Trigger Points

                                                                           Chapter 1

Late one night in April, Dr. Hugo Ris was rubbing his wife's sore back in their married bed. She often had stiff muscles after a long day's work, and Hugo's diligent massage had been saving her from having to take pain medication.

"A little higher, Hugo," she said. He moved his hands over her back and lingered at a spot near her waist where he thought he could feel some hardness.

"How's that, Elizabeth?" he asked.

"It's making me hungry! Move to the left!"

He stayed put. "Still making you hungry?"

"Yes, it's getting worse by the second!"

Dr. Ris, being a doctor, found this interesting. He reached for the pen he kept on his nightstand and drew an A on the spot, as best he could without looking.

"Ouch! What are you doing?" Elizabeth cried out.

"Who knows—I may have found the cure for anorexia. I don't want to lose the spot."

He continued rubbing Elizabeth, and, eventually, found another spot where he stayed for a while. It was his lucky night.

"You know what?" Elizabeth said after a while. "That's making my vagina wet."

Hugo took his pen again, drew a V on the second spot, and made passionate love to his wife.

Chapter 2

Dr. Hugo Ris was a gynecologist. All his patients were women. To the average guy, this might seem like a weird profession, but Hugo kept a strict personal distance to his patients. It may have helped that his wife Elizabeth was also his nurse and receptionist.

The morning after Hugo's interesting discovery, his first patient was one Mrs. Emma Smith who had come in for a regular check-up. There was nothing wrong with her, but, following the interview and the examination, she seemed reluctant to go just yet. Something was bothering her. Something that Dr. Ris couldn't have picked up, what with his liberal use of K-Y Jelly.

It turned out to be dryness of the vagina and problems with sexual arousal, a regrettably common complaint. Hugo came across it often, and he did his best to encourage his patients to be open about such matters. Treatment was difficult and success was rarely encountered, but to Hugo's credit we can report that he often managed to put his patients more at ease about talking the matter over with their husbands. Lately, however, many patients had seen advertisements for cures that they would ask Hugo to prescribe. The same pressure came from the drug representatives of the pharmaceutical industry: female sexual dysfunction was a fashionable new disease and the industry had invested billions into developing drugs to treat it with.

Dr. Ris disliked disease-mongering as a matter of principle. Enough people were sick already, but purely to increase profits, the industry was turning the healthy into patients and inflicting drug-related side-effects on them. Hugo called his wife over the intercom and asked her into the office.

"I need to see your back, Elizabeth," he said, "without your clothes on".

Elizabeth dutifully disrobed, and Hugo took a photo of her back, with the two spots marked "A" and "V" clearly visible. As Elizabeth returned to her receptionist's desk, the picture appeared on Hugo's computer screen.

Mrs. Smith now learned about Hugo's discovery of the night before, and Dr. Ris asked if he could try to identify the V-spot on her back—assuming that she had one. Soon enough, he found it just where the picture showed that it ought to be, and a blushing Mrs. Smith reported that it seemed to be working. With her permission, Dr. Ris drew a V on Mrs. Smith's back, and asked her to have her husband massage her there.

"Our daughter is anorexic," Mrs. Smith said, visibly pained. Could you look for the A-spot as well and mark it? I'll try to find it on my daughter's back and see if it could help her."

"Please let me know how it goes!" Hugo asked Mrs. Smith as she left.

Chapter 3

By October, word of mouth had brought Hugo dozens of new patients, and his discovery had become widely known. Despite his busy schedule, he managed to collect anecdotal evidence of close to a hundred women that had been helped by massage of their V-spots. It also was evident that the A-spot worked: some of Hugo's colleagues who dealt with anorexics had had virtual breakthroughs prescribing the simple home remedy of finding the spot and massaging it at mealtime.

Over the Halloween weekend, Hugo posted his results, along with the photo of Elizabeth's back, on his Web site and sent the link to a number of medical journals. A minor journal accepted his submission and published his research, with all the appropriate disclaimers for the limited data and the non-scientific methods. The cat was out of the bag.

A few days into November, the nation elected a dim-witted woman with verbal diarrhea President.* The shares of the defense and security equipment industries rose more in the following week that at any time since September 2001: more offensive patriotic wars and harsher anti-terrorist measures at home could be counted upon.

Soon after, the Supreme Court declared the first and fourth amendments of the Constitution unconstitutional. Seeing that those amendments impeded the right of business corporations to grow their profits by any means they chose, and being that corporations had already been deemed persons by the same court so as to allow them to give their election campaign contributions anonymously, those amendments infringed the Preamble of the Constitution. According to the Preamble, all men, i.e., persons, were created equal, and corporations could not be discriminated against. Statutes, even amendments to the Constitution, standing in the way of the corporations' pursuit of happiness had to be abolished. (In the case of corporations, happiness, naturally, meant bigger profits.)

Civil rights advocates had no further recourse. Freedom of speech and freedom from unreasonable searches no longer existed.

A week later, Hugo had a visit by the FBI. His practice was closed and cordoned off as a crime scene. His crime? Publishing information that endangered the profits of the makers of Lubigen, a hormone-based treatment for female sexual dysfunction. Following the publication of Hugo's article and the sensational coverage it had received in mass media, sales of Lubigen had simply ceased, and the manufacturer was suing Hugo for damages amounting to the five billion dollars it had sunk into research and market development of the drug.

The correctness or otherwise of the published information was not at issue; putting it in the public domain was a crime bordering on terrorism. The FBI took Hugo's computer along as evidence and went off to obtain an arrest warrant. Hugo took Elizabeth along and fled.


* PS: Following the necessary editing, we have been informed by our editor, a member of the fairer sex whose word carries great weight around here, that it's impolite to call a person "dim-witted." We shall therefore refer to the President-elect as "cerebrally challenged" instead.

PPS: Further editing has taken place, and "Cerebrally Challenged" has been rejected, as well. At a loss for words, we have consulted Roget's Thesaurus, and have now come up with "Restrictedly Erudite." We're crossing our fingers as the next editing round approaches.

PPPS: Whew! "Restrictedly Erudite" it is.


Chapter 4

Hugo Ris was not a rich man. He and Elizabeth were in their thirties; he had only recently paid off his debts from his student years. His practice, an extension to their home, lay in the north-east of DC, where it served an area not noted for its affluent residents. Hugo accepted patients enrolled in Medicare and Medicaid, forcing him to maintain artificially low rates. He and Elizabeth hadn't yet decided to have children.

Nevertheless, Hugo, at Elizabeth's insistence, had built up a small stash of emergency cash—a few thousand dollars—that he kept in the safe. As they packed some necessities into their car, they took the money and their passports with them. Late in the afternoon they were ready to leave. They would drive to Baltimore-Washington International Airport and get on the first flight to Mexico, typically to Cancun. From there on, they had no firm plans.

That was just as well. Turning into the airport approach road, they heard Hugo mentioned on the radio: he was a wanted man. There was no way they could get on a plane anymore.

Hugo followed Elm Road back out of the airport again. "They'll be looking for our car," he said.

"Drive in there!" Elizabeth said, pointing at the long-term parking lot. Soon, they emerged with their luggage and a parking token. Elizabeth led the way to the nearest car rental company.

Elizabeth, not being on the wanted list, rented a compact car without difficulties. She didn't record her husband as a second driver, so he didn't figure anywhere in the computer transaction. She was soon driving north along the I-195 and I-695, after which she continued on the I-83 toward Harrisburg. Snow started falling.

By the time they crossed into New York State, the snow fall was a blizzard. The car, with its front-wheel drive, was handling very well, however. With traffic slowing down and often stopping, it was the dead of night when they finally came to Niagara Falls and the border. Only Hugo had managed to get a little sleep; Elizabeth had done all the driving.

"Why are you coming to Canada?" the friendly, but very alert Canadian Border Services agent asked.

"To experience winter," Elizabeth answered. There was no disputing that.

"Is this your car?" asked the agent. He was looking at his computer screen, where the car rental company was listed as the owner.

"No, it's a rental car," Elizabeth answered.

"Drive carefully," the agent said, and let them pass.

"Now what?" Hugo asked.

"London," Elizabeth replied.

"That's a long way to go." Hugo stated the obvious.

"Sheila and Anthony live in London, Ontario," Elizabeth said. "London, England may come later, who knows."

Chapter 5

By breakfast time, they were in London. Anthony, opening the door, was happy to see them, but not overly surprised.

"You're wanted by Interpol now," he told Hugo over breakfast. "It was on the morning news."

Elizabeth was already sleeping. Hugo couldn't think of any new ideas. He wasn't going to turn himself in, but how to continue his flight without endangering any of his friends was unclear.

Sheila had it worked out, however. "Go to Montreal today and take a flight to Paris. It takes Interpol a couple of days to translate a wanted notice, so Quebec and France won't know about it for a while. Once you're inside the European Union, nobody tracks your movements. Then you'll have some time to plan for your future."

As it turned out, they didn't get to Montreal that day. Elizabeth hadn't been able to get up early enough, and she still insisted on driving. If they were stopped, only the driver had to show identification. Their chances of getting through were a lot better that way.

Late that night, they came to a small Quebec town by the water. There was no point in continuing: all flights for Europe had already left. Elizabeth stopped at the police station and went inside to ask about accommodation. As expected, there was no search on for her. A hostel was to be found just a few blocks further along the road.

An old woman, dressed in black, welcomed them and offered them a room for the night at a bargain price. They brought their luggage into the room and Hugo was ready to turn in for the night. But his wife wouldn't let him.

"We have to take a look around. You always have to know where the fire escapes are! Anyway, the bathroom is down the hall, and you need a shower!"

Their room was two flights up. Standing in the hallway, Elizabeth got a queasy feeling about the place.

"This looks like an institution of some kind! A converted hospital or something. The fire escape must be at the end of the hallway there."

The fire escape was barred and locked. Turning around, Hugo remembered something he had seen before.

"This has been a mental institution. Every section can be sealed off. Let's look around some more!"

They took the elevator back to the lobby. Everything was quiet; the old woman wasn't there. They found the kitchen, a huge space with equipment to feed large numbers of people at a time. Here there was activity: staff were getting ready to prepare dinner. But for whom? Hugo and Elizabeth were the only guests.

Returning to the lobby, they found the old receptionist, now all decked out in a black evening gown and looking like something out of a horror movie. She paid no attention to Hugo and Elizabeth: she was busy welcoming dinner guests, all dressed up in black. Half the town's adults may have been there. Elizabeth recognized the senior policeman among them. He looked at her and Hugo and licked his lips. He had two husky-looking constables with him, also in black dress uniforms, but otherwise ready for service with nightsticks, handcuffs, tasers, side arms, and two-way radios.

"Wonder what they're celebrating?" Hugo said.

"The fact that they have only one occupancy!" Elizabeth replied. "We're out of here!"

They returned to their room, collected their luggage, and hurried to the elevator. It didn't come. They got into the staircase and ran down the stairs. Crashing into some black-clad stragglers they emerged into the street, threw their bags into the car, and drove off east.

"I think we just narrowly escaped being served for dinner!" Hugo said. Elizabeth just loved the way he always stated the obvious.

They got to Montreal in the wee hours of the morning and caught forty winks in the car. They had no problems buying tickets to Paris: their credit cards still hadn't been cancelled. Later that day, they were on their way. Nobody recognized them, and they got some sleep, which is always useful when you cross the Atlantic from west to east. (You think you're just watching an evening movie, but soon after it ends, you're in Europe, and you've missed a whole night's sleep. It can knock you out for days.)

Chapter 6

In La Celle-Saint-Cloud west of Paris lived a doctor Hugo had met during a conference. They had stayed in touch, and Elizabeth had recently sent the doctor and his family a Christmas card. Hugo and Elizabeth had a standing invitation to come and stay with Dr. Joubert, and, unusually enough, the doctor had insisted that he didn't even need to be warned ahead of time. That morning, the Rises took him up on his offer.

"Dr. Hugo Ris, my hero!" Pierre Joubert exclaimed as he opened the front door. "And your charming wife Elizabeth! I'm so glad you're here. According to the news, you're as good as caught!"

"That's a slight exaggeration," Hugo mused, "but it does seem that they're close behind."

"All my patients want you declared a saint. Please come in and join us for breakfast!"

Dr. Joubert soon had to go off to work: he ran a practice like most doctors do. Mireille, his wife, continued discussing the Rises' plans—it was obvious that they couldn't just settle where they were. Mireille thought that their first priority ought to be a car.

"You're welcome to use our second car while you're here, but for continuing your trip, you really need one of your own!"

"We could buy a used car, but it has to be registered to us as owners, and then we're caught," Elizabeth replied.

The radio newscast reported that the US government had frozen Hugo's and Elizabeth's assets and closed their bank accounts and credit cards.

"All twenty-eight dollars and eighty-three cents of assets," Hugo chuckled. "I checked the bank account at the departure lounge, and the bank had just finished paying all the bills, including the last car loan payment. So the car is ours, but it's stuck at BWI."

"But then you can have it sent here!" Mireille exclaimed. "US Customs only want to know that you own the car outright; there are no other limitations and no fees other than shipping for exporting your own car. We had our second car sent here by ship after the year we spent in the States. It's weird, but you can drive a car with US license plates in Europe for years without being challenged, if you don't want to reregister it immediately. It really is your safest option. With European license plates, you'd be spotted by the first speed camera you'd pass. But they're programmed to recognize European plates and will ignore those from elsewhere."

Chapter 7

"The first thing we do," wrote Shakespeare, "let's kill all the lawyers." Not so fast, we'll have to write here; not so fast.

Contrary to urban legend, there are good, generous, and upright lawyers out there. Hugo's solicitor was one of these, and also his old classmate from school days. He was Hugo's friend. According to a true old definition, a friend is someone a man can trust with his life, his money, and his wife.

It seems that the National Security Agency or NSA—long known as No Such Agency—misses out on some forms of Internet telephony, while it has all other communications links in this world covered. With the help of the Jouberts' daughter and Information Technology support person, Hugo later that day established a secure phone link to Alexander, his lawyer. The arrangements for shipping the car were soon made, and to minimize the number of intermediaries that needed to know about the transaction, Alexander would drive the car to the ship's agent in the Baltimore harbor himself. The parking token and the car keys soon were on their way by express mail, and a few days later the car was on board.

So far, so good. They all agreed that the Rises ought to continue east and out of the EU: they were, for all practical purposes, refugees from a country that persecuted people everywhere for practicing free speech, and they wouldn't be able to return home in the foreseeable future. As long as they remained in Europe, they had to hide: if they were caught, every EU member state would, in the end, have to observe its obligations within the Interpol framework and have them extradited to the States.

During the next three weeks, Hugo and Elizabeth volunteered their time at a dilapidated clinic in Seine-Saint-Denis east of Paris, a development for poor immigrants. They discovered both misery and determination, and won the respect and trust of their patients. Before specializing in gynecology, Hugo had done a stint with the Army in Iraq, and had learned Arabic on the side. Here at the clinic, he was surprised by not understanding the locals, as they spoke the North African version of the language. Soon, however, Hugo figured out the differences and became fluent in Maghreb Arabic.

Then the Web site of the Port of Le Havre reported the arrival of the ship carrying their car. They packed their luggage, said good-bye to the Jouberts, and took a train to Le Havre. A cab drove them to the harbor.

With little difficulty, they obtained the keys to their car and the container it was packed in, and set out to find the container. A gypsy boy, perhaps ten years old, was riding about on his bicycle with a crowbar on the rack behind him. Nobody paid him any attention; he seemed to be tolerated, perhaps on the assumption that everybody had to make a living somehow. He had already been at the Rises' container: the padlock was gone and their key was no longer needed.

Nothing was missing from the car, although it was unlocked according to the shipping agent's requirements. Alexander had followed the directions literally and had left nothing save the jack in the car. Elizabeth and Hugo stowed their luggage and drove off, happy to be in their own car again. As they left the fenced harbor area, the gypsy boy was talking on his cell phone near the gate.

The car, a rather old Sport Utility Vehicle, handled well on the slushy road. They were driving at a good clip along the E05 toward Paris, when a large truck caught up with them and began passing. Elizabeth, who was driving, started thinking of the Gypsy boy and his cell phone, and kept a keen eye on the truck. Almost on cue, the truck veered right into her way, trying to force her off the road.

Elizabeth braked hard and drove through the short gap between two stretches of guard rail along the right side of the road, down the bank, and onto a smaller road that crossed the freeway through an underpass. Hugo caught a glimpse of the truck driving its right front wheel up on the rising guard rail leading to the bridge over the crossing road and toppling over on its left side. They didn't have the nerve to stop to catch their breath, but continued their trip along smaller roads.

"Should we go back to the Jouberts to make plans? Hugo asked.

"No way!" Elizabeth replied. "If the CIA had to use such clumsy methods to get rid of us, all they knew was that we'd come and pick up the car. They can't have known where we were staying. If we go back, the Jouberts will be in danger."

"Let's go to the clinic then," Hugo said.

They arrived in Seine-Saint-Denis after dark. A riot was beginning. The young immigrant men in developments like this, excluded from society and with no possibility for a job, easily become destructive. While the women have their careers set out for them—being wives and mothers, often in polygamous marriages—unemployment among France's young men of immigrant descent can be as high as 80 per cent. These men already have poor prospects at school, and can't even get to a job interview because of their names. So they smash up shop fronts and burn cars, and get beaten up by the police.

The crowd turned on the unfamiliar car now arriving and started throwing stones at it. Hugo stuck his head out the window, ducked for a brick that hit the side of the car, and shouted in Arabic: "I'm Dr. Ris! Let us through to the clinic! People are going to get hurt here!"

The youth who had thrown the brick came up to him. Well educated and articulate, he said in English, "Sorry for that, Dr. Ris! I didn't recognize your car."

He then walked in front and cleared the way for them. As they drove into the private parking lot of the clinic and closed the gate behind them, the riot squad moved in. They were soon very busy.

Chapter 8

Hugo and Elizabeth were driving east on the E50. They passed Metz and soon crossed the German border. They didn't stop; they were inside the Schengen area and expected no border controls until leaving it someplace in the east of Central Europe.

Hugo was driving; Elizabeth kept a look-out. Shortly after the border, a black van with dark windows merged onto the freeway behind them. Elizabeth recognized it as an American-built vehicle like those you see all the time going about the government's business in DC. Here, it could only have come from a US diplomatic mission. As it drew closer, she could see that it had consular license plates.

The van continued shadowing them. There would have been no point in randomly leaving the freeway: on a smaller road; their end would only have come sooner. Hugo continued toward Frankfurt.

At the last possible moment, Hugo turned onto the off-ramp to road 62 going south. As the van swerved and slowed down to follow them, Hugo immediately turned off again onto a small local street, and then made a sharp left. The driver of the van didn't see this maneuver, overshot the turn-off, and continued on road 62. While the driver tried to figure out how to get back on their tail, Hugo continued into the town of Landstuhl, where he made a couple of right turns. After about five miles back out of town again, they came to the entrance of the US military hospital at Landstuhl. The van was nowhere to be seen.

Hugo scanned his old Army doctor badge, and Elizabeth waved her nurse's ID from DC General Hospital. When you do this kind of thing with the right attitude, practically any official-looking ID will do the job. They were inside. There now was some breathing space.

Hugo found covered doctors' parking, hoping to stay out of sight of satellites. Elizabeth went to the back of the car that had been easy to reach from the door of the shipping container, crawled underneath, and reemerged with a tracking device.

"That Gypsy boy did more than just make a phone call. This is how they kept track of us. Had we gone back to La Celle-Saint-Cloud, the Jouberts would have been arrested for hiding us. The only reason they didn't get us at the clinic was that they didn't dare come there."

Then Elizabeth put the device under another car parked there. When, eventually, that doctor got off his 36 hour shift, he was nearly killed before the CIA realized its mistake. He never got an apology, nor would he, a patriotic American, have believed that it was his own government, spending his tax money and acting on behalf of a pharmaceutical company that had always treated him so well, that had tried to force him off the road and to his death.

They entered the hospital and made themselves at home. Then a computer-generated voice paged Hugo over the PA system. Only the person being paged ever listens to these messages; no human being was yet aware of his presence. We'll take a moment to consider how that computer came up with his name.

When Hugo had scanned his ID badge, the access control system had recognized him as staff and had recorded his presence on the base. Then it had sent a note about this fact to the physician scheduling system that had retrieved his qualifications and begun checking for tasks to assign him to. Everything had gone as it was designed to work.

But next, the access control system had sent another note to the payroll system so it could keep track of Hugo's hours and see if he was due overtime in the case that he stayed on duty more than the required 36 hours. The payroll system, however, had been correctly updated years ago when Hugo had left the service: the Pentagon wouldn't have made the mistake of continuing his pay after he had quit. So the payroll system sent an error message to the access control system, which didn't recognize such a rare message and crashed.

A critical computer system like an access control system, run by the security department, is built with automatic restart and recovery, and within seconds, it was up and running again. It had recovered its database from the last backup, which was only a couple of minutes old. But now, Hugo's arrival was missing from that database. So when the spooks turned up ten minutes later, Security had no record of anybody named Hugo Ris being present at the hospital. This delayed the goons for another ten minutes while they located the car and argued with Security about the sloppy procedures the base used. We can guess at how enthused Security was about the search of the premises that the CIA demanded.

Meanwhile, the Rises hurried to the operating room Hugo had been called to. A little later, they both were in sterile gowns and breathing masks. The patient was a severely injured soldier fresh from Afghanistan, and the operation took a long time. The CIA assassins were searching all over, but they didn't realize that they would have needed to unmask every surgeon and every nurse in the operating theaters to find their prey.

When the operation on the soldier was finished, the spooks had gone. A furious Security manager had shredded every copy of the picture of Hugo they had handed out to his staff. Without anybody bothering them, Elizabeth and Hugo had dinner and continued their work to save lives and mend broken limbs.

Chapter 9

Two days later, overworked but relaxed, Elizabeth and Hugo were on the E50 again. It led east toward Nuremberg. Elizabeth asked Hugo, "Where are we going?"

Hugo, reading the map, wasn't sure. "If we continue like this, we'll be in Russia before we have some hope of being left alone. Do we want to live there?"

"Not until there's free speech in Russia," Elizabeth answered and turned south on the E45 toward Munich.

It was late in the day, and the closer they got to Munich, the clearer it became that they didn't want to go there. They needed a place for the night, but it wouldn't be a hotel in a big city. In Germany, you're much better off in a Gasthaus in a small village: it's friendly, comfortable, and inexpensive.

Elizabeth turned off the freeway well before Munich and navigated on intuition like women do. Indeed, they came to a village and found a place to stay: a four-star family-owned hotel that turned out to be something of a sensation.

Apart from luxury accommodation and a gourmet restaurant, the hotel had a vast pool and spa section with every type of steam bath mankind is heir to. There was massage and solariums, whirlpools and a gym. Apart from the perfection of it all, there was just one curious thing: nobody used a bathing suit and all the bathing facilities were common for men and women.

Once they got used to this, the Rises found out that the hotel acted as a kind of hideaway for mostly rather prominent people. A doctor recognized Hugo from his portrait in the medical journal that had published his research, and he and Elizabeth were celebrated as the heroes of free speech that they were. Their stay was congenial, and when, eventually, they left, the hotel refused to accept payment.

Since both the owning family and their circle of patrons are very happy if the hotel isn't overrun by tourists, we'll refrain from giving further driving directions here. So if the reader really wants to go there, it's best simply to use intuition.

Crossing the Austrian border, the Rises stopped at a toll booth. In Austria, you pay for using the freeways, and there's a sticker called a vignette that you have to buy and place inside your windshield as proof of payment. Our travelers didn't know this. The man in the toll booth spoke only German.

So here we have Elizabeth, tired from driving, in the car, and an Austrian federal official in his toll booth explaining the requirement for a vignette, in German. Elizabeth spoke no German. The exchange, if it ought to be so called, became both loud and frustrated: Elizabeth figured that she had to pay and wanted it over with, but the man had to make the whole system clear to her, with all the options for how long her vignette was to be valid and what it was going to cost. In the end, he gave up, took Elizabeth's open wallet, removed a ten euro bill from it, and handed her back the wallet, a ten day vignette, and 2.10 euros change, with a long tirade in very irritated German.

At this stage, Elizabeth flipped. Waving the wallet and the vignette, she repeated the whole harangue, in pure gibberish but with a distinct Austrian accent, exactly as the man had delivered it, finishing with a perfect Nazi salute and a Heil Hitler. Leaving a gaping Austrian toll booth official behind, she drove off while Hugo nearly wet his pants laughing. He didn't stop until they came to the Italian border. ("Hitler was Austrian!" Elizabeth defended herself.)

Their drive south along the eastern seabord of Italy was peaceful and relaxing. They still didn't have a plan for the long term, but here nobody seemed to be bothering them. Toward evening, after a couple of days' drive, when they had just convinced each other that Italy was so inefficient that they would be perfectly safe settling there, a police car behind them turned on its siren.

Unbeknownst to the Rises, the Interpol wanted notice for their scalps had been augmented with the license number of their car. The State Police officers driving behind them had made a routine check on the unusual license plate ahead and had struck gold.

Elizabeth would never even have considered just stopping and giving herself up in such a situation. She stepped on the gas and put a good distance between herself and the cops. Speeding was added to her list of sins. Abruptly, she turned left off the road and drove down an unpaved lane toward the beach. Hugo groaned: they were on a dead-end road with the cops behind them. Then he saw the police car stopping and parking on the side of the highway.

Chapter 10

Out of sight of the police cruiser, at the far end of the beach, Elizabeth stopped the car. There was nobody there; they had nowhere to go. There we're going to leave the Rises for a moment: we will now discover how the law operates in those parts.

In southern Italy social power rests with clans and their leaders, not with the authorities. Society is governed by a rigid set of conventions. The family comes before everything else. Nobody discusses family business within earshot of a stranger. Nothing unseemly concerning the family must be perceived outside it: you never show la brutta figura, as they say. Good jobs pass from father to son, from uncle to nephew. And Italy's gifted youth is leaving the country in droves for better prospects elsewhere.

In the area where we left the Rises, there was an unwritten agreement between the local chief of the State Police and his distant cousin, the local don. The police cars stayed on the state roads; the families took care of open issues in the areas around them. Thus, the officers that had been chasing the Rises had to radio their headquarters and request permission to drive down to the beach.

When the request reached the police chief he instantly realized the unique opportunity for a brilliant coup for his force and for favorable, perhaps even worldwide publicity. He had the officers instructed to continue patrolling the road in the area and to be ready to go to the beach at short notice. Then he grabbed a decorative bottle of expensive wine that he kept at the ready for just such an occasion, and left his office. He popped into the delicatessen nearby; bought one of the luxurious baskets of fruits, nuts, chocolates, and pastries the shop specialized in; and got into his car.

At the mansion of the don, the police chief asked for an urgent meeting. Obviously, he couldn't have phoned ahead to make his request: it would have been impolite. The don saw him immediately, sampled the presents over pleasantries, and was informed of the situation and the need to send a patrol down the lane to the beach.

For the police chief, this kind of excitement was unusual. He had a vital interest in a long, uneventful career in his highly visible job. The don shared this interest: he would not have wanted to see his cousin replaced with an outsider. So he sincerely wanted the chief's operation to succeed. There was just one small problem: he had an event of his own taking place at that beach this particular evening, and the presence of the State Police would be an unacceptable disturbance. So he promised to have the chief called as soon as his people were finished, wished his visitor well, and went back to his work.

At the beach, the stillness was broken by a small ship, evidently with a very shallow draft, approaching and coming within fifty yards of the shoreline. There it hove to, while a number of people got into the chest-deep water and waded ashore. Babes in arms were held high: there were young families among the illegal immigrants. Once on the beach, the people gathered for instructions from a man who seemed to act as leader, and wandered off in the direction of the lane.

The leader noticed Hugo and Elizabeth and came over to talk to them, accompanied by his wife and children. It turned out that they were Iraqi Christians fleeing the persecutions in their country. The man's name was Khalil Ibrahim, and he spoke fluent English. He asked where the Rises were going, and Elizabeth told him that they had nowhere to go: they were on the run.

Khalil took a better look at them and recognized Hugo from the news reports. Instantly, he got out a cell phone and dialed a number. It was the number of the captain of the ship that had brought him there.

"Come back!" Khalil told the skipper. "There's somebody who needs a lift out of here. A man and a woman with a car. You have the gear to get the car on board!"

He had been overoptimistic. The skipper had no interest in the matter. Let strangers look after themselves.

"It's the doctor who discovered the trigger points!" Khalil exclaimed. "Please get them out of here! The cops are waiting for them!"

The Albanian skipper, Enver, may not have been a compassionate man, but he most definitely was a man of honor. With all the wealth he had made as a human trafficker and with all the Western luxuries he had got his family, his fashion-conscious teenage daughter had developed a true disease of civilization, anorexia. She was now on the mend, and only thanks to Hugo's and Elizabeth's discovery of the A-spot. Consequently, Enver had a debt of honor to pay, and at that moment, there was no higher priority for him.

He drove his ship as close to the beach as it would go. There still was a gap of forty yards. Hugo was ready to start wading, but Elizabeth yelled, "I'm not leaving the car!"

She got in, started the car, and drove out into the darkening surf until the engine died. Elizabeth turned off the ignition and the light switch, buried her face in her hands, and wondered if the car would ever start again.

The ship's crew arranged lines around the car and hoisted it on board. Hugo said good-bye to Khalil and his family and waded out. He got Elizabeth and himself on board without problems. Only now the ship was stuck on the bottom and couldn't be moved.

Meanwhile, the don's people had arrived and had begun processing the immigrants. Girls over ten, young women whether married or not, and pretty boys were put on a bus and taken to brothels. Babies were taken from their mothers and given to bewildered husbands who had no idea of what to do with them. The remaining immigrants were herded into two trucks and sent off on a long drive to distribute them to sweatshops.

To lure them to Europe, they had been promised refugee status, language training, welfare payments to get them started, and work permits for legal jobs. They ended up slaves who would never see freedom again; they were to be worked to death and needed no sick insurance; they had given their life's savings and would never again be paid.

But Khalil and his family were still at the other end of the beach when the vehicles drove off. Shortly after, the State Police arrived, expecting to catch the Rises. Instead, they found a genuine refugee family that knew nothing of anybody in an American-registered car. While Enver maintained total silence and all lights out on his ship, the police drove off into the night. Khalil eventually got European residence for himself and his family; they got language training, start-up money, and jobs. That's the way it was supposed to be.

Chapter 11

About an hour later, the tide lifted Enver's ship free of the sand, and they set their course east, to Albania. The car was soon repaired—in those parts, such skills are in ample supply, and the car was old enough to be fixable by all-round mechanics. It was fitted with a pair of left-over Albanian license plates and issued with an authentic-looking Albanian title document. Elizabeth and Hugo now had the dubious honor of the protection of one of the most powerful crime bosses in all Albania and Kosovo, with connections all the way up into the governments. This blissful state lasted them all the way to Skopje in Macedonia, and it didn't hurt at all while driving through Bulgaria, where such references are still valuable.

Crossing the Turkish border was a serious challenge, however. Turkey is a member of both NATO and Interpol. Theoretically, the Rises wouldn't have been able to drive through the country.

At the border crossing, Hugo chose a lane served by a middle-aged female official. While readily admitting a total lack of the female type of intuition, Hugo had long acquaintance with women's feelings and expressions. He picked this particular woman because of some kind of gleam in her eye.

"I'm doctor Hugo Ris," he introduced himself, handing the lady their passports. "The CIA wants me for speaking the truth."

"You saved my marriage, Dr. Ris," the woman answered, handing him back the passports with the required visas. "May Allah bless you and your wife a thousandfold."

They were driving east on the E80, a road that begins in Portugal, goes through Spain, France, Italy, and the Balkans, traverses the breadth of Turkey, and ends up at the border crossing to Iran. Thus, Iran was their next priority, and in Istanbul, they popped into the Iranian Consulate-General and applied for visas.

The Consul wanted to talk to them before approving the visas. With Americans, one had to be careful: their objectives with visiting Iran had to be clear so as to avoid the spectacle of having them suspected of espionage.

"We're refugees," Dr. Ris explained. "Our government wants to arrest us for speaking the truth. You'd think Iran would be willing to protect us."

The consul could see the attraction of the situation, perhaps with a kind of publicity that his government would be very pleased with. He wanted to warn the Rises, however.

"There is the possibility of problems when driving through Iran. Some Iranians don't think very kindly of Americans."

"So far," Elizabeth said, "people everywhere have protected and helped us. Only the CIA is trying to harm us."

The Consul was satisfied, and they were told that their visas would be ready within a week. That gave them some time to tour Turkey and apply for visas for Pakistan and India. They got a fuel card for Iran, where gasoline and diesel fuel are rationed, and the required paperwork for the car for the three countries. Eventually, they were on the road again.

Some days later, after a relaxing drive through Turkey, they were drawing close to the border. To their left, a snow-clad mountain complex rose toward the sky.

"Mount Ararat," Hugo said, pointing at the beautiful sight.

"A for Ararat, B for blackguards," Elizabeth replied, indicating the van behind them with her thumb. "C and D for come on, dirtbags!"

She turned left onto a small road leading right up into the foothills.

"E for Excellent," Hugo hissed between his teeth. "I think we'll quit before we get to F."

The van was following, but started falling behind as the road got worse. Elizabeth kept on driving, and the road soon was just a track. Then it ended, but Elizabeth still drove upward. In fact, she was now driving on a glacier. Far below, they could see the van, still trailing them.

Then the glacier rose up tens of feet in front of them, with a steep ice wall on the left and a precipice on the right. That was as far as they could go. The drive had been easy with a four-wheel drive car, and wouldn't be too difficult for a large van. The assassins would soon catch up with them.

A fierce wind blew up. Snow was being dislodged from the ice wall on their left, while the car rocked from the gusts. Then they saw wood being uncovered as the snow disappeared. Soon a huge timber door could be seen, large enough for an elephant to pass through. A giraffe would have had to duck its head, though.

"Open Sesame!" Elizabeth yelled.

The wind pushed on the door, and it rose a little, while its top moved back. Hugo and Elizabeth jumped out of the car and started lifting the bottom of the door. With a loud creak, it opened enough for the car to pass through. Elizabeth drove it in, and Hugo put his weight on a rope that hung from the bottom of the door. It closed again, and he threw shut the two latches on the sides. The car headlights illuminated the cavernous hold of a huge wooden ship.

"So Noah invented the rigid up and over garage door," Hugo mused. "Someone will have to update Wikipedia, it seems."

Outside, they could hear the engine of the van. The goons had followed the Rises' tracks in the snow, and those tracks led in through the door. There was no doubt about where the fugitives were. They assaulted the door, but it didn't budge. One of the spooks let go a clip from his automatic weapon into the door. It didn't even vibrate. Loud cursing could be heard outside. The van was being backed up to ram it into the door.

But the noise of the shooting had awakened the mountain. The racket of it had positively infuriated Mt. Ararat. Thousands of feet above the van, he wrinkled his brow into great folds of snow that launched a huge avalanche. Hugo and Elizabeth heard a low, loud rumble that reverberated inside the Ark. Just as the driver of the van put it into gear to drive it into the door, the avalanche swept it and the lot of the assassins into the chasm behind them. The van would never be found.

Since all was quiet outside, Hugo turned the latches and pushed the door open again. Elizabeth drove out and stopped the car on the trail going down the glacier. She got out and hugged Hugo. Then they closed the door behind them.

"Thank you, Father Noah!" Hugo shouted up into the mountain.

His voice started a small avalanche well above them and to the side. "Fa-therr Arr-arr-at!" the mountain answered. The reverberations dislodged a number of rocks and ice blocks closer to the Rises. "Father Noah is upstairs!"

"Thank you, Father Ararat!" Elizabeth yelled.

More ice rumbled down. "You're welcome!"

The blocks of ice tumbled over the ledge beyond their track and thousands of feet down. One of the blocks smashed in the skull of the only surviving, badly injured spook just as he had got his satellite phone out and was beginning to dial his station to call in his report.

Elizabeth and Hugo got back into their car and fastened their seat belts. The wind picked up and became a mini-tornado that swept up the snow left in their way by the avalanche and plastered it over the Ark door until it could no longer be seen.

"Oh well," Hugo muttered, "forget about Wikipedia."

Elizabeth drove down to the E80 again and continued east. Soon they entered Iran and were on road 32.

Chapter 12

Iran celebrated Dr. and Mrs. Ris wherever they stopped. In Tehran, the President received them and had the world press there to witness how well his country treated these Americans who had had to flee their country because of its lack of freedom of speech. People took them in, fed them, and heaped gifts on them. The Rises almost felt tempted to stay, but they never forgot that Iran didn't allow free speech, either.

The assassins didn't bother them at all in Iran. This was natural: the CIA's network there is thin, and any attempt on the Rises would have put that network at risk.

Nearing the border with Pakistan, Hugo and Elizabeth stopped for a picnic on some of the luxurious food and sweets they had received where they had spent the previous night. It was a wildlife area by the coast, and a beautiful place to stop.

Suddenly, a large bird fell to the ground some way to the south of where they were. A few seconds later, another bird dropped out of the sky.

"Is it hot, or is it me?" Elizabeth asked.

"Quick! Get in the car!" Hugo yelled. They were inside within seconds.

Hugo got out the first-aid bag and took his wife's temperature. It was elevated, but not dangerously.

More birds thumped to the ground all around them. After a while, the thuds moved north and became more distant. Hugo relaxed a bit.

"That's the new microwave weapon!" he said. "Had we stayed outside, we'd be dying now; our blood would have coagulated. The metal body of the car protected us: it acts as a Faraday's cage.

"Remember the publicity last year when whole flocks of birds fell out of the sky in Arkansas, Louisiana, and Sweden? A lot of dead fish washed ashore all over the world. That's how they tested the weapon. I believe it's a satellite with a powerful nuclear reactor and a microwave dish that they can aim anywhere along the satellite's orbit. It came in from the south; then it would have been kept focused on us for as long as possible, until it was too far away and was turned off again to the north of us.

"This is the scattergun approach of the Pentagon: kill all life in an area and report the body count as enemy combatants. In Vietnam, they used napalm; this weapon is unknown and invisible, and they can hope to avoid the negative publicity.

"We'll avoid spending time outside until we come to populated areas. They probably won't use it on us where they'd kill large numbers of people in the process; that would give them away."

Their food was hot in its basket; they brought it into the car and salvaged what they could. Soon after, they crossed into Pakistan and continued along the road to Quetta.

Chapter 13

The reception our travelers got in Pakistan was no less cordial than that in Iran. Although their country is allied with the US, Pakistanis are far from content with the way America takes liberties there. In any Muslim country, regular people care more about America's choice of Muslims as the new enemy after the Cold War ended than about the politics of their leaders.Elizabeth and Hugo saw no point in using the customary police protection as they drove toward Quetta and continued to the Indian border crossing at Wagha.

On the day the new US President was inaugurated, a stray dog had joined the Rises. She was a friendly, intelligent dog, and in honor of the new President they named her Palimpsest. The dog stayed with them from then on; she loved the car and adored her newfound owners. A friendly vet checked her health and gave her the necessary shots: Palimpsest was ready to enter India.

On the outskirts of a town along the way, Hugo turned off at an outlet for all manner of electronic gear—something like the local Radio Shack—with a huge back lot full of sheds packed with used devices that would eventually be recycled if nobody wanted them.

Hugo had become increasingly worried about the killer drones, or Unmanned Aerial Vehicles, that the CIA operated all over Pakistan in an unrelenting hunt for insurgent leaders. He and Elizabeth could easily be their next targets. He had been pondering how to counter this threat to the point of severe absent-mindedness.

Hugo had always been a tinkerer: had he not become a doctor, he might have ended up an engineer of some kind. Now he wandered all over the store and its sheds, and eventually found something that interested him a lot.

"Is this what I think it is?" he asked the proprietor who was accompanying them and doing all he could to be helpful.

"Yes, it's a complete microwave link repeater station," the man answered. "Two receiver-transmitters and two dish antennas."

"I'll buy half of it," Hugo said. "I only need a receiver-transmitter and one dish. Somebody else will be on the receiving end."

Then he bought a GPS unit, a telescopic gun sight, a pair of small walkie-talkies, a soldering kit, and a car inverter to produce 230 VAC current in the car. Finally, after thinking his project through once more, he bought a powerful infrared laser. An assortment of mounting hardware and a sturdy tripod were going to hold it all together.

The next couple of days were spent assembling Hugo's contraption. He explained everything he did to Elizabeth, who began thinking of him more as a mad genius than a nutty professor.

"The killer drones use either GPS or laser guided missiles. When a GPS guided missile is launched, it's been programmed with the latitude, longitude, and elevation of the target, normally obtained by a spy satellite. It seeks this location using its GPS unit and detonates when it's there.

"Now we'll give the CIA some of its own medicine. I'm connecting the GPS unit we bought to the microwave link receiver-transmitter and the transmitter to the dish antenna. The amplified GPS signal I transmit that way is always the one obtained here at our precise location. Any GPS unit in the way of the beam will be blocked by my high-powered spoof signal and won't be able to receive the very weak signals from the actual GPS satellites that it's supposed to follow along its route.

"If I have the antenna aimed at the drone when the missile is launched, the missile will explode as soon as it's armed, thinking it's already at its target. I just have to be able to see the drone before it launches the missile; the missile is too small and too fast to follow manually once it's on its way.

"I'll also mount the laser on the same frame as the dish and the gun sight. If the beam works and we manage to destroy a couple of drones, the CIA may figure us out and switch to laser-guided missiles. Those have to be launched much closer to the target, so they're likely to be their second choice. But the nearness of the drone also means that there's a good chance to blind the missile with the laser, so it goes astray when it's launched."

Eventually, the weapon was ready, and Hugo sent Elizabeth in the car, with one of the walkie-talkies, to the top of the nearest hill along the road. She watched the car's navigator while Hugo aimed the dish; when the beam hit the car, the navigator switched to showing the location where Hugo was. The good news is that this microwave beam had nothing like the power of the satellite weapon that had so nearly cooked them alive. The sight was soon aligned, and Hugo then aligned the laser with the gun sight by watching the beam heat the vegetation to the point of smoking.

Elizabeth drove back and Hugo got ready to take the weapon off the tripod and stow it in the car.

"I hear an airplane!" Elizabeth said.

Palimpsest knew what her mistress was talking about, indicated that she, too, heard it, and barked, pointing her nose in the direction of the sound.

Hugo sprang into action, finding the drone in his gun sight. The drone was headed their way, and aiming was straightforward. Hugo waited until he saw the missile engine ignite before he turned on his beam, so as not to confuse the drone's own navigation and give his secret away to its operator. A fraction of a second later the missile exploded and the drone fell to the ground in a rain of burning fragments. Hugo released the switch; his beam had been on for less than a second. The weapon had worked as intended.

As the Rises continued their drive, they set up the weapon under the rear hatch every time they stopped. A spy satellite would see that they were stationary and would inform a drone operator who would direct his drone to the target. But every time a UAV approached, Palimpsest alerted them, and all the attacks were successfully averted using their weapon. Although the CIA, no doubt, kept a close watch on them from their satellites, it took the spies quite a while to figure out how their drones were being destroyed.

As expected, they then switched to laser-guided missiles. The drones now came closer before launching, and Hugo not only blinded the missiles while the UAVs were still making their approach, but melted his way into the nose cones of the missiles until he got to the fuze: the drones were still being destroyed.

The CIA was not amused. Neither microwaves nor killer drones could beat these dissidents. Little did the spies realize that they were, for all practical purposes, being defeated by a dog.

Chapter 14

After crossing into India, the Rises made their way to New Delhi. At times, being in no hurry, they got off the National Highways and enjoyed the welcome of the folks along the roads. They were celebrities and their reception in Iran and Pakistan had been well publicized. The people of India were just as hospitable.

As the world's largest democracy with freedom of speech enshrined in its constitution, India was proud of hosting Dr. and Mrs. Ris, and wanted them to stay. Soon after their arrival in New Delhi, they were invited to meet the Prime Minister. The Minister of Defense was present, as well. Amid all the pleasantries, the Rises eventually managed to steer the conversation to their own main concern: being able to work within their professions and look after people's health.

They were offered everything under the sun: jobs, supplies, research positions: the works. Hugo got to think of how crowded their car was, and took the Minister of Defense aside.

"There's something I'd like to show you, Sir," he said. "It's in our car outside."

The Minister asked what kind of experts he should bring along.

"You're going to see something that you'll declare Most Secret on the spot," Hugo replied. "Only bring people with top security clearance."

The head of the army Chiefs panel was there and came along. Hugo opened the car hatch and showed them his weapon. He explained how it worked and told them that it had brought down nine UAVs with no misses. He said he believed that he and his wife had no further use for the weapon, and offered it as a gift to the Indian Armed Forces. Finally, he told them the price he had paid for it: $150.

There was no mistaking the men's enthusiasm. The Minister of defense noted that India was presently in the process of replacing a large number of microwave links with optical fiber cable; they would be able to make hundreds of the weapons in a short time at minimum cost. The General pointed out that the weapon could just as easily be equipped to counter UAVs guided by Beidou, Galileo, or Glossnast location signals, as well. Hugo added that it would also work against cruise missiles.

"Pretty simple for being Most Secret, isn't it?" the Minister of Defense quipped.

"Ah, but the device isn't the Most Secret part," Hugo answered. "The Most Secret weapon is sitting there in the driver's seat guarding the car. To be able to deploy the weapon early enough, you need a dog to warn you. The UAVs don't show up on radar, as you know."

That blew the men's mind, but in due time, the Canine-Actuated Drone Defense Interference Emitter (CADDIE) made it into the arsenal of the Indian Armed Forces and took on strategic importance.

Hugo also briefed the two gentlemen on his and Elizabeth's exposure to the new microwave weapon and explained how they had managed to protect themselves.

A series of encounters and coincidences eventually drew Elizabeth and Hugo to a neighborhood of poor people where they felt needed. They did their best to relieve suffering, but there were limits to what two people working out of a doctor's bag could do. Then, while their bank in DC foreclosed on their mortgage and auctioned off their belongings do defray its costs, the Indian Ministry of Defense presented them with an enormous sum of money for the CADDIE.

The Rises used the money to build and equip a clinic in their neighborhood. Competent staff lined up to work for them, and donations streamed in. The clinic became an important resource in the region and greatly relieved the discrimination against the lower castes there.

Chapter 15

The CIA made one more attempt on the Rises' lives. They drew on the backup plan they have for occasions when things get a bit slow and the growth of the defense budget is at risk: through their friends in the Israeli Mossad and Pakistan's ISI, they engaged a fanatic young Muslim man as a suicide bomber. He, naturally, didn't know whom he was working for. All the money the CIA had poured into greasing palms along the way had shrunk into nothing more that a promise of a quick trip to Paradise for the young man. Seventy recyclable virgins would be waiting for him there.

As the young bomber arrived at the clinic, Palimpsest awoke from a slumber on the doorstep. She always treated all visitors well, but now she smelled explosives and sensed danger. She savagely attacked the young man and nearly had him contained when he tore free and started running into the building. He had come to kill the infidel doctor and he was certain that there would be considerably fewer than 70 virgins awarded for just killing the doctor's dog.

Palimpsest got hold of his tunic and tore it. With his explosives vest in full view, the bomber stormed into the waiting room, looking for the doctor's office. He never got that far.

The people there, patients and their kin, in complete disregard of their own safety, overpowered the young man and pinned him to the floor. They would probably have torn him limb from limb if Dr. Ris hadn't turned up.

"Don't harm him!" Hugo said. "He's no worse than an American right-winger killing liberal politicians for showing tolerance and compassion. He deserves a fair trial: let the authorities take care of him."

After this last failure, the CIA gave up. There was a congressional hearing to find out why they needed nine more UAVs that year than originally budgeted for. The CIA Director was told in no uncertain terms that his agency should stick to its original priorities: the defense industry was much more important than the pharmaceutical one, and the paramount task in the ongoing struggle to suppress freedom of speech was shutting down Wikileaks and assassinating Mr. Julian Assange.

"See to it, Mr. Director," said the chairwoman of the Joint Intelligence Oversight Committee, "it'll be much easier than trying to kill Dr. and Mrs. Ris. We can't have confidential information being made available to everybody like this. The public and the soldiers might start asking why we keep fighting these wars that we have no intention of winning."

"Ms. Chairwoman," said an elderly female reporter among the media representatives, "why do we fight wars that we don't intend to win?"

"Alright," replied the chairwoman, "let's run through this once more. The task of our armed forces is expending overpriced hardware, consuming overpriced supplies, burning the maximum possible amount of oil, and ensuring a steady supply of enemies by committing atrocities against civilians. Your job in the media is dressing all this up in patriotic language and pretending that we're doing it in self-defense. Did I tell you anything you didn't know from before, Amy?"

"No, Ma'am," the reporter answered.

"While we can trust you and your colleagues here to fulfill your duty," the chairwoman continued, "Wikileaks doesn't see things that way. That's why it has to be eliminated. And this is the CIA's top priority just now."

One day, returning from a walk with Palimpsest, Elizabeth and Hugo stopped to take in the view of their own clinic.

Elizabeth, visibly pregnant, said, "All through our flight from America I thought we were running away from something. In truth, we were just getting closer to this wonderful place."

By the same author: Walkabout: The History of a Brief Century. A travelogue to the end of the world.