The Ruth Scheme

Our lunch plans were nothing elaborate, just some cold cuts, cheese, crackers, cold drinks, and salad, but even those plans were about to change. I had forgotten the AWTS phone in my pocket and when it began to, 'rattle,' I was startled until I remembered what it was and pulled it out. "Hello."

"Good. I see you kept it with you," Frank said. "Just wanted to know if it was alright if Ned came along for lunch."

Of course we had been looking forward to a quiet talk with Frank, especially Sally, but if Frank wanted to bring Ned, there had to be a good reason.

"Of course. Please bring him along, Frank," I said. Then remembering Ned's prodigious appetite added, We'll just double the lunch order."

Frank laughed. "See you in about forty five minutes," she said, and was gone.

Ned arrived and was barely in before Frank was at the door. We all sat around the living room. It was obvious Frank and Ned had something to tell us. Ned spoke first.

"I have information that NatAlSec intends to arrest Ruth."

"When, I asked?"

"Soon, if they haven't already," Frank replied.

"In Holland?" I asked incredulously. "I thought the Dutch authorities had refused to arrest her. How can NatAlSec arrest her in Holland?"

Of course I had already been told some of this by Dempsey, but she had suggested I keep it to myself, but it was obviously common knowledge now.

"They can do whatever they want wherever they want," Ned said. "I have some friends ...," he started. "I've made some arrangements to get Ruth out, if we can reach her before NatAlSec does. Frank was going to arrange a private flight, but somehow NatAlSec has prevented any of her planes in Holland from flying."

"Frank doesn't have many planes in Holland," Sally said. "I have lots of them in Holland. Technically, none of them are my assets any longer, but there are more than a few of my contacts in Holland who will do anything I ask them. If all you need is a plane and a pilot, I can arrange it," she said confidently.

"I know you could have before NatAlSec had identified us all, but I don't think you could contact anyone in Holland today and not have it discovered."

Frank must have read my mind, because she said, "if we could use the AWTS, Sally could communicate with her contacts, but there aren't any AWTS in Holland yet. We have plenty to distribute, but no way to get them there at the moment."

"Maybe I could get some there," Ned said. "They don't seem to be looking for me.

"But they know who you are, Ned. You could never get them through customs. It would have to be someone posing as a distributor of cell phones or something like that."

We decided to have lunch, which was much quieter than most of our meals. Everyone was occupied with thinking of a way to free Ruth. In the end, we decided to leave the problem and discuss it again after Margo, Franz, Jo, and Peter had arrived.

That evening after everyone had arrived, which was everyone we referred to as Roger's circle except Ruth, Dempsey, Andrew, and Joel, Frank explained the situation with Ruth in Holland, including the things we had already discussed.

Someone blurted out a somewhat obscene description of NatAlSec, with which everyone agreed.

"Well one thing's for sure. At a time like this we all need to stick together," Franz said enthusiastically.

"What?!" Jo exclaimed.

"You know, Jo, 'One for all and all for one.' That way if they get any of us, they'll get us all, and we'll have the pleasure of being tortured together, perhaps even dying together—at least we'll be together—sharing. It's like being a family."

"I think the word is, 'team,'" Sally said, adding to the irony.

Ned seemed a little annoyed at Franz's sarcasm, perhaps thinking it was inappropriate to the actual gravity of the situation, but everyone else felt it as a kind of relief, and others joked about sharing each other's misery.

"There is a solution, though," Bill said.

Everyone remained silent, waiting for him to go on.

"NatAlSec is not looking for me or Sarah, and would not recognize us if they were. Dempsey arranged that. We could easily get AWTS anywhere we needed them. If Sally can arrange flights, we'll take as many AWTS to Europe as are needed."

"What about Roxanne and John?" Sally asked.

Bill looked thoughtful. "How long do you think it would take for us to fly there, make the necessary contacts, and fly back, Sally? Frank?"

"I'll want to discuss this with Ned, but I think it could be done in ten days maximum, maybe less," Frank said. "What do you think, Ned."

Ned said, "Yes, ten days will be plenty. It better be," implying what, I'm not sure.

"Then if they're willing, Roxanne and John can stay with us," Sally said, while looking at me for agreement, which she knew she had, because she knew how much I loved those children.

There was a strange silence after the agreement was made for Bill and Sarah to get the AWTS to Europe. Margo was the first to speak.

"What can I do!?" Margo asked with more serious intensity than anyone expected. "I love Ruth. I'd do anything to help her escape the clutches of NatAlSec."

"Me too," Peter Chimed in, followed by a chorus from the others complaining they felt helpless and wished there was something they could do."

"There's nothing else you can do. It is going to take some work to pull this off, and if there is more than Frank, Bill, Sarah, Ned, Mark, and I can handle, I'll welcome any help you care to provide, but I cannot possibly tell what that might be yet. I don't mean to sound ruthless, but please don't make what we have to do harder, especially for Bill and Sarah.

That was my Sally, the executive, speaking. As it turned out, everyone did help in one way or another, and everyone did do something to help save Ruth from the clutches of NatAlSec. How that all happened will have to be explained another time.

The remainder of that evening consisted mostly of Bill and Frank distributing AWTS units, which we pronounced like 'oughts,' to everyone. Everyone was taught how to use them, which was very simple. Every AWTS was assigned a name, the common name we all used for each other. Every AWTS had a very sophisticated recognition system for every other AWTS so there was no way to 'fake' a call to another AWTS without the source of the call being known.

Someone asked, I think it was Peter, the same question I had asked about how to pay for their AWTS. Bill made the same explanation he had made to me, and Frank confirmed it.

"You can't buy one right now. The first manufacturing run was two hundred, and I bought the entire lot. The ones you have are all mine, and you have them because I want you to have them. The present price, if you must know, is half a million each. You are welcome to buy your own after the next run. The price will be a little less, but not much.

"There are only a dozen of us, perhaps fourteen, if you count Dempsey and Andrew. Why did you produce two hundred AWTS on the first run?" Margo asked Frank.

"The AWTS aren't just for me to make gifts to my friends," Frank said. "We intend to market them and expect them to make a huge profit. We've already had requests for them from several sources, including some government sources, which we have no intention of selling them to. There is a huge market for secure communications, and the AWTS is just the first application of the technology," Frank explained.

Later, after everyone had left, Sally and I discussed a question we had discussed before, but Frank's revelation that there was government interest in the AWTS made us wonder if the answer to our questions was not in that.

We had discussed it with Ned.

"Ned, there is something that has been bothering us ever since that first NatAlSec raid that Dempsey put an end to. In all this world, there cannot be any people less dangerous to anyone else, much less any government, than any of us who were associated with Roger. I really do not understand why they are spending so much energy going after us."

Ned did not really have an explanation except to say, "it's because none of us need a government, and a government can only exist where people believe they need one. The very existence of anyone who does not need a government is seen as a threat to them."

That was a few months ago. Now Sally and I wondered if it was not the AWTS itself the government feared. If people were able to communicate with each other and it was impossible for any government to monitor that communication, a government would surely consider that a threat.

"But how could they even know about it?" Sal asked me.

"I don't know, Sal, but according to Frank they apparently do. If they know that, they must know who knows about the AWTS. I don't think Ruth knows very much about AWTS, but she is the most vulnerable at the moment, so they're going after her."

"It would be ironic if it's AWTS that is the reason Ruth is in danger, and AWTS that saves her," Sally mused.

"I'm rooting for irony, love," I said.

—Mark Halpern