“Are you from the Dean’s office?” asked Professor Keith Rutherman. He put down his wrench and climbed out from behind the metal supporting structure.
Archer smiled, “No. I represent someone who would like to invest in your research, Dr. Rutherman.”
“Oh?” He looked closer at the man in the suit. “Do I know you?”
“Perhaps. Have you heard of the Emperor?”
Light dawned on the physicist’s face.
“What does he want with me?”
“Personally, I don’t know. My science classes left off at pulleys and inclined planes. However, the Emperor would like to fund your research. He suggests a five year contract at a funding rate initially double what you have now.”
Rutherman sat down. “Does the Emperor even know what I am working on?”
Archer pulled a notepad from his pocket. “You are working on ‘plasma confinement using Bellerman space’.”
“How does he know that? I haven’t published yet.”
“The Emperor, in my experience, knows everything. Perhaps he has read your working notes. He can, you know.”
Rutherman looked pale. “Teleportation. Yes, I had heard that, but I didn’t believe it. Is he an alien?”
“From outer space? No. I talk to him all the time. He’s human.”
Rutherman’s mind raced over the offer. Funding was drying up, especially for untried, off the beaten path, confinement techniques.
“What would the Emperor want in exchange?”
Archer flipped in his notepad. “The Emperor wishes you to concentrate on increasing the plasma temperature and density, with the goal of fusion energy production.”
Rutherman nodded. That was what he was trying for already.
Archer continued, “It would be understood that all working notes are open to the Emperor’s eyes. And that all papers for publication be submitted to the Emperor for permission.”
The physicist sagged. “I was afraid of that. I don’t think that I can agree to a restriction on publication.”
Archer nodded, still reading. “The Emperor believes, from his own sources, that if the paper you are currently writing is submitted to peer review, that it will be forwarded by the DOE to the NSA and that you will be prohibited from publishing it. The government may provide you with additional funding, but that’s not certain.
“If you continue with your current line of research, the Emperor is confident that full publication will be impossible. He offers you the only alternative to working under Defense Department supervision and control.”
Dr. Rutherman nodded. “I have a friend who had that happen. I didn’t realize I was close to the line.”
“There are decided military ramifications to your research. The Emperor is more interested in cheap energy for the masses than a way to power warships. He wants to help, but unless you limit your paper, you will quickly lose control of your working environment.”
Archer put down his notebook. “If I can put in a personal note, he’s a good employer.”
“Okay.” Rutherman sighed. “Where do I sign?”
Archer reached into his pocket. “You don’t need to sign anything. Just cash this check. It’s your first quarter’s budget.”
Rudy sat quietly through the FBI taskforce meeting. He avoided asking too many questions. Agent Heisman could exclude him in an instant, so he hesitated to make waves.
The three payoffs they’d bugged had produced nothing. The money, the imperials, and the hidden radiotracers had just vanished without a trace. One of them had been a high-powered beacon like those used by crashed aircraft. The signal could be picked up by satellite from anywhere on the earth. None of them produced anything.
The bills had all their serial numbers recorded and all banks were notified. Nothing yet.
One of the officers joked about dusting the money with anthrax, but it was tagged as a bad idea all around.
Reports of missing items were dwindling, whether from reduced activity or from the desire to hang onto the imperial script. The FBI had gained a reputation for confiscating the payment.
Russo said, “We should just pay face value for them. Announce it to the world.”
Heisman shook his head. “We don’t have the budget for that, and orders from the top are to do nothing to give the Emperor any appearance of legitimacy.”
Rudy made his contribution.
“The new oasis in Eastern Chad is getting a lot of attention. Military forces are collecting on both sides of the border. Estimates are that the ice will take years to completely go away. Sand dunes are already burying some of the ice and experts predict that it will provide a reservoir that could last for decades.
“A lot of people are watching this carefully. There is growing interest in doing business with the Emperor.”
He clicked the slide projector. It showed a newspaper.
“The New York Times has started a special section in the classified ads. The section title is simply ‘For the Emperor’ and it is getting quite popular. It’s like letters to Santa Claus. Anyone who wants the Emperor to do something for them can buy a simple ad and include it here.
“There isn’t any evidence the Emperor actually reads these, but I would like to draw your attention to the circled ad.
“The phone number is international. Algeria. Interpol has determined that the Algerian government is attempting to strike a deal with the Emperor to create iceberg oases for them. Such a deal would presumably include recognition of the Emperor’s claim to power.”
There was a mutter of dismay around the table.
“They can’t do that.”
Rudy glanced at the distinguished looking older man who had spoken. He had no name badge. Who are you to say what another nation can do? But he kept his mouth shut.
Rudy continued, “While this is interesting, I suggest that we could turn this communication channel to our advantage.”