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Mollyscope II: The Vamphyri
Co-Writer Paul Robison*
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  • PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned
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Mollyscope II: The Vamphyri
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#15
Paul Robison
May 16, 2018
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3
47 Mins Read
No Plagiarism!oGJHAHrvz1FasKxZjYlsposted on PENANA

Inside the house, Baxter and Mede had carefully, systematically searched the ground floor and now approached the main staircase to the upper levels. They'd switched on dim lights as they went, compensating a little for the gloom.  They paused at the foot of the stairs.7Please respect copyright.PENANAfePH5KHV9B
copyright protection3PENANAf2t61ZJqBq

"Where the hell's Petley?" Baxter whispered.  "We could use some instructions."copyright protection3PENANAN06wIHe9cN

"Why?" Mede glanced at him out the corner of his eye.  "We know what we're dealing with---mainly. And we know what to do."copyright protection3PENANAbRYECwDVuZ

"But there should be four of us in here."copyright protection3PENANAoK1RQ3QAus

Mede gritted his teeth. "There was something of a row out front.  Trouble, no doubt.  Anyway, by now someone should be planting charges in the cellars. So let's not waste time.  We can ask questions later."copyright protection3PENANA0hs6OaN3kZ

On a narrow landing where the stairs turned through a right angle, a large, built-in cupboard faced them squarely, its door a little ajar.  Mede kept his crossbow lined up on the large-paneled door, sidled past and continued up the stairs.  He wasn't passing the buck; it was just that if there was anything nasty in there, he knew Baxter could stop it with a single burst of liquid fire.copyright protection3PENANARvRPatmNpQ

Baxter checked the valve on his hose was open, rested his finger on the trigger, toed the door open.  In there----darkness.copyright protection3PENANANNBPFrTv2n

He waited until his eyes were growing accustomed to the dimness, then spotted a light switch on the wall just inside the door.  He reached out his hand, then drew it back.  He stepped forward a pace, used the nozzle of the hose to trip the switch.  A light came on, throwing the interior of the cupboard into sharp relief.  At the back----a tall figure!  Baxter drew his breath sharply; his jaw fell partly open and the corners of his mouth drew back in a half-rictus of fear.  he was a breath away from squeezing the trigger---but then his eyes focused and he saw just an old raincoat, hanging on a peg.copyright protection3PENANAX2Fq8uAWxU

Baxter gulped, filling his lungs, quietly closed the door.  copyright protection3PENANAWoqNeAgAoG

Mede was up on the first floor landing.  He saw two alcoves, arched over, with closed doors set centrally.  There was also a passage, with two more doors that he could see before the corridor turned a corner.  The closest door was maybe eight paces away, the furthest twelve.  He turned back to the doors in the alcoves, approached the first of them, turned the doorknob and kicked it upon, it was a toilet with a high window, letting in gray light.copyright protection3PENANArcu219uUEw

Mede turned to the second door, dealt with it as with the first.  Inside was an extensive library, the whole room visible at a glance.  Then, aware that Baxter was coming up the stairs, he started down the corridor---and at once paused.  His ears pricked up.  He heard----water?  The hiss and gurgle of a tap?copyright protection3PENANAiCyX2HrDDZ

A shower!  The water sounds were emanating from the second room----a bathroom?----down the corridor.  Mede looked back.  Baxter was at the top of the stairs.  Their eyes met.  Mede pointed to the first door, then at Baxter.  Baxter was to deal with it.  Then Mede thumbed his own chested, pointed along the corridor to the second door.copyright protection3PENANAyznYmBzDcY

He went on, but cautiously, crossbow held chest high and pointed dead ahead.  The water sounds were louder, and---a voice?  A girl's voice---singing?  Humming, anyway.  Some utterly tuneless melody....copyright protection3PENANAkDaOFcX97C

In this house, at this time, a girl humming to herself in a shower?  Or was it a trap?copyright protection3PENANAFpeenhVPUy

Mede took a tighter grip on his crossbow, turned the knob and kicked the door in.  No trap!  Not that he could see.  In fact the totally natural scene beyond the bathroom door left him at a total loss.  All of the tension went out of him in a flash, and he was left feeling---like some gross intruder!copyright protection3PENANAOs8brvN18Z

The girl (Penelope Williams, surely?) was beautiful and quite naked.  Water streamed down on her, setting her lovely body gleaming.  She stood sideways on, picked out in clear definition against blue ceramic tiles, in the shower's shallow well.  As the door slammed open she jerked her head round to stare at Mede, her eyes opening wide in terror. Then she gasped, crumpled back against the shower's wall, looking as though she were about to faint.  One hand flew to her breasts and her eyelids fluttered as her knees began to buckle.copyright protection3PENANA0sDbhineru

Mede half-lowered his crossbow, said to himself Sweet Jesus! But this is just a frightened girl!  He began to reach out his free hand---to steady her----but then other thoughts, her thoughts, abruptly printed themselves on his telelpathic mind.copyright protection3PENANAQ7T4lhmh6g

Come on my sweet!  come help me!  Ah, just me, hold me!  Just a little closer, my sweet---there!  And now....copyright protection3PENANAPUIY6atTbC

Mede jerked back as she turned more fully towards him.  Her eyes were wide, triangular, domestic!  her face had been instantly transformed into that of a beast!  And in her right hand, invisible until now, was a carving knife.  The knife rose as she reached out and grasped Mede's jacket.  Her grip was iron!  She drew him effortlessly towards her---and he fired his bolt into her breast at point-blank range.copyright protection3PENANATb5wmmPKAh

Slammed back against the rear wall of the shower, pinned there by the bolt, she dropped her knife and started to issue peal after peal of soul-searing screams.  Blood gushed from where the bolt was bedded in her with little more than its shaft protruding.  She grasped it, and still screaming jerked her body this way and that.  The bolt came loose from the wall in a crunching of tiles and plaster and she staggered back and forth in the shower, yanking on the bolt and screaming endlessly.copyright protection3PENANAeqo8vKpR2v

"God, God, oh God!"   Mede cried, riveted to the spot.copyright protection3PENANA8RqQQw1jqc

Baxter shouldered him aside, squeezed the trigger on his flame-thrower, turned the whole shower until into a blistering, steaming pressure-cooker.  After several seconds he quit hosing, and stared with Mede at the result.  Black smoke and steam cleared and the water continued to hiss, spurting from a half-a-dozen places now in the molten plastic tubing of the shower's system.  In the shallow well, Zoe Williams's body slumped, features bubbling, hair like smoldering stubble, every inch of her skin peeling from her in great raw strips.copyright protection3PENANAVko1QLnGvY

"God help us!" Mede gasped, turned away to be sick.copyright protection3PENANAXJpmSV7hM9

"God?" the think in the shower croaked, like a voice from the abyss.  "What god?  You bloody black bastards!"copyright protection3PENANANV1dLRJNba

Impossibly she came erect, took a blind, stumbling, groping step forward.copyright protection3PENANAZ7uo8l9w1E

Baxter touched her again, but more out of mercy than from fear.  He let his flame-thrower roar until fire belched out of the shower and threatened to burn him, too.  Then he switched off, backed away down the corridor to where Mede stood retching over the stair's balustrade.copyright protection3PENANAuZoTlgOtyB

From below, Petley's voice reached anxiously up to them:  "Mike?  Hugh?  What is it?"copyright protection3PENANAClwDyivi5G

Baxter wiped his forehead.  "We----we got the girl," he whispered, then shouted. "We got the girl!"copyright protection3PENANAs5OWtWiCtj

"We got her mother," Petley answered, "and Matei's dog.  That leaves Matei himself, and his mother."copyright protection3PENANAgXjEREVF7t

"There's a door up here, locked," Baxter called back. "I though I heard someone go in there."copyright protection3PENANAhKONon6UFb

"Can you break it down?"copyright protection3PENANAB8hp5KmnnP

"No, it's oak, old and heavy.  But, I'm sure I could burn it...."copyright protection3PENANAHEM0jDFejN

"No time for that. And if there's anybody in there, they're finished anyway.  The cellars are mined by now.  You'd better come down----and fast!  We've got to get out of here."copyright protection3PENANAHBywoWTvQz

"I'm on my own," Petley responded.  "Where've I been?  I've been checking this place through downstairs."copyright protection3PENANAHsHYRNIdb6

"A waste of time," Mede groaned, half to himself.copyright protection3PENANA3SKQT3uzhN

"What?" Petley raised his voice more yet.copyright protection3PENANAmZoVvNRpiI

"I said, we'd already done it!" Mede yelled, but needlessly for they were down the stairs, with Petley propelling them towards the entrance hall and the open door....copyright protection3PENANAZZaHX2uGgF


Ralph Longton and Guy Greenway had gone down into the cellars via the outbuilding with its narrow steps and central ramp.  Loaded down with almost two hundred pounds of explosives between them, they had found the lights out of order, and so been obliged to use pocket torches.  The vaults under the house were black and silent as a tomb, seemed extensive as a catacomb.  They stuck close together, dumping thermite and plastic explosive packages wherever they found support walls or buttressed archways, and even though they went with something of caution, still they managed rapidly to fairly well saturate the place with their load.  Greenway carried a small can of petrol with which he left a trail from one dump to the other, until the whole place reeked of highly volatile fuel.copyright protection3PENANANjyx9rAD0S

Finally they were satisfied that they'd explored and mined every part---and likewise pleased that they'd come across nothing dangerous---and so turned back and retraced their tracks to the exit.  At a place they both agreed to be approximately central under the house, they set down the last of their load.  Then Greenway splashed what remained of his petrol all the way to the foot of the outbuilding steps, while Longton double-checked the charges they'd planted, making sure they were all amply primed.copyright protection3PENANArnRQinDaNW

At the steps Greenway tossed down his empty can, turned and looked back into the gloom. From a little way back, round a corner, he could hear Longton's hoarse breathing and he knew that the other man worked furiously at his task.  Longton's flashlight made flickering patches of light back there, its beam swinging this way and that way as he worked.copyright protection3PENANATMW3tU6YBm

Petley appeared at the top of the steps, called down, "Longton, Greenway?  You can come up out of there as you like.  We're all set if you are. The others are spread out round the house, just waiting.  This mist has cleared. So if anything tries to break loose, we'll...."copyright protection3PENANADoGbVPDwtE

"Ralph?" Greenway's tremulous voice came out of the darkness, several notes higher up the scale than it should be.  "Ralph, was that you just then?"copyright protection3PENANAoU1gLkEous

Longton called back, "No, it's Petley.  Hurry up, will you?"copyright protection3PENANAlnehrIbxGM

"No, not Petely," Greenway was breathless, almost whispering.  "Something else....."copyright protection3PENANAUkbAv6q9CU

Petley and Longton looked at each other round-eyed. The ground gave itself a shake, a very definite tremor.  From inside the cellars Baxter screamed.copyright protection3PENANAN1OPiA9WYE

Petley came halfway down the steps, stumbling and yelling:  "Mike, get out of there!  Hurry, man!"copyright protection3PENANAok1DBtlN12

Baxter screamed again, the cry of a trapped animal.  "It's here, Robert----it's here!  Under the ground!"copyright protection3PENANAAVmLwSSX2v

Longton made to go in after him but Petley reached down and grabbed his collar.  The ground was shaking now, dust billowing out of the gaping mouth of the ancient cellars.  There were rending sounds, and other noises which might or might not be Baxter choking his life out.  Bricks began to slide loose from rotten mortar in the retaining walls, spilling down the sides of the ramp.copyright protection3PENANARPwGEOgOLf

Longton started to back up the trembling steps, with Petley dragging him from above. When they were almost at the top, they saw a cloud of dust and debris suddenly expelled forcefully from the entrance to the cellar....and then the door itself was lifted off its rusty hinges and hurled down at the foot of the ramp, a mass of splintered boards.copyright protection3PENANAsazuNbX9ZY

Something was framed in the dusty gap of the entrance.  It was Baxter, yet it was more than Baxter.  He hung for a moment suspended in the otherwise empty doorway, swaying left and right.  Then he emerged more fully and the watchers saw the huge, leprous trunk that propelled him.  The thing---indeed "the Other"--had entered his back in a solid shaft of matter, but inside Baxter its massive pseudopod of vampire flesh had branched, following his pipes and conduits to several exits.  Tentacles writhed from his gaping mouth and nostrils, the sockets of his dislocated eyes, his ruined ears.  And even as Petley and Longton clambered in a frenzy of terror up the last few steps from the ramp, so Baxter's entire front burst open, revealing a lashing nest of crimson, groping worms!copyright protection3PENANAcAUylrrept

"Jesus!" Robert Petley shouted then, his voice a sandpapered howl of horror and hatred. "Sweet J-e-s-u-s !"copyright protection3PENANAJgjfXX4dMP

He aimed his hose down the ramp.  "Goodbye, Mike.  God grant you peace!"copyright protection3PENANAte03INeGXe

Liquid fire roared its fury, ran like a flood down the ramp, hurled itself in a fireball at the suspended man and the beast-thing holding him upright.  The great pseudopod was instantly retracted----Baxter with it, snatched back like a rag doll---and Petley aimed his hose directly at the doorway at the foot of the steps.  He turned the valve up full, and a shimmering jet of heat blasted its way into the cellar, fanning out inside the labyrinth of vaults into every nook and cranny.  For a count of five Petley held it. Then came the first explosion.copyright protection3PENANAF9OAIa2aor

Down went the entrance in a massive shuddering of earth. A shockwave of lashing heat hurled dirt and pebbles up the ramp, knocking Petley and Longton off their feet.  Petley's finger automatically came off the trigger.  His weapon smoked hot but quiet in his hands.  And crump! crump! crump!  came evenly spaced, muffled concussions from deep in the earth, each one shaking the ground with pile-driver power.copyright protection3PENANAD7HWnFUrSH

Faster came the underground explosions, occurring in sporadic bursts, occasionally twinned, as the planted charges reacted to the heat and added to the unseen inferno.  Longton got up and helped Petley to his feet.  The stumbled clear of the house, took up positons with Greenway and Mede, a man to each of the four corners but standing well back.   The ancient barn, still ablaze, began to vibrate as if itself alive and suffering its death throes.  Finally it shook itself to pieces and slid down into the suddenly seething earth.  For a moment a lashing tentacle reached up from the shuddering foundations to a height of some 20 feet, then collapsed and was sucked back down into the quaking, liquefying quag of earth and fire.copyright protection3PENANAhmVhpE5Ek3

Guy Greenway was closest to that area.  He ran raggedly away from the house, put distance between himself and the barn, too, before stumbling to a halt and staring with wide eyes and gaping mouth at the upstairs windows of the main building.  Then he beckoned to Petley to come and join him.copyright protection3PENANAS0cHAVRC5g

"Look!" Greenway yelled, over the sound of subterranean thunder and the hiss and crackle of fire.  They both stared at the house.copyright protection3PENANA3JoLGLqBdj

Framed in a second-floor window, the figure of a mature woman stood with her arms held high, almost in an attitude of supplication.  "Matei's mother," Petley said. "It can only be her: Cornelia Matei---God help her!'copyright protection3PENANAiuFdM4SSIc

A corner of the house collapsed, sank into the earth in ruins. Where it went down, a geyser of fire spouted high as the roof, hurling broken bricks and mortar with it.  There were more explosions and the entire house shuddered.  It was visibly settling on its foundations, cracks spreading across its walls, chimneys tottering.  The four watchers backed off further yet.  Greenway noticed the truck where it stood on the driveway, jolting about on its own suspension.copyright protection3PENANAVBc8iN3ap8

He went to get it, but Robert Petley stayed where he was, continuing to watch the figure of the woman at the window.copyright protection3PENANAqtRPeyAE9N

She hadn't changed her position.  She stumbled a little now and then as the house settled, but always regained her pose, armed raised on high and head thrown back, so that it seemed to Petley that indeed she talked to God. Telling Him what?  Asking for what?  Forgiveness for her son?  A merciful release for herself?copyright protection3PENANAXriDE5HxXp

Longton and Mede left their posts at the rear of the house and came around to the front. It was clear that nothing was going to escape from that inferno now.  While they busied themselves with preparations for their leaving, still Petely watched the house burn, and so was witness to the end of it.copyright protection3PENANAJT1W1jK4u9

The thermite had done its job and the earth itself was on fire.  The house no longer had foundations on which to stand.  It slumped down, leaned first one way and then the other.  Old brickwork groaned as timbers sheared, chimney stacks toppled and windows shivered into fragments in their twisting frames.  And as the house sank in leaping flames and molten earth, so its substance became fuel for the fire.copyright protection3PENANAdVC5KRDlvM

Fire raced up walls inside and out; great red and yellow gouts of flame spurted from broken windows, bursting upward through a rent and sagging roof.  For a single instant longer Cornelia Matei was silhouetted against a background of crimson, searing heat, and then Hartley House gave up the ghost.  Down it went, groaning into a scar of bubbling earth that resembled nothing so much as the mouth of a little volcano.  For a little while longer the peaked gable ends and parts of the roof were visible, and then they too were consumed in vengeful fire and smoke.copyright protection3PENANA9tds6SxOpv

Through all of this the reek had been awful.  Judging by the stench, it might well have been that fifty men had died and been burned in that house; but as Petley climbed up into the passenger seat of the truck and Greenway headed the vehicle down the driveway towards the gates, all those who survived knew that the stench came from nothing human.  It was partly thermite, partly earth and timber and old brick, but mainly it was the death smell of that rendered down, gigantic obscenity under the cellars, that "Other" which had taken poor Baxter.copyright protection3PENANAd9pf6qyQv3

The mist had almost totally cleared up now, and cars were starting to pull up along the verges of the road, their drivers attracted by the flames and smoke rising high into the air where Hartley House had stood.  As the truck rolled out of the gates onto the road, a red-faced driver leaned out of his car's window and yelled, "What is it?  That's Hartley House, isn't it?"copyright protection3PENANA0IYDNIur30

"It was," Petley yelled back, offering what he hoped looked like a helpless shrug.  "Gone, I'm afraid. Burned down."copyright protection3PENANAdctrEAkcoK

"Good God!" The red-faced man was aghast.  "Has the fire brigade been alerted?"copyright protection3PENANAICT7R0xqR2

"We're off to see to that now," Petley answered. "Little good it'll do, though. We've been in to have a look, but there's nothing left to see, I'm afraid." They drove on.copyright protection3PENANAtRLrvzaZ0d

A mile towards Paignton, a clattering fire truck came tearing from the opposite direction.  Greenway drew dutifully in towards the side of the road to give the fire truck room.  He grinned tiredly, without humor. "Too late, my lads," he commented under his breath.  "Much too late---thank all that's merciful!"copyright protection3PENANAZeqtF530hr

*                  *               *copyright protection3PENANAK04E7VEElw

Back in the hotel HQ in Paignton, Petley enumerated their success.  "We got all three women, anyway.  But as for Matei himself, I have my doubts about him.  Serious doubts, and when we're finished here, I'll pass them on to London, also to Adam Shiveley and our people up in Gloudon.  These will be merely precautionary measures, of course, for even if we did miss Matei we've no way of knowing what he'll do next or where he'll go.  Anyway, Harry Moradian will be back in control shortly.  In fact it's odd he hasn't shown up yet.  Actually, I'm not looked forward to seeing him:  he's going to be furious when he learns that Matei probably got out of that lot."copyright protection3PENANAHPotgT2qS3

"Matei  and  that other dog," Ralph Longton put in, almost as an afterthought.  He shrugged. "Still, I reckon it was just a stray that got into----the grounds----somehow?" He stopped, looked from face to face.  All were staring back at him in astonishment, almost disbelief.  It was the first they'd heard of it.copyright protection3PENANAERh4kXaoXr

Petley couldn't keep himself from grabbing Longton's jacket front.  "Tell it now!"  he grated through clenched teeth.  "Exactly as it happened, Ralph."  Longton, dazed, told it, concluding:copyright protection3PENANAQHrUlzQ0eb

"So while Baxter was burning that---that bloody thing which wasn't a dog---not all of it, anyway---this other dog went by in the mist.  But I can't even swear that I saw it at all!  I mean, there was so much going on.  It could have been just the mist, or my imagination, or---anything!  I thought it loped, but sort of upright in an impossible forward crouch.  And its head wasn't just the right shape.  It had to be my imagination, a curl of mist, something like that.  Imagination, yes---especially with Baxter standing there burning that godawful dog!  Christ!  I'll dream of dogs like that for the rest of my life!"copyright protection3PENANAwV0UohNrHG

Petley released him violently, almost tossed him across the room.  The fat man wasn't just fat:  he was heavy, too, and very strong.  He looked at Longton in disgust.  "Idiot!" he rumbled.  He lit a cigarette, despite the fact that he already had one going.copyright protection3PENANAumyMrTJBhH

"I couldn't have done anything anyway!" Longton protested.  "I'd shot my bolt, hadn't reloaded yet...."copyright protection3PENANA37pv2L4SLi

"Shot your bloody bolt?" Petley glared.  Then he calmed himself.  "I'd like to say it's not your fault," he told Longton then.  "And maybe it's not your fault.  Maybe he was just too damned clever for us."copyright protection3PENANA4ie5dDm144

"What now?" said Greenway.  He felt a little sorry for Longton, tried to take attention away from him.copyright protection3PENANAHzqflR84sq

Petley looked at Greenway.  "Now?  Well, when I've calmed down a little you and me will have to try and find that bastard, that's what now!"copyright protection3PENANAMwxb1AW5sH

"Find him?" Longton licked dry lips. "How?  He was confused and was not thinking straight.copyright protection3PENANAnw0CBdfYfj

Petley at once tapped the side of his head with huge white knuckles. "With this!" he shouted.  "It's what I do.  I'm a 'scryer,' remember?" He glared again at Longton. "So what's your fucking talent?  Other than screwing things up, I mean..."copyright protection3PENANA2WTtcelljO

Longton found a chair and fell into it. "I---I saw him, and yet convinced myself that I hadn't seen him.  What the he'll wrong with me?  We went there to trap him---to trap anything coming out of that house---so why didn't I react more posit....."copyright protection3PENANAL5kjglTdrl

Mede drew air sharply and made a conclusive, snapping sound with his fingers.  He gave a sharp nod, said, "Of course!"copyright protection3PENANAUPSVrt9Gso

They all looked at him.copyright protection3PENANA0vkTYx8kSr

"Of course!"  he said again, spitting the words out.  "He's talented too, remember?  Too bloody talented by a mile!  Ralph, he got to you.  Telepathically, I mean.  Hell, he got to me too! Convinced us he wasn't there, that we couldn't see him. And I really didn't see him, not a hair of him.  I was there, too, remember, when Mike was burning that thing.  But I saw nothing.  So don't feel too bad about it, Ralph---at least you actually saw  the bastard!"copyright protection3PENANA8DxtXOOQ1g

"You're right," Petley nodded after one moment.  "You have to be. So now we know for sure; Matei is loose, angry and---God, dangerous!  Yes, and he's more powerful, far more powerful than anyone has yet given him credit for...."copyright protection3PENANAcW54Rwy0d0


Wednesdaycopyright protection3PENANApdvK7uhgO9

12:30 A.M. middle-European timecopyright protection3PENANAIXNfqL4fB5

The border crossing-point near Siret in Moldavia.copyright protection3PENANAvN2ASU7qUk

Morozov and Polyakov had shared the driving between them, though Alex Picardi would have been only too happy to drive if they'd let him.  At least that might have relieved some of his boredom.   Picardi hadn't found the Romanian countryside along their route---railway depots standing forlorn and desolate as scarecrows, dingy industrial sites, fouled rivers and the like---especially romantic.  But even without him, and despite the often dilapidated condition of the roads, still the Russians had made fairly good time.  Or at least they'd made good time until they got here; but "here" was the middle of nowhere, and for some as yet unexplained reason they'd been held up "here" for the last four hours.copyright protection3PENANAqkyW4FrlVg

Earlier their route out of Bucharest had taken them through Buzau, Focsani and Bacau along the banks of the Siretul, and so into Moldavia.  In Roman they'd crossed the river, then continued up through Botosani where they'd paused to eat, and so into and through Siret.  Now, on the northern extreme of the town, the border crossing-point blocked their way, with Chernovtsy and the Prut some 20 miles to the north.  By now Morozov had planned on being through Chernovtsy and into Kolomyya under the old mountains---the old Carpathians---for the night, but....copyright protection3PENANAvDdjTE4XUG

"But!" he raged now in the paraffin lamplight glare of the border post.  "But, but, but!" He slammed his fist down on the countertop which kept the staff a little apart from  travelers; he spoke (more like shouted) in Russian so explosive that Picardi and Polyakov winced and gritted their teeth where they sat in the car outside the wooden chalet-styled building.  The border post sat centrally between the incoming and outgoing lanes, with barrier arms extending on both sides.  Uniformed guards manned sentry boxes, a Romanian, for incoming traffic, a Russian for outgoing.  The senior officer was (naturally) Russian.  And right now he was under pressure from Alik Morozov.copyright protection3PENANA3pt50lZ8MU

"Four hours!" Morozov raved. "Four bloody hours sitting here at the end of the world, waiting for you to make up your mind!  I've told you who I am and proved it. Are my papers in order or not?"copyright protection3PENANAsde09iGBEB

The round-faced, overweight Russian official shrugged helplessly.  "They are, comrade, but..."copyright protection3PENANAR9f4t9Jx6D

"No, no, no!" Morozov shouted.  "No more buts, just yes or now.  And Comrade Polyakov's documents are in order as well, yes?"copyright protection3PENANAda3Hf43fcP

The Russian customs man bobbed uncomfortably this way and that, shrugged again. "Yes."copyright protection3PENANA9E2oFcHlNm

Morozov leaned over the counter, shoved his face closer to that of the other.  "And do you believe that I have the ear of the Party Leader himself?  Are you sure that you're away that if your bloody telephone was working, by now I'd be speaking to Brezhnev himself in Moscow, and that next week you'd be manning a crossing point into Manchuria?"copyright protection3PENANAXEvcJYlsws

"If you say so, Comrade Morozov," the other sighed.  He struggled for words, a way to start a sentence with something other than "but."  "Alas, I am also aware that the other gentleman in your car is not a Soviet citizen, and that is documents are not  in order! If I were to let you through without the proper authorization, next week I could well be a lumberjack in Omsk!  I don't have the build for it, Comrade."copyright protection3PENANA6JCaqSet7q

"What kind of a bloody control point is this, anyway?" Morozov was in full flood.  "No telephone, no electricity?  I suppose we must thank a God we don't believe in you have toilets!  Now listen to me...."copyright protection3PENANAjh5lGKyo5l

"----I have listened, Comrade," at least the officer's guts weren't all sagging inside his belly, "to threats and vitriolic raving, for at least three-and-a-half hours, but..."copyright protection3PENANAK2ZffJeBbK

"BUT?!" Morozov couldn't believe it; this couldn't be happening to him.  He shook his fist at the other. "Idiot!  I've counted eleven cars and twenty-seven trucks through here towards Kolomyya since our arrival.  Your man out there didn't even check the papers of half of them!"copyright protection3PENANA4iuGsVzGpG

"Because we know them.  They travel through her regularly. Many of them live in or close to Kolomyya.  I have explained this one hundred times.copyright protection3PENANA7IYc4FWC32

"Think on this!" Morozov snapped.  "Tomorrow you could be explaining it to the KGB!"copyright protection3PENANAXN5X3lGhWS

"More threats." The other gave another shrug.  "One stops worrying."copyright protection3PENANA21bxIDshkS

"Total inefficiency!" Morozov snarled.  "Three hours ago you said that the telephones would be working in a few minutes.  Likewise two hours ago, and one hour ago---and the time now is fast approaching one in the morning!"copyright protection3PENANAYrAWEFBBhF

"I can tell time, Comrade.  There is a fault in the electricity supply.  It is being dealt with.  I don't know what more I can say?" He sat down on a padded chair behind the counter. copyright protection3PENANAEfsJcv4TN1

Morozov almost leaped over the counter to get at him.  "Don't you dare sit down!  Not while I am on my feet!"copyright protection3PENANAMQ2XnLBQ2V

The other wiped his forehead, stood up again, readied himself for another tirade....copyright protection3PENANAI0niX2XzDf

Outside in the car, Eldar Polyakov had restlessly turned this way and that way, peering first out of one window, then another.  Alex Picardi sensed problems, trouble, danger ahead.  In fact, he'd been on edge since seeing Moradian off at the airport in Bucharest.  But worrying about it would get him nowhere, and anyway he felt too banged-about to pursue it.  If anything, not being allowed to drive---being obliged to simply sit there, with the drab countryside slipping endlessly by outside---had made him more weary yet.  Now he felt that he could sleep for a week, and it might as well be here as anywhere.copyright protection3PENANAfhuH1Hc6B0

Polyakov's attention had now fastened on something outside the car.  He grew still, thoughtful.  Picardi looked at him:  "silent Eldar," as he and Moradian had privately named him.  It wasn't his fault he spoke no English; in fact he did speak it, but very little, and with many mistakes.  Now he answered Picardi's glance, nodded his short-cropped head, and pointed through the open window of the car at something.  "Look," he softly said.  Picardi looked.copyright protection3PENANA7nQakdVW4Y

Silhouetted against a low, distant haze of blue light----the lights of Kolomyya, Picardi supposed---black cables snaked between poles over the border check point, with one section of cable descending into the building itself.  The power supply.  Now Polyakov turned and pointed off to the west, where the cable ran back in the direction of Siret.  A hundred yards away, the loop of cable between two of the poles dipped right down under the night horizon.  It had been grounded.copyright protection3PENANASMZf5Xi3xW

"Excusing," said Polyakkov.  He eased himself out of the car, walked back along the central reservation, and vanished into darkness.  Picardi considered going after him, but thought better of it.  He felt very vulnerable, and outside the car would feel even more so.  At least the car's interior was familiar to him.  He tuned himself again to Morozov's raving, coming loud and clear through the night from the border post.  Picardi couldn't understand what was being said, but someone was getting a bad time....copyright protection3PENANAiMdNtfvGl6

"An end to all foolishness!" Morozov shouted. "Now I will tell you what I am going to do.  I shall drive back into Siret to the police station and phone Moscow from there."copyright protection3PENANAGttxDOLzKP

"Good," said the fat official.  "And providing that Moscow can send the proper documentation for the Englishman, down the telephone wire, then I shall let you through!"copyright protection3PENANAyCBySHvbK2

"Dolt!" Morozov sneered. "You, of course, shall come with me to Siret, where you'll receive your instructions direct from the Kremlin!"copyright protection3PENANA73PlRjAm0V

How dearly the other man would have loved to tell him that he had already received his instructions from Moscow, but----he'd been warned against that.  Instead he slowly shook his head.  "Unfortunately, Comrade, I can't leave my post.  Dereliction of duty is a very serious matter.  Nothing you or anyone else could say could force me from my place of duty."copyright protection3PENANAsGoWe2KZCv

Morozov saw the official's red face that he'd pushed him over the edge.  Now he would likely be more stubborn that ever, even to the point of deliberate obstruction.copyright protection3PENANAOb8qJ18ecT

That was a thought which made Polyakov frown.  For what if all this trouble had been "deliberate obstruction" right from the start? Was that possible?  "Then the solution is simple," he said. "I assume that Siret does have a twenty-four hour police station---with telephones that work?"copyright protection3PENANAhjX7FOqfaq

His opponent chewed his lip. "Of course," he finally answered.copyright protection3PENANAaD7zzlCkke

"Then I shall just telephone ahead to Kolmyya and have a unit of the nearest military force here within the hour.  How will it feel, Comrade, to be a Soviet, commanded by some Soviet army officer to stand aside, while I and my friends are escorted through your stupid little checkpoint?  And to know that tomorrow all hell is going to descend on you because you  will have been the focus of what could well be a serious international incident?"copyright protection3PENANAQ9qYA90Ind

At which precise moment, out in the field to the west of the road and back a little way toward Siret, Eldar Polyakov stopped and picked up the two uncoupled halves, male and female, of a heavy electrical connection.  Taped to the main supply cable was a much thinner telephone wire.  Its connection, also broken, was a simple, slender plug-and-socket affair.  He connected the telephone cable first then without pause screwed the heavier couplings together. There came a sputter and a crackle of current, a flash of blue sparks, and.....copyright protection3PENANACFxzMcncry

The lights came on in the border post.  Morozov, on the point of leaving to carry out his threat, stopped at the door, turned back and saw the look of confusion on the official's face.  "I suppose," Morozov said, "this means your telephone is also working again?"copyright protection3PENANADCcKcM6O6q

"I---I suppose so," said the other.copyright protection3PENANA3WAtVbCWT0

Morozov came back to the counter.  "Which means," his tone was icy, "that from now on we might just start to get somewhere....."copyright protection3PENANA9vFG5sSsFk


1:00 a.m.copyright protection3PENANA1iWd3809X6

Moscow, U.S.S.R.copyright protection3PENANAA03auZl6Vf

The Castillo Mikhailov, some miles outside the capital, along the Tarasovich Road.copyright protection3PENANA64LMLQeDjT

Roman Demochev and Makar Alexeyeva stood at an oval observation port of one-way glass and stared into the room beyond at a scene like something out of a science-fiction nightmare.copyright protection3PENANAXkcUyf3zo0

Inside the "operating room," Harry Moradian lay unconscious on his back, strapped to a padded table.  His head was slightly elevated by means of a rubber cushion, and a bulky stainless-steel helmet covered his head and eyes in a half-dome, leaving his nose and mouth free for breathing.  Hundreds of angel-hair wires cased in colored plastic sleeves shimmered like a rainbow from the helmet to a computer where three operators worked frantically, following thought sequences from start to finish and erasing them at the point of resolution.  Inside the helmet, many tiny sensor electrodes had been clamped to Moradian's skull;  others with batteries of micro-monitors, were secured by tape to his chest, wrists, stomach and throat.  Four more men, telepaths sat paired on each side of Moradian on stainless-steel chairs, scribbling in notebooks in their laps, each with one hand resting lightly on Moradian's naked body.  A master telepathist---Agnes Daschner, E-Branch's best---sat alone in one corner of the room.  Daschner was a beautiful young woman in her mid-20s, an East German recruited by Katin Semnyonovich during his final days as head of the branch.  She saw with her elbows on her knees, one hand to her brow, utterly motionless, totally intent upon absorbing Moradian's thoughts as fast as they were stimulated and generated.copyright protection3PENANAFY1J9vJvCE

Alexeyeva was filled with morbid fascination.  He had arrived with Moradian at the Castillo about 11:00 A.M. Their flight from Bucharest had been made in a military transport aircraft to an airbase in Smolensk, then to the Castillo in E-Branch's own helicopter.  All of this had been achieved in absolute secrecy; KGB cover had been tight as a drum.  Not even Brezhnev---especially Brezhnev---knew what was happening here.copyright protection3PENANAKJJwvvmK9F

At the Castillo Moradian had been injected with a truth serum---not to loosen his tongue but his mind----which had rendered him unconscious.  And for the last twelve hours, with booster shots of the serum at regular intervals, he had been giving up all the secrets of INTESP to the Soviet espers.  Makar Alexeyeva, however, was a very mundane man.  His ideas of interrogation, or "truth gathering," were far removed from anything he saw here.copyright protection3PENANAE70Q1z658u

"What exactly are they doing to him?  How does this work, Comrade?" he asked.copyright protection3PENANA5Ot7yCCh7e

Without looking at Alexeyeva, with his faded hazel eyes following every slightest movement in the room beyond the screen,  Demochev answered, "You, of all people, have surely heard of brainwashing, Makar?  Well, that is what we are doing: washing Harry Moradian's brain.  So thoroughly, in fact, that it will come out of the wash bleached!"copyright protection3PENANAWSXGotbLdk

Roman Demochev was slight, and so small as to be almost childlike in stature; but his wrinkled skin, faded eyes and generally sallow appearance were those of an old man. And yet he was just thirty-seven.  A rare disease had stunted him physically, aged him prematurely, and a contrary Nature had made up the deficiency by giving him a supplementary "talent."  He was a "deflector."copyright protection3PENANArSssJt2Pya

Like Adam Shiveley in many ways, he was the opposite of accident-prone. But where Shiveley's talent avoided danger, Demochev actually deflected it.  A well-aimed blow wouldn't strike him; the shaft of an axe would break before the blade could touch his flesh.  The advantage was enormous, immeasurable:  he feared nothing and was almost scornful of physical danger.  And it accounted for his totally disdainful manner where people such as Makar Alexeyeva were concerned.  Why should he afford them any kind of respect?  They might dislike him, but they could never hurt him.  No man was capable of bringing physical harm to Roman Demochev.copyright protection3PENANAkEZOLyroPy

"Brainwashing?" Alexeyeva repeated him. "I had thought some kind of interrogation, surely?"copyright protection3PENANACMrAsP3EBh

"Both," Demochev nodded, talking rather to himself than by way of answering Alexeyeva. "We use science, psychology, parapsychology.  The three Ts:  technology, terror, telepathy.  The drug we've put in his bloodstream stimulates memory.  It works by making him feel alone---utterly alone.  he feels that no one else exists in the universe---he even doubts his own existence! He wants to 'talk' about all of his experiences, everything he ever did or saw or said, because that way he'll know that he's real, that he has existence.  But if he physically tried to do it at the speed his mind is working, he would rapidly dehydrate and burn himself out; especially if he were awake, conscious.  Also, we are not interested in the accumulation of all of that information, we do not wish to know 'everything.'  His life in general holds little to interest us, but of course we are totally fascinated with details of his work for INTESP."copyright protection3PENANAZ2aruTVwJu

Alexeyeva shook his head in bewilderment. "You are stealing his thoughts?"copyright protection3PENANAH48HSUfji5

"Oh yes!  It's an idea we borrowed from Vladimir Dragan.  He was a necromancer, able to steal the thoughts of the dead!  We can only do it to the living, but when we're finished they're as good as dead...."copyright protection3PENANASVRkvk9zYL

"But----I mean, how?" The concept was over Alexeyeva's head.copyright protection3PENANARYN1qhVlOE

Demochev glanced at him, just a glance, a twitch of the eyes in his wizened head.  "I can't explain 'how'---not to you---only 'what.'  When he touches upon a mundane matter, the entire subject is drawn from him swiftly---and erased.  This saves time, for he can't return to that subject again.  But when we are interested in his subject, then the telepaths absorb the contents of his thoughts as best they can.  If what they learn is hard to remember or understand, they make a note, a jotting that can be studied later.  And as soon as that line of inquiry is erased, then that subject is erased as well."copyright protection3PENANAPvIYcBSsVb

Alexeyeva had taken in most of this, but his interest was now focused upon Agnes Daschner.  "That girl, she is very beautiful."  His gaze was openly lecherous.  "Now if only she were a subject for interrogation.  My kind of interrogation, of course." He gave a coarse chuckle.copyright protection3PENANAxN7o7CJhcI

At that precise moment the girl looked up.  Her bright blue eyes blazed with fury.  She looked directly at the one-way glass, as if....copyright protection3PENANA23GQ5670sV

"Ah!" said Alexeyeva, the word a little gasp. "Impossible!  She looks through the glass at us!"copyright protection3PENANAEhrngEY96U

"No," Demochev shook his head.  "She thinks through it--at us, if I'm not mistaken!"copyright protection3PENANAkDHr2P4L6h

Daschner stood up, strode purposefully to a side door and left the room, emerging into the rubber-floored corridor where the observers stood.  She came straight up to them, glanced once at Alexeyeva and showed him her perfect, sharp white teeth, then turned to Demochev.  "Roman, take this---this ape away from here.  He's inside my radius, and his mind's in the gutter!"copyright protection3PENANAt9laZqh7qJ

"Of course, my dear!" Demochev smiled and nodded his wrinkled walnut head.  He turned away, taking Alexeyeva's elbow.  "Come, Makar."copyright protection3PENANA350usg8rpe

Alexeyeva shook himself loose, scowled at the girl.  "You are very free with your insults."copyright protection3PENANAlKS3cUShGZ

"That is the right way." She spoke curtly.  "Face to face and out with it.  But your  insults crawl like worms, and you keep them in the slime in your head!" And to Demochev she added: "I can't work with him here."copyright protection3PENANAy99Tk8jBgK

Demochev looked at Alexeyeva. "Well?"copyright protection3PENANAkjPlNiBWK1

Alexeyeva's expression was ugly, but slowly he relaxed and shrugged. "Very well, my apologies, Fraulein Daschner."  He deliberately avoided use of his customary "Comrade"; and when he looked her up and down one final time, that too was quite deliberate.  "It's just that I've always considered my thoughts private.  And anyway, I'm only human."copyright protection3PENANAa5M29YX1fD

"Barely!" she snapped, and at once returned to her work.copyright protection3PENANA1ONaI7j2Iz

As Alexeyeva followed Demochev to his office, The Second-in-Command of E-Branch said, "That's one mind is very finely tuned, finely balanced. We must be careful not to disturb it.  However distasteful this may seem, Makar, you should never forget that any one of the espers here is worth ten of you."copyright protection3PENANAM2SBnGUZCE

Alexeyeva had pride. "Oh?" he growled.  "Then why didn't Andropov ask you to send one of them to Italy, eh?  Maybe you yourself, eh, Comrade?"copyright protection3PENANA1NKNQTLNV1

Demochev smiled thinly. "Muscle occasionally has its advantages.  That's why you went to Limoata, and it's why you're here now.  I expect to have more work for you very soon.  Work to your liking. But, Makar, be warned:  so far you've done very well, so don't spoil it now.  Our mutual, er, shall way say 'superior,' will be pleased with you.  But he would not be pleased if he thought you'd tried to impose your matter over our mind.  Here at the Castillo Mikhailov, it's always the other way around---mind of matter!"copyright protection3PENANAqXQe7ylrA4

They climbed spiraling stone stairs in one of the Castillo's towers, and arrived at Demochev's office.  Before Demochev it had housed Katin Semnyonovich, and it was now Alik Morozov's seat of control's seat of control; but Semnyonovich was temporarily absent, and both Roman Demochev and Yuri Andropov intended that his absence should become permanent.  This, too, puzzled Alexeyeva.copyright protection3PENANA0m6TYuzTub

"In my time," he said, taking a seat opposite Demochev's desk, "I've been quite close to Comrade Andropov---or as close as a man can get.  I've watched him rise, followed his rising star, you might say. In my experience, since the early days of E-Branch, there has been friction between the KGB and you espers.  Yet now, with you, things are changing.  What has Andropov got on you, Roman?"copyright protection3PENANAxwZhjPb5C6

Demochev's grin was that of a weasel.  "He's got nothing on me," he answered. "But he does have something for me.  You see, I have been cheated, Makar.  Nature has robbed me.  I would like to be a man of heroic proportions---perhaps a man like you.  But I'm stuck in this feeble shell.  Women are not interested in me; men, while they cannot hurt me, consider me a freak.  Only my mind has value, and my talent.  The first has been useful to Alik Morozov; I've taken a great deal of the branch's burden off his shoulders.  And the second is a subject for intense study by the parapsychologists here---they would all like to have my, shall we say, guardian angel? Why, an army of men with my talent would be quite invulnerable!copyright protection3PENANA733XhbvCC5

"So you see how vital I am.  And yet what am I but a shrunken little man, whose lifespan is destined to be short?  And so while I live I want power.  I want to be great, for however short a span.   And because it will be short, I want it now!"copyright protection3PENANAGDsNwri6kN

"And with Morozov gone, you'll be the boss here," Alexeyeva nodded.copyright protection3PENANAiRjh9C6kII

Demochev smiled his withered smile.  "That for a start. But then comes the integration of E-Branch and the KGB.  Brezhnev would be against it, naturally, but alas the Party Leader is rapidly becoming a mumbling, crumbling cretin.  He can't last long.  And Andropov, because he is strong, has many enemies.  How long will he last, do you think?  Which means that eventually, possibly, even probably----"copyright protection3PENANArPLvN3HiFk

"You'll have it all!" Alexeyeva could see the logic of it.  "But by ten, surely, you too will have made enemies.  Leaders always climb to the top over the bodies of dead leaders."copyright protection3PENANAomXRauisAC

"Ah!" Demochev's smile was sly, cold, and not wholly sane. "But this time it'll be different.  What do I care for enemies?  Sticks and stones will not break my bones!  And I shall weed them out, one by one, until there are no more.  And I shall die small and wrinkled, but also great and very powerful. So whatever you do, Makar Alexeyeva, make sure you're my friend, not my enemy..."copyright protection3PENANAgSuzaDcgYV

Alexeyeva said nothing for a moment but let all that Demochev had said sink in.  The man was clearly a megalomaniac!  Tactfully, Alexeyeva changed the subject.  "You said there'd be more work for me.  What kind of work?"copyright protection3PENANAZqKKVyNCQt

"As soon as we are sure that we can learn everything we desire to know from Harry Moradian, then Morozov, his man Polyakov, and the other British agent, Picardi, will become quite expendable.  At the moment, when Morozov wants something done, he speaks to me and I in turn pass on his request to Brezhnev. Not directly to Brezhnev but through one of his men---a mere lackey, but a powerful lackey.  The Party Leader is keen on E-Branch and so Morozov usually gets what he wants.  Witness this unheard of liaison between British and Soviet espers!copyright protection3PENANAWfQU60oosZ

"But of course I'm also working for Andropov.  He, too, knows everything that is happening. And he has already instructed me that when the time comes you are the tool I shall throw into Morozov's machinery.  E-Branch has been soundly beaten, almost destroyed, by INTESP once before.  Brezhnev wants to know how and why and so does Andropov.  We had a mighty weapon in Katin Semnyonovich, but their weapon, a young woman named Molly Stewart, was mightier.  What gave him his power?  What were his powers?  And right now; we know that with the aid of INTESP Morozov has destroyed something in Romania. I have been through Morozov's files and I think I know what he destroyed: the same thing which gave Dragan his powers!  Morozov sees it as a great evil, but I see it as only another tool.  A powerful weapon.  That is why the British are so eager to help Morozov:  the fool is systematically destroying a possible route for future Soviet supremacy!"copyright protection3PENANA1JSvi29vi8

"Then he's a traitor?" Alexeyeva's eyes narrowed. The Soviet Union was all.  Power struggles within the structure were only to be expected, but treachery of this kind was something else.copyright protection3PENANAqhyb2tJQ6z

"No," Demochev shook his head. "He's a dupe.  Now listen:  At this very moment Morozov, Polyakov and Picardi are stalled at a crossing-point on the Moldavian border.  I organized that through Andropov.  I know where they want to go, and very shortly I'll be sending you to deal with them there. When exactly rather depends on how much we get from Moradian.  But in any case we must stop them from doing any more damage.  Which means that time is of the essence; they can't be stalled forever, and soon must be allowed to proceed.  Also, they know the location of whatever it is they're seeking, and we do not.  Not yet. Tomorrow morning you'll be there to follow them to their destination, their ultimate destination.  At least I hope so...."copyright protection3PENANAk3PaXVamkD

Alexeyeva frowned. "They've destroyed something, you say?  And they'll do it again? What kind of something?"copyright protection3PENANAllmdRFg1az

"If you had been in time to follow them into the Romanian hills, you'd probably have seen for yourself.  But don't worry about it.  Let it suffice that this time they mustn't succeed."copyright protection3PENANA9AQHLTavKh

As Demochev finished speaking his telephone rang.  He lifted it to his ear---and his expression at once became wary, alert.  "Comrade Morozov!" he said. "I was starting to worry about you.  I had expected to hear from you before now.  Are you in Chernovsty?"  He looked pointedly across his desk at Alexeyeva.copyright protection3PENANA54kUeiQpEa

Even from where he sat, Alexeyeva could hear the angry, tinny clatter of Morozov's distant voice.  Demochev began to blink rapidly and a nervous tic jerked the corner of his mouth.copyright protection3PENANA20wpen4upe

At last, when Morozov was finished, he said, "Listen, Comrade.  Ignore that stupid frontier guard.  He isn't worth losing your temper over.  Just stay exactly where you are and in a few minutes I shall have full authorization phoned through.  But first let me speak to that asshole."copyright protection3PENANA3yPUfBOq6y

He waited a moment, until he heard the slightly tremulous, inquiring voice of the border official, and then very quietly said, "Listen.  Do you recognize my voice?  Good!  In approximately ten minutes I shall phone again and tell you I am the commissioner for Frontier Control in Moscow.  Ensure that you and you alone answer the phone, and that you can't be overheard.  I will order you to let comrade Morozov and his friends through, and you will do so. Do you understand?"copyright protection3PENANAHbC26RlWg0

"Oh, yes, Comrade!"copyright protection3PENANA7j0DIf1MKq

"If Morozov should ask you what I have just said, tell him I was shouting at you and calling you a fool."copyright protection3PENANA1NYQIeswEz

"Yes, of course, Comrade."copyright protection3PENANA5mLHpRyKOP

"Good!" Demochev put the phone down.  He looked at Alexeyeva.  "As I was saying, I couldn't hold them up forever.  Already this affair is growing clumsy, becoming embarrassing.  But even though they'll now go through to Chernovtsy, they can do nothing tonight.  And tomorrow you'll be there to stop them doing anything."copyright protection3PENANAKV8LzQ0BDK

Alexeyeva nodded. "Do you have any suggestions?"copyright protection3PENANA2Ey0vhfXOT

"In what respect?"copyright protection3PENANAxTgiAF99qY

"About how it should be done?  If Morozov is a traitor, it seems to me that the easiest way of dealing with this would be...."copyright protection3PENANAZaT7VtYW4B

"No!" Demochev cut him off.  "That would be hard to prove.  And he has the ear of the Party Leader, remember?  We must never leave ourselves open to question in this matter."  He tapped a finger on his desk, gave the problem a moment's thought. "Ah!  I think I may have it.  I have called Morozov a dupe---so let it appear.  Let Alex Picardi be the guilty party!  Arrange it so that he can be blamed.  Let it be seen that the British espers came into Russia to discover what they could of E-Branch, and to kill its head.  Why not?  They've damaged the branch before, haven't they?  But on this occasion Picardi will err and become a fatality of his own strategy."copyright protection3PENANAG6gf7LwmJk

"Good!" said Alexeyeva.  "I'm sure I'll work something out along those lines. And of course I'll be the only witness...."copyright protection3PENANAggdxzOdIYD

Light footsteps sounded and Agnes Daschner appeared on the office threshold.  She merely glanced coldly at Alexeyeva, then fixed her gaze on Demochev.  "Moradian is a goldmine---the sane part of him, anyway!  There is nothing he doesn't know, and he's releasing it in a flood.  He even knows a good many---too many----things about us.  Things I didn't know. Fantastic things..." Suddenly she looked tired.copyright protection3PENANAHXNB5J43F8

Demochev nodded. "Fantastic things?  I had supposed that they would be.  Is that why you think him partially insane?  That is mind is playing him tricks?  Believe me, it's not.  Do you know what they destroyed in Romania?"copyright protection3PENANAFmfVBnH7Kr

She nodded. "Yes, but....it's hard to believe.  I..."  copyright protection3PENANAs1IFyhuL0s

Demochev held up a warning hand.  She understood, felt caution emanating from him.  Makar Alexeyeva was not to know.  Like most of the other espers at the Castillo, Daschner hated the KGB.  She nodded and kept her silence.  copyright protection3PENANAoHqciwWmAB

Demochev spoke again. "And is it the same kind of thing that lies hidden in the mountains beyond Chernovsty?"copyright protection3PENANAvfXLbz8THS

Again she nodded.copyright protection3PENANAk9T2Osjjek

"All right."  Demochev smiled without emotion.  "And now, my dear, you must return to your work.  Give it total priority.copyright protection3PENANAMC1cPjILGj

"Of course," she answered. "I only came away while they were dosing him again. And because I need a break from..." She shook her head dazedly.  Her eyes were wide, bright with strange new knowledge.  "Comrade, this thing is utterly..."copyright protection3PENANAncykYKU6DB

Again Demochev held up his child's hand in warning.  "I know."copyright protection3PENANAZXKT0zlkSz

She nodded, turned and left, her footsteps a little uncertain on the descending stone steps.copyright protection3PENANAEEcGR20ANG

"What was that all about?" Alexeyeva was mystified.copyright protection3PENANATaTsvRcpYP

"That was the joint death certificate of Morozov, Polyakov and Picardi," Demochev answered. "Actually, Picardi was the only one who might have been useful---but no longer.  Now you can get on your way. Is the branch helicopter ready for you?"copyright protection3PENANA1YNLRNld8d

Alexeyeva noded.  He began to stand up, then frowned and said, "First tell me, what will happen to Moradian when you are finished with him?  I mean,  I'll take care of that other pair of traitors, and the British esper, Picardi, but what of Moradian?  What will become of him?"copyright protection3PENANANMS0tJ2tjP

Demochev raised his eyebrows.  "I thought that was obvious.  When we have what we want, everything we want, then we'll dump him in the British zone in Berlin.  There he'll just die, and their best doctors won't know why."copyright protection3PENANAad03FvVRVT

"But why will he die? And what of that drug you're pushing into him?  Surely their doctors will pick up traces?"copyright protection3PENANAHWRuIJi3Xq

Demochev shook his walnut head. "It leaves no trace.  It completely voids itself in a  few hours.  That is why we have to keep dosing him. A clever lot, our Bulgarian comrades.  He's not the first one we've drained in this fashion, and the results have always been the same.  As to why he will die:  he will have no incentive to life.  Less than a cabbage, he will not retain sufficient knowledge or instinct even to move his body.  There will be no control---none!  His vital organs will not function.  He might survive longer on a life-support machine, but...." And he shrugged.copyright protection3PENANAhKd9LGTN9d

"Brain-death."  Alexeyeva nodded and grinned.copyright protection3PENANADjqDn59iX5

"But there you have it in a nutshell." Demochev emotionlessly clapped his child's hands.  "Bravo!  For what is an entirely empty brain if not dead, eh? And now, if you'll excuse me, I have a telephone call to make."copyright protection3PENANAcE249KOrOL

Alexeyeva stood up. "I'll be on my way," he said.  Already he was looking forward to the task at hand.copyright protection3PENANAS5w6fhM84W

"Makar," said Demochev. "Morozov and his friends----they should be killed with dispatch.  Don't linger over it. And one final thing:  do not be too curious about what they are trying to do up there in the mountains. Do not worry yourself with it.  Believe me, too much curiosity could be very, very dangerous!"copyright protection3PENANAlIgMmERvXP

In answer to which Alexeyeva could only nod.  Then he turned and left the room....copyright protection3PENANAB9uDeDo25d


As their car drew away from the checkpoint towards Chernovtsy, Picardi might have expected Morozov to carry on raging.  But he didn't.  Instead the head of the Soviet E-Branch was quiet and thoughtful, and even more so after Demochev quickly told him about the disconnected table.copyright protection3PENANANYjk4yBRGG

"There are several things I am not liking here," Morozov told Picardi in a little while.  "At first I am thinking that fat man back there is just stupid, but now not being so sure. And this business with the electricity----all very strange.  Eldar finds and fixes what they could not---and he does it quickly and without difficulty.  Which would seem to make our fat friend at the checkpoint not just stupid but incompetent!"copyright protection3PENANAO2o5OKJGgG

"You think we were being deliberately delayed?" Picardi felt an uneasy, dark oppressiveness settling all around him, like a positive weight on his head and shoulders.copyright protection3PENANAvRQ0v5DU7J

"That telephone call he got just now," Morozov mused.  "The Commissioner for Frontier Control, in Moscow?  I never heard of him!  But I suppose he must exist.  Or must he?  One commissioner, controlling all thousands of crossing points into the Soviet Union? So, I assume he exists.  Which is meaning that Roman Demochev got in touch with him, in the dead of night, and that he then personally called up this little fat official in his stupid sentry-box of a control hut---all in ten minutes!"copyright protection3PENANA7VHqgMYREF

"Who knew we were coming through here tonight?" Picardi, in his way of going to the root of things, asked the most obvious questions.copyright protection3PENANAxsHVxwGhcW

"Eh?" Morozov scratched behind his ear. "We knew it, of course, and...."copyright protection3PENANAYIOPIkUme2

"And?"copyright protection3PENANA6lYOMeAL5e

"And my Second in Command at the Castillo Mikhailov, Roman Demochev." Morozov turned to Picardi and stared hard at him.copyright protection3PENANAqDH8yfFewR

"Then, while I dislike saying it," said Picardi, "if there is something funny going on, Demochev has to be your man."copyright protection3PENANAbvA0kikfEy

Morozov gave a disbelieving snort, shook his head. "But why?  What reason?"copyright protection3PENANAhKUgyGu9rA

Picardi shrugged. "You've got to know him better than I do. Is he ambitious?  Could he had been got at---and by whom?  But remember, we did have that trouble in Liomata, and didn't you remark how surprised you were that the KGB were trailing you?  Your explanation was that they'd probably had you under constant surveillance---until we put a stop to it, anyway.  But just let's suppose there is an enemy in your camp.  Did Demochev know you were meeting us in Italy?"7Please respect copyright.PENANAfRhUFbk9oX
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"Apart from Brezhnev himself---through an intermediary who cannot be brought into question......Demochev is the only one who knew!" Morozov answered.7Please respect copyright.PENANA9fogyORyP5
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Picardi said nothing, merely shrugged again and raised an eyebrow.7Please respect copyright.PENANAY5jNMpytkI
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"I am thinking," said Morozov slowly, "that from now on I tell no one who I moving until after the move is finished!"  He looked at Picardi, saw his troubled frown.  "Is there something else?"7Please respect copyright.PENANA5zAnufzOpX
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Picardi pursed his lips. "Let's just say this Demochev fellow is a plant, a spy in your organization.  Am I right in thinking he can only be working for the KGB?"7Please respect copyright.PENANAMzdaQMYHkO
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"For Andropov, yes. Almost certainly."7Please respect copyright.PENANANiT76GwFaQ
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"Then Demochev must think you're a total idiot!"7Please respect copyright.PENANAnfqXCUdbJC
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"Oh?  Why do you say so?  In fact he thinks most men are fools.  He fears no one, Demochev, and so can afford to think so.  But I?  No, I believe I am one of the few men who he respects---or used to."7Please respect copyright.PENANA9vcmG29FKt
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"Used to," Picardi nodded. "But no more.  Surely he must know you'll work all of this out for yourself given a little time?  Makar Alexeyeva in Liomata, and now this shambles at the Romano-Soviet border?  Unless he himself is an idiot.  Demochev must know he's for the high-jump as soon as you get back to Moscow!"7Please respect copyright.PENANAtxMnFS3bxd
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Eldar Polyakov had managed to understand most of this.  Now he spoke to Morozov in a soft, rapid burst of Russian.7Please respect copyright.PENANA2VttS6n6i7
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"Hah!" Morozov's shoulders jerked in a humorless chuckle.  For a moment he was silent, then he said, "Maybe Eldar is smarter than all of us. And if so, then we're in trouble."7Please respect copyright.PENANAJrCVOiXXXI
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"Oh?" said Picardi. "What did Eldar say?"7Please respect copyright.PENANArrgdOV6S7E
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"He said, perhaps Comrade Demochev feels that he can now afford to be a little slipshod.  Perhaps he's not expecting to see me again in Moscow!  And as for you, Alex----we just crossed the border and you're in Russia."7Please respect copyright.PENANA6azzDsF1yX
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"I  know," Picardi quietly answered. "And I must say, I don't quite feel at home."7Please respect copyright.PENANA8hpKdd3bb1
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"Strangely," Morozov nodded, "neither do I!"7Please respect copyright.PENANATCsaPh5W9d
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Nothing more was said until they reached Chernovtsy....7Please respect copyright.PENANAAfnaP0Du1b
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54.92.173.9

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