Friday, April 29, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 22 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Clang!  Clang!  Clang!
The sound of a great bell echoed over the refugee camp on the border of Eastern Chad and the Sudan.
A voice, amplified but recognizable to all echoed over the makeshift shelters.
“This is General Ahmat of the Democratic Rebellion against the demon Nadjima.  The Democratic Rebellion has negotiated with the Emperor of the Earth to provide water for the suffering people of Eastern Chad.  The Emperor desires that no one should be hurt and prayerfully begs all to stay away from the new mountain until noon.”
Acyl Terap was at the south edge of the camp.  As the echoes of the voice died away, he noticed a wavering in the air, and a cool breeze.  Over the dunes, a haze a mile wide and hundreds of feet tall appeared.  He started to turn and run, but the breeze compelled him.  It tasted wet.
That wasn’t a sandstorm.  He moved closer.
A white mountain appeared.  It appeared to grow out of the mist.
No.  The mist is going away.
The air echoed with sharp cracks, like rifle shots.  Foot by foot, the mist receded, revealing the mountain, unlike anything he had seen.
Other refugees were shouting behind him, coming his way.
I have to get there first.  That was the rule of the refugee camp.  When the foreigners brought food and water, only the quick ones ate.
He ran, just ahead of the crowd.  With each step, the mountain appeared more strange and more fearful.
There was another crack, and a cliff broke free and shattered to the ground.
Acyl was hit by a rock.  It was blue, and it burned to the touch.  He picked it up.  Wetness trickled over his hand.  He licked.
“Water!  It is water!”
The growing crowd took up the chant, and rushed to gather the pieces.
A sharp crack sounded, and another large chunk fractured from the cliffside.  Shards and frigid air blasted them.  Shrieks and cries of pain were heard among the mist, but no one stopped gathering the precious cargo.
James sat with the rest of the football team, chatting about school.  The Volunteer Fire Hall was filled to capacity.  All the players of all the teams, plus their families were there for the Athletic Banquet.  But the athletes had their own tables up front.  Some of the cheerleaders sat beside their boyfriends.  
James noticed Suzie trying to catch his eye, but he avoided eye contact.  There were others here at the table with much more claim on her and he honestly didn’t care to get on her roller coaster again.
I could have invited Oriel, but wouldn’t that have been a disaster?  Even if she had been just from another school, putting the local girls in the shade would make him a lot of enemies.
Coach Barlow had caught him in class rattling off correct French responses and questioned him about his much-improved accent.  
J’avais pratiqué dans les laboratoires de langue.” He had said, but he wasn’t sure she believed him.  
He had eaten out five times with Oriel now.  Even his sleep schedule was getting messed up, as he took an early evening nap and then woke up at midnight to have breakfast with her at a little place on Rue Malar, just a few blocks from the River Seine.
He knew a lot about her now.  She worked at La Samaritaine, a huge department store overlooking the Seine, saving up for college tuition at EPITA, some kind of computer school.
With Oriel on his mind, the events of the Athletic Banquet were not as important as he had thought they would be.  His season had been cut short, and he had no delusions about his statistics or placing in the Central Texas regional standings.
It was just a time to listen to his buddies and wonder what would happen to all of them in the near future.  In the wrong hands, or even in too many right hands, teleportation would destroy the culture.  He’d picked up one of those novels in the library, one where people kept their women and treasures constantly hidden behind mazes so that teleporters couldn’t get in to rape and loot.  But not even that solution made sense with the spheres.  I could steal anything in the world, as long as I had a vague idea of where to look.
The steak dinner came to a halt and the coaches began giving out awards.  He was called to the stage, as part of the team.  Individually, the coaches bragged on them.  Coach Avery claimed great things for him in his senior year.  At one time, he would even have believed it.
Dad!  There was his father, sitting with his mother.  He had his airline suitcase and one of the cooks was bringing him a plate.  James waved, and his father waved back.
After the ceremony, he rushed back to join his family.
“I didn’t know if I were going to make it or not,” he said between bites.  “I just finished a really huge project and I needed to refresh my energy anyway, so I took a last minute flight.  I’ll have to go back tomorrow, but it’s worth it to see you up there.”
“You took a taxi here, and you need a ride home,” James supplied, relieving his father of having to make up a story.  “Can I drive you?”  His parents exchanged a look and he said “Yes.”
There were other people who were pleased to see Bob, and it took another thirty minutes before they were ready to leave.
“How are your projects going?”  James asked, once they were in the car.
“Oh pretty well.  I can’t tell you much.  Security, you know.”
“I thought so.  It’s good to have you home.  I’ve got so much to tell you.”
“Yes.”  James tried to make school sound interesting.  It was hard.
“We were going to listen to the French President’s speech at the UN, but saw the Emperor’s announcement instead.  That was a blast.  You never saw so many politicians running around looking confused at one time.
“Dad, what do you think about the Emperor?  Is he a crook?”
His father looked out the window for a moment.
“The way the world works, if he succeeds—if he avoids being caught or killed, then he is indeed Emperor of the Earth and everything he’s doing is legal.
“But if he’s captured, then he is just a crook.
“All the royal houses in the world came into being by force of arms.  A man with the will to rule and the skill to survive became legal when the others gave up and acknowledged his claim.  If the nations of the earth can’t stop the Emperor, then he is who he claims to be.  It’s just a battle of will.”
James nodded, then added, “I’ve met a girl.”
“Anyone I know?”
“No.  I just met her this week.  She’s a big fan of the Emperor.  Apparently there are quite a number of people who see him as the defender of the weak.  She’s said that when the Emperor is in need of a French-speaking agent, she wants to join up.”
His father chuckled.  “That would be pretty dangerous.”
“Because I don’t think the Emperor will survive.  After all, he is just one man against the whole world.”
“But he has teleportation!  And isn’t there more than just one man?  What about that man in Eastern Chad?”
His father nodded.  “Yes, he probably has an agent or two working for him.  But still, even with all the automation in the world, he can’t be everywhere.  A hundred unskilled minds can probably beat one man with a million computers.  At the least, the Emperor has to sleep sometime.”
James frowned.  “Then why would he do it?  The Emperor could have kept a low profile for years, for a whole lifetime maybe, and still be rolling in wealth.  Why did he announce himself to the world?  ‘Hey look at me!  I’m King of the Hill!  I dare you to knock me off.’”
“He must have had a reason.  A reason worth his life.”
James nodded.  He’s trying to protect us.  If we don’t know anything, then we aren’t accomplices.
Too late.
Other questions bubbled up in James.  “I’ve been wondering.  The son of the king is a prince, but what about an emperor.  What do they call his son?  An emplet?”
Bob shook his head and chuckled.  “I’m not really sure.  It all varies by which nations have the Emperor.  I think it’s still a prince, or maybe a crown prince.  We’ll have to ask the Emperor when he is acknowledged.”

Thursday, April 28, 2011

Emperor Dad - Extra - Idea Contest

From now until the final posting of Emperor Dad, think of a new and interesting use for the teleportation technology and post it to the comments (of any of the parts).  I'll collect the best of the ideas and present a prize once the novel has ended.  Here's you chance to think like a science fiction writer and come up with something new.

The idea has to be compatible with the teleportation technology as presented in the novel and not something already mentioned in the novel.

The prize isn't decided yet, and I'm open for suggestions.  Previous contests awarded autographed books.

I'm looking forward to your wonderful creativity.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 21 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Archer was sitting on the side of a bed, his coat off and looking beat.
“What happened then?” came a voice out of the air.
“I gave the whole spiel, right out of your playbook.  The Emperor would move a mile-wide iceberg from the Antarctic into the desert near the refugee camps.  Meltwater would solve the immediate drought problem and create an oasis there for agriculture that would persist for years.  The President would hold a press conference taking credit for the humanitarian action and recognize Imperial rule.
“Right from the beginning, he didn’t buy it.  Maybe he doesn’t understand the word ‘humanitarian’.  He sic’ed his bouncer on me and I was never so relieved when I was able to hit the switch on my watch.  He had me in a bear hug and I was afraid I would pass out.”
The voice said, “I’m sorry about that.  I’m working on improvements to the system.  How about a keyword you could shout that would trigger the abort as well?”
Archer checked the stiffness in his arm.  “I’m not sure I’m up for this kind of pitch.  I’m a salesman, not a politician.”
“It’s what you signed on for.  It’s not just your commission check this time.  I’ve already got your Grand Cayman portal set up.”
Archer grinned, “You know how to dangle a carrot.”
Then he frowned, “What happened to the other guy?”
“Don’t worry about him.  He passed out in the gas chamber just as fast as you did.  He’s my problem.”
Archer nodded.  “It’s just ... this is the first time it’s turned nasty.”
“And I’m sorry I put you in danger.  And I’m sorry I need you to go to plan B.”
“So soon?  I’m a mess.”
“We need to move fast.  CNN has the story.  There’s even a nice video clip of you.”
“Oh, my.”  Archer felt a sinking feeling.  He had been working at a furious pace for the past two weeks, making a couple of deals a day.  It had almost started to feel like a real, but high-stress, job.
But now, people knew his face and would be hunting for him.  And not to get his autograph either.
He was getting used to the Emperor’s voice.  Either that or the distortion had been turned down. “Yes, the world now has a face to put on the Imperium.  If you had doubts before, now’s the time to get rid of them.  If I’m the Emperor of Earth, then you are a protected diplomat.  If I’m just a crazy man with a gadget, you are just a crook’s henchman.”
Ngarta Habre, bodyguard for President Nadjima, woke on the beach, aching and hungry.  It was hot and very humid.  He stripped to the waist and wandered along the shoreline, looking for any sign of another human being.
There were palm trees, with coconuts.  And surely there were fish in the sea, but without fresh water he would die.
When he turned back and started checking in the other direction, he quickly discovered a small creek, wide enough to step across, but containing cool fresh water.
Shortly on the tail of that discovery, above the high-tide mark, he found a couple of yellow packages, stamped with the UN globe symbol and ‘World Food Organization’.  He tore it open.  Biscuits.  He ate the entire first package, and felt energy returning.
Food, water, shade.  He would live, but how long would he be trapped here?
James watched the CNN coverage, wondering, with the rest of the world, who was the man who vanished before the security cameras.
It’s not Dad.  He’d never been so relieved to find that Oriel had been wrong when she said that the Emperor had been arrested.  
But for the first time, people could see the vanishing act.  News commentators were confidently using the word ‘teleportation’ in their reports.  One reporter said ‘beamed away’, but that had stopped over an hour ago. 
Star Trek had given the idea to the world, but there weren’t any sparkles.  Now news commentators were talking to physicists and science fiction writers about what it all meant.
James put a bag of popcorn in the microwave and sat down to watch the news for as long as he could.
One of the writers being interviewed gave a list of novels that talked about the societal implications of teleportation.  And James wrote down the names.  
What did it mean to the world that teleportation existed?
What does it mean to me?  The world doesn’t have it yet, just the Emperor and me.
He glanced at the clock and realized it was midnight.  That would make it 7 AM in Paris.
I could go back and have breakfast with her.  If she still wanted to talk to him.  He’d vanished when they were at dinner.  He hoped she’d been able to pay for it.
If he wanted to talk to her, then he should at least be able to pay for her breakfast.  He checked his cash box.  But they didn’t use dollars over there.  It was euros.
How could he get some euros?
There had been that money exchange place.  
He started the sphere program and after a few minutes, he located a different money exchange shop.
He re-programmed his watch and went to Paris.  The shop had just opened and the man behind the counter spoke English.  He traded his small stash of dollars for euros.  They were interesting, different colors and sizes.
He moved out of sight and pressed ADJUST.
“Oriel.”  He appeared behind her.
“Eek!”  She jumped and turned to face him.  “Un moment s’il vous plaît.”  She wrapped her arms about herself and dashed into another room.
James realized she didn’t think she was dressed properly, but it’d been okay by him.  She wasn’t by any means naked.  Is this one of the ‘societal changes’ of teleportation?  Will everyone have to be fully dressed all the time?
She opened the door, in a dark dress.
“Bonjour James.”
He nodded.  “Bonjour Oriel.  Vous aimez aller déjeuner. J’ai des euros.”  He had practiced how to invite her to breakfast, but he wasn’t at all sure of the accent.
Oui.  Merci.”   At least she understood.
She led the way to a sidewalk cafe and James discovered French pastries.  He loved the strawberry ones.  He supplied the cash, but counting change he left to her.
Oriel was stern, “N’héritez pas mon appartement comme cela. J’ai été embarrassé.”
The translation was beyond him, but he got the meaning.  Don’t drop in on her like that again.
I guess I won’t mention the time I saw her in the shower.
He tried to phrase a response, then threw up his hands.
“Only in an emergency, I promise.  Otherwise I will knock.”
He smiled.  Her forehead wrinkled most charmingly as she struggled with the English.
“Ok. Une urgence.”
She was eager to know anything about the Emperor.  She knew from the stories on the news that he was interested in the needy.  The government had called on the populace to report anything strange, but indignantly, she said she saw nothing bad in the Emperor.
“Pourquoi devez-vous apprendre le français?  N’y a-t-il pas des agents français de l’empereur?”
“Talk slower, please.”  He didn’t want to give the wrong impression.  “No English agents.  No French agents.  No Russian agents.  Not yet.
L’Empereur desire des agents français, but he has to be cautious.”  He knew he mangled it.
But she nodded.  He could tell she wanted badly to believe that the Emperor knew how important the French were.
He remembered something Coach Barlow said.  He tried to rephrase it in his own words.
L’Empereur is the emperor of all de monde.  He knows the French have been important players on the international stage for centuries, and he is looking for honest people who can be des agents français.”
She put her hand on his arm and with an earnest gaze she said, “Je ferai n’importe quoi aider l’empereur.
He didn’t need to translate it.  The meaning came through instantly.  She would do anything to help the Emperor.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 20 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

“Yes, Coach.”
“I’ve been meaning to talk with you about your grades.  They were getting better.  But now they seem to be sliding.  I really want you on shot-put, this season, but if that French grade drops any lower, you’ll be ineligible.”
James nodded and made promises, but his heart wasn’t really in it.  Every day he checked the paper for articles about the Emperor.
What is the point of trying out for track?  If Dad is the Emperor, or even just working for the Emperor, then the police will come for us any day now.
Still, his poorest subject was French, and he could do something about that.
When he got home, he went straight to the computer and activated the sphere program.  
The software had changed again.  There were more options than when he’d last used it.  And those were more cryptic.  This wasn’t user-friendly software anymore.  It had been streamlined and customized for a single user who had to do a lot of work in a short time on a tool he knew well.
But James knew the rough roadmap already, and the shortcuts were logical, once you figured them out.
I know one person in Paris.  But she might not like it if I drop in on her again.
How about if I meet her in a safer place than in her bedroom?
He opened a monitoring window and switched to her location.  
He was shocked when the image formed and zipped away.  She had been riding the subway.  The Metro. 
Hmm.  There had been an option....
He closed and restarted the monitor, only this time he clicked the TRKVEL option. Track Velocity?  I hope.
This time her hand appeared in his monitor screen.  The subway noise was still there, but he was tracking the velocity of her watch.
She’ll see this.  He moved quickly to the floor and under her seat.  He contented himself with a nice view of her leg for the five minutes left of her ride.
There was a status window that gave co-ordinates and velocity.  He watched it slow to a stop.
When his location started dancing around to the tune of her swinging arm, he disconnected from velocity tracking and shot up to street level and higher, where he could watch the people leaving the Metro station without being easily observed.
This is crazy.  She’s seen me before and she probably thinks I’m some kind of stalker.  I shouldn’t get anywhere near her.
She appeared on the stairs.  Her coat was plain and dark, but her face—he recognized it in a flash.  
It’s just because she’s the only person here I know.
She headed towards the river.  James zipped ahead of her and found a spot where he could appear without being seen.  Quickly he re-programmed his watch, adding the new location, and moved HOME into the second spot.  He pressed ADJUST.
And fell on his rump.
Dusting himself off, he walked over to the cafe and sat down at a convenient table on the sidewalk and waited for her to walk up.  This is a stupid idea.
He could see her from a block away.
She’s beautiful.  She was small, elfin.  Suzie outmassed her a whole weight class, and Suzie wasn’t fat.
His fingers fumbled towards his wristwatch.  This is crazy.  I’ve gotta get out of here.
Then she looked up.  He waved.  
She stopped in her tracks.  Her face registered shock.
He smiled, waiting.  What else could he do?
She glanced down the street, looking for anything suspicious.  Hurriedly, she walked up to him and in French far too fast for him to follow, she asked him something.
“Whoa.  I came here to learn French, but I don’t know it yet.”
She frowned intensely.  “Quel est ... name?”  She scanned his clothes.  “American?  Football?”
He nodded, and tapped his football jacket.
She pointed at him.  “Vous êtes un ... spy  ... pour l’empereur.  Avec moi.  Come.”
He hesitated.  She grabbed his hand and pulled him along.  He found himself focusing on her touch, more than where she was dragging him.  She was maybe a year or so older than he was, but he felt like he was being pulled along by a child.
A spy for the Emperor?  Did he hear her correctly?
She could be taking him to the police.  If so, he could just press his watch button and leave.
Dangerous.  As soon as people know this isn’t just an ordinary wristwatch, they’ll be ready to shoot first.
He tugged back.
Where are we going?  How do you say that in French?
She said “Soon.”
Another block, and they entered a building.  He noticed a man in an apron, and realized it was a restaurant.
The man greeted the girl and she led James to a table in the back.
She asked him something in more rapid-fire French, and he could only shake his head.  She handed him a menu.  He looked it over and realized he could understand some of the words.  “Poulet.”  He pointed to a chicken dish.
She ordered the meal and then asked him,  “Pourquoi ... why ... were you in my bed?”
Bedroom.  She means bedroom.
He struggled with his very limited French.  And then gave up.  “You are a beacon.”
She shook her head.
“Pourquoi êtes-vous à Paris?”
“To learn French.”
She was amused.
“Mon nom est Oriel.”
That one he knew.  “Mon nom est James.
“Bonsoir James.”
He grinned, and he knew he looked stupid.  
“Why did you bring me here?”  He waved at the restaurant.
Her smile dropped, and she looked at the door.  “C’est dangereux.  La TV signale que l’empereur a été arrêté.”
James couldn’t follow.  “Danger something ... what was the rest of that?”
L’Empereur ... arrested.”
“What?” He felt a spike in his chest.  “I have to go.”
She tried to keep him seated.  He looked around the room at the other diners, paying him no attention.
“Oriel, thank you.”  He kissed her quick before he could change his mind, and then dropped down below the table and pressed ADJUST.
He rolled to his feet on the wooden floor of the work shed and headed into the house to check with CNN.
Rudy Ghest tapped Jay Russo’s phone number with a smile on his face.
“Hello Jay.  I’ve got a tape for you—if the FBI is still interested in cooperating with Interpol.”
They called a meeting in a hurry.  
Rudy stood up and addressed the Emperor Task Force.
“The President-for-Life of Eastern Chad presented this security tape to Interpol as a gesture of good will.”  There were some grumbles at that.  President Nadjima was considered nothing more than a tribal thug.
“It has been obviously edited, but what is left is very interesting.  Roll it.”
A smiling salesman walked in escorted by a large black bodyguard who towered over him.
The President sat on a throne.  “Who are you and why are you here?”
“I am the First Agent of Emperor of the Earth.  I have been sent with an offer of service.”
The scene shifted, a crude edit.
“This action will show to the world your great heart and give you an important advantage in world opinion over the rebels at your border.
“In return, the Emperor desires nothing more than Eastern Chad’s recognition of the Emperor.”
The President-for-Life listened carefully.
“What you say is interesting.  However, it occurs to me that certain nations might be more grateful if I gave them an agent of this Emperor.”  He nodded to his bodyguard.
The salesman tried to run, but the bodyguard grabbed him up in a tight squeeze.  They fell to the ground, and a second later, the two men went transparent and then vanished.
The President was screaming for his other bodyguards when the tape ended.
There was a agitation among the assembled agents.
Jay Russo asked, “Perry, how does this fit in with your theory that all the teleportation sightings were staged?”

Friday, April 22, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 19 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

The tag line caught Oriel Meirieu’s attention on a newsstand copy of Le Monde, as she headed for the Metro to work.  She purchased a copy and read.
There had been a mine collapse in South Africa.  Fifty miners had been trapped nearly a kilometer beneath the surface.  After a day, with work crews struggling to reach them before their air ran out, an extraordinary event occurred.
The trapped miners walked out on their own.
According to their reports, a strange tunnel appeared glowing with sunshine.  Hurriedly they had escaped, carrying their injured with them.  Finding themselves in their own town, the mysterious tunnel vanished behind them.
Oriel nodded to herself.  It sounded like the Emperor.
“Buzz!  So it’s you who called this meeting.”
Buzz Chapman looked at Bill Gilbert and Earl Parker, two other vice-presidents for Western Petroleum.
“No, I thought one of you had called it.”
The three executives looked at each other.
Parker shook his head.  “Don’t look at me.  If my secretary tells me I have a meeting, I come.”
“You don’t suppose it’s a computer glitch again?”
“I don’t know.”
There was a knock on the door.
A young man in an expensive suit entered.  “I apologize for calling you here with no explanation.  I know your time is valuable.”
“Who are you?” asked Parker.
“I am a representative of the Emperor.  I have come to make you a business proposition,” said Archer.
Parker glanced at his watch.  “I can listen for five minutes.”
The salesman smiled.  “More than enough I think.  First a demonstration.”
From his briefcase he took out two white plastic pipes, each an inch in diameter and two inches long, each capped on one end.
He tossed one over to Gilbert.  “Would you hold that over the trash can?  I’d hate to make a mess.”
Puzzled, the executive did as he was told.
Archer took the other pipe and started pouring water into it from the pitcher sitting on the table.
The water ran out Gilbert’s pipe and rattled into the trash can.
Chapman said, “Let me see that.”
Archer took his over and handed the man the pipe and pitcher.  The executive poured some water through, then set the pitcher down and poked his finger in the opening.
Chapman jerked his finger out.
Archer chuckled,  “I did the same thing when I first played with them.  No damage to the finger,” he held up his hand, “but I lost a couple of ounces of blood.”
Parker growled, “What’s the point of all this?”
“Simple.  Cap off a large pipeline in say, Saudi Arabia.  Cap off another in Houston.  The Emperor will supply the magic, and you simply pump your Middle East oil directly to the Houston refinery.  No oil tankers, with their attendant environmental dangers and costs.”
“What diameter?” snapped Chapman.
Archer shrugged.  “Up to six feet, I believe the Emperor said.  Other arrangements could be made, I am sure.”
“What does this cost us?”
“Twenty-five cents per barrel.  Dollars or imperials.”
The executives looked at each other.  Gilbert mumbled, “A sixth the cost.”
Parker asked, “What guarantees of performance does the Emperor supply?”
“None.  In all honesty, the Emperor is above the law.  Guarantees, contracts, court orders—they have no force over him.
“But he is interested in long term business arrangements.  Try it out as a pilot program.  You have nothing to lose.  If it doesn’t work, you haven’t lost any oil.”
Parker tapped his fingers on the table.  “We would need an exclusive contract.”
“Hmm.  I’m not sure I am authorized to do that.”
“No deal without an exclusive contract.”
Archer spread his hands.  “I will have to check with the Emperor on that.”
An amplified, distorted voice came from somewhere near the ceiling.  “One year.”
Parker smiled.  “Five years.  We will need that long to sell our tankers.”
“Jay, you got your FBI Emperor Task Force, and I’m still outside begging for crumbs.”
“I’m sorry Rudy.  I had the ear of Heisman, and he made good noises about you, but then we had a clamp-down.”
“What happened?”
Jay was silent on the telephone.  “Rudy, give me five minutes.  I’ll call you back.  Let me see what I can do.”
“Don’t forget to remind them of the reams of data I have sent you.”
“I won’t.”
Rudy waited.  There was still quite a bit of information he was still digesting from Interpol’s ICIS database.  There had been reports of the Emperor making business deals in three countries so far, but the hotspot appeared to be in the USA.
I’d bet anything the Emperor is an American.
“Rudy, here’s the deal.  Imperials started showing up in Seattle.  Several different sources.  The Bureau moved twenty agents into the area, but before we could turn up a lead, the sources dried up.”
“You suspect a leak?”
“We don’t know.  But Heisman says I can send you a vetted summary of our meetings.”
“Better than nothing.  But I’m not giving up.  I want a seat in your task force.”
“Don’t hold your breath.  I can get you the summary in an hour, okay?”
Rudy poured over the carefully worded summary.  Most names and places were excised.
One thing showed up immediately.  Companies that had turned over the imperial bills to the police were now starting to claim them back.  A market was developing for imperial script.  E-bay was selling most of them.  While they were selling at considerably less than parity with the dollar, the price was climbing.
The FBI had investigated some of the buyers.  Some were collectors, or news media hungry to get their own copies to investigate.
But there were others.  Some were secretive—there were more than a couple of buying agents working for clients who demanded anonymity.  
One big buyer was the City of Los Angeles.  When questioned, they reluctantly admitted that they had been contacted by a salesman who offered to reduce ozone levels on high smog days.  He had offered a demonstration, and it had worked.  They contracted for five more days, and imperials cost less than dollars, so they had gone out on E-bay to acquire them.
Rudy nodded.  The Emperor was providing both supply and demand for his imperials.
The FBI had demanded to bug the drop and the city agreed.
He could see why the FBI wanted tighter security.  There appeared to be several wonderful leads.  Any cash or script that made it back to the Emperor was a fishing line they could use to reel him in.  Any leak could spoil the whole deal.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 18 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Greg Archer stumbled on his first step into Big Lake, Nevada.  The Emperor had warned him.  He stepped out of the shade of the Texaco station and glanced at his watch.
Leave it activated.  He noted the time.  Any time within the next thirty minutes and he could escape with one push of a button.
He paused in front of the storefront window.  Hair was in place.  Suit was straight.  He hefted his briefcase and headed down the street.
It was a small town, and the city hall was smaller than the bait shop next to it.
Knock.  Knock.
“Come on in.”
The Mayor was relaxed at a small desk in the corner.
“Hello, there.  Can I help you?”
Greg smiled.  “Oh, perhaps.  I was just admiring your town.”
“We like it.  Not much industry, though.  Too dry to farm and too far from the interstate for a casino.”  The Mayor waved him to a chair.
Greg smoothly caught the name on a picture frame.
“Mayor Norris, I noticed that the bait shop seemed closed?”
“Oh not really.  It’s mine.  If I hear a car drive up, I’ll check it out.  Do you want to some fishing gear?  I have a good selection of Castaway’s on sale.”
Greg chuckled.  “You don’t expect I’d want to buy some bait?”
“Not unless you are headed towards Lake Mead.”
“Where exactly is the ‘big lake’ in Big Lake?”
“That hill a few blocks over is the dam.  But I’m afraid it is getting close to empty.  Global warming or El Niño or something.  It’s been dropping for close to three years now.  Come summer, unless something happens, the shallows’ll get hot and the fish’ll die.”
Greg leaned forward in his chair.  “Can’t you get water from somewhere else?”
The Mayor shook his head and stuck his hands in his pants pockets.  “I looked into it.  Agricultural water is several hundred dollars per acre-foot.  And that’s only if you already have the canals in place.
“But with the Colorado River water crisis, there’s no way we could get the state to help us.  I’m worried about the wells.  They’re getting low too, and I’m not sure the city could afford to truck in water.”
“Sounds like a tough place to be.  What’ll you do with no water?”
“Oh, I’ll probably stay, but people are talking about closing down and moving.”
Greg let the silence build.
“Well,” he finally said, “there are other sources of water.”
“What do you mean?  Cloud seeding?  We tried that.”
“Well, what is it?  I’m listening.”
Greg picked up his briefcase.  “Have you heard of the Emperor?”
He handed the Mayor a single sheet of paper.
“The Emperor can deliver water into the Big Lake reservoir at one dollar per acre-foot, or $10,000 per foot at your spillway, whichever you prefer.  Payment due after delivery, one foot at a time.  Dollars or imperials.”
Greg closed the deal thirty minutes later.  He had to guarantee it was legal, and was out on the dusty street quickly as he could manage.
Stepping back into his apartment a minute later, he was startled by his master’s voice.
“How did it go?”
“Fine.  Signed contract and everything.  But boy he was needy!  We could have charged ten times as much.”
“I’m much more concerned with getting established.  We’re just getting our feet wet.”
“He asked when do we start.”
“I’ve already turned the water on.  He should notice it soon enough.”
Greg hesitated, then said, “You know, my commission will be a while showing up on this.  I’ll still need to pay my rent while we are getting established.”
“Oh.  How about a $20,000 advance?  By the way your next assignment is on your kitchen table.  I am re-programming your watch now.”
“Fine,” he whispered.  He had been going to ask for a thousand.
The phone rang.  Diana stepped into the kitchen and picked it up.
“Hi, Beautiful.”
“Bob!  I’m so glad you called.”
“I got your voicemail about the athletic banquet.  Does James still want me to come home for that?”
“He is standing right beside me.  Why don’t you ask him yourself.”  She handed the phone to James.
“Hi, Dad.  Can you come home for the athletic banquet?”
“Well, I don’t know.  Business is hectic right now, I don’t know if I can make it.”
On sudden impulse, James asked, “Then, can I come work for you?”
“Whoa, there.  You’re still in school.  Besides the security here is pretty tight.  I don’t think it would be approved.”
“I know a lot of stuff.  You taught me to program.  Or I could, you know, fetch stuff.  I could be a go-fer.”
“James.  I know you are a good worker.  If things were different, I’d love to have your help.  It’s just not practical right now.”
James sighed.  “I understand.  Just keep me in mind.  School will be out sooner than you think.”
“Okay,” he laughed.  “I’ll remember.”
“Uh, Dad?  Could you talk to Mom awhile?  I think she gets lonely.”
He handed the phone back, to his mother’s bemused expression.
“Bob.  I’ve missed you.”
James headed towards his bedroom.  He walked inside and faced east.
Being ready for it, he stepped into the french girl’s bedroom without falling.
The light snapped on.  She gasped.
She grabbed her blanket up to her neck.  
James waved his hand, and immediately pressed his watch.  He fell on his back as he returned to his father’s work shed.
I wasn’t ready for that.  Was she naked?  What time is it in Paris?  What did she see?
No time.
He pressed the watch again, and feeling the curve of the earth in his step, speculated that he was farther north, but not too far west.
The base was lit this time, a bank of electric lights shone from near the computer consoles.  He walked away from a rack of computers and surveyed the mass of gear in the stone gallery.  There was no sound other than the whir of fans.  He could hear his own footsteps, but if his father were still talking on the phone, then he was not here.
The Dwarves!  Sitting in a row, looking very much dwindled and out of place among the imposing ranks of high powered computer racks, the old machines from the work shed were still powered up.
He logged in.  The account was still active.
On a hunch he checked the cables, and located a single cable that has been sliced off, still dangling from an ethernet port.
This was the cable to home.
If I can only reconnect it!
He checked the software.  As he expected, there was a transaction log.  It went dead on the eleventh or twelfth.  I discovered it on the twelfth.
And there it was, a log entry showing a sphere connection termination.  There were details.  Great.
He checked the sphere creation software.  It was a little different than he remembered, but there was a place to enter the co-ordinates directly.
He typed fast.  Talk a long time Dad.
Fine-tuning the tiny sphere’s locations, he edged them both into the shadows behind the computers.  He stuffed the cut cable back through to Texas and logged out.
Diana Hill was still talking on the phone.  James headed out to the work shed.
He located the crimp tool needed to put a connector back onto the cut cable.
Mom had been laughing. 
As he worked, he thought, It’s been a long time since I’ve heard her laugh.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 17 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Greg Archer entered the lobby of the Holiday Inn, and looked at the chart on the wall for the Lincoln conference room.
He entered.  It looked very deserted.
I’m here at the right time.  Is this the right Holiday Inn?  The message left on his answering machine had been brief, and he could hardly understand the man with the distortion on the line.
“Gregory Archer?”
He looked around for the speaker, but there was no one there.  He looked up at the public address speakers.
“Yes.  My name is Archer.”
“Have a seat.”  He did so.  That’s the same voice, distortion and all.
“I am in need of a sales representative who can travel extensively and deal with people of different nationalities.”
“I can do that.  What are you selling?”  Archer decided to ignore the odd circumstances.  Maybe it was a test.
“Unique high-tech services.  We will get into that later.  What I need to know first are your personal circumstances.  Tell me about yourself.”
Greg stifled the unease, and began to talk about himself.  He was good at that.  With no family left, he was free to spin a shiny, wholesome childhood in Ohio, and give good reasons why he didn’t finish his degree at Purdue.  The distorted employer wanted a salesman, so he concentrated on that part of his history.  It wasn’t as if he were a felon on the run, but he did have his share of failures, and he was used to carefully not-thinking about them.  His successes were much more interesting, and he knew how to describe them lovingly.
After a while, the voice asked him to take out his passport and thumb through the pages.
“Humor me.  Pretend there is a camera looking over your shoulder.”
Archer glanced around, but could see nothing.  Do what the man said.
He turned the pages.  There were some good memories.  It was amazing what images came back, just by looking at the round inked stamp of the Cayman Islands.  He hadn’t seen Connie in years, and where did he put his snorkel and flippers?  But, most of the pages were still blank.
“You like the Caribbean?”
Archer jerked.  It seemed like the voice was closer than the public address speakers.  He looked around again, but there was nothing.
“Yes.  I like it warm.”
He put away his passport.
“Sir, could I ask what this is all about?  This is the strangest interview I have ever seen.”
“Can you agree to work for a non-US company?”
“I can work for anyone, I suppose.”  Doubts started nagging at him.  “I can’t do anything illegal.”
“In international work, sometimes there are different laws in different areas.  How do you define illegal?”
Uh oh.  “Well, I suppose that some things are just crimes, no matter where you are.  I wouldn’t quibble about little stuff, but I couldn’t work where people used guns.  I’m a salesman.  That’s all I do.”
“Good enough.  What is your opinion of the Emperor?”
“The Emperor?”  Suspicions started to crystallize.  “Uh, you mean the one at the UN?”
“Exactly.  He needs a salesman.”
“The Emperor is a terrorist.”
The voice laughed, and through the distortion, it sounded very strange indeed.
“Who has he terrorized?  No one.  However, the Emperor is sitting on technology that can completely revolutionize the world.  He wants to sell unique services.  The first year target is a billion dollars in sales.  How does a ten percent commission sound?”
Greg Archer’s mind skipped a track.
His voice rasped a little as he asked, “What are you selling?”
The Emperor listed a dozen different services.
“I will be working directly with you.  Just like this—we won’t be meeting face to face.  I’ll give you an assignment.  You make the sale.  I provide the services.”
“And this isn’t illegal?”
“There are hundreds of nations.  Some will declare this commerce illegal, I suspect.  It is new, different, and unsettling.  You will always have the opportunity to turn down an assignment, if it exceeds your personal boundaries.  I won’t compel you to do anything.”
Archer was already sold.  He knew that the moment his vision of his bank balance began to blur.
“What do I do?”
James fell flat on the sidewalk.  A man walked up and asked him something in high-speed French.
“Sorry,” he muttered, and allowed the man to help him up.
Bonsoir.”  The man nodded and left.
I know that one.  “Bonsoir,” he called back.  Good evening.
He dusted off his jeans and looked down the darkened streets.  I don’t see her anywhere.  Did she lose her watch?
There was a rumble beneath his feet.  It wasn’t until he spotted the Metro sign across the street that he put it all together.
She’s on the subway.  Dad’s software strikes again.  He felt a shiver.  If the teleportation sphere had materialized next to her, he would have slammed into the inside of a moving train car at high speed.  It could have killed me, and probably other people too.  The software had detected that, and moved him to the nearest clear, non-moving, location.
Thanks Dad.
Paris at night was cold.  He was wearing his jacket, but it was easily ten degrees colder than Central Texas.  He could see the Eiffel Tower in the distance, so to kill time and to keep moving, he headed in that direction.
There were a few places open, but most were closed.
He window shopped, attracted to a corner store that sold sexy clothes for women, like a Victoria’s secret, but with all the fetish underwear out there on the city street for all to see.  He checked to see if anyone was watching him and then went on.
If I’m so horny I get a kick out of that stuff, why am I running away from Suzie?  He shook his head.
He turned a corner, as he realized the Eiffel Tower was not to his left.  This city is a maze.  It seemed that every building was exactly seven stories tall, and some of the streets were tiny.  Hardly room for one car.  Some he passed were parked up on the sidewalk.
He paused at a shop.  There was a bank ATM machine in the wall, and inside looked like a tiny little bank.  A money exchange place.  There was a chart giving the exchange rates for several currencies.  There were a lot of vacant lines on the chart.
They use euros now, and so do a lot of other countries.  No need to exchange that money.
He felt in his pocket.  Fifteen dollars, not enough to do much with, but it highlighted the fact that he didn’t have the right money, even if there had been a store open at this time of night.
Just to drive the point home, the next corner had an open restaurant with a number of people eating and laughing.  The railing went all the way to the edge of the street.  He stepped off onto the pavement to go around, rather than walk through, among the tables.
I don’t know the language.  I wouldn’t know what to say if anyone spoke.
Time to go home, I guess.
If I could face to the west and prepare myself, I’d bet I could avoid falling down.
But which way was west?  The sky overhead was glowing with the reflected lights of the city, but there were no stars.  It must be overcast.
He walked another block, and realized he was getting really close to the Eiffel Tower.  It was a wide avenue and he could actually see more than just the storefronts.
He headed briskly towards the tower, and into a park.
The tower was imposing.  He walked into the wide-open space beneath the legs.  Closed ticket offices, he guessed.
Pilier Est.  He looked over to the next of the four bases of the tower.  Pilier Sud.   
“Hmm.”  He walked over to the other side.  Pilier Nord.
“Ah, ha!”  He tried to pronounce “Pilier Ouest”, but his tongue tangled in his mouth.  North, East, South, West.  I hope they aren’t just kidding.
He trotted over into the trees, aligned himself ouest and pressed ADJUST.
Nothing happened.  After a second’s confusion, he pressed LIGHT LIGHT LIGHTThere is a time out!  ADJUST.
It was like taking a missing step in the dark.  He stumbled, but with a little dancing, managed to keep on his feet.
Home.  He was in the deserted storage shed.  The lights were off, but the sky was still light and he could see.  He crept to the door.  It was after sunset.  It’s not midnight anymore.  The lights were on in the house, and he could see movement.  His mother’s car was in the driveway.  And my car is still at school.
He pressed ADJUST.  A little step and he was standing on gravel.
The place wasn’t black.  It was huge, a cave with a large hole in the ceiling with sunlight streaming in, and row upon row of computers.
Around the corner, he could hear someone walking.
In panic, he stabbed at his watch.
ADJUST.  He fell clumsily against a brick wall.  Was that Dad he had heard?  He couldn’t afford to take the risk.  
He stood back up.
Back at school.  Around the corner, he checked out the parking lot.  His car sat alone.
I wonder how long she stayed?