Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Everybody Knows Bob - Part 1 of 2

Now for a break from novel length, here is a quick short story.
© 2011 by Henry Melton

The security desk was an artwork in its own right, in dark tones. He ran his fingertips over the dark burnished metal, admiring the gray-tinted glass. Obscured, but watchful -- some nameless architect had the soul of an artist.
He put his hand to the off-limits door and stepped quietly in among the bewildering matrix of security monitoring screens. Three security guards looked up as he entered, their expressions of alarm turning to recognition. He put his finger to his lips and they nodded, turning back to their duties.
The arrival of the Monet, direct from the auction at Christie's had been a featured article in the local papers. What better way for a rising star in the software world to declare its solvency to potential customers than to pay an extra couple of million for one of the world's most famous works of art, and hang it in the lobby as a reminder?
Unfortunately, the painting was hung high and out of reach of the crowd. Thus his search for a better view.
He settled into one of the black swivel chairs and randomly started pushing buttons. The screen at his station flickered from camera to camera, taking in the unseasonal crowd in the lobby, as well as views down the corridors and out into the parking areas.
A face appeared, a flash of elfin face with hazel eyes. His finger, moving too fast to stop, hit the key again and an unknown corridor appeared.
No. Wait. How do I get back? He fumbled with the unfamiliar controls and then gave up to look through the glass, trying to find the person belonging to the face.
A cluster of employees were arriving for the day, showing their badges and then passing down the corridors. All he could see of the group was their backs.
He nodded to the security guards and walked out. A wave at the badge-check guard earned him a smile and a nod. He moved briskly down the corridor, trying to catch up.
The taylor who made his favorite gray suit shared his love for subtle textures. He relished its feel -- and today he needed it. The suit shouted Upper Management to workers as he passed the various offices. People waved, but didn't try to stop him. The suit gave him some needed distance.
This is silly. I haven't gone chasing a pretty girl in a long time. Still, he kept looking.
A glance in the next open office, done up in warm earth tones and trimmed with boxed ivy plants, showed it to be cube space for a hundred or more workers. The secretary, and everyone walking the aisles greeted him with a smile of recognition.
He gave them his standard smile, and a little wave, but kept walking. None of them wanted to bother him when he was busy.
On impulse, he turned down the third aisle, anonymous cubes on the outside except for the embossed Lucite name plates. He was perpetually grateful for those, as well as for name badges. Everyone knew him, but the reverse wasn't true.
"Hello Bob! Good to see you."
He glanced at the nameplate. "Kevin." He looked at the pictures on the inside walls, "How's your car?"
Kevin beamed. He pulled out the photos of his new Corvette, just like a proud papa with baby pictures. 
He just smiled and nodded at the right times, pretending to listen to the automotive jargon.
Other co-workers started gathering, drawn by Kevin's enthusiasm, but as soon as they realized he was there, they all wanted to greet him too. He directed the conversation to Kevin's car, and slipped out as soon as he could.
He caught sight of her at the end of the aisle. Doing her best to tune out the socializing just a few feet away she stared intently at the diagram on her screen.
He paused, watching the back of Janet Gunn's neck, a pen between her fingers as she twirled one overworked lock of her short black hair.
Quickly, she sensed his presence and looked up. In that half-second before the smile, he read anger, frustration -- fear.
But the mouth and those hazel eyes peeking out behind her long bangs -- beauty made his heart beat faster. That single second on the security monitor hadn't played him false. Appreciation of the excellent was his call in life. He planned to bask in her presence much longer.
"Bob! Have a seat. Stay a bit." Whatever distressed her had vanished under the spell of his presence.
He took the second chair, and casually edged it to where passers-by wouldn't see him and stop. He could feel himself grinning. She was casting a spell over him, too.
"Janet, how are you doing today?"
Her smile sagged a little. "Oh, as usual." She waved her hand, taking in the whole building.
Something was troubling the girl.
"Tell me, Janet, who am I?"
She blinked. It was obvious who he was, and she hadn't really put it into words before.
"Well, you're my friend -- a co-worker."
He nodded, "And you trust me, right?"
She looked at him with the left side of her mouth trying to break into a grin. "You have to ask?"
"Then tell me. What's wrong here? I have some power. I can make a difference for you."
She shook her head. "No, I wouldn't want any favoritism. That's part of the problem. It's..." She looked to the aisle, and shook her head.
He recognized the signs. "Let's go out for lunch, some place where we can talk. I can't have you unhappy like this."
She glanced at the clock. "No, it's way too early. Besides, I have to get this documentation ready for the meeting tomorrow. There's just no time."
He got to his feet, and held out his hand to her. "I can take care of that. Lead me to your boss."
She hesitated, but then her confidence in him wiped aside her worries. She put down her pen and led him through the maze. He fielded a half-dozen greetings from other denizens of the workplace, but his eyes were locked on her.
Janet was a perfectly cut crystal wrapped in a wrinkled paper sack. She wore drab clothes, pants and a shirt. Most of the men here dressed much better. She held her head down and her posture hinted at a hunched back and sagging shoulders in later life if she didn't shape up.
But when he was with her, something lit her up inside. Face to face with her smile, he was in love. Walking behind her like this, close enough to grab, his heartbeat rang like a fire alarm.
The boss had a real office, with a door that closed. He greeted them warmly. "Come in. Come in. Glad to see you." Greg Fielder said the name on the door.
"I need to borrow Janet for a few hours," he said in his best manager voice. Greg nodded.
Janet hesitantly said, "I told Bob I had the flow-charts to correct by tomorrow."
Greg shook his head. "That's okay, I can get Bartlett to do them. I'm sure whatever Bob needs is more important."
"Greg, you might want to note down that she's gone for training on your work sheet. We need to make sure training costs get allocated properly."
"Sure. No problem Bob." And then when his visitor's expectant silence dragged on, Janet's boss suddenly realized he was supposed to note it down immediately. He hurriedly pulled out the grid work sheet and filled in the hours. Greg beamed as he gave him a big smile and shook the man's hand. He'd have forgotten to do it and she would've caught the flack.
"Let me get my purse." Janet headed back to her cube.
I'll need a car. He meandered over to Kevin's cube.
"Hi, Kevin. Loan me your car?" He held out his hand for the keys.
Kevin shook, as if ice had gone down his spine. "Whoa. You know, Bob, if it were anyone else but you, I'd turn them down flat." He reached into his pocket and offered the keys.
Janet had gone back to her computer display, again with the pen in her hand.
"Janet. Your purse?"
She looked startled for a fraction of a second, but smiled and closed down the screen.
Kevin's Corvette was easy to find, and once Janet helped him remove the protective cover, he took a moment to admire the car's lines. Did the muscular shape trigger an instinctive reaction to the predatory beast, or was it sexual?
A moment later they pulled out of the parking garage and headed north.
Janet struggled with the wind in the convertible, but he told her to just push her hair back, and laugh into the wind. Soon enough, she did just that.
"I hope Greg won't get upset," she yelled at him over the wind noise, "by having my uncle pull strings."
"Oh, he won't. He trusts me. Don't give it another thought."
Driving the lakeside road in a red Corvette tempted his foot considerably, but he refrained from opening it up. He wouldn't get a ticket, but it might upset Janet.
A lush hotel appeared around the corner and on impulse, he pulled in. Tables among the palm trees promised a restaurant. The valet sprinted over. He glanced at the young man's name tag.
"Take good care of this one, Earl."
"You know it, Mr. Wilson." The attendant could barely keep his eyes off the car and took the keys gratefully. He was in the driver's seat and feeling the throttle in seconds.
Janet stood passively by as he came up to take her arm.
That's not right, he thought, affronted. Earl didn't even see her.
They entered the lobby, and he returned the volley of greetings from the staff. The restaurant entrance looked promisingly reserved, but he stopped first at the gift shop.
"Let's go in here first." 
Janet followed his lead.
The sales lady was out from behind her cash register in an instant. "Yes, Sir James, what can I help you with?"
Janet was drawn to the array of clothes that graced the small, but firmly high-end store.
He pointed. "Janet needs something with a bit more color."
"No, Bob. I can't let you...."
"Now Janet. You know I can do this. It's a simple gift. Let this lady do her job."
The sales lady, who unfortunately did not wear a name tag, was sizing up his gray suit and estimating which class of clothes would fit his credit line. She smiled brightly. "Come along, young lady. I have just the thing."
"I'll be back in a moment."
"Certainly, Sir Robert. Take your time."
He walked back to the hotel's registration desk.
"Ah, Jason. Do you have a room with a good lakeside view?"
"Of course, Mr. Samson. How about suite 1201?"
"Fine. Charge it under the house account."
He received the key and scouted out the restaurant, then back to the shop before Janet could forget her intent to let him buy her the clothes.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Emperor Dad: Where to buy

Enjoy the novel in trade paperback or ebook without all the clicking between webpages.
It will also make a great gift.
Autographed paper at my webstore.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 47 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

“Your father has made it clear to me that I should not try to seduce you.”  Oriel smiled bewitchingly.  The lights on the Eiffel Tower highlighted her eyes.  She was wearing the dress that put three deadly agents on the floor.
“Oh?”  James asked.  “And why is that?”
“He says that you have much education to complete, and you have not the maturity to handle your duties and an impulsive young wife at the same time.  Bah!”  She dismissed the argument with a wave of her hands.
“I think your father has plans to seduce the British into acknowledging the Empire with a royal alliance.  There are many unattached females among the Windsors I think.”
James smiled.  “Oh, I don’t think that would work.  Besides there’s a little Texas cheerleader that has already expressed some interest in me.”
Oriel’s eyes glittered, “And what might this one’s name be?”
He laughed, “I would fear for her life if I told you, but you needn’t worry.  She was crass and unsophisticated, and I haven’t given her an instant’s thought since I met you.”
He watched her pull her claws back in, and compose her face.  He asked, “How did your interview go, that day on the rock?  I’ve reviewed it, but when you Parisians talk to each other, the words blend together, and I can’t make sense of it all.”
Oriel smiled at the memory.
“Oh, I was very open and clear.  We French are very businesslike about these things.  I told them that it would be a great shame if the imperial palace were to be built in some cultural backwater.  I said the Empire would soon eclipse the importance of nations, and it would be very important for France to become a formative influence on the current royal family, and for its generations to come.”
James checked the surroundings.  It was habit.  The invisible bullet-bouncing spheres encircled them, but he wasn’t quite comfortable being out in public.  Camera flashes occurred so frequently that he had begun to tune them out.
“Well, you must have been very persuasive.  France’s official recognition has been the breakthrough we needed.  Although, I had chalked it up to the French glee at seeing the United States get its hands slapped.”
“Oh, we are not so petty, just practical, very practical.”  She reached across the table and joined hands with him.
Rudy Ghest climbed the ladder, grateful he was midway through the group, and that it had been rebuilt and anchored against the rock.  He stepped into the chamber and looked at the crude selector dial.
His assignment was in North America, but towns were much closer together in Europe.  Besides, the US might not have its welcome mat out for people arriving by teleportation, especially if there had been enough resentment to attempt a declaration of war.
He moved the little arrow to Europe, and with a glance out to the ocean visible in the distance, he pressed the red button.
And appeared in someone’s office.
“Have a seat Mr. Ghest.”
He glanced quickly around the room.  No guards.
He settled into the chair, amazed at how much better cushions felt than rocks.
“James Hill, I presume.”  He had seen the pictures, and since the ‘Empress Diana’ had spoken, it had settled who the identity of the Emperor firmly enough.  
James nodded, “Although I am told that I must get used to ‘Crown Prince James’ from now on.
“I apologize for interrupting your trip home, but I wanted to have a talk with you in private.”
Rudy nodded.  Let the man talk.
“You must be aware, that teleportation removes all pretense of privacy.  In our dire struggle when the Emperor was poisoned...”
Rudy looked up at that.  That had been the rumor, but no one had admitted it.
“Yes, poisoned, by the man you identified as ‘NoBadge’ in your reports.  In any case, I investigated everyone I could identify, including all the members of the FBI Emperor Task Force.  I must say I was very impressed by what you wrote.
“Yes, your reports were read, you were observed secretly, the investigations from other agencies on you were tracked down and examined.”
Rudy nodded.  “Very impressive.”
James shook his head.  “Okay, for an amateur.  Thus far, the Empire does not have a security agent that isn’t an amateur.  I would like to offer you the job of setting up a specialized security force with the goal of protecting the Empire, and when the time comes that others re-invent teleportation, of bringing other users under the rule of law.”
“Which law?”
James spread his hands.  “There is only one law controlling teleportation, the will of my father, the Emperor.”
Rudy shook his head,  “I already have a job.”
“A good and honorable one, I am sure.  In fact I am offering you one of two jobs.  The Empire will need a liaison with Interpol as well.  But I would much prefer you become the head of our security.  I have reviewed this with my father, and we both agree that you are the man for the job.”
Rudy was unsettled by the offer.  He found something appealing about it.
“I’m not sure that I could be comfortable working for an absolute ruler.  I have always believed in the rule of law over the rule of a man.”
James nodded, “We are Americans—a little displaced now, but still Americans by culture.  The whole idea of an Emperor, of a royal family, of a monarchy—it is difficult to absorb.
“Long ago, well before he invented the spheres, my father told me once that the best government was a monarchy, and the worst government was a monarchy.  Solomon was the wisest of the Biblical kings and expanded the wealth and prestige of his land without fighting wars.  His son was an idiot who fragmented the land and lost the majority of its territory.
“Democracy, by whatever flavor, trusts statistics and debate over wisdom.  But human nature still responds intensely to the image of the leader.  How many times have we latched on to the flawed leader, just because something in us believes in him?
“At this point in history, we have the right man, my father, the Emperor.
“The Empire today has a goal, the safety of humanity.  But in fifty years, or a hundred, the technology of teleportation will be absorbed and controlled and be no more dangerous than any other.  When that time comes, what will the security forces of the Empire be doing?  Spending all of their time and energy keeping the Empire in power, for power’s own sake?
“If history is any guide, that’s the way to bet.
“Rudy Ghest, do you think you could create a security force that could do better?  Think about it.  How would you institutionalize a sane and responsible force?  One that when you are gone, will still look to humanity’s own good?”
Rudy listened.  The boy would be a powerful leader some day.  It would be nice to be on that side.
“I can’t jump ship.”
James nodded.  “I didn’t expect you to, not yet.”
He tossed Rudy a little box with a button.
“When you press it, you will be back on your journey home.  Press it again, and we’ll talk some more.”
Papeete, Tahiti made a welcome new headquarters. 
The High Commissioner of Tahiti quickly followed Paris in recognizing the Empire.  
It was James who suggested that working in the sunshine was better for his health than inside a darkened cave.
Emperor Robert strode across the veranda of their newly acquired office building.  They had several offices, a radar complex being constructed on the roof for defensive alerts, and a lovely glassed-in command and control center.  All just a quarter mile from the marketplace.
We need several of these.  The computer screens didn’t have to be anywhere close to the real teleportation control hardware.  Maybe a dozen, spread out all over the world. 
A commando team could overrun this place in an instant, but it would do them no good.  He held the password, and a tap on his wristwatch could shut it down in an instant.
No one can take over control now, except maybe James. 
He smiled,  That’s how it should be.
A lean, serious young man in a gray uniform sat monitoring the status screen.
The Emperor put his hand on the back of the chair.  “How are you doing, Joseph?”
The man looked up from his screens.  “Sorry, your Majesty, I didn’t hear you enter.”  He prepared to stand.
“Stand down, Joseph.  I just wanted to see how the new software was working.”
“Fine, sir ... sire.”
“Oh drop the honorifics.  Do you mind if I drive for awhile?  Give you a break for a few minutes.”
“Of course, your ... of course.”  Joseph stood, and turned over the chair to the Emperor.  When the mouse began to fly over the screen, he realized he had been dismissed and left.
Bob watched him leave, and then activated a privileged control window.  
Admiral Forsythe was the last man on the island, and after nearly two weeks alone, a spotter had seen him heading for the Exit.
Once he was gone, he could move the crew that kidnapped Oriel from their confinement inside one of the hundred foot tall cavities in the Himalayas to the island.  If he could ever get an agreement with the United States, he would prefer to turn them over to the Philadelphia police along with evidence of their crimes.
I don’t want to be both High and Low Justice.  Let cities do what cities do, and nations do what nations do.
Being Emperor was a lot harder than he had imagined.
Bob glanced at the teleporter options.  He could override the selector in an instant and drop the man into Antarctica, or the middle of the Pacific.  His watch had picked up every word he had spoken.  How many times had the man suggested that others nuke this base?  How much blood was on his hands?
The Admiral was at the top of the ladder, and stepped into the exit chamber.
Every empire in history was built on blood.  Every last one.
Forsythe set the selector for North America, but paused.  He waited.
Can he sense me watching over him?
The mouse hovered over the options.  Just a click would remove this threat to his family, and to the world.
He shifted his mouse away, just before the Admiral clicked and landed flat on his face in a blackland field in Alabama.
Maybe tomorrow, I’ll have to do it.  But not today.  Not today.
James took a deep breath and said, “Dad, I can’t go back to high school.”
His father relaxed in the sun.  The swim in the bay had done him a world of good.  No one had noticed their arrival, so for the time, they could relax.
Dad had agents purchasing a number of secluded homes and resorts, most of them in friendly nations.  No one could watch them all.  Unlike any royal family before them, they could outrun the reporters.
James struggled to put his thoughts into words. 
“Well, for one thing, I have a lot to learn.  I need to learn things they don’t teach in a school where every teacher is named ‘Coach’.  I’ve got a dozen languages to learn, politics, philosophy.  I think I need to understand the theory of legal systems much better than I do now.  And history.  I need a ton of history.”
“It sounds like a lot of work.  Do you think you are up to it?”
“Oh yes.  I have to, don’t I?  It goes with the job.  It’s just like football practice.  Spend the time to get the results.”
“Have you picked out a school?”
James swallowed.  He didn’t know how Dad would take it.
“Um.  Several, actually.  The thing is, they are in Europe.  I can commute easy enough, but I’d rather avoid switching time zones all the time.”
“So you would prefer to live over there?”
James nodded, with a grin.  “It’s not like you’ll lose track of me.  And it would make the languages easier to learn.”
His father looked him in the eyes, “Paris, I assume?”
James felt his ears go hot.
“Well, yes.  Oriel knows this apartment complex....”
“Just one thing, James.”
“Yes, Dad?”
“Do you know who you are?  Deep down inside, do you know who you are?”
James thought a moment.  He had always thought he knew who he was.  
A series of embarrassing memories flashed by.  Who was that kid who only studied enough to stay on the team, and who was ready to be led on a merry chase by a pretty cheerleader?
Maybe he needed to have a nice, long, serious talk with Oriel.  He knew her dream.  She didn’t try to hide it.  And he had confidence that even if he decided to live in Texas, or Moscow, or Bombay, she would want to come with him.
But did she understand what his life would be?  How it would have to be, with the lives of billions of people riding on him?  She would have to, before they went too much farther.
He nodded to his father, the Emperor.
“Yes, Dad.  I know exactly who I am.”
“Then,” he waved his hand, “you don’t need me to tell you where you can live.”
“I understand.  Thanks Dad.”
The End

Friday, June 24, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 46 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

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?

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 45 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

“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?”
“Simple.  Africa.”
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.
“Yes Dad.”
“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?”
“Pretty close.”
“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.
“Dad!  Now!”
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.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Emperor Dad (Part 44 of 47)

© 2003 by Henry Melton

Oriel struggled to shake off the blackness, but her head ached, and there was this constant whine.
“She’s awake.”  It was a strange voice, yet familiar.
“Mes maux de tête.  Que continue ici?”
“Speak English.  We know you can.”
A woman was leaning over the back of the seats in front of her.  Je suis dans un avion.  Why was she in an airplane?
“Who are you?”
The woman let her pistol show in her hand.  “You don’t recognize me?”
The voice was familiar.  “Mrs. Hilbert?”  This was no old lady.  No older than her mother at least.
“Not really.  We’ve got the real Hilbert on ice.  I’m just the substitute you rescued instead.  Oh, but its good to be out of those wrinkles!”
Oriel tried to raise her arm, but she was shackled.  Chains connected her wrists to an iron ring in the floor.
Ma montre-bracelet est allée.
The faux-Hilbert said, “Missing your wrist-watch?  We have it.  With luck, our man is already in your base, and shutting down your short-lived empire.
“We knew it had to be the wrist-watch.  My lovely gold pendant was just a ruse, we know that.
“That Kurt Sommer was an idiot.  Our organization is a bit more sophisticated.  You never knew we had the pendant x-rayed and checked out, did you?  It had to be the watch, that lovely Lady’s Rolex Oyster quartz your people handed out like party favors at the rescue.”
She displayed it proudly on her wrist.  “The lab boys couldn’t keep it long, not when you were using it to keep tabs on me.  They didn’t think it did anything.
“Ah, but your watch!  I saw what you did.  Press a few buttons and blip across the continent.  What a lovely way to get out of a dull meeting.”  She showed her teeth.
Oriel let her babble.  Just wait until James pulled her out of here!  Then this dull person would see who was stupid.
“Oh, in case you are expecting to be rescued, don’t hold your breath.  We know what your weakness is.  We studied hundreds of reported teleportation events.  Every one was stationary location to stationary location.  You can’t teleport from a moving location.
“And this,” she tapped the wall.  “This is a C-141B Starlifter, with in-flight refueling already scheduled.  We can keep you moving forever.   Your Emperor can do nothing to save you.”
Oriel scowled.  My James will come for me.
They’re right.  James looked at the monitor window locked to the quartz oscillator in the fancy watch.  Oriel was moving at nearly 400 miles per hour.  If he stuck his hand through a portal to her, it would be ripped off.  If they pulled her out, she would still be traveling at jet aircraft speeds.
Nothing but sound and light could get through.
Bob muttered, “She is talking to us.”
His father shook his head.  “She’s not really talking to Oriel.  Why would she tell her all that detail?”
“To scare her.  She’s a nasty mean lady and likes to scare people.”
“No.  If they wanted to scare her, a vulnerable little French girl, they would get one of those big goons to do it, not a woman.
“And the details.  Some of it means nothing to Oriel.  Why did they tell her the exact type and model of plane?  It’s so we will know they aren’t bluffing.
“They’ve got her trapped, and we can’t get her free.  When they find out their assassin failed, they will tell us their ransom demands.”
James nodded.  Dad was right.  They would attempt to trade Oriel for access to the teleportation controls.
It was unthinkable.  These were the same people who poisoned Dad, and were ready to destroy his mind.  It would be evil of the worst kind to give them this power.
But he couldn’t leave Oriel in their hands.  What kind of backup plan did they have for her?  Torture her on the plane while they could do nothing but watch?
I could kill them all, except for the pilot.  It would be easy.  There were a dozen ways.  But to what extent are they willing to go?  That assassin trying to get into the base knew he was a human bomb.  Would this group just crash the plane for spite?  Until the plane was stopped, they could do nothing, and the black-suits would put a bullet through Oriel’s head before they lost that edge.
He looked at his father.  The man’s face was drawn.  For just a few hours, up on the mountain in the sunlight, he had looked good.  Now the stress had all come back.
Dad won’t trade for Oriel.  He can’t.  It would kill him, but he probably couldn’t even trade for me if I were in her place.  One life in exchange for the safety of the world—it was an impossible burden.
“I’ll just have to rescue her.”  
The Emperor asked, “How?”
“I don’t know yet.  But I will, or die trying.”
Diana called from her computer terminal, “The real Mrs. Hilbert is in Philadelphia.”
James walked over to look.
She was searching through records.  “Here it is.  They put her in the psychiatric wing under the name ‘Ruth Lamby’.  She supposedly has delusions that she is an Imperial agent.”
James nodded, “We’ll get her out.”
Bob said, “Wait until I check for bombs!  And we can’t bring her here.  Not now.  It’s too risky.”
James headed for his terminal.  “I’ll call Archer.”
“It is all my fault,” May Hilbert wept, once they transferred her to one of Archer’s seaside houses.
Empress Diana poured her a cup of tea.  “Nonsense.  Evil people don’t need you taking responsibility for their actions.”
She sniffed.  “But it is.  When the Emperor stopped taking my reports, I was afraid.  They were talking about arresting people on the television and I was afraid it would destroy my daughter to see me arrested.  I called the police, and those men in black suits came and got me.
“If I hadn’t weakened....”
Diana said, “They would still have come for you.  They were very efficient at locating our agents.”
She looked at the elderly lady with sadness.  “We should not have put you in this position, and I hope you will believe we would never have left you trapped like you were if we had known about it.”
She sniffed again.  “That hard woman.  She visited me and mocked the way I talk.  She pretended to be me?”
“Yes.  We just now discovered the truth.
“Don’t worry.  First Agent Archer here will get you a safe place to live and contact your family.”
Diana made her goodbye and whispered to Archer, “Take care of her, but make sure she sees nothing.  As of now, she’s retired.  I’m sure she’s innocent, but she weakened once.  We can’t afford it again.”
James moved his flying eye all through the plane, locating the crew and the black-suits.  The cargo/troop transport wasn’t outfitted with elaborate spy cameras or anything like that.  From everything he could tell it was just a plane somehow borrowed from a National Guard unit.
Oriel was crying.  It wrenched his heart inside.  He moved his viewport directly in front of her face.  She gave a gasp, and he moved it.
One of the guards got up and checked on her.
Oriel blinked the tears from her eyes and glared at him.
James looked the situation over.  I could get the shackles off of her, just like I removed Mom’s handcuffs.  As long as both sides of the portal were in the plane, flying at the same speed, there would be no problem.
“No!” cried Oriel as the guard injected her with something.  “No.”  Her voice drifted off.  They had drugged her again.
“Dad!  Can we get a jet plane of our own, and fly beside this one?  We could pull her across.”
His father sighed, “In a perfect world, yes.  But we don’t have a plane.  I thought of that.  We would have to hijack a plane and a crew.  They would have to be in the same part of the world as the C-141, because of the curvature of the earth.  We would have to trust that the pilot wouldn’t try something crazy, and we can’t, because we would be the hijackers.
“If only we had a friendly country, with an airforce, we might be able to try it.”
James said, “We’re running out of time.”
Bob snarled, “I know!”
Something jelled.
“Dad.  I know how to do it!”
“Tell me.”
“The curvature of the earth!”