There was an earthquake. Their kiss broke apart and a pile of sand engulfed them.
“Oh no you don’t,” said the Emperor. “I know how Bond movies end as well as you do. But it’s not over yet.”
James felt his face flush as he pulled himself up.
Dr. Feldstein moved quickly to Oriel. “No, you just stay put young lady. You’ve been drugged. Let me check your blood pressure.”
Diana gave her son a big hug. “I’m proud of you,” she whispered.
James walked closer to the computer screens. “What’s happening, Dad?”
He looked worried. “The HC-130 lost its fueling boom when the C-141 started to dive because of the air loss. I think the tanker will make it back okay, but the C-141 sustained damage to its fuel system. It is losing fuel by the gallons. Whether it makes it to an airfield or not is anyone’s guess.”
Emperor Robert looked tired and angry on the TV screen.
“Just yesterday, at my press conference, I had hoped that it would be weeks, perhaps months, before I had to appear before you again. But it wasn’t to be.
“No more than fifteen minutes after the last of the interviews, agents of Admiral Forsythe of the United States, kidnapped and drugged our first French agent, Oriel Meirieu. They then attempted a raid on my base of operations, intending to kill all of the royal family. When that raid aborted due to our security precautions, a suicide bomb destroyed their office building in East Philadelphia. I am sure local forensic experts will confirm that it was their own bomb that killed those agents.”
He paused and looked to his side. The camera zoomed back to include Oriel standing at his side in a fresh uniform and with her hair touched up.
“We are very proud to report that our Oriel Meirieu was rescued with no injury from a military transport craft flying over Kentucky. She had been drugged and shackled and kept in the plane. The rogue agents had foolishly supposed that we could not teleport to a moving target.
“Unfortunately, the two aircraft used by them were damaged during the rescue. No one was killed, but the kidnappers have been removed to imperial custody.”
He pulled up the same pocket computer he had used the day before.
“These attempts cannot go unpunished.” He pressed a key. “An additional two billion in gold is assessed from the United States for this attack. Will you people please get your house in order?”
Rudy Ghest sat on a rock in the shade and played Mancala with FBI agent Wilson, who had become something of a celebrity when he started teaching the game to all comers. Needing no props other than some pebbles and pits in the ground, it was a perfect way to kill time on the island.
Rudy had taken the seat that gave him a good view of the Admiral’s gathering ground. A number of people sat nearby. Once the initial scouts had reported that the Exit cavity in the giant stone ball did nothing, quick escape dropped off the top of everyone’s agenda. The top three interests now were gossip, surveillance, and food.
The food was at least plentiful, but the UN food biscuits were bland. Two of their number, one of Admiral Forsythe’s spooks and a German Verfassungsschützer agent could be counted on to provide fresh fish for every meal, and it was starting to become a contest between them who could provide the best catch.
Secrets were a prime item of trade, along with spare bullets. Rudy now knew far more about Admiral NoBadge than he cared to. Thus the surveillance.
Admiral Forsythe had never stopped being on the job. The first thing he did after consolidating his group was to hold long serious talks with certain others on the island. Frequently, the grapevine would pinpoint the other man as a former or current spook with a dark past.
Rudy took it as quite a compliment that the Admiral paid him no attention at all.
He glanced at his watch, still keeping perfect New York time even after his dunk in the ocean. 5:59 PM. It was about time.
He looked over to a wide spot on the beach. People were clearing the spot.
At the top of the hour, a large sphere flickered into existence thirty feet up filled with yellow food packages. It quickly vanished, leaving the food to crash down on the beach. The surrounding troops moved into to stack them and begin the day’s meal preparation.
An amplified female voice caught everyone’s attention.
“Since you are all here, it is now time to bring you up to date.”
The camp stopped in its collective tracks. Those sitting down rose to their feet.
“This is Empress Diana. You are a collection of people who, for various motives, have conspired against my husband. You were removed here to get you out of the way during a critical phase in the history of the Empire.
“Once you reach civilization, you can find out the details, but be advised that several nations, including one permanent member of the UN Security Council, have recognized the Empire, granting full diplomatic standing for ourselves and our agents.
“As many of you are from the United States, be advised that a proposed declaration of war on the Empire was soundly defeated by Congress.
“Now before I tell you how to get home, I have a personal message from me to you:
“If anyone attempts to hurt my husband again, or any of his agents, know this, I will have complete control of the power of the Empire, and I will be much, much less forgiving than he has been.”
Rudy glanced at the Admiral, whose face looked like a storm front.
Empress Diana’s voice became more cheerful.
“This island was designed, not as a prison or place of punishment, but as storage facility, to delay the actions of our enemies. As such, there is a way out, one that we have temporarily deactivated.
“You have no doubt located the Exit chamber and discovered the selector and the button. As of this moment, it is now active. You may choose a continent as your destination and push the button. One person at a time in the chamber, or it will not work.
“You cannot choose a destination more specific than a continent. A location will be chosen randomly, but you can count on appearing on dry land at ground level.
“The only previous inhabitant of the island successfully made his escape to South America, and is currently hitch-hiking his way to Rio.
“Now, unless you have a deathwish, I advise you to avoid Antarctica, the chances of you appearing anywhere near a settlement are extremely slim.
“That’s it. Choose a continent and make your own way home from there. Consider it a ‘trial by ordeal’. Those of you with survival skills training may wish to coach the others before you leave. Those considering waiting until more conventional help arrives should think again. Even if the island is discovered, no plane or ship will be able to approach it.”
For the first time, Rudy was able to sense some fear in the Admiral. What is it? That he won’t be able to take his goon squad through the gate with him, or that he will have to trust his fate to the man he tried to kill?