Mollyscope II: The Vamphyri | Penana

Please use Chrome or Firefox for better user experience!
Mollyscope II: The Vamphyri
Co-Writer Paul Robison*
  • G: General Audiences
  • PG: Parental Guidance Suggested
  • PG-13: Parents Strongly Cautioned
  • R: Restricted
708 Reads

Facebook · Twitter

FAQ · Feedback · Privacy · Terms

Penana © 2018

Get it on Google Play

Download on the App Store

Mollyscope II: The Vamphyri
9 10 11 12 13 14 16 17 18
Paul Robison
May 16, 2018
47 Mins Read
No Plagiarism!qoDgPhGmpWgCJuP0nkBMposted 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.13Please respect copyright.PENANAoeAfxrlAWP
copyright protection9PENANAO21kynShoS

"Where the hell's Petley?" Baxter whispered.  "We could use some instructions."copyright protection9PENANAVPgy66QMtg

"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 protection9PENANAIJSseItB25

"But there should be four of us in here."copyright protection9PENANAoQ7pbFN4Xb

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 protection9PENANAWS1dr7jiUN

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 protection9PENANAyDwq5L9zmc

Baxter checked the valve on his hose was open, rested his finger on the trigger, toed the door open.  In there----darkness.copyright protection9PENANAEL2MaerYio

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 protection9PENANA9fhbsIiM1c

Baxter gulped, filling his lungs, quietly closed the door.  copyright protection9PENANAzzP60VR9ve

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 protection9PENANAlaZoWaDo8W

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 protection9PENANAMib4tDNLpO

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 protection9PENANAYZoO5oJWyf

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 protection9PENANAaUpajmkWKt

In this house, at this time, a girl humming to herself in a shower?  Or was it a trap?copyright protection9PENANASxL4BfHp17

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 protection9PENANAdZ7BNc0x9z

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 protection9PENANAMktcuNyPKi

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 protection9PENANAiDQ4HrkpQl

Come on my sweet!  come help me!  Ah, just me, hold me!  Just a little closer, my sweet---there!  And now....copyright protection9PENANAx4lEG9RGH0

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 protection9PENANAgtlKGPxeFh

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 protection9PENANAxYVn3CPn1F

"God, God, oh God!"   Mede cried, riveted to the spot.copyright protection9PENANAJzK5dqe47V

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 protection9PENANA5npq75gFkV

"God help us!" Mede gasped, turned away to be sick.copyright protection9PENANAXRUSeXu3lw

"God?" the think in the shower croaked, like a voice from the abyss.  "What god?  You bloody black bastards!"copyright protection9PENANAJ45t9jUoo1

Impossibly she came erect, took a blind, stumbling, groping step forward.copyright protection9PENANAktoJUvPab9

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 protection9PENANA68000fYvij

From below, Petley's voice reached anxiously up to them:  "Mike?  Hugh?  What is it?"copyright protection9PENANA12o7wyqqWP

Baxter wiped his forehead.  "We----we got the girl," he whispered, then shouted. "We got the girl!"copyright protection9PENANArgjPZdlOox

"We got her mother," Petley answered, "and Matei's dog.  That leaves Matei himself, and his mother."copyright protection9PENANAYuFYvFdtaw

"There's a door up here, locked," Baxter called back. "I though I heard someone go in there."copyright protection9PENANANczbj5JKwG

"Can you break it down?"copyright protection9PENANAzXWSNW69Lu

"No, it's oak, old and heavy.  But, I'm sure I could burn it...."copyright protection9PENANAGJZlHu1VYc

"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 protection9PENANAsLo1XI7GsD

"I'm on my own," Petley responded.  "Where've I been?  I've been checking this place through downstairs."copyright protection9PENANAm2BjVof1y0

"A waste of time," Mede groaned, half to himself.copyright protection9PENANAveKuAsZCoX

"What?" Petley raised his voice more yet.copyright protection9PENANAOQJcSGU0nn

"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 protection9PENANAEJpf3kEjld

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 protection9PENANAkRr4m2wlEU

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 protection9PENANAisL2FEIzE5

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 protection9PENANAWiPmySHdb2

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 protection9PENANAqvUSAgV6Cz

"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 protection9PENANA1V2NXHrFh6

Longton called back, "No, it's Petley.  Hurry up, will you?"copyright protection9PENANALepAAXthbE

"No, not Petely," Greenway was breathless, almost whispering.  "Something else....."copyright protection9PENANAkBafuKwpR8

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 protection9PENANAYT41G1I7H0

Petley came halfway down the steps, stumbling and yelling:  "Mike, get out of there!  Hurry, man!"copyright protection9PENANAeseD3PBw7M

Baxter screamed again, the cry of a trapped animal.  "It's here, Robert----it's here!  Under the ground!"copyright protection9PENANAbsolHS6ehX

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 protection9PENANAngQrhwt0Eb

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 protection9PENANA0SDfvH56dd

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 protection9PENANAToFhKn9QBq

"Jesus!" Robert Petley shouted then, his voice a sandpapered howl of horror and hatred. "Sweet J-e-s-u-s !"copyright protection9PENANANZGDqYaUYP

He aimed his hose down the ramp.  "Goodbye, Mike.  God grant you peace!"copyright protection9PENANA5ZHJfdqkkD

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 protection9PENANAxd2duMBECd

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 protection9PENANA4pcL3DKexI

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 protection9PENANA3CILmXZMij

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 protection9PENANAqQxs32eEGQ

"Look!" Greenway yelled, over the sound of subterranean thunder and the hiss and crackle of fire.  They both stared at the house.copyright protection9PENANARLg3xkHhze

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 protection9PENANA0CRIodFn0X

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 protection9PENANAHqNeTRg7wX

He went to get it, but Robert Petley stayed where he was, continuing to watch the figure of the woman at the window.copyright protection9PENANAYnJfrgA8y9

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 protection9PENANAnyMfgasWyt

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 protection9PENANAUfUIuNzLV5

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 protection9PENANAIUts9UIJ3g

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 protection9PENANATrPFG5Q92o

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 protection9PENANACWDwE7kdTf

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 protection9PENANAjB9M3jHM3L

"It was," Petley yelled back, offering what he hoped looked like a helpless shrug.  "Gone, I'm afraid. Burned down."copyright protection9PENANA3WcSCSYs20

"Good God!" The red-faced man was aghast.  "Has the fire brigade been alerted?"copyright protection9PENANAQEWubACwOv

"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 protection9PENANAM77WUbfBXj

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 protection9PENANAm1fzTSsSku

*                  *               *copyright protection9PENANASa9OFlphRe

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 protection9PENANANDlUzf6PR4

"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 protection9PENANA8e5oOZggRA

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 protection9PENANAKJLTyqfYI6

"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 protection9PENANAcwJxrjNx8F

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 protection9PENANABhUGFIGVYx

"I couldn't have done anything anyway!" Longton protested.  "I'd shot my bolt, hadn't reloaded yet...."copyright protection9PENANAwJhiDPJSNr

"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 protection9PENANAYZYIxp1lWa

"What now?" said Greenway.  He felt a little sorry for Longton, tried to take attention away from him.copyright protection9PENANA1yrVf7DV3B

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 protection9PENANAtzkKSXzBPn

"Find him?" Longton licked dry lips. "How?  He was confused and was not thinking straight.copyright protection9PENANA2On1wVqygn

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 protection9PENANAJhWbcbjQ7m

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 protection9PENANArAWMkOKUpA

Mede drew air sharply and made a conclusive, snapping sound with his fingers.  He gave a sharp nod, said, "Of course!"copyright protection9PENANAhsoFtVAUuQ

They all looked at him.copyright protection9PENANAie8eqlpJbw

"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 protection9PENANA5D62qrQalg

"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 protection9PENANALDJaid5S7A

Wednesdaycopyright protection9PENANAJpOSDed3Yp

12:30 A.M. middle-European timecopyright protection9PENANAz32G6s7XDs

The border crossing-point near Siret in Moldavia.copyright protection9PENANAdo6XyoaEhh

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 protection9PENANAe0H3Sli6og

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 protection9PENANAvYkxFq0MnD

"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 protection9PENANAfB1lyAJIe0

"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 protection9PENANA0t1IxU3P0s

The round-faced, overweight Russian official shrugged helplessly.  "They are, comrade, but..."copyright protection9PENANA6vqq25R2Sf

"No, no, no!" Morozov shouted.  "No more buts, just yes or now.  And Comrade Polyakov's documents are in order as well, yes?"copyright protection9PENANAG7QItpid8x

The Russian customs man bobbed uncomfortably this way and that, shrugged again. "Yes."copyright protection9PENANAe91fRy9Vo9

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 protection9PENANAnvEOVHUNKM

"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 protection9PENANA2qUT8njrAr

"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 protection9PENANAZPA04szeoY

"----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 protection9PENANAoLt2zpKucu

"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 protection9PENANAgfVa84yrv9

"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 protection9PENANATvYuv3X5hl

"Think on this!" Morozov snapped.  "Tomorrow you could be explaining it to the KGB!"copyright protection9PENANA3F6xIGXta9

"More threats." The other gave another shrug.  "One stops worrying."copyright protection9PENANAYrpTCyXa0t

"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 protection9PENANAkTYjoumlAE

"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 protection9PENANAGEkNb3u8wF

Morozov almost leaped over the counter to get at him.  "Don't you dare sit down!  Not while I am on my feet!"copyright protection9PENANAiu6HoIgmTg

The other wiped his forehead, stood up again, readied himself for another tirade....copyright protection9PENANAPeaOxziTUT

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 protection9PENANAxBxSpIVTRs

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 protection9PENANAy9XFRlo8Ih

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 protection9PENANAoxwzl38EW3

"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 protection9PENANAxuF4m4NiXF

"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 protection9PENANAKwPHbH3APL

"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 protection9PENANASejoNFrWkn

"Dolt!" Morozov sneered. "You, of course, shall come with me to Siret, where you'll receive your instructions direct from the Kremlin!"copyright protection9PENANA0RSFWfJKxH

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 protection9PENANApide0pV3ZL

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 protection9PENANAPSZ8gNOHK8

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 protection9PENANA5K0YpXd9HL

His opponent chewed his lip. "Of course," he finally answered.copyright protection9PENANAQ734l3th7t

"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 protection9PENANA2Xm25CPUjz

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 protection9PENANA2pk2nJZBSH

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 protection9PENANAmJOpNathsB

"I---I suppose so," said the other.copyright protection9PENANALuy7xDJny3

Morozov came back to the counter.  "Which means," his tone was icy, "that from now on we might just start to get somewhere....."copyright protection9PENANAXAshCQ1CrU

1:00 a.m.copyright protection9PENANAjOD8eqiHHK

Moscow, U.S.S.R.copyright protection9PENANAisfQzMuj92

The Castillo Mikhailov, some miles outside the capital, along the Tarasovich Road.copyright protection9PENANAm7DPogGpS8

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 protection9PENANAkcWXkanCS5

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 protection9PENANAnbxC27owry

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 protection9PENANAzNFcD4tjul

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 protection9PENANArOyoLTz9vr

"What exactly are they doing to him?  How does this work, Comrade?" he asked.copyright protection9PENANAeSCMvEUTbl

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 protection9PENANAsL88XMcr6G

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 protection9PENANANyulWfevoK

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 protection9PENANAWCDzp8ej1p

"Brainwashing?" Alexeyeva repeated him. "I had thought some kind of interrogation, surely?"copyright protection9PENANAEuaNC8zOzG

"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 protection9PENANAumeYIaeWFD

Alexeyeva shook his head in bewilderment. "You are stealing his thoughts?"copyright protection9PENANAGCgjcFsqYu

"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 protection9PENANAQDY0rA91pJ

"But----I mean, how?" The concept was over Alexeyeva's head.copyright protection9PENANAHU5VTO57KL

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 protection9PENANAKro1LBGd1F

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 protection9PENANAHSjGTKh2LG

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 protection9PENANALtARouFuBq

"Ah!" said Alexeyeva, the word a little gasp. "Impossible!  She looks through the glass at us!"copyright protection9PENANAgmSFnDg4Ri

"No," Demochev shook his head.  "She thinks through it--at us, if I'm not mistaken!"copyright protection9PENANAJza2f3Nx6y

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 protection9PENANAdS2OJqipUU

"Of course, my dear!" Demochev smiled and nodded his wrinkled walnut head.  He turned away, taking Alexeyeva's elbow.  "Come, Makar."copyright protection9PENANAQbhIQFm6Jd

Alexeyeva shook himself loose, scowled at the girl.  "You are very free with your insults."copyright protection9PENANAptNzv2DjAJ

"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 protection9PENANASNBUClkVLf

Demochev looked at Alexeyeva. "Well?"copyright protection9PENANAQBr7khMGov

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 protection9PENANAUNYHnuK0Nk

"Barely!" she snapped, and at once returned to her work.copyright protection9PENANAJG8lALGVGr

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 protection9PENANAaw3BDnTq4h

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 protection9PENANAWY5UGsprtd

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 protection9PENANALcTUxuFepm

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 protection9PENANAGASJcw75Wb

"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 protection9PENANAnSatNQVdho

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 protection9PENANAq3BkX9ODnd

"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 protection9PENANAZ4ORN0oV6l

"And with Morozov gone, you'll be the boss here," Alexeyeva nodded.copyright protection9PENANA6tdgX17Seo

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 protection9PENANAhFsTZp2O3q

"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 protection9PENANA22uQUiRidX

"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 protection9PENANADkrRAoSHh7

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 protection9PENANA6zNysNYvB1

"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 protection9PENANAVE3quXJlgW

"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 protection9PENANAjTgKKR8Dzq

"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 protection9PENANALFZyerlcWX

"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 protection9PENANAeSBii5g2rw

Alexeyeva frowned. "They've destroyed something, you say?  And they'll do it again? What kind of something?"copyright protection9PENANAYKqfua6DOG

"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 protection9PENANA3zm28AutNq

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 protection9PENANAq1j1kB7AEz

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 protection9PENANA6CkwSOHZsw

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 protection9PENANAFw61zeB3Hp

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 protection9PENANAu8rNaLpil3

"Oh, yes, Comrade!"copyright protection9PENANARsGbZy0Gxt

"If Morozov should ask you what I have just said, tell him I was shouting at you and calling you a fool."copyright protection9PENANAdcZjezxQCf

"Yes, of course, Comrade."copyright protection9PENANAf6oGTzrjRN

"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 protection9PENANAmJf2VeAWV8

Alexeyeva nodded. "Do you have any suggestions?"copyright protection9PENANAp8kprzYZpA

"In what respect?"copyright protection9PENANAeEHDlBcNU3

"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 protection9PENANAAgNQiI4TE0

"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 protection9PENANA149mtAVrAk

"Good!" said Alexeyeva.  "I'm sure I'll work something out along those lines. And of course I'll be the only witness...."copyright protection9PENANA2PZKsllE8f

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 protection9PENANAIIvvzOeEIS

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 protection9PENANAEJWN5qo1SY

She nodded. "Yes,'s hard to believe.  I..."  copyright protection9PENANAmVNmFgH0VP

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 protection9PENANAfDyL97AoLi

Demochev spoke again. "And is it the same kind of thing that lies hidden in the mountains beyond Chernovsty?"copyright protection9PENANAhq2ee8EC9x

Again she nodded.copyright protection9PENANABwspS7Gz7B

"All right."  Demochev smiled without emotion.  "And now, my dear, you must return to your work.  Give it total priority.copyright protection9PENANApnfX9p5JNR

"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 protection9PENANA24h5jwdX9n

Again Demochev held up his child's hand in warning.  "I know."copyright protection9PENANAuKTWaM4Qlb

She nodded, turned and left, her footsteps a little uncertain on the descending stone steps.copyright protection9PENANAsKzHII6NsU

"What was that all about?" Alexeyeva was mystified.copyright protection9PENANAEvZWAisOgC

"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 protection9PENANAbLn5IxSMod

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 protection9PENANAYQYxyHgEuJ

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 protection9PENANAz9ey6PRzD7

"But why will he die? And what of that drug you're pushing into him?  Surely their doctors will pick up traces?"copyright protection9PENANAbPTyVB6Nnu

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 protection9PENANA1ml0UTHayc

"Brain-death."  Alexeyeva nodded and grinned.copyright protection9PENANAU7l9GrYx0C

"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 protection9PENANAFcsyKoaQcx

Alexeyeva stood up. "I'll be on my way," he said.  Already he was looking forward to the task at hand.copyright protection9PENANAldUGeOzVZ7

"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 protection9PENANA8Tft3VV2tW

In answer to which Alexeyeva could only nod.  Then he turned and left the room....copyright protection9PENANAE887HTvRKI

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 protection9PENANAp5VjLa8l58

"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 protection9PENANAse1HH5DD76

"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 protection9PENANAAMfJTXCpOm

"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 protection9PENANA7er3yddGyj

"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 protection9PENANAO1xQJfVmT2

"Eh?" Morozov scratched behind his ear. "We knew it, of course, and...."copyright protection9PENANAttOJdIGP8v

"And?"copyright protection9PENANAcgJEjhRxYq

"And my Second in Command at the Castillo Mikhailov, Roman Demochev." Morozov turned to Picardi and stared hard at him.copyright protection9PENANAQNroDaDzxx

"Then, while I dislike saying it," said Picardi, "if there is something funny going on, Demochev has to be your man."copyright protection9PENANAC10rKd9q3i

Morozov gave a disbelieving snort, shook his head. "But why?  What reason?"copyright protection9PENANAWfyFUSXLpW

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?"13Please respect copyright.PENANAafv3RsxWTA
copyright protection9PENANAbgJDEmNiWl

"Apart from Brezhnev himself---through an intermediary who cannot be brought into question......Demochev is the only one who knew!" Morozov answered.13Please respect copyright.PENANAH4XoBezSAY
copyright protection9PENANAPymQZ648x7

Picardi said nothing, merely shrugged again and raised an eyebrow.13Please respect copyright.PENANAlZcWeJnAkj
copyright protection9PENANAqtnZ9hR73g

"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?"13Please respect copyright.PENANApuzVyqn5mg
copyright protection9PENANA3fwMSb9Gt5

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?"13Please respect copyright.PENANAG4lDsWR1Os
copyright protection9PENANA1iDn8CucL1

"For Andropov, yes. Almost certainly."13Please respect copyright.PENANAZ9rc6FVtgf
copyright protection9PENANAkcvIbF02M3

"Then Demochev must think you're a total idiot!"13Please respect copyright.PENANANFKmAiNYoa
copyright protection9PENANAjPiQCb1LRu

"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."13Please respect copyright.PENANAf4eAIGwAIl
copyright protection9PENANAQSNtgW5L9Q

"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!"13Please respect copyright.PENANA2IvtUB9P4p
copyright protection9PENANAMt2iceXcgK

Eldar Polyakov had managed to understand most of this.  Now he spoke to Morozov in a soft, rapid burst of Russian.13Please respect copyright.PENANA5R5QeG82Fx
copyright protection9PENANAfzzypcJrXB

"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."13Please respect copyright.PENANAcUBruj71UQ
copyright protection9PENANAVNuIgKEmvN

"Oh?" said Picardi. "What did Eldar say?"13Please respect copyright.PENANAnWySqsuAiy
copyright protection9PENANAdihgBtuzGK

"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."13Please respect copyright.PENANA0nq5dEMmHr
copyright protection9PENANAjVkTuK5db2

"I  know," Picardi quietly answered. "And I must say, I don't quite feel at home."13Please respect copyright.PENANAUTlvkQPsRJ
copyright protection9PENANAO7QjQ63vtz

"Strangely," Morozov nodded, "neither do I!"13Please respect copyright.PENANAifGR76jBGC
copyright protection9PENANAjGSBWu5q3L

Nothing more was said until they reached Chernovtsy....13Please respect copyright.PENANAaGZAMdfyAW
copyright protection9PENANAbmGwgbhmpt

Comments ( 0 )

No comments yet. Be the first!