“Mikel, why don’t we quit lying to each other?”
“I’m not gullible enough to believe that our meeting at the airport was pure circumstance. I know quite well that you’re here to watch me and to possibly kill me if I attempt to detonate the EMP device. Although that cock-and-bull story about being a security consultant was pretty good, and you’re certainly qualified to do that kind of work.
“I know I’ve been followed ever since I left England, although I feel sure I gave the MI‑6 guys a run for their money by going through Bermuda instead of coming through Canada.
“So how about we just be honest with one another and get all this cloak-and-dagger crap behind us so we can enjoy the city while we’re on somebody else’s nickel?”
Panghurst was so upfront about things, there didn’t seem to be much use in denying what was apparently so obvious.
“Wow, Armin. This is quite a surprise. I really thought we had you fooled but we should have known that someone with your experience would see through this little charade. You’re right about it all. I expect we’re being watched right now, either by someone else here in the restaurant or someone trying desperately to see us through the restaurant windows since you asked to be seated away from them.” I had to smirk a bit at that point, visualizing some agent trying to find a vantage point on the street to watch us while not being so obvious.
“Truth is,” I continued, “that I really hadn’t figured out how I was either going to stop you detonating the device or find out from you where it’s located. I’ve been playing this whole thing by ear ever since you got here.”
“No need, Mikel. I’ll let you in on a little secret. The whole thing’s a hoax!”
“C’mon, Armin. You don’t really expect me to believe that, do you?”
“Honest injun, as you Americans like to say. Oh, there was a device, but it’s not here. Never has been. Never will be.”
“Now I think you’ve reverted to lying, Armin.”
“Not a bit of it, ol’ boy. Here’s what happened.
“You’ve probably been told that Milikan and I both have grudges with our governments. This is true. And Milikan did set out to build this EMP device you’ve heard so much about, but it didn’t work. Well, it did work, in a way. Milikan managed to create a device that would fit into a suitcase. And it only weighed about fifty-five pounds. And it DID produce an EMP effect. But only to a radius of about fifteen feet. And it needed a constant supply of power to be able to do that. So, it never had the capability to take down a huge network, much less one with a five-mile radius.”
“Then how did the intelligence services pick up on this overblown story of its capabilities?” I asked.
“Milikan and I put out the story through clandestine sources where we knew it would eventually leak back to the higher echelons of government. And it worked. Everybody started going berserk. ‘Freaking out,’ as you would say.”
“But to what end? Why make up a fabrication like that without a purpose?”
“Oh, we had a purpose, all right. Frankly, our original intent was to do what the device was purported to do. The Brits and Russians are definitely on our shit list and we would have loved to bring them to their respective knees. But, when we found out that the device wouldn’t work, we came upon the idea of pretending that it did.”
“Because we knew that, even if we couldn’t create the havoc we intended, we could still make the governments and their intelligence services look stupid and incompetent by having them chase us around the world looking for something that didn’t exist. And they did — and it’s cost them a huge bundle doing so. We’ll win in the end anyway because Milikan’s experiments did create something, something that many governments will be trying to acquire, and they’re going to have to pay through the nose to get it. So Milikan will get rich anyway… and I’ll get a piece of it, enough to live in comfort for the rest of my life.”
“But why would the government — any government — want something that didn’t work?”
“Don’t you see, Mikel? It did work! At least on a small scale. And with enough money and personnel, it’s possible that someone can get it to work the way it was intended. Imagine how much leverage a government would have with a weapon like that. Something capable of paralyzing a country or government for a suspended period of time, with no physical property damage, no deaths or injuries, just a massive shutdown of everything electronic.
“And we’ll not only have our revenge by becoming rich. We’re also going to release all this data to Wikileaks so the whole world will know how two guys managed to dupe the most powerful governments on the planet.”
“No government would be likely to pay you for something like that after you’ve shamed them the way you describe.”
“Oh, we won’t spill it all until after we’re paid. And the information has already been placed in a way that it will be revealed regardless of what happens to us. So, we’ve got a bit of insurance as well.”
“Well, it seems you’ve got the whole thing planned out pretty well. If I can believe all this. But if it is all true, why did you bother to come all the way to Washington? You could have just leaked all this and bargained without going this far.”
“I wanted a vacation. And Milikan was willing to pay for it. And stretching out the whole caper simply sucked in more intelligence resources and made them expend more money trying to stop it.
“Call it ego or hubris or whatever, but we just wanted to see everybody sweat it out a bit longer. And it worked beautifully.”
“I guess it did. I can tell you that the locals have really been beside themselves for a while.”
“That’s good to know.”