The federal office building was intimidating. There was even a metal detector at the entrance, and his mother was rattled as she had to dig through her purse to locate the comb that set off the alert.
The FBI men were polite but unsmiling as they went into the interview room. Diana and James sat across a plain wood table and after being offered doughnuts and coffee, the questions started.
For the most part, they were the same ones from before. But after thirty minutes or so, they were all variations on one theme.
“Where is Robert now?”
Diana Hill had lost patience with the officers. She tried to be polite, but it was an uphill battle.
“I don’t know. I left a message on his voicemail, but we never know when he will be in cell phone range to notice it. I gave you the number. Call him yourself.”
“And you think he is in Seattle?”
“Yes. That’s where he has been for weeks now.”
“How do you know?”
Diana tried to be calm and just answer the questions. There was nothing to worry about.
“We take him to the airport and that’s where he goes.”
“Have you seen him get on the plane?”
“No. Where have you been lately? No one but the ticketed fliers can go up to the gates these days. I drop him off at the ticketing entrance.”
“Have you seen the tickets?”
“No. He uses the Internet and has a confirmation number.”
“Then how do you know he is going to Seattle.”
“Because my husband told me so.”
“And you believe him?”
“Yes. If you knew him, you would know he is a decent, honest man. He wouldn’t lie to me.”
The agent nodded and looked again at his notepad. He sighed.
“Mrs. Hill. We have checked with every airline that leaves here. None of them have any record of flights for a Robert Hill. Do you have any reason to suspect that he would be traveling under an assumed name?”
Diana was shocked silent.
The agent turned to James. “You say that you took your father to the airport one time? What did you observe?”
James shrugged. “We said goodbye, he took his suitcase into the airport and I drove off.”
“He said he was going to Seattle?”
“I don’t recall. That’s where his job was. I don’t usually question him about his jobs.”
“You don’t usually question him? But you have at some time?”
“Well, yes. I asked him to take me along. I could help him with little jobs—be a go-fer.”
“What did he say?”
“He said no. He said there were security restrictions, and there wasn’t anything more he could tell me.”
The agent closed his notebook.
“Well, I’m not sure what more we can do here. If you would agree to a little test to confirm what you have already told us, I’m sure that that will be all.”
Diana asked, “A test? What kind of test?”
“A polygraph test. We have the instrument here and we could take care of it right away, and be out of your hair.”
“Oh.” She seemed nervous. “I guess it would be okay.”
The agent smiled. “And you, James?”
“No. No way in the world.”
Both his mother and the agent seemed surprised. “Why not?”
“I don’t trust you.”
The agent seemed to consider that and then turned to Diana. “Okay, we can get your test and then you can tell James what it is like. Maybe he won’t be afraid then.”
She was led away by another agent.
“James, what are your concerns about the polygraph? It is a safe, simple procedure. Are you afraid of the electricity?”
“What is it then? Do you have something to hide?”
James laughed bitterly. He had practiced this speech. “Of course! You know the law better than I do. How many laws have you broken today? A dozen? I’m not a Catholic and I don’t believe in original sin, but with all the laws on the books today a baby can hardly be born today without accidentally becoming a criminal.
“But that’s not even the real reason. For some reason, my father is being caught up in some kind of witch-hunt. The worst thing I could do right now is let some statement of mine be distorted into evidence against him.
“My father is honest. Do you know how many times I have seen him correct a store clerk who has undercharged him?
“Do you know that in my whole life, I caught him lying only one time. Only one time! My cousins and my aunt and uncle and the rest of us went to the lake to try out our new boat. We were touring around the lake and the lake patrol stopped to check on our life jackets. The patrolman asked about the temporary boat license and my father claimed the boat was a week newer than it really was.
“That was it. It is such a vivid memory in my mind because my father is so scrupulously honest. Whatever crime you think he is guilty of, you must be wrong.”
“Then take the polygraph test and convince us.”
“No. Don’t you realize I’m a teenager? I’ve been on the Internet all my life. I know exactly how polygraphy works. I know the questions, how you feed lies to the subject, how you calibrate the meters.
“A polygraph is just a machine to test galvanic responses. It’s the operator and the procedure that are rife with dishonesty. Any subject that knows the tricks can defeat the readings. And any operator can ‘prove’ anyone guilty or innocent on a whim. Polygraphy is a sham and anyone with any sense should never take one.
“There’s a reason polygraphy is invalid as court evidence, and there’s a reason every major CIA spy scandal had the spy breezing through their polygraph screenings.
“The lie-detector is just a big lie.
“I’m not going to step into the lion’s mouth and pray that he’s not hungry!”
They asked again, several times, but James stonewalled.
I’m lying, and no matter what they say, no matter what it looks like, I can’t risk a lie detector.
His speech had been part truth, part quotes from an anti-polygraph web site, and part outright lies.
The story of his father on the boat had been true, he had only seen his father lie once, up until he had been laid-off.
It’s this secrecy that does it. What he said at the beginning—‘this is a secret, and I can’t tell you’—at least that had been honest.
But James couldn’t take that line with the FBI. They beat you down, they were relentless, the followed up on every slip of the tongue.
Which was more damaging? The truth or a lie?
Rudy Ghest gave his report. The Interpol presence inside the FBI was being tolerated but he knew that would last only as long as he was being useful.
“That makes three nations that’re ready to negotiate with the Emperor. At least, that’s the number that are obviously represented in the newspaper columns. There could be others that are trying to contact him through more obscure methods.”
The man with no badge asked, “Do your people have any influence to stop them?”
“Do I have any influence to stop the US from doing anything? No. The State Department will have to do that on their own.”
Who is this guy? Rudy had asked Jay, but he didn’t know either.
“Don’t they realize what a mistake it is to give official recognition to this criminal?”
“He has offered some considerable prizes. The French newspapers are making noises that a deep rock nuclear repository would be a smart move. Even in the US people are saying that, I hear.”
“Oh, yes, his offers sound good on the surface, but you have to remember his claimed one billion a year tax. Recognize his legitimacy and you could be bound to pay up.
“But that’s just looking at the good side. Take a look at his list.
“If he can move CBR wastes to deep under the earth, he could just as easily move them anywhere! How about dumping Hanford nuclear wastes on New York City or Washington DC?
“And the volcano thing—how about spreading a pyroclastic flow over Chicago?
“Or dropping an iceberg across the Mississippi River at St. Louis? It would flood out the whole Corn Belt before it broke, and then the whole path to the Gulf would be scoured clean.
“We have a disaster any way you look at it. And there is one rogue crazy with his finger on the trigger.”
Rudy remembered a conference less than a year ago, just before he had signed on to Interpol, when a French agent had ranted in just the same way about the American President. There was always something fearful about one man exercising horrific powers—even though that was the whole of history. Parliaments and legislatures never gave the orders; it always boiled down to one man.
CBR, Rudy thought to himself, That’s the old name for NBC, nuclear-biological-chemical hazards. How many years had ‘NoBadge’ been at this?
The other taskforce reports were interesting.
Discrete monitoring of everyone who had offered to work for the Emperor was showing promise. They had detected significant lifestyle changes in over a dozen. Court-ordered bugging of some of them had begun.
Several groups had begun significant commercial use of teleportation without informing the FBI. No action had been taken to shut them down, although the legal arguments were being prepared. More surveillance was ordered.
A wide net had been cast for suspects, using such vague clues as the phrasing of the original UN announcement. That was now starting to show up potential candidates.
Of the dozen or so suspects, one was mentioned in particular—an out-of-work physicist who had taken a secretive job in Seattle, but who apparently had vanished. His family was being monitored.