A day of talking to reporters was draining. James handled the scheduling.
His father gave one interview, but it was short. Diana gave three, to different news organizations. CNN had opened its doors to several competitors, and one at a time, James permitted one person to come through the portal after someone else left.
Four people at a time, max. And James checked the newcomers carefully for concealed weapons.
He even gave an interview himself, after turning his controls over to Oriel. It took at least two of them to monitor the skies for incoming planes and helicopters and to keep them at a safe distance.
“I miss football. It was a big regret that I wasn’t able to complete my junior season due to an automobile accident ... Riches? Well, I guess so. But you have to understand that I’m no longer living in Texas. My needs are different now. What good would a fancy sports car do for me now, when I can go anywhere instantly? ... Our family has always been strong. Even when the recent events separated us, I always had confidence in my parents, and I hope they have had confidence in me. ... A girlfriend? Hmm. Nobody in Texas at least.”
Oriel gave an interview too. It was all in French, too fast for him to follow.
Various agents were interviewed. Once their hazard bonus made known, the most common questions were how they intended to spend their money, and what they thought of the Emperor.
“I believe that was the last interview.” James widened the portal back to the CNN studio. “If you will please move the equipment back through.”
By the time that was done, his parents and the doctor were gone. Oriel and Archer were handling the job of getting the various imperial agents home.
James assisted, escorting two of them himself.
Then, he popped back to the mountain where the interviews had been held.
It was approaching sunset. Helicopters were much closer now.
“Is anyone still here?” he shouted. But there was no one.
He retired to the base.
“Hi, Mom. How did it go?”
She was still dressed in her imperial gown, sitting in the chair by the computer screen. “My feet are killing me. I began wishing for a wheelchair of my own. The next time we hold a press conference, I want it to be in a nice indoor setting, with comfortable chairs.”
“How is Dad?”
“He’s back in bed. I’ve sent Dr. Feldstein back. Are you up to monitoring the board? I need to change.”
“Go for it.”
She got up and he took the chair. “Have you seen Oriel?”
“Yes, she was helping to get our agents home.”
He nodded. She should be done with that before long.
James felt good. The world had a much better image of them. We’re real people, and we care about the safety of the world, but it’s useless to try to stop us.
“May I help you, Madame?”
The old lady was stepping across the uneven rock surface very carefully, using her cane. On her, the dove gray uniform looked a little ridiculous. Oriel remembered her name, Hilbert. Mrs. May Hilbert.
“Oh, you’re that French girl, Oriel? I’m sorry to be a bother. I’ve just had a few falls in my time and it makes me nervous.”
“You don’t need to come down. Just stay where you are, and I can transport you home directly.”
“Oh, that would be nice.”
Oriel stepped up beside her, checking her list. The locations were pre-loaded into her watch. James had said to only use the hand controller, but she was getting used to working her watch buttons surreptitiously. She could cross her wrists and do it while her sleeves hid the action.
She stepped through the locations. Hilbert was number 12. “Are you ready?”
“Any time, Dear.”
The sphere enveloped them and Oriel was ready to steady her as they moved two time zones east.
She stayed at Mrs. Hilbert’s side as she walked to her front door and paused.
“Oh. I’m so sorry.”
“What is it?”
The old lady looked ready to cry. “I must have left my purse back on the mountain. My keys are in it. This old brain has more holes in it than Swiss cheese.”
Oriel patted her shoulder. “I’ll go get it en un éclair!” She tapped the return button.
There it is. The long shadows showed the handle of the handbag. She picked it up and selected Hilbert’s address again.
As she stepped into the Eastern Time Zone, the dart struck her side before she had time to turn around.
“So sorry my dear,” was the last thing she heard before everything went black.
James called out, “Oriel? Are you back yet?”
He got up from his chair, and walked over to the ‘kitchen’, actually just an alcove with chairs, a table, and a refrigerator.
His parents were both there, shorn of their uniforms and looking normal again. “Have you seen Oriel?”
“No. Have you checked with Archer?”
James nodded. “I’ll do that.” He trotted back to the console.
“No,” said Archer, his voice a little weak through the monitor portal. “I saw her a couple of times as we were moving people off the mountain, but not after that. Is there a problem?”
“Thanks. I don’t know.” He closed the connection.
His father wheeled up to the other console. “It’s ‘ParisWatch’ isn’t it?”
“Yes.” James moved over to see what his father was doing.
He chose the location and brought up a watch monitor screen. The image was black.
James pointed to an info window.
It was listing each button as it was being pushed. The words were popping up quickly: MODE ADJUST LIGHT MODE MODE ADJUST LIGHT LIGHT.
Bob said, “That’s not her. Someone else has her watch.”
Someone was trying to find the combination to get through to them.
Bob clicked the ERASE PROGRAM button, as James yelled, “Stop!”
But it was too late. Oriel’s watch was just a watch.
“Dad! That’s her only way back! She needed that watch.”
“We can’t risk it.”
James stared at the screen, wishing the monitor window would pop back up, but the ERASE PROGRAM had completely detached all connections to her watch.
“Let’s get her location back. It’s in the logs.”
His father, looking worried too, nodded.
They opened a free-floating monitor just a few feet from the last known location. It was still black.
“Move it around.” His father complied.
The watch appeared to be in a blacked out room in an office building. There were several men in the corridors and neighboring offices. They all wore black suits.
“We didn’t get them all. Forsythe’s agents.” Diana had come to watch over their shoulders.
They checked carefully for Oriel. There was no sign of her.
“No.” James was anxious, fighting the urge to pull the controls away from his father. “We need to see what’s going on in that black room.”
His father opened a command line window and started typing fast. “This monitor is on camera B12. I’ll switch it over to the E-bank. Those cameras have infra-red capabilities.”
The black window blinked, and a green, noisy image replaced it. A man stood alone holding the watch in his hand. He was pressing buttons. He winced when he pressed the LIGHT button. James could see light leaking out around the man’s night goggles every time he did that.
“Where is Oriel? She’s not here.”
Diana pointed to something on the screen and her husband nodded.
“What?” asked James.
“He’s got all kinds of weapons strapped to him. If he had gotten in here...”
James could see it now. It was a nightmare version of a soldier going into battle. Some were guns. Others had to be bombs.
“Open a little window. I can grab the watch out of his hand before he can react.”
“Too dangerous. It’s just a watch.”
“Mom! It’s important. As long as they think the watch is a special device, they’re still in the dark. We can’t let them keep it.”
He turned to his father, “Dad. I can do this. You handle the controls. Open and shut. Just one second.”
Bob Hill stared at his son for a long moment.
“It’s something I have to do.” Part of him knew it was a risk. But it’s Oriel’s watch!
“Bob,” objected his wife.
“Step back away from the computers. Get a good stance.”
“Dad, I’m the athlete in this family.” He did as he was told. He braced his legs, and cocked his arm.
His father positioned a ten-inch sphere right in front of him. “I’ll move the remote portal in five, four, three, two, one.”
The sphere turned dark. James jabbed his hand in, felt the touch of skin and plastic. He grabbed the watch and jerked it out.
There was a blast, like a cannon shot. His hand stung, and he was thrown to the gravel floor.
“Ouch ouch.” It hurt.
Diana was there in an instant, muttering “Oh my, oh my” and grabbing his arm.
“What happened?” asked his father.
“It burns.” James looked at his hand, flexing the fingers. All the hair on the back of his hand was burned off.
Diana checked it carefully. “Superficial burns. I’ll get some ointment.” She got up.
James eased to his feet and picked up the watch. It seemed okay. “What happened on the other side?”
Bob was working the controls. “Just a second. The blast took out that camera.”
A second portal showed two floors of that building damaged. There were bodies that didn’t move. In the distance, sirens could be heard.
“We’re lucky. The portal had started to collapse when the shock wave hit.”
“But what happened? I didn’t do anything but grab the watch.”
His father held out his hand. “Let me see it.”
James handed it over.
Experienced hands checked it out. “Here. There is a loop of fine wire around the pin that holds the band in place. They rigged it to explode if their assassin ever lost the watch.
Diana said, “Hold out your hand.” She started working the ointment in.
James asked, “But why?”
Bob shrugged, “Either they really didn’t want him to lose it, or else they expected us to retrieve it and wanted to cause the most possible damage to us when we did.
“They almost succeeded.”
His hand was burning again, like the muscle rub after a workout.
Diana asked, “How long has Oriel been missing?”
“An hour, at the most.”
Bob said, “This was well planned. It can’t have been thrown together in minutes. It was a kidnapping, not a lucky break for them.”
“Another bad agent?”
“Who did Oriel take home?”
James said, “Check the logs.”