars.  I found a file cabinet over there labeled, ‘Laundered Money’.  It really is too.  Everything looks slightly faded.”
“All kinds, I guess.  And a stack of those yellow imperials.”
James stomach growled, “Oriel, I am starved.  Could you hop over to Paris and get us some food?”
She smiled, “Certainement.”
They found a stack of euros and James coached her through reprogramming her watch for her home and Base.
“And don’t try carrying the food back with you—not until you have your world-legs.  Come back, and then pull it here after you.”
She nodded, grinned, and faded off to Paris.
James walked over to the printer.
His mother asked, “How much do you trust her, son?”
“Enough.  Mom, if anyone could have succeeded at this by doing everything himself, it was Dad.”
She nodded,  “He didn’t trust me.”
“That’s different.  He was protecting us.”
“He didn’t trust me to risk my life for his dream.”
James didn’t know what to say.  Oriel wanted to be a part of this—he would stake his life that she wouldn’t betray them.  If he was wrong, he hoped he’d never find out.
The paper in his hand gave him a way past the uncomfortable silence.  He held it up.
“An Interpol agent made this list of all of Dad’s agents—at least all of them that were arrested.  I suspect that not a one of them knows anything important about teleportation, but they shouldn’t be left in the hands of the government interrogators.  Do you think we could rescue them?”
She took it.  “I still feel those handcuffs.”

Monday, May 23, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 32 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

“Any luck with the hospitals?”  Admiral Forsythe asked.
“Not yet.  It might be quicker if we sent out a notice to be on the lookout for him.”  The man in the black suit stood at attention while he talked.
“No.  People are watching us closely.  If we sent out a description of the symptoms, that would be bad politically.  We have pictures of our top suspects, but still, letting it be known what they look like is not wise.
“Even if he’s dead, I want the body, not anyone else.”
CNN Top Headlines:
Typhoon Koppu is approaching Japan after devastating Okinawa.
President Rizal of the Philippines sends troops to quell riot in capital.
Emperor believed still missing—US Marshall’s office quarantining teleportation sites.
Oriel appeared in a bubble that blinked into existence, and then vanished.  James was there to catch her.
“C’était intense!”
“Are you okay?” he asked as he helped her to her feet.  “I warned you about that first step.”
Oriel noticed Diana, and glanced at James.
He smiled, “Oriel, this is Diana, the Empress of Earth.”
Oriel bowed, “Greetings, your Majesty.”
Diana smiled, glancing at the young French girl, and her son.  “Vous êtes très bienvenu.  Nous n’avons pas établi des protocoles encore, ainsi oubliez le cintrage.  Appelez-moi Diana.”
James mouth dropped open.  “I didn’t know you spoke French.”  To Oriel, he said, “Parents!  They are always surprising you.”
Oriel blinked.  “She is your mother?  That makes you....”
He nodded, “Sorry.  Yes, I guess that makes me Crown Prince James.  Sounds silly, I know.”
She took a deep breath.  Things were happening quickly.  “You said I was needed.”
James took her by the hand, instantly grave,  “Yes. My father is missing, and I need you to help my mother control the operation.”
“Yes.  You know there are other agents, but none of them, without exception—not even me, were trained on the daily operation of the teleporters.  When the Emperor was poisoned, and went missing, many of the regular tasks were stalled, waiting for someone to make the right decision.
“My mother, in spite of her many other admirable skills, is not computer talented, as I know you are.  You can be a big help.  Come over here.”
He sat them down before the screen.  An alarm went off.
“Mother, show Oriel how to silence that.”
Cautiously, Diana moved the mouse, opened the window.  She clicked the alarm off.
“Now see what caused it.”
When Diana paused, Oriel pointed at the info panel.
“Carbon Dioxide levels elevated in Base.”
James caught himself breathing.  It was true, the air in here was stale.
He said, “Now, figure out what to do.”
Diana said, “I would open a window, but there aren’t any windows are there?”
Oriel fearlessly clicked the options.  “Here is one—external portal.”
She looked at James questioningly.
“Ask my mom.  You two will have to make these kinds of decisions.”
The women looked at each other and shrugged.  “I guess so,” said Diana.
Oriel nodded and activated that option.  A second panel opened up, showing a dozen locations, and a timer.
“Mid-Pacific?  Ten minutes?”
She activated it.
Suddenly, the light in the gallery brightened as sunlight streamed into the cave through a large hole.  They all got to their feet and walked closer.
“I can smell the salt air.”
“And the moisture.”
James said, “Listen, you can hear the wind.”  The air was no longer stuffy.
“It worked,” said his mother.
“He must have pre-set a lot of the options.  Notice how it didn’t open over any of the equipment.  If it happened to be raining, he would have a chance to close it before too much water came in.  Too much moisture will be bad for the computers.”
Oriel nodded, “Next time, we’ll use the desert location.”
They waited until the window to the Pacific vanished, and then they went back to the computer screen.
James pointed over to the other screen.  “I’ve got to get back to my search.  You two will need to review all of the status alerts.  If a decision is easy, then do it.  If it is hard, then think it through, but still do it.  You can come bother me, but it will slow down my hunt for my father.  Can you do it?”
They nodded and sat down to work.
Diana watched James head off to his computer screen.  She had to trust that her son knew what he was doing.  Bob’s life was probably in his hands.  He seemed to be taking the responsibility like a man.
“Diana?” Oriel hesitated over the name, “Do you wish to start here, or look at the older ones?”
“The older ones, I guess.
“Tell me Oriel, when did you first meet my son?”
“Hey, Boss, the sluice is flowing again.  I’ve started the pump.”
Alex Lupin got up from his desk and unlocked the cabinet.  “The payment is still there.”  Two thousand imperials still rested in a bundle wrapped with a blue rubber band.
Jeff laughed, “Well, don’t touch it.  I’ve got the boys working.  There is definitely color there.”
“Cross your fingers that it will last.  I thought we were dead when we missed the last payment.  Have you located more imperials?”
“I don’t know.  Ever since ‘the Emperor is dead’ rumors started, the price of imperials has been all over the map.”
“Well keep looking.  I still think running a gold mining operation without the mine is still a wonderful idea, but we have to keep our costs down.  I would hate to pay for this in dollars.”
Their operation looked like a simple warehouse, but they pumped in a mix of gold ore from an old placer deposit deep below the earth via teleportation, and then when the dregs settled, they were dumped back into the hole the same way.
No mess, no angry neighbors, no Environmental Protection Agency to watch over you.  It was mining like Alex had always wanted.  
Jeff rubbed his chin, “Boss, you know we were told to notify the feds if there was any more activity.”
“I know, but you saw what the US Marshals did to Trans-Pacific trucking.  A perfectly innocent business shut down.  They’ll do that to us as well.  Tell the boys their paycheck depends on keeping quiet.”
James hunted through the whole program database, looking for the ‘crashandburn’ program function.  It was the only function programmed into his father’s watch that he couldn’t find the code for.  Pressing MODE three times in quick succession should have started ‘crashandburn’, and he felt sure that is exactly what happened.
But his father had covered all his traces.  The last thing the software routine had done, he was sure, was to delete itself.
At home, he would have checked the backups.  His father was religious about backups.  But here, with all the money in the world, he had mirrored everything instead.  You could take a chainsaw to one of these Base computers and the load would magically be handled by its brothers.  But deleting a file on this system deleted it everywhere.
Just then, there was a rumble.  It seemed to come from everywhere.
Two female voices screamed in harmony.  
“What’s happened?”  He was up out of his chair.
His mother looked pale.
Oriel waved at the screen.  “We collected a report from a Los Angeles agent.  I pushed the button, and there was an explosion.”
“What was the command?”
“’Transfer to dropbox.’”
He kneeled down by the screen.  He checked the log.  Everything that had happened after ‘crashandburn’ was readable, if he scrolled past the encrypted part.
“An explosion all right.  Someone substituted a bomb for the report.  Probably the same people who arrested the agents.  I knew the dropboxes were relatively close.  But that sounded too close.
Oriel said, “We had already brought several payments into the dropboxes.  Maybe we should stop.”
“For now,” he agreed.  “Later we’ll make it even safer.  The only way our enemies can get to us is if we bring the weapon here ourselves, so let’s don’t do that.”
A light came on in Admiral’s Forsythe’s on-site apartment.  “Sir, we’ve located the Emperor’s headquarters.”
He was out of bed in an instant.  “Show me.”
Dressed in a robe, he followed his orderly to the situation room.  On the wall a large computer display was rotating a 3-D map of a mountain.  Below it, a large dot was blinking.
“Sir, this came from some data we got from the South Dakota School of Mines and Technology.  Some months ago, researchers had noticed some unexplained seismic signals, but when they went away, the data was just shelved.  Our queries brought it to mind and they forwarded it to us.
“This.  This is new.  Three hours ago, there was a single sharp signal from roughly the same location.  And see here,”  he pointed to a line in the seismic image.  “This is the edge of some kind of chamber.”
“A cave?”
“No.”  The man tapped the map.  “This is granite.  No cave here.”
The man in the bathrobe read the legend on the map, and then realized what he was looking at.
Bastard.  Under some circumstances, he would have risked a tactical nuclear strike, even within the United States, to rid the world of this wild card.
But he couldn’t nuke Mt. Rushmore.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 31 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Rudy listened to the reports.
“It was nearly a clean sweep.  Once we saw that the Emperor’s teleport system had stopped, we were able to move in and capture the agents.  They are all being interrogated now.”  He wasn’t an FBI agent.  In his black suit he looked like a junior version of NoBadge.
Rudy asked, “Has the Emperor been captured?”
“Not as yet, but our information suggests that if he is not already dead, he will be captured soon.”
“What information is this?”
The agent shook his head.  “That information is classified.  All I am allowed to say is that action by the United States has removed the international terrorist threat who called himself the ‘Emperor’.”
Rudy had expected as much.  “What about Archer?”
“Unfortunately, he was able to elude the force that was assigned to him, but since we have his photo and details about the man, we expect ordinary police work to turn him up shortly.  And besides, without the teleportation system, he is no threat.”
Rudy nodded.  “I have enough for my report.”
The man smiled.  “I should think so.”
Rudy didn’t have the heart to tell him what his report would be.  They had rounded up all the new agents, agents that had only hired on with the Emperor after he had already demonstrated his ability to steal anything anywhere.  Without the Emperor, or his teleporter machine, they had nothing.
Admiral Forsythe stared at the map on his office wall, thinking.
Unless I can produce his body, it will never be over.  Many of the teleportation stations are still running strong—the oil pipeline, the water shipments, even that trucking facility.  Only the Emperor knows how to shut them down.  The best we can do is quarantine them.
Unless we can control them, they are just a disaster waiting to happen.
A light appeared on his phone.  He picked it up.
“The paper supply has been loaded into the truck.”
“Any accidents.”
“None, sir.”
“Get it all to the secure incinerator.  I want no fallout from this.”
“Understood, sir.”
At least one thing had worked to plan.
The Emperor had been printing his own money, which meant supplies from the outside.  He’d stocked up on ink at the very beginning, but he had underestimated his supply of that textured paper.
We withdrew it all from circulation, except for a small stash at the factory.  Our stash.
Mayor Bill Norris walked along the top of the Big Lake dam.  He had seen the news reports.  People were saying that the Emperor was dead.  He didn’t know what to think about that.  His deal with the devil seemed to have paid off.  The lake was nearly full now, just an inch or so from the spillway.  It had cost the city, but the fishing trade was booming, especially since it had been discovered that the lake now contained black grayling, whitefish, and a kind of salmon which were supposed to only be available in Siberian lakes.  Every morning, a new batch of fishing boats headed out for the cold spot, where the fishing was best.
It was good water too, clear and pure.
He stepped down onto the spillway and walked to the edge.  The water was still coming up.  He made his last payment, but the Emperor hadn’t picked it up.  Nor the note he had left thanking him for the water and requesting that the transfer stop now.
If he’s dead, what happens now?  The creek bed has been dry for a long time now.  I guess that’s about to change.
“James, what do we do now?”  his mother asked.
He was deep into the programming of his father’s watch.  It had only four buttons, like his did, but his father had layered functions on top of escape patterns, on top of menus.  Considering there was no feedback to tell you where you were, that you would have to hold it all in your head, he was impressed.  The watch was totally useless as a timekeeper.  Trying to set it would likely trigger a landslide in Albania or something.
Why did he throw it away when the poison hit?
“Sorry Mom.  I’m trying to understand this.  What did you want?”
She put her hand on his shoulder.  “I stopped the alarms.”
He raised his head and listened.  The deep rock gallery was now quiet.  Spooky quiet, with the only sounds being the low murmur of computer fans.
“Good work.”
“But what do we do now.  A lot of those signals were serious.”
“Show me.”
They stepped over to her screen.  
Most of the status icons were still blinking.  James checked the settings and sorted them by priority.  He clicked the first one.
“Drop box 9: Overpressure, overtemperature.  Camera disabled.”
There was an info box.  He clicked it, but it showed an error:  Log file unreadable.
A half-dozen of the drop boxes were like that.  James chose one and carefully established a pinhole-sized portal connecting between the drop box, which was apparently nearby and somewhere over the Pacific Ocean.
The pressure started to drop, and then the temperature flared higher and the pressure climbed again.  James widened the leak hole and it was soon stable.  When the pressure had dropped to normal, he moved a viewpoint inside the dropbox.
It was just a pile of ashes.  Papers of some kind.
James jumped up and walked back over to where the printer sat, and the ground was covered with the poisoned papers.  There sat a stack of paper reams, still wrapped in their brightly colored advertisements, still piled neatly on the shipping pallet.
So his father didn’t have time to dispose of the other poisoned papers.  So what did he burn?
The more he thought of it, the more he was reminded of the ‘Bail’ program back on the home computer—an automated procedure to destroy all the evidence in an emergency.
“What is it James?”
“Dad did something.  When he felt himself getting sick, he started a program, probably from his watch, that burned some critical notes, then it transported him somewhere, and then encrypted the logs of that transfer.”
He looked at his mother, straight in her eyes.  “He didn’t expect to survive.  He knew being the Emperor was dangerous and that somehow, some enemy would get to him.  He was ready.  He had it all planned out.  One command from his wristwatch and he could secure the base and transport himself someplace.”
“But where?”
James nodded, “Some place safe, is what I would guess.  A hospital?  Poison is about the only way they could sneak in here.
“Dad didn’t know anyone had the keys to this place but him, and he was the only one who brought things in.  That’s why he had those ‘drop boxes’—places where money and stuff could be safely transferred while he tested to see if it was what it was supposed to be.
“I’d bet this wasn’t the first poison attempt.”
Diana Hill was taking it in, but it was a lot to absorb.  “A hospital.  But which one.”
James looked at her.  She was holding up pretty well.  It had been years since he thought his mother was infallible and capable of handling everything, but maybe she was stronger than he’d thought.
“Can you handle the status board while I keep hunting through the programs?”
She shook her head.  “I can do word processing and spreadsheets and balance my checkbook, but I don’t understand what all these windows do.  You could show me, but you need to be hunting for Bob.”
He nodded.  “I do know someone who can help.”