Crunch. James scowled at the gravel underfoot.
I could grow to hate this place. It’s like living in a cellar. Like a bombshelter.
Oh, well—it is a bombshelter.
He walked the length of the rock gallery. It was dark at the edges, far from the tall lamps that his father had brought in for work near the computers.
The little bulldozer startled him, sleeping in the dark like a menacing dragon.
I can’t let Dad live out his life here either. It would be like a life sentence in prison.
The cart and the dead power supply cluttering the aisle between the rows of computers were annoying. More stuff to do.
He headed back.
Oriel was a vision of perfection, hunched over a computer screen.
James came up beside her and placed his hand on her shoulder.
She smiled. “Can you take this for awhile? I need to change. These are hardly work clothes.”
He lifted his hand from her skin, reluctantly. “Sure. It may be some time before we get a strike on our fishing expedition.”
She got up and kissed him on the cheek before vanishing.
The status board was still very cluttered. A whole set of the alarms had just been deferred. Hardly businesslike, but maybe when we get back on an even keel, we can make some changes.
He clicked the CNN button and moved the noisy colorful window to one side of the screen while he worked on the queue.
There was a news summary, talking about the disappearances of the agents and of the police and FBI agents. The missing law enforcement people had triggered a terrorist state of emergency in the US and Britain. There was the feeling that the Emperor had struck back for the arrest of his agents, and there was fear that they were dead.
True to form, reporters had invaded the houses of wives and parents to poke them for visible emotional response that could be entertainment for the viewers.
The news shifted to a summary of the disasters of the last week that were directly caused by the teleportation. Chicago and Tokyo were still picking up the pieces of the storm. Then they started covering the flood in Big Lake Nevada.
“What is this?” James cried, and rapidly started searching the status list.
The Mayor of Big Lake was knee deep in water, with a safety rope around his waist. He and another man on the other side of the spillway were trying to float a log crosswise into the most turbulent part of the flow. The sandbags hadn’t worked well, and the water was still rising.
Bill Norris knew disaster was coming, and that it was his fault.
The creek was causing considerable damage down where it met the highway. Road traffic was entirely cut off, and the channel was widening by the hour. Three buildings were having their foundations undercut and they would be lucky if that was all.
The spillway was eroding. Its channel was deepening, drawing a greater flow of water, and giving it more turbulence to cut the channel even deeper. It was a feedback system that would likely go catastrophic at any time.
He knew it was a lost cause, but if they could find a way to slow the flow through the channel, something could be done to save the dam.
Thunder? No. It was a voice, magnified as if by a huge loud speaker system.
“This is Imperial Disaster Control. Please get everyone out of the spillway.”
Jess and his crew looked at the mayor. He waved them back. Yes, get clear.
Up on the firm side of the dam, the news crews, who had gathered to get a good shot of the collapse, hurried to get their cameras rolling.
He could see it starting. The flow of water was pushed aside, as if by a giant inflatable, invisible, balloon. In less than a minute, the water was halted, standing up by itself, just like in the Ten Commandments movie.
The roar of the spillway, which had grown so loud and so constant that they had stopped talking to each other, was stilled.
Jess yelled from across the spillway. “I can see it.”
Norris could too.
The sphere was perfectly clear, yet visible, just as if it were made of a thin shell of ultrapure crystal. The edge was just a few feet away. He stepped closer, and touched it. Hard as a rock, and cold. He hit it. No vibration, no ring. It was like hitting a mountain.
The ground that was enclosed by the sphere was starting to form frost. Vapor was streaming away from the exposed spillway and vanishing.
“Mayor Norris.” It was like the voice of a giant that had plugged the leak with his thumb. “The Emperor apologizes to you and the community for this lapse. The water transfer has been halted and the lake level will be lowered to a safe level. We will be in touch concerning damage downstream.”
He looked carefully at the water level. Is it dropping? Maybe. I just hope he doesn’t go too low. We still need the water.
Oriel had returned, in sweater and slacks.
“How did you do that?” she asked.
James leaned back in the chair, his face solemn. “The same way we deflected that bullet. Make a sphere with one end on the ground and the other a thousand miles up in space—but with the elevation compensation turned off. The bullet, and the water in this case, would have to climb the equivalent of 500 miles to enter the sphere, so it bounces instead. This one took a lot of energy because of the mass of the soil I had to include inside the sphere.”
He stared at the new warning on the status board.
“Energy Reserves Low.” Maybe the condition would be resolved when he was able to release the sphere blocking the spillway.
Oriel looked at the screen. “James, this is my fault. This Big Lake was one of the alerts I saw. I just turned off the noise. I had no idea it was so critical.”
He nodded, “We need to review every single thing in the queue, and process them. No one knows which are critical and which are not. Only my father, and maybe Archer know what most of these even are.”
He looked up at her face. “Don’t take it too hard. It’s impossible to stop an avalanche, and that’s what we’re trying to do. There are only three of us, and trained operators should man this status board 24 hours a day. I have no idea how my father kept it up.
“Something has to change.”