“No. It’s much too dangerous.” His father shook his head. Diana had the same expression.
“Mom, Dad, since when has this family taken the safe road?
“Dad, you risked your life becoming the Emperor. You had to, to prevent a greater evil. I demand the same right! I will not let them destroy Oriel, and I won’t let you take the guilt for not giving in to them.
“Dad, it’s all the same evil.”
His mother looked at her husband’s face. She could see him weakening. “You’ll die,” she cried to James.
“No I won’t. Dad will be driving.”
“But how will you stop?”
They couldn’t steal a plane, but James had no problem stealing a high-altitude pressurized flight suit. It was made for a fighter pilot. Bottles of aviator oxygen weren’t much harder to find. He left a stack of imperials by the locker.
“James.” The voice sounded in his ear, the headphones were connected to his MP3 player so that Dad could lock onto the circuitry.
“I’ve done the math. The mid-air refueler tanker plane has taken off. It’s an HC-130, from the same National Guard base the C-141 came from. Its max speed is 289 miles per hour, so they will have to drop down to at least that amount while they are refueling. But that’s still a higher velocity than a trained skydiver can reach.”
“You’ll just have to take me higher. With less atmosphere, and less drag, I can go faster.”
“Yes, you can go faster, but if we teleport her out of her seat into a windstorm at 300 miles per hour, she’s likely to be torn apart. Even if she were conscious, it might be too violent. She could have her neck snapped before you could do anything.”
“She’s still unconscious?”
“Looks like it.”
“Let’s hope she wakes up soon. If they refuel, it’ll be another ten hours before we can get anywhere near this close.”
“Oriel. Oriel. Can you hear me?”
She struggled against the drug-textured blackness.
“Oriel, wake up. James is coming to get you.”
James, mon joli. Où êtes-vous allé?
The black closed down again.
James fell fast. A sphere had dropped him off in mid-air 40,000 feet above the Pacific Ocean. It was his first skydive, and it was much harder to control his arms and legs than it had appeared in the movies.
The web page had said that maximum speed could be reached falling either head down or toes down. James struggled to hold himself rigid.
It was a strange surreal place. The sky above and the ocean below blended together in the haze of distance. There was no solid object within miles. Only the reddish glow of dawn on the horizon gave him any sense of direction.
As he dropped, the wind noise grew outside his helmet.
“Refueling has begun. They are down to 260 miles per hour, heading east, just like their pilot projected. How are you doing James.”
“I don’t know. What’s my speed?”
“Son, it doesn’t seem like she hears me.”
“Then you’ll have to put me inside.”
“What? I can’t do that!”
“It’ll work. Blow their cabin air. Distract them long enough to for me to get her. I can keep her oriented against the wind.”
There was silence. “Dad?”
“Okay, but I’ll have to tune your velocity vector. Now moving you up 9000 feet and south 300 miles.”
The sky changed around him. He could feel himself speeding up slightly.
“Oriel! Wake up now. Oriel, James is coming.”
The noise in her head was getting most insistent.
She tried to blink, but the light was blurry.
“Oui,” she muttered.
“Oriel, can you hear me?”
She couldn’t put her thoughts together.
“Oriel, in just a few seconds, your shackles will come off. When that happens, curl up into a ball. A tight little ball. Can you hear what I’m saying?”
The curvature of the earth. Dad had said that all the teleport gates were controlled from a single point, and that’s where they were oriented. The control matrix was locked to the ground, rotating with the earth. That’s why you could step from Texas to France without feeling their very different velocities. With respect to the rotating controller, there were no different velocities.
But the same rotating framework meant that a skydiver falling straight down at 260 miles per hour over the Pacific Ocean could exactly match a C-141 transport cruising east over Kentucky.
James heard his father’s count down. “Five, four, three, two, one.”
The limitless sky over the vast featureless ocean suddenly switched with the chaos of a transport in the midst of rapid decompression. Dust and papers were blowing through the cabin as a basketball sized sphere let the pressurized air escape. A klaxon was blaring emergency. And two sets of pilots suddenly realized that connected by the fueling boom, they could both be torn apart.
James was on the floor, down suddenly at his back. He looked to the side.
Oriel! She was folding herself up into a ball, her eyes wide with terror. Shackles were on the ground.
James grabbed her arm. Their eyes locked.
She lunged towards him. He could see her mouth forming his name.
A hurricane torrent blasted them. James pulled her close. He folded her head against his chest, trying to shield her against the wind.
Her arms were tight around him.
“Aieee!” she was shrieking, and the sound was getting louder.
The wind was easing.
In his head, his father called, “James! James can you hear me?”
“Dad. I’m fine. We’re both out.”
It had been dawn over the Pacific. It was now sunset over the sands of the Sahara, and they were falling upwards.
“James?” Oriel called to him, but inside the helmet, it was hard to hear her.
“James,” said his father, “You are approaching zero velocity. Five, four...”
James held his gloved hand before her face, pulling in fingers in count with his father’s voice.
“Three, two, one.”
There was a flicker, and the two of them were teleported to the ground. They fell to the sand from a height of three feet.
“James! James are you down okay.”
“Fine, Dad.” He pulled the helmet off and jerked the earphones free.
“Are you okay?” he asked.
Oriel lay in the sand, her new uniform torn in places by the wind. She nodded. “You will explain to me sometime what happened?”
He unzipped one of the numerous outside pockets on the flight suit. “Here. I got your watch back.”
She took it, and pulled him down in the sand with her.
James could hear the faint sound of his father’s voice as he felt himself drift away into the bliss of her kisses and the softness of her arms.