Authors: James Grady
A DELL BOOK
For Senator Lee Metcalf, with warm appreciation
and the hope that as a fan of the genre
he will find this amusing
DELL PUBLISHING CO.
Copyright 1975 by James Grady
All rights reserved.
This book, or parts thereof, must not
be reproduced in any form without permission.
For information contact, G. P. Putnam's Sons,
Dell @ TM 681510, Dell Publishing Co., Inc.
Reprinted by arrangement with G.P. Putnam's Sons
Printed in the
United States of America
First Dell Printing November 1976
So, between the chessmen, the kittens and the lessons
of the orange and the mirror, the new
its now familiar form. The chess problem is quite correctly
worked out in the course of the story, but the nonsense plot and the moves of the pieces are so
cunningly blended and melted into one another that those who do not know Chess are rarely troubled by any feeling of being shut from any of the fun.
-ELEANOR GRAHAM, in her introduction
Through the Looking Glass
by LEWIS CARROLL
One thing was certain, that the white kitten had had nothing to do with it. It was the black kitten's fault entirely.
Don't think about it, he thought, just run. Run. His legs pounded over the slightly springy earth, his feet tripped over clods and rocks unseen in the darkness, his lungs burned with each gasp, his stomach sloshed in painful nausea. Run.
Think about something else, concentrate on your objective, strive for your goal. The ludicrous phrases made him want to laugh. His panting breaths even changed tone as he smiled slightly between gasps. That was a joke. Think about your objective while you're running your guts out because somewhere behind you, probably close behind you, are people whose sole objective is to kill you. And they have guns. And they're not on foot. And they're not tired. And they're not lost. Run.
It's funny how tired your arms get from running, he thought as he topped a small hill and stumbled down the other side. They flop alongside your body, they do very little, yet they get so tired, so heavy. And your neck. Why does it get so tired? Don't think about it, don't be tired. Run.
The brilliant ball of light loomed ahead. He was close enough now to discern objects in the spotlights' glow. He flopped his head to face the clear sky. Stars were out, but the moon bad not risen. Maybe it has, he thought, maybe it's risen and gone. Maybe it's behind a cloud. Maybe, he thought, maybe it will stay wherever it is so the darkness will keep me hidden. Maybe. Maybe I'll make it to the light too, he thought. Inside the light. And maybe they won't get close enough to catch me until help arrives. Maybe, he thought, maybe. Run.
Fifty yards from the ball of light be stumbled over a deserted fence, his heavy foot tripping over the bottom strand of barbed wire which had somehow outlived its top two companions, withstanding the ravages of time, weather and wandering animals solely to survive until it could trip him. He fell, tumbled, rolled into a shuddering heap. Get up, he thought, get up. A new liquid trickled down his cheek, a liquid stickier than the pools of sweat already covering his face. But the cuts didn't bother him. He told himself they didn't, and neither did the bruises. He staggered to his feet and slowly, surely, loped across the prairie again. Forget your aching body: Run.
It’s cold out, he thought, awfully cold out, even for spring. The ground is almost frozen. If I weren't running, I would need more than just a shirt, he thought. Then he thought, if I weren't running, I wouldn't be here to need a jacket Run.
He tried to spring just before he reached the edge of the circle of light. After all he had been through, he should not have been able to leap as high as he did. Amazing, he thought as his body slammed into the chain-link fence, amazing. He didn't feel the jagged steel on the top of the fence as it tore through his palms. He didn’t feel anything except hope.
He slowly pulled his body up the fence, curling himself into a tight ball. Tremendous pressure pulled on his arms as he held himself perpendicular to the fence, but his mind told his arms-they could do it and they did. During the final training exercise, fresh, eager and under only classroom stimulus, he scaled the chain-link fence in less than nine seconds. He scored highest in his training group on the obstacle course. That night it took him more than twenty seconds to build up to the quick thrust which should have shot his arm well over the three strands of taut combat barbed wire to let him grasp the fence's top metal rail. That night his slow awkward thrust carried his arm only to the bottom strand of barbed wire. But he managed to hold on, despite the barb, despite the slippery blood. With one concentrated spurt of energy he pulled his body over the wire, flopping the ten -feet to the ground like an old laundry bag. His physical-training instructor would have made him do it again and again until he mastered the light-footed paratrooper descent-"Knees bent, toes first, roll, roll!" But his training instructors were on the other side of numerous fences, asleep, safe.
He didn't know how long he Jay there. He thought it must have been close to five minutes. It was actually less than one minute, but time held little reality for him then. There were only two periods: running and after running. It was now after running. He crawled.
He crawled toward the center of the brightly lit circle. Bright spotlights blinded him in every direction he looked. When he squinted, he could see four bulks of metal, one at each compass point. He dragged his body toward another hulk of metal jutting four feet up from the concrete slab a few yards from the center of the brightly lit circle.
It took him thirty seconds, to pull himself upright beside the ventilator shaft and another thirty seconds to regain his equilibrium once he reached his feet. Then he slowly began to beat his bloody hands against the ventilator's cool aluminum sides.
The bullet hit him as his hand fell for the fifth feeble blow. It hit him solidly, tearing through his chest, shattering the aorta and several ribs before it emerged to lose itself in the darkness. He was dead before his body flipped over the ventilator and crashed onto the concrete slab, dead before the rifle's crack reached the circle of light
A quarter of a mile away the marksman lowered his rifle. He carefully ejected the spent cartridge into his hand and put it in his pocket while his companion leaned on the pickup truck’s hood to scan the circle of light with binoculars.
"Dead?' asked the marksman. The only emotion his voice contained was pride, haughty, confident pride. He knew the question was unnecessary.
His companion wasn't so sure. "Perhaps, probably. He isn’t moving. Do it again, quickly."
Sheltered by the darkness, the marksman's face registered contempt and surprise. Such an outburst was safe in the dark. Had it been light, his face would have been impassive.
The marksman's smooth movements seemed slow, but in less than five seconds he had raised the rifle, braced himself against the pickup, aimed and sent another slug whistling through the body inside the circle of light. The body jerked-from the bullet's impact, not life-then was still.
"Good," said the man with the binoculars, "let us go."
"Should we check him out, see if he carried any papers or anything?
"Nyet," replied the other man as he climbed into the pickup. "We haven't time. The security forces will be here
soon. We would surely be caught. There is a chance he is carrying something important, but we will have to risk that. We must go, quickly. And don't use the lights."
The pickup had been gone six minutes when the first two helicopters came in fast and low, swooping in from
the southern horizon, black except for the faint glow from instrument panels, silent except for their propellers' whirring. They circled the area in darkness for several minutes, scanning the ground with electronic instruments and infrared lenses. Then one helicopter lowered to the circle of light's center to disgorge six blue-uniformed men carrying M16's. The helicopter rose and rejoined its companion. They circled the area in ever-increasing arcs.
Two of the uniformed men checked the ventilator shaft for damage and bombs. One stood guard, weapon at the
ready. The other three examined the body. The leader of the group carefully went through the corpse's pockets, then
ran his hands over the still-warm flesh. His hands stopped when they found a slight bulge on the body's right inside
thigh. The searcher carefully pulled the corpse's pants down, trying to disturb the body as little as possible and to avoid getting blood on himself. Taped to the inside of the gunshot victim's thigh was a small black notebooklike wallet. The searcher flipped it open, and his eyes quickly scanned the pages under the glare of the searchlights. He
reached for the radio carried by his aide.
Three hours later the first two helicopters had gone. The searchlights were off. Dawn was only seconds away. The early-morning predawn light had banished all but the blackest shadows. Men in blue uniforms still filled the
area inside the chain-link fence. Several blue vehicles were parked along the road leading to the fenced-in perimeter.
The body lay where it had been found. Pictures had been taken, measurements had been made, information bad been requested. By now the men guarding the area were slightly bored even though the murder was an unprecedented break in their normally routine day. The only excitement the early-morning scramble now held for them was the joy of smelling spring wild flowers and freshly turned earth as the sun came up. Most of them would rather have been sleeping in the barracks.
The droning beat of a large helicopter grabbed the men's wandering attention. The cargo machine came in from the south, lowering until it hovered just above the body. A: litter slowly descended from the machine, then rose again, laden with what had once been a man. After the machine was out of sight, the ranking officer gathered all the men at the site around him. In very pointed language he let them know what would happen to them if they ever related any of the events they had witnessed to anyone. The men quickly left the area after the lecture. By the time the nearest farmer'-,drove to his fields to begin the morning's work there was no reason for him to even glance at the fenced-in area, for it looked exactly the way it always looked.
Besides, looking at the site made the farmer nervous.
While the farmer was taking his midmorning break, a U.S. Air Force fighter plane landed at Malmstrom Air Force Base in
. The fighter was a two-man craft which could be flown by one man. The man who climbed out of the rear seat could not have flown the plane if his life depended on it. Despite the emblems on his flight suit, he was not a qualified pilot. He was an Air Force general. The base commander and the chief of security met the general on the runway. Together the three men drove to a hangar near the edge of the base. Normally the hangar stood open, deserted, ignored, unused except by occasional National Guard groups. Today the hangar was locked. Two armed guards stood in front of the doors. There was a guard on each side of the building and two more inside.
The general glanced critically at the rigid guards and muttered coldly to the base commander, "Little late for all this, isn't it?"
The base commander turned red and said nothing.
The general looked down at the body stretched out on the table. The general was a big man, not tall in these days when six feet is almost average height, but big. Barrel-chested, broad-shouldered, thick-bodied. A slab of fat covered what was once a flat, hard stomach, and the gray which had once only flecked his black hair now dominated it. The general's voice had not softened with the years. "God damn you, Parkins," he hissed under his breath. "God damn you!"
The chief of security was not sure what he had heard. He hated to show he had missed something the general had said, but-he was more -afraid of being caught short later through his ignorance. The major moved a step closer to the general and the table before he said, "Sir? I beg your pardon?"
"I said," bellowed the general as he whirled to face his subordinate, "God damn it! God damn it to hell! That shit didn't have the goddamn decency to keep alive until he reported back or at least not to get himself killed in this goddamned, godforsaken, unexplainable place, the son of a bitch!"
The major retreated before the general's fury, but the general paid no attention to him. He whirled back to curse the mute body. "God damn you, Parkins, do you realize the trouble you're going to cause me!" The general shook his head and stalked toward the door. The security major and the base commander nervously scurried in his wake.
Before he opened the door, the general turned to his fellow officers and said, "Fly him out on the next plane to D.C. Let my office know which flight and its ETA. As soon as my aide tells me we've received everything-and we better get everything you got-you forget about this. Understand? You forget about it, and you make damn sure everyone here forgets about it too. Any inquiries about anything related to this you will turn over to my man, a Captain Smith. He'll be here within twenty-four hours. Assign him to your PR staff. He does what he wants. Understand?"
The general didn't pause on the way out to return the two men's shaky salutes. He had a plane to catch.
Spring comes early in
, earlier than it does to much of the country. Flowering trees and plants line the streets in the "better" neighborhoods by the end of March. Their fragrant odors-cut through ev6n the heavy exhaust fumes and pungent odors from the discarded waste of the canine roommates many D.C. residents keep for protection and companionship.
The general noticed neither the beautiful colors nor the not-always-so-beautiful odors as his driver slowly meandered through
traffic, looking for a place to park. Neither man wore a uniform and the general rode in the front seat of the unmarked car. Normally the general would have ordered the driver to find a parking place after he had let him off, but today the general appreciated the delay. It helped him put off a very painful, very embarrassing appointment. Parking is a legitimate delay. The general was even beginning to enjoy the chagrin his tardiness must be causing when a car pulled from the curb a block away. The general's driver quickly sped up the street and backed neatly into position. The general smiled wryly as he said, "Good work, Sergeant. Wait for me here."
The general had five blocks to walk before he would reach his destination. His pace was firm and quick despite his misgivings about the meeting. He clutched his briefcase tightly, half hoping someone would try to steal it from him. The poor mugger would serve as a nice outlet for his aggressions. But ten A.M. is not a prime business hour for those who make their living through violent interpersonal financial transactions in that area of
. The general was in the blurred commercial-residential area which buffers downtown
. The muggers in that area usually work the morning and evening commuter shifts.