James munched a croissant. “I told him about you.”
Her eyes brightened, “You didn’t! What did you say?”
James had realized the language practice was a success a couple of days before, when he found that he was no longer translating. Sometimes Oriel spoke English, and sometimes French, as did he. They were always explaining new words, but they were no longer struggling. They just talked.
“Only that I knew a girl, who spoke French, and who was interested in being an agent for the Emperor.”
“What did he say?”
“Not much. He has to be very cautious in letting people into his service. Don’t expect things to happen fast. But don’t worry, I’ll keep reminding him.”
She pouted and then brightened. “Many times a man will say things to impress a girl, and one has to be cautious. But then, I remind myself of what I have seen with my own eyes.”
James felt the faintest twinge of guilt. He was exaggerating, but in his heart, he knew his father was the Emperor.
“Sometimes, a man has to be careful too, when a girl looks at him just so. He may promise more than he can deliver. A man will do much to see that hero reflected in her eyes.”
She blinked, and looked away.
“Did you see what he did in Turkey? He brought the Moon to Earth.”
James laughed. He had seen the CNN reports, and had gone immediately to the computer to scan the logs. He was getting adept at that.
“Hardly that. The Emperor collected the light from close to the moon and brought that close to Turkey. They needed light, and that was the only way.”
She nodded. Maybe she even understood. “Why the moon? Why not bring sunlight?”
James shook his head. “It wouldn’t have worked.” He picked up the salt and pepper shakers. “The sunlight was coming this way,” he illustrated with his hands. “Turkey was already on the night side. Teleportation can collapse distance, but it can’t change the angles. Letting sunshine through would just cast a searchlight up into the sky. They needed light on the ground. He had to get light coming in the right direction—the reflected light from the moon.”
She frowned as she worked it out. “I think I understand. I didn’t know that—about the angles.”
“Oh yes, every time I step into Paris, I have to be careful stepping over the seven time zones worth of distance or I will fall flat on my face. It took practice to learn that trick.”
Archer complained. “This isn’t working out like I had hoped.”
The Emperor’s voice asked, “The fame?”
“Notoriety is closer to the fact. My new house is nice, and I love the scuba, but I am always just on the edge of discovery. Grand Cayman is too modern and connected. Everyone has seen my face by now on television. I’ll never be able to walk the street or meet the neighbors.”
“There are other places to live. Places where people don’t watch TV.”
“Places without indoor plumbing, you mean?”
“That, and places where people don’t care about international politics. I’m sure with a little research you can come up with something.”
“What do you do?”
“Other than never let my face be seen, or my voice be heard without distortion? Other than living like a hermit and experiencing life through a computer screen?”
“Yes,” Archer laughed, “other than that.”
“I’m still working on it. Getting some stable nation to recognize me legally would do a great deal.”
“Yeah. It’s a bummer about the terrorist thing.”
“Right.” Even through the distortion, Archer could hear the Emperor’s anger. Being listed as an international terrorist might do that to you.
“What are you going to do about it?”
“I have plans in motion. I told the UN at the beginning. I would be good to my friends. Now they are going to have to be shown what I do to my enemies.”
Archer was disturbed.
“I’m an American, you know.”
“So am I, but don’t tell anyone. Oh yes, you already did.” The Emperor chuckled. “Don’t worry. I’m not a terrorist. They made a political move against me. I’ll make a political move back.”
“Lady Emilia Burton.”
Emilia dropped the plate she was drying. It shattered on the floor.
The voice from nowhere continued. “My apologies for startling you.”
Her hands shook, but she quickly dried them and calmed herself.
“Not at all. I wasn’t really expecting you to contact me.”
The voice shifted slightly in pitch and distortion. “Are you still looking for a job as an executive assistant? Your credentials look admirable.”
She sat down on a kitchen stool. “Yes. Although to be honest, I chose the Emperor’s column in the Times because I knew a lot of people would be reading it.”
“Would you still consider working for me?”
“You do know that the United States has placed me on a list of terrorists in order to discourage people from doing business with me. Britain has reciprocal agreements with the US on these matters.”
“What would I be expected to do?”
“For the next few months at a minimum, you would read the ‘Letters to the Emperor’ published in the Times and other London papers. Using your best judgment, print out a summary of the most interesting and deserving—a daily top five. You would put this report in your desk drawer and I would retrieve it.
“I can pay a flat rate, or a commission on business proposals that come from items you locate.”
“Is that what you want? Business contacts.”
“Partly. There is a class of services only I can provide. Whether business, or charity, or magic tricks for a child’s birthday party—unless you can find them, I can never be of service.
“Business provides the money which will pay you, but I have many goals.”
The Secret Service jumped into action, the instant the large white package with a red ribbon around it appeared in the Oval Office. The President had taken a step toward the package, but was instantly snapped up by his bodyguards and rushed to the elevator.
He was deep in the secure room below in seconds, while bomb experts were being rushed to the site.
The letter attached to the package was carefully removed and checked for chemical or biological contamination.
The bomb squad’s level of stress went up a notch when a Geiger counter reported radiation. The package was scanned carefully by the most sophisticated detectors before being gently hoisted on a platform and carried out to a bomb disposal truck and then to a nearby military base.
The President was shown a video scan of the letter, still in its quarantine. He was soaking up the content, when a phone call from the Washington Post came in.
“We have received a message from the Emperor, reporting that a package was delivered today to the President of the United States, containing the following message:
“’Those who create false terrorist warnings for their own political ends must have only themselves to blame for their fears. Attached are three items of deactivated ordinance. The most powerful nations on the earth may use their power only at Imperial discretion.’
“We at the Post would like confirmation of these events and we would like to know what the three items of ordinance were.”
“You may not feed this information back to Interpol until there is a presidential release.”
Rudy nodded, “I understand. That’s been a part of Interpol since the beginning. Unless we earn your trust, you won’t tell us anything.”
He listened carefully to the report. The full details were to be kept strictly limited. The news media reports already had the broad outline, but the ordinance details were sensitive.
Agent Heisman gave the details himself.
“The first, and most dramatic item, was the trigger from a hydrogen bomb.”
There were whistles and grunts of amazement from the agents.
“This had been a small plutonium device, a bomb in its own right, which when exploded would have set off the hydrogen bomb riding in the warhead of a Pershing missile. Serial numbers confirm that the Emperor had removed this trigger from a submarine still at sea.
“It had been deactivated in two forms. One, the chemical explosive shell that would have driven the plutonium to criticality had its igniters removed. The second was more significant—the plutonium itself had been riddled with holes like a swiss cheese. Enough plutonium had been removed so that it would never have gone critical.
“This last was not detectable except by x-ray or ultrasonics. It is possible that there are other nuclear weapons in the field that have been rendered inoperable. Every one of them will have to be inspected.
“The second item was a mortar shell. Serial numbers confirm it had vanished from stores in a NATO warehouse in Germany. Externally, it looked perfect. However, a careful disassembly showed that the propellant charge had been contaminated with mineral oil. A test firing of a dummy shell with that propellant failed to ignite. The shell had been converted undetectably into a dud.
“The third was an anticlimax. A single 7.62-mm rifle shell was also contaminated in the same way as the mortar shell. It was also a dud.
“The demonstration by the Emperor appears to be that the whole range of our weapons systems can be deactivated at will, and in a fashion that is undetectable by our current procedures. It is important that these details be kept closely guarded lest our opponents believe that it has already been done and that we are defenseless.”
One of the FBI men asked, “Why did the Emperor give the message to the press? It seems to be a reaction to the terrorist listing. But now, everyone knows he set a bomb on the President’s desk. That confirms he is a terrorist.”
Rudy said, “Maybe. It’s a message that he can be a terrorist, and a very effective one, the moment he chooses. But it is also a message to those in the know that he can trump whatever we can do against him. The terrorist listing was a public attack on the Emperor’s image. But as I read the news accounts, the general public does not feel threatened. Only people like us, with the full knowledge of the facts, are having the shakes.
“Day by day, there are more reports of the Emperor doing this or that rescue, or bringing water to the desert or bringing that unseasonable rain over Montana’s forest fire.
“The people love him. They don’t understand the threat he is.”
The man with no badge grumbled, “We really only have two courses open to us. Change people’s perception of him—play up the terrorist aspects of the Emperor, or find him and shut him down.”