The Admiral chatted quietly with the man from Russia. His people had found a comfortable rock where he could sit.
“Yes, we verified it. His cash deliveries arrive deep inside the mountain only a few hundred feet from the teleportation central. Some agency, I can’t say which, left a small explosive device to be picked up and it went off.
“I bet they were shaken up a bit. It’s a shame nobody had the foresight to leave them something a bit more powerful. That would have taken them out.”
“Then why haven’t you?”
Forsythe waved his hands. “It’s under a national shrine. Statues of beloved presidents. Nobody in our country would dare make that move, no matter what the benefit.”
“Then no one else would either. Not if it would anger the US.”
Forsythe nodded wisely, “Yes, I would hate to be the one who rid the world of this ‘emperor’, especially if the bomb could be traced back to me.”
He let the other man see a dangerous smile. “But they haven’t stopped me. My hands are busy—always busy.”
“James. How are you doing?”
“Poorly, I think.”
“What’s the problem?” He clicked the control button on the new hospital bed they had moved in for him. It raised him up to a sitting position.
James stood close, a frown on his face and tapping his hand nervously on the bed’s railing.
“Dad, I think you are wrong.”
“I’ve read your logs. I understand what you were trying to do. The problem is that you can’t be a Blofeld. It isn’t in you to be a supervillian. Oh, you’ve got the secret base, the ultimatum to the UN—but you don’t have an evil bone in your body.
“As far as I can tell, in spite of what you were telling yourself, from the very beginning you tried to set up an honorable, respectable business. You declared a billion dollar tax and then as far as I can see, you paid for everything you took.”
“With funny money.”
“And then went to great lengths to give value to the imperials.
“You may have called yourself an Emperor just to get a rise out of people, but that’s what you became. You have dictated policies to all nations on the earth, and you have the technological high ground to give you the power to enforce those policies if you so desire.”
Bob Hill looked very tired. He shook his head.
“Sorry son, I can’t control what the people of the world do.”
“Sorry, Emperor, but that is exactly what you are doing. You dictate exactly when and where teleportation happens. You’re not going to turn it all over to them, and you know why. You thought it all out and wrote it down in your logs.
“Until a new world culture crystallizes around your pattern, the world will be too immature to handle widespread use of the teleporters.
“We still need the special police force who can handle rogue teleporters. We still need to keep our hands on the technology. We still need to guide businesses and governments into the safe ways to use it.
“The planet earth needs one controlling government to phase in teleportation—each country making its own rules is nonsense. Maybe there is some honorable and wise government out there we could turn it all over to. I wouldn’t bet on it.
“Why not make it real? Be the Emperor, for the rest of your life. Mom has done great under pressure. She can be a great Empress. And to be honest, I have done pretty well myself.”
Bob Hill was silent for several minutes. James sat quietly beside him. He had made his pitch.
“What should we do differently?” the Emperor asked finally.
The four of them sat in a circle. Bob relished getting out of bed finally, even if he was still confined to the wheelchair.
“James has convinced me that we are on a down-hill slide. We have to improve our public image, and that means going public.”
“How public?” asked Diana.
“Television cameras in our face. People magazine. Hours upon hours of interviews with the media. The public likes a royal family. Let’s give them one.”
“Oh. I can’t do that. Not dressed like this.”
“Not today, Mom.” James laughed. “We have a lot of preparation to do. For one thing we have to make it safe.”
Diana shook her head, “Still....”
Oriel patted her hand. “I know people. In Paris.” She looked at the Emperor. “We will need to go shopping.”
James agreed, “Better now than after our press conference.”
“It’s two AM, James,” complained his mother.
“I know, but we have a full day ahead of us. Learn to embrace jet-lag, because you will get a lot of it.”
Oriel was on the other side of her. “It will be okay. Once we hit the streets of Paris, you will come alive. I know this.”
“Got the money?” he asked.
Oriel patted her bag.
“Okay, here we go.”
They appeared at Pont Neuf, on the Seine, next to a long rack of magazine display-cases on the Left Bank.
James had timed it well. There were few people around, and no one appeared to have noticed their arrival.
“Oof. That was a big step,” complained Diana. But James and Oriel had been prepared and no one fell down.
“There is my store.” Oriel pointed across the bridge.
They walked together, as tourists. Oriel led them to the clothing section. This was just the first step. They had to be wearing clothes nice enough so the top designers wouldn’t bar them at the door. Mother and son had been living in the clothes they wore when the crackdown occurred.
“Oriel!” There was a feminine squeal and a trio of clerks descended on them. James stepped back, instantly losing track of the rapid-fire French. They had worried about their friend, that much was certain.
They gave just a glance at the two Americans until Oriel introduced ‘mes amis’ and said they were there to buy clothes.
Everything felt fine, until James noticed that one of them was staring intently at Diana. He turned to her, “Hello? Quelle est votre nom?”
The girl looked at him, and her eyes widened even more. She backed away.
“Oriel?” James whispered, and then nodded towards the girl.
Oriel smiled, “Marian? Y a-t-il un problème?”
The two girls huddled, and Oriel’s face dropped. “Diana, James, come here.”
They walked over to the cash register. Marian dug out a newspaper. There on the front page were pictures of Diana and James and Robert Hill. The headline was “NOUVELLE FAMILLE ROYALE?”
James chuckled. “Well, it looks like we’ve already hit the tabloids.”
He felt the TV remote control in his pocket. It had been one of Bob Hill’s projects before he had been poisoned. Slightly altered so that it always emitted a trace radio signal, it was just another version of the wristwatches. This was for use in public settings, in an attempt to keep the programmed watches secret for just a little longer.
One button was for him and another for all of them. If they had to escape, he would be ready.
“Oui. C’est l’impératrice et son fils. Pouvez-vous nous aider?” Oriel spoke earnestly, begging her friend to help.
It didn’t take long after that.
Assistance was called in, and James was fitted in a nice suit. Expensive or not, he couldn’t tell. Jeans were more his style. But Oriel liked it.
His mother looked elegant in a yellow suit. They even did something to her hair.
But there was a crowd gathering. The word was out.
Oriel led them out of sight and nodded. James hit the button programmed with the designer she had chosen.
They walked into an elegant salon. A man was there, waiting for them. His staff lined the wall behind him.
“Empress Diana. When we got your call, I ordered every one out. We are at your disposal.”