Friday, April 8, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 13 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

The table shook, but Bob only touched his fingers to his drink to make sure it wouldn’t spill.  He’d quickly gotten used to the background noise.  The computer code on the screen consumed all his attention.
An alert buzzer sounded.  He frowned and checked some readings.
Time to open a breathing hole.
The carved chamber had no access to the outside, but it was large enough that he hadn’t yet dealt with the problem of continuous airflow.  It should be better once I get the big gallery connected. 
He opened a temporary portal to a forested meadow in New Zealand and let the sun shine in.  Fresh air was nice.  He leaned back in his chair and closed his eyes for a moment.
I need to set a sleep schedule and keep to it.  All this preparation, all over the world—it’s draining me.
He opened his eyes.  The sunshine illuminated his base.  The inside walls reflected the sunlight as hundreds of tiny suns.  It was a polished granite honeycomb, where the balls had been scalloped out.  
I’ll break through to the new gallery once the dust settles.
“Computer.  Transcribe a log entry.”  He saw the window open.  The voice commands were working out nicely.  He still liked to keep his hands on the keyboard, but routine things, like keeping his private blog current, were non-critical enough that he could voice operation while his hands were left free for more precise jobs.
“I’ve completed the Armory survey.  The Russian job should be much easier than the French one.
“I also finished my network isolation last night.  There’s no longer any outside connection, and I find it stressful.  Cutting off my last tie to the computer at home was symbolic.
“If I make a mistake, I’ll never see home again.”
James offered to take Drake and Slick home, but they elected to go to Larry’s house for some after-school gaming.  Larry invited him too.
Sorry, but nothing you have on your game box can compare to what I have on my computer.  Not that he could tell anyone that.  
He headed straight for his bedroom.  The network login failed.  He checked the wireless connection.  It’s down.
The work shed looked more deserted each time he visited.  He sat down and logged into Grumpy.
Everything’s gone!  There was nothing in the file system but the operating system.  On a hunch, he checked the utility that monitored disk fragmentation.  As a system is used, the data tends to get scattered all over the disk.
Clean as it can be.  This has to be fresh installation.
That’s why the wireless link went down.  Dad had wiped the hard disk clean and reinstalled the operating system.  His secret wireless link was gone with all the other customizations.
He tried the network.  Nothing at all.  No mystery net.  No other machines.
The ethernet cable still went to the connection box, but a screwdriver showed that there was nothing inside the box.  It was just a sheared off section of cable.
Dad cut me off.  No programs, no sphere library.  Did he see what I’d done?
Bob pulled the dust mask off his face and climbed off the little bobcat mini-dozer.  The gravel crunched beneath his feet, and a half dozen sunbeams illuminated the newly graded floor of the stone gallery.  
My own private underground football field.
The roof looked like a massive egg crate, hundreds of spherical cavities arranged with mathematical precision.
He reached for his wristwatch, the one James had given him, and tapped one of the buttons.
A baseball-sized sphere appeared next to his head.  A microphone was visible inside.
“Log entry.  I’ve completed the gallery.  Everything is ready for the equipment.  One thing I noticed in all of those James Bond movies is that the villain always has an elaborate home base.  This’ll have to do for me.  Those villains always had a private army to do the grunt work for them.  Unfortunately, I’m a little short on manpower.  Who can I trust?”
Ring!  “Hello.  Oh, hi Bob!  I’ve been hoping you would call.”
James sighed as he heard his mother talk.  It’d been three days since the network link vanished.  The fear had been growing that his father would never come back.
He walked up.  “Can I talk to him?”
She nodded.  “Just a minute,” and handed him the phone.
“Hi James.  How’s school?”  He could hear sounds in the background.  A bird screeched.  Seagull.
“Oh like normal, I guess.  Where are you?”
“Seattle.  I’m down at the docks right now.  It’s sort of like a little fair.  People selling balloons and fresh fish from push carts.  You’d like it.”
“I wish I could be there.”
“Are you okay, son?  You don’t sound well.”
He sighed.  “It’s okay.”  He walked the portable phone into the living room.  “I just ... I just didn’t know if you were mad at me.”
There was a pause.  “No.  I’m not mad at you.  Are there any problems I can help you with?”
“No.  Not really.  I just wish you were home.”
“So do I.  But James, you are my son, and even if there are problems, nothing can destroy my pride in you.  I love you.  Anything else we can work out, okay?”
“Yes, I guess so.  But really.  I’m okay.”
“That’s good.  Problems happen.  We make mistakes.  We all do.  Promise me that if I ever make a big one, you won’t stop loving me either.”
Bob flipped his cell phone shut, and ordered smoked salmon from a street vendor.
James is having trouble with that girl again.  What a time to be away from home.
But if everything goes smoothly, I can be home by next week.
He sat on a bench and picked at the hot meat from its wrapper.
No.  Don’t count on it.  Move too hastily, and everything could fall apart.  Bond villains always failed because they considered themselves too smart or infallible.
Every plan fails, eventually.  I’ve so much riding on this!  I could destroy everything with one wrong action.
The other scientists following up on Bellerman’s paper were still hard at work.  Every day he opened a spy portal and checked their progress.  He was still far out in front of them all, but he was just one man.  All that could change overnight.  There was also the chance that he’d missed some other group.
Teleportation changes all the rules of society.  He could spy on anyone.  So could anyone else.  Privacy and private property could vanish.  Like a crystal forming, a new society would form out of the existing one.  One with new rules of behavior.  It was up to him that the seed of the new structure would be the right one.
I may have to give my family up entirely, to keep them from getting sucked into this.  I’ve already made that decision.  It’s too late to back out now.

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