“Gravel?” asked one of the black-suited agents. There were a dozen of them in the briefing room.
The Admiral looked at him sharply, “Is that important?”
“I seem to recall something about gravel when I was reviewing the hospital records looking for our subject.”
“Follow it up.”
The man left.
“Officer Hobert’s statement listed the older woman as Diana, Empress of Earth. No names for the other two.
“He also reports that Empress Diana believes her husband was poisoned and is intent on tracking down those who did it.”
“Not at this time. He is sedated after minor surgery on his leg.”
The room cleared.
So, there are still more of them. Hobert was already a news story—no chance of silencing him. They would get the poisoning rumor soon enough. We will need to skew that a bit. Teargas? Something like that.
He looked again at the wall map they had made of the Mt. Rushmore underground base. How long would it take to drill a shaft down to that depth?
Too long. I’ve just got to hope they make another mistake.
Ngarta clung to the ladder he had constructed out of a palm tree, with stakes driven into the sides. It balanced precariously on the pile of rocks he’d carried one by one up from the shoreline. The opening in the rock, with its EXIT sign was almost within reach.
He pushed himself up another step, and it was in sight.
There was a man-sized, perfectly spherical cavity inside the huge stone ball. Inside, he could see something that looked like controls. Hurriedly, he climbed another step, and jumped into the opening, even as his ladder skidded against the rock and fell hard to the ground.
I am here. I made it.
But where had he arrived? It was a simple stone cave, with an inch of water at the bottom. The controls, when he saw them, gave him a sinking feeling in the bottom of his stomach.
There was a spin wheel, like from a simple child’s game. He tapped the arrow, and it spun freely. Seven zones marked with a pencil; Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia, Europe, North America, and South America.
The only other thing was a red button, plainly glued to the side of the rock.
It was plain what it was, a cruel joke—on him. This was not an exit, just a child’s pretend version of a teleporter machine.
He looked carefully out the opening. His ladder was far below, and to jump down to the rock pile was to invite death.
He looked again to the destination wheel. Anywhere in the world. He didn’t feel like laughing.
The water at his feet, a little muddied by his well-worn shoes—how long could that keep him alive? He was already starved.
In frustration, he spun the wheel again, and stabbed at the button.
James paced the aisles of computers, unable to sit down while he ate. The ham sandwich on a hard baguette tasted wonderful. He had been lavish with his praise for Oriel when she returned with sandwiches and a large plate of pastries.
She apologized for taking so long. “I called my mother and told her I would be on vacation, and then called my store to tell them I had to take off to help my sick mother.”
The two women sat down to eat, discussing how to arrange the rescue of the imperial agents.
James couldn’t sit still. Dad was still out there somewhere, dead or alive. His brain was churning. He had surveyed a good portion of the computer system his father had built. Long years of looking over his father’s programming had really paid off.
And then, when he couldn’t make any more headway, he had tracked the FBI watches he had tagged, located their supervisors, and then the destination of their reports, all the way up to the FBI Emperor Task Force.
Interpol Agent Ghest had been a great find. His reports, with a knowledge of the FBI and yet with an outsider’s perspective gave a great overview to the more stilted FBI reports.
And it was clear the FBI reports were deliberately leaving things out. For example, the official rosters of the task force briefing meetings never mentioned the person Ghest quoted as ‘NoBadge’—some high level person who was never officially there.
It was NoBadge who first leaked the idea that the Emperor had gone silent. It was NoBadge who knew exactly what was going on about the arrests of the imperial agents.
James tagged everyone he could find, but NoBadge had not attended the task force meeting when he had eavesdropped.
From Ghest’s reading of the man, NoBadge would poison his own mother if he needed to.
James stopped in his tracks. On one of the computer racks, there was a sticky note, in his father’s handwriting, “Power supply let out the magic smoke. Don’t turn it back on unless you open the air portal.”
The tall rack-mount computer stood black, unlike the others that had a nice set of indicator lights blinking on their front chassis.
One of the mirrored computers failed. Dad just left it sitting.
James could understand that. His father had to have worked day and night to do all the things he had done here at Base. When this one failed, the others took up the slack, and there was no time to fix computers.
When did this happen?
He dropped the rest of his sandwich and unplugged the dead computer’s network cable, isolating it from the rest of the systems. These things were arranged in five-computer banks. He stepped over to the next bank and powered down one at random. Power supplies were plug-in units, designed for quick field replacement. He unplugged it and had the original failed computer booting up within three minutes.
His father had several carts with fat rubber tires that could handle the gravel. He chose one of the half-dozen computer terminals that weren’t in use and wheeled it over to the isolated computer.
When it came up, the system was slightly confused by its missing brothers, and it took additional time to correct hard disk errors caused by its abrupt power loss.
But soon enough, it was up.
It thinks it is three weeks ago. Module ‘crashandburn’ was still in the library.
Flying fingers dug into the code. As he thought, the encryption password was there in clear text, ‘The man who insists that everyone understand him will always be disappointed.’
I could have guessed that one, given enough time.
The code also included the transport code originating at his watch and dropping him at location ‘St. Matthew’, a hospital, obviously.
He opened another window and scrolled through the locations. St. Matthew was there. It hadn’t been on the main system, he would have noticed it.
He tried to open a monitor window to St. Matthew, but there was an error. Isolated from the network, this computer wasn’t connected to the teleporter hardware either.
James grabbed the sticky note from the computer and wrote down the co-ordinates of St. Matthew’s Hospital.
“Mom! I’ve got a hospital!”
Back at his usual screen, he programmed in the new location and added it to his watch’s menu.
“What are you going to do?” asked his mother.
“I’m going to go get him.”
“No. You almost got blown away by that hurricane. Look before you leap. I don’t want to lose you too.”
His fingers vibrated against the keys. “Okay.” She was right.
He opened a monitor window to the hospital emergency room. Women in white uniforms were working at computer terminals. He moved into a potted plant where he could see the screens as a lady worked, admitting someone for a broken arm.
It was painfully slow, but he was able to watch as she switched menus and had to type in her login and password.
That was all he needed. He flew his viewpoint around the neighboring offices, until he found an unattended terminal.
“Mom, help me with this.” He opened a medium sized sphere. He reached through, pulling the terminal, mouse and keyboard and all through to Base. He left only the network cable, carefully shrinking the hole down to its size and making sure it was positioned out of sight.
They plugged the monitor into Base power and brought it up. “Let me have that,” said his mother. James hesitated but got out of the chair.
“It’s been twenty years since I worked at a hospital—a volunteer worker—but it looks like the software has hardly changed a bit.”
She logged in, and quickly navigated to the admissions records. “There.”
An unconscious man had been discovered at the entrance to the hospital, resting on a small pile of gravel. He was admitted as a John Doe and placed on a ventilator when his coma deepened.
She said, “No.”
“What is it?”
“He is being checked out, now!” She pointed to the spot on the cluttered screen.
James found the room number. He opened a viewpoint and flew up to the fifth floor.
“I don’t like this,” said a man in scrubs.
“I’m sorry, but this is national security.” The man in the black suit was holding a badge. “My associates are handling the paperwork as we speak. Arrange a gurney. We will be leaving immediately.”
The doctor hesitated, but then hurried out.
“Davis, put your pistol to his head.” The other black suit complied. “If anything, and I mean anything, starts to happen, pull that trigger.”
He nodded, and arranged the covers to hide the gun.
James and his mother watched helplessly as more agents arrived and wheeled him out to a waiting ambulance.
“I can’t get a sphere around him fast enough. And as likely as not, the guy with the gun would come too.”
“I know.” She put her hand on his shoulder.