“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.
“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.”
“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.