James looked up from his homework. That’s the front door. Strangers.
The driveway was at the south end of the house and everyone they knew came to the back door as a matter of course.
He looked at the clock. Mom isn’t due for another fifteen minutes.
He closed the book and walked to the door.
Two men in suits were standing there.
“Good evening.” They displayed FBI badges. “I am Agent Lambert and this is Agent Rickey. We would like to speak to Robert Hill.”
“He’s not in town right now. What do you want with him?”
“We just want to ask him some questions. Is your mother at home?”
James glanced at his watch. He had to fight the impulse to hide it from their sight. It’s just a normal watch.
“She should be here in ten or fifteen minutes.”
“We will wait then.”
James looked them over again. “I can’t let you in. There’s the porch swing or you can wait in your car.” He closed the door.
When he saw them through the window heading back toward their car, he made a dash to his room.
His fingers were jittery as he opened a new monitor sphere and attached it to the wristwatch of one of the agents. He closed the monitor down immediately—he couldn’t risk it being noticed.
Then he located the ‘Bail’ program and set it on a timer.
In one hour, it would sever the connection and wipe the evidence of the sphere program.
Voices came from the living room.
His mother had invited them in. Panic in his mind, he turned off the computer’s monitor and sat paralyzed in his chair.
They’re going to get me. They know it’s Dad. How can I alert him?
“James!” His mother called him.
He picked up his school notebook and pen and forced himself to calm down. Walk slow.
The agents were seated on the couch, and his mother was trying to talk them into having a coke or coffee.
“James, when was the last time you talked to your father?” she asked.
“After the banquet, that night. You had already taken him to the airport when I went off to the track meet the next morning.”
The agent asked, “What did you talk about?”
“Stuff. School. What I was going to do next year in football. Politics—you know, the Emperor stuff.”
Both agents reacted slightly to that.
“What brought up that subject?”
“Oh, I did.” He explained about the French class video.
“What did your father say?”
“Oh, not much. He expected the guy to get caught. A manpower thing.”
There were many more questions. They seemed ready to stay all evening.
“Mrs. Hill, where do you think your husband is, and what is this project he is working on?”
Her hands were jittery, and she had a handkerchief knotted up between her fingers. “You asked me that before. I don’t know anything more that I’ve already told you!”
She rubbed her head. “I’ve had a long day at work, and I can’t think straight anymore. I think you should leave.”
Agent Lambert nodded. “I understand. We would like you to come into town tomorrow morning where we can finish this up.”
Diana was about to complain, when he handed her a card.
“This is the address. Please be there at 9 AM. There is a parking lot to the side of the building.”
She stared at the card. “Okay. Fine. Just go now.”
By the time they were gone, his mother was crying and James felt very trapped.
He desperately wanted to rush to the computer and open an audio tap to the FBI’s wristwatch, but his mother needed comfort. Taking just a second to deactivate the timer on the ‘Bail’ self-destruct, he came back to the kitchen and re-heated the supper she had brought home. He talked with her through the meal.
All the worries she had put aside about her husband were now out open and raw. James tried to keep cool.
“The FBI are just fishing. Dad is the most honest man I know. Whatever they’re looking for—it just has to be a mistake.”
When she finally went to bed, he opened the connection to Agent Lambert. The man was still working, in some office. James made the spy portal as tiny as he could and snooped around the office. Shortly, Lambert finished work on his report and closed down his laptop. James ached to know what it said, but he didn’t know how to find out.
When the lights went out, James made sure that the Lambert’s watch tracker was working, but he kept a second open portal in the office, trying to read whatever materials were left open on the desk, in spite of the low light. He dared not shine his own light through the portal. They might have spy cameras of their own in the office.
One thing caught his attention. Scribbled on a notepad were the words ‘polygraph/Hill’.
In the offices of the New York Times, a clerk was opening the mail and sorting it to different departments when he noticed an envelope with the lettering “The Emperor of Earth” instead of stamps.
Inside were a personal columns advertisement, and an imperial note to cover the cost.
The message was simple.
“The Emperor desires to contract with nations for the following classes of services:
“Burial of nuclear, biological or chemical hazardous wastes five to ten miles below the surface.
“Controlled pressure relief of active volcanoes.
“Placement of icebergs in desert locations.
“Other large scale engineering projects of national import.
“Send Lat/Long and time (flexible) with proposal to one of the following venues:”
After that followed a list of a dozen international newspapers that had ‘Letters to the Emperor’ columns and another dozen web sites who maintained open newsgroup services.
“So there’s no way to turn it off or on?” asked Mr. Harrison.
Archer shook his head, “No. Zero maintenance. Just drive your trucks through this one, and back through the other one.”
The head of the trucking company was an executive now, but he had the looks of one who’d come up the ranks driving his own rig. He smoked his cigar in short rapid puffs and scowled at the two hangars in the open parking area. There was a cool breeze coming off Lake Michigan, and Archer tried not to stick his hands in his pockets.
“It’s safe? I don’t want my drivers going through anything unsafe.”
“Quite safe. How would you like to take a stroll with me?” He gestured toward the opening and took the first step.
The two men walked into the large open building.
“Keep to the side and use the hand rail,” said Archer. There was a breeze to his back. He waited until Mr. Harrison came up behind him and grabbed onto the railing.
“The bridge looks scarier than it is. It will seem to twist under you when you take the first step.”
In front of them, the metal walkway appeared to drop down below ground level and it seemed curved to such a steep grade that no one could keep their feet under them.
Archer stepped through the surface of the sphere, and his ‘down’ shifted. The walkway now appeared to go up. He stepped two paces and let go of the handrail and waved encouragingly to Harrison.
The trucker executive clamped his cigar in his teeth and followed. “Whoa.”
“A little dizzying the first time, isn’t it? But we’re past the hard part. Just walk over this bridge and another twist at the end. It should be easier for your truckers, fastened in with their seatbelts.”
They walked the arching bridge, wide enough for a big-rig truck with an oversized load, and then made their exits on the other side.
Archer smiled as he stepped back onto level ground in the wet humid, salt air. Harriman followed confidently.
Mr. Yakama bowed in greeting. Archer made the introductions and as the two businessmen exchanged their formal greetings, he gazed across the water to where Mt. Fuji was barely visible in the distant haze.
The weather in Japan is nicer today.
Hundreds of ships were visible. How many of them would be out of business by this time next year? Harriman and Yakama would win and others just like them would go out of business. It was inevitable. Who could afford to load the modular shipping containers onto freighters and wait weeks for them to cross the Pacific Ocean, when you could drive the trucks there directly?