Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 6 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Another late fall thunderstorm turned football night into a madhouse.  The game was called at halftime because of lightning strikes near the stadium.  James was confused over the standings.  They’d been ahead at halftime, but would the game count?  It just might make a difference in whether the team went to Regionals or not.
Suzie was ready to go when he got out of the showers.
“I am soaked.  Can you turn the heater up?”  She was shivering.
He dialed it up, revving the engine to try to get it warmed up.  She scooted close beside him, and he put his arm around her.
“I hate the rain,” she said.  James was quiet.  He didn’t mind, usually.  It made the ground slippery, and it was harder to hear the calls, but under the pads and helmet, the rain itself wasn’t that bad.
They pulled out of the school parking lot and headed in the direction of her house.  
She felt good, next to him.
“Do you want to stop by Wag-A-Bag for a coke?”
“No,” she said.  And then, she looped her arms around his neck and kissed him.
I wasn’t ready for that.  He forced himself to focus on the road.  The streets were wet and the rain was still coming down in intermittent waves.
On the road out of town, she pointed to the bridge over Brushy creek.  Eyes bright, with a mischievous grin, she said, “My folks won’t expect me for another couple of hours.  Pull over here, why don’t you.”  
She pointed to a nearly hidden dirt track.  It wound down the grade until it stopped under the bridge.
James put the pickup in park and killed the headlights.  “It’s getting warm.”
“Yeah,” she said, and unbuckled her seat belt.  “Take off your coat.”  She tugged off her sweater.
She is soaked.  Her blouse clung to her skin and he could see everything by the dim lights of the instrument panel.  She smiled at him, waiting as he pulled his coat off.
She didn’t have to wait long.
Bob monitored the computer screen, watching the indicator dot blinking its three dimensional path.  This was the farthest he’d ever sent one of the spheres.
If this works, I might just have a commercial winner here.
Now that he had converted the system to complete computer control, there were a lot of experiments he could try.
The closest sphere, pebble-sized, was on his desktop inside a contraption slightly smaller than a gallon milk jug.  Centered inside a quadrahedron, a pyramid with four sides, radio sensor loops listened for a signal coming from the sphere.
Bob had manually steered the other sphere out into the pickup’s car radio hours ago.  The digital clock ran all the time, and made just a little bit of radio whine.  It wasn’t much, but tunneling through the sphere, the sensor antenna loops were just an inch away.  It was close enough to pick up that faint signal.
When James drove the pickup off to school, the radio moved, bringing it closer to one of the sensors.  At computer speeds, the software moved the remote sphere so that it stayed centered.  The sphere stayed locked in position, inside the car radio, no matter where it went.
Bob’s software kept track of each twist and turn.  On the computer screen, a moving dot gave him a detailed track of where the pickup was going.
This is great.  The sphere is tiny and enclosed in a box for safety, and yet I can track anything, anywhere, with no GPS satellites or bulky uplink dishes.  It will work regardless of cloud cover or tunnels.  And it is cheap.
It was still too dangerous if anyone had a clue how it actually worked.  He’d have to find a way to sell the service, and not let the technology get free.
All the real equipment was still there on his desk.  Could that work?  Sell the service, but never tell how it’s done?  
There were refinements needed, of course.  For one thing, he needed to overlay a road map over the tracing dot, but that was just software.
It seems to have stopped.  The track that had been building all day showed him clearly where the roads were.  James had gone to town, stopped at the convenience store, then off to the school, where the pickup had stayed for hours.
When it had started again, Bob realized with a sinking feeling that he’d missed another of his son’s football games.  This discovery was murder on his family life.
And the game must’ve been called early.  Thunder was still rumbling outside.  It was the rainy season.  He hadn’t even noticed until now.
Expectantly, he watched the screen.  Why did he stop there?  He used the mouse to twist the image on the screen.  There was a dip in elevation.  The bridge?  Or has the system glitched?
He checked the sensors.  No, all were picking up the buzz of the clock.  The pickup had to be stopped.
I hope he doesn’t have car trouble.  The pickup was getting old.  Water could have drowned out the ignition?
He might need to go rescue the boy.
But there is a way I can check.
He snapped the lights off in the work shed and dimmed the computer monitor.  He went to the software and deactivated the tracking loop.
Tap. Tap. Tap.
He edged the tiny remote sphere up a few inches.  That should clear the dash.
Then he raised the local sphere.  It drifted out of its enclosing pyramid and hovered above the sensor loops where he could see it.
In the dark, he peered through the tiny hole in space, trying to see if his son was having trouble with the car.
Even before he could see anything, the sounds of heavy breathing leaked through.
A girl’s bare back was all he could see, and hands—his boy’s hands—were fumbling with the straps of her bra.
Bob snapped the sphere down in size until neither sight nor sound was coming through.
What can I do?  James is only seventeen.  Who’s this girl?
He picked up his cell phone and dialed his son.  We bought him a phone for emergencies.  This qualifies! 
After four long rings, James answered.
“Yes?”  He was breathing hard.
Bob forced himself to sound calm and relaxed.  It was hard.
“James.  Game called early?”
“Uh, yes.  The officials didn’t like the lightning.”
He could hear a muffled sound in the background.  Probably the girl.  He tried to ignore it.
“Well, how did the game go?”
“14 to 6.  We were ahead.  I don’t know how they will count the game.”
“We can just hope for the best, then.  Son, could you do me a favor?”
“What’s that?”  His voice was rushed, nervous.
“I think we’re out of milk.  Could you stop by the store on the way home and pick up a gallon?  Put it on the gas card.”
“Uh, okay.”
“Bye now.”
Bob reactivated the trace and watched the screen.  Every second was torment until the tracer dot started backing up along the track only a minute later.  
“That’s a horrible trick to play on you boy.”
He dashed back into the house to empty out the milk left in the refrigerator.

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