DESTROYER #47: DYING SPACE
For Susan D.,
THE GREAT POLISH TOW-AWAY
SCAM, and for the
House of Sinanju,
P.O. Box 1454
Secaucus, N. J. 07094
It was, welllll, awful, just awful, to have to work for Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes.
"I mean, welllll, I don't have to tell you, but the woman is a bitch, an absolute bitch. An octopus. She's always grabbing at me, and if she's not drunk—absolutely smashed—she's trying to get absolutely drunk. And if I try to stop her, she calls me a 'faggot fascist.' I don't care if she does have two Nobel prizes. If they gave out Nobels for drinking or being a disgusting sex maniac, the woman would have a closet full of them, an absolute closet full."
Ralph Dickey confided this to the man with the pleasant blue eyes, the open-throated shirt, and the two gold balls hanging from a chain around his neck.
The man understood. Really understood. "It must be awful," he said. "Still, you're a wonderful
symbol for all of us. A gay astrophysicist. How wonderful."
Dickey nodded. "If only I didn't have to work with that moray eel. I mean, truly, if she grabs me just one more time, I'm going to bite her breasts off."
"It must be terrible," the blue-eyed man said.
"The pits. The absolute pits. Yes, I know they hired me to be a nursemaid for this vampire because, God, they know she isn't my type. But really, I didn't think it would be like this. And who can I tell about it? Do you think anybody here knows astrophysics from anal sex?"
The man with the blue eyes understood. Really understood. Ralph Dickey could see that by the compassion in his absolutely wonderful, smashing blue eyes. It had been so long since Ralph had found someone to talk to—really talk to—somebody who understood.
And so Ralph Dickey talked, he really talked. About the special computer software lab on the UCLA campus that was so ugly. "I mean, it is really tacky. It looks like a roadside restroom, but you know how they are, worried about spies and everything. But it is deeeepressing. And then trying to get in in the morning, and you need a special magnetic card—I mean, it's right out of a James Bond movie, and all because of that stupid computer she's invented. But who cares about it?" And did the man with the smashing blue eyes want to dance?
No. Unfortunately, the man with the blue eyes had pulled a muscle in his leg at his modern dance class, but Ralph should go ahead; it would
give him pleasure to see Ralph dancing, and Ralph found a nice young man in a leather vest without a shirt and walked to the dance floor with him.
And when Ralph Dickey's back was turned, the man with the smashing blue eyes, Mikhail Andreyev Istoropovich, rifled Ralph's wallet, which was in his shoulder bag under the table, took out the magnetic pass for the computer lab, and left.
He waited in the parking lot outside the UCLA software center until he saw Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes reel out of the building. She seemed to identify cars by feel because she bumped into four of them before she found what she was looking for, a brown Edsel whose tailpipe and muffler were dragging on the ground under the car. After three minutes, she found her car key, and four minutes later she had the door open. The Edsel started with a roar like a B-52, and then there was the screech of burning rubber as the professor peeled away. Her window was down and as her car roared by Istoropovich's, he heard her singing in a lusty baritone:
Gotta get me some
Gotta get me some
Gotta get me some
And I don't care what.
Five minutes of silence later, Istoropovich let himself into the lab using Ralph Dickey's pass card. He moved quickly. In the center of the room, resting atop a long steel table, sat four metal cubes the size of orange crates. The supercomputer, the LC 111—so-called because there had been 110 primitive models before Payton-
Holmes perfected it—would be one of them. He scanned the serial numbers of the metal cubes, looking for the LC-111, the only instrument that could destroy the most important Soviet invention of the decade: The Volga. The Volga was 200,000 pounds of victory that would assure Soviet domination of space, and only the LC-111 could render it harmless.
He saw it. The computer was the second cube from the right, and it had no serial number stamped on it. It bore the legend: personal
PROPERTY OF DR. FRANCES PAYTON-HOLMES, UCLA.
Very clever, Istoropovich thought, to identify the LC-111 as her personal property. Clever and inaccurate. It's not yours anymore, he thought.
Because of the constant police patrols, he could not take a chance on trying to get the computer off the center's grounds. Instead, using a handtruck, Istoropovich carefully wheeled the computer to a tall Dempsey Dumpster that stood next to the cement block building. It was Tuesday, and he had learned that garbage pickups were scheduled for Wednesday evenings. It would be safe, next to the overflowing garbage bin, until he came back for it at 5:30 a.m., when the campus police were changing shifts and he could get through them without difficulty.
He relocked the laboratory and went back to his car, fingering the gold balls around his neck. The gold balls had a purpose, one he had been prepared for since his earliest days as a deep-cover agent. But he would not need them, not yet, not this time. He was.going to get out of this one
alive, and in Moscow Center, the headquarters of the Soviet spy network, where men were waiting for word from him on this mission, he would be an instant hero. Nothing could go wrong now.
The moon was full but the sky was cloudy, so that the moonlight fell only occasionally on a few objects dotting the landscape. While most of the vehicles on the highway were shrouded in darkness, a garbage truck bearing the legend "Hollywood Disposal Service . . . Garbage of the Stars" lit up, shimmering in the moonglow like the Holy Grail.
Before it disappeared back into the clouds, the moon also illuminated the figure of a ripe-looking teenage hooker on the side of the highway. She waved to the two men in the truck. Marco Gonzalez, the driver, honked his horn and leered in appreciation, displaying two missing front teeth.
"Enow her?" asked Lew Verbanic from the passenger side of the cabin. Lew was tall, nearly six and a half feet, and very thin. As a result, he stooped whenever he spoke, even when he was sitting down. He was stooping now. "She looks kind of like that Mexie girl you go with. That Rosa."
"That a slur on the Chicano race?" sniffed Gonzalez, peering out of eyes formed into tight slits.
Verbanic laughed softly. "Chícanos aren't a race," he said.
"Oh, yeah? What you call us, then? Huh?"
Verbanic patted him on the shoulder. "Short," he said.
Gonzalez snorted, and they drove^down a quiet
stretch of highway in silence. "So you like her or what?" Gonzalez said finally.
"The chippie on the road."
"Why do you want to know if I like the way she looked?" He rolled down the window and spat outside.
" 'Cause Rosa's got a friend looks kind of like her. Only she ain't no chippie. A good Mexican girl, come over last week from Tijuana with her family." He shook his head sadly. "They come over the barbwire. Had to leave everything behind. Her mother's casserole dish, everything. Big house, too. Almost three rooms." He brightened as his mind veered back onto the subject. "You wanna meet her? Rosa says she's real hot."
"What's wrong with her?"
"Nothing, Lew, I swear. Hey, you one suspicious Polack, you know that?"
"There's got to be something wrong with her, or you wouldn't be asking a Polack to take her out."
"It ain't nothing serious," Gonzalez said. "Maybe she just got a broken collarbone, that's alL"
"You know, a broken collarbone. Her boyfriend messed her up. But he's back in T J. You got nothing to worry about from him."
"Oh, brother," Verbanic said.
"Hey, tomorrow's my night with Rosa, and she won't see me unless I can fix up her friend."
"The one with the broken neck."
"Collarbone. Anyway, she got a great personal-lty.
"She in a brace?"
"Kind of. Rosa says it's real cute." "
"No, thanks," Verbanic said.
"Aw, come on. Do it for me, pal. I ain't seen Rosa in two weeks, on account of my mother's birthday last Wednesday. I need it, Lew. Don't forget I lost these teeth for you," he said, pointing at the gaping hole in the middle of his uppers.
"You lost those from picking a fight with Fats Ozepok," Verbanic said.
"Well, you was there," Gonzalez said sullenly. "Fats coulda stepped on your sneakers."
Verbanic waved him away. "We can't go tomorrow anyway," he said. "That's the UCLA pickup. We won't get through till after midnight." He looked at the road signs. "Hey, where are you going? We made the last pickup. The dump's that way." He jerked his thumb toward the right.
'1 got it all figured out," Gonzalez said, smiling. "We pick up the UCLA load tonight. That way we get time and a half for the couple of hours overtime, and we get off by ten tomorrow. Plenty of time to give the. girls some real heavy pipe. How's that?" he said, beaming triumphantly.
"We're supposed to hit UCLA on Wednesdays," Verbanic insisted stubbornly. "What if somebody there calls the dump and complains?"
"Are you kidding? Those college professors wouldn't look at garbage if they was ass deep in it." "Nobody's going to notice if we come a day early. Stop worrying."
Verbanic sighed. "What am I going to do with a girl in a neck brace?"
Gonzalez grinned. "Anything you want, gringo."
By the time Verbanic and Gonzalez reached the software lab, the truck was practically overflowing. With an effort they crushed the last of the dumpster contents into the grinding, sticking maw of the truck.
Lew Verbanic leaned against the truck and mopped the dirt and perspiration from his face with a grimy handkerchief. "I'm beat," he said.
"That's the end of it, pal." Gonzalez turned off the crusher and leaped out of the truck. "Oh, shit, we forgot something."
"What?" Verbanic peered out over his handkerchief.
"That," Gonzalez said, gesturing with his head toward a metal cube half covered by a tarpaulin beside the dumpster.
Verbanic walked up to it and removed the tarp. "This thing?" He explored it with his toe. "You sure we're supposed to pick this up? It looks like some kind of equipment," Lew said as the two men strained to lift the cube into the truck.
"People throw out all kinds of stuff," Gonzalez reassured him. "Remember that time a couple of years ago we picked up that 200 pounds of junk at Colossal Studios? It was some kind of a thing like this, too, a computer or something. Wires and tubes all over the place. This ain't nothing new."
"That stuff at Colossal was all smashed and burned. This looks brand new."
"Maybe it don't work," Gonzalez offered. "Like in the space shuttle. They had four computers in
that thing. Supposed to talk to each other, you know, tell each other how to run the spaceship."
"How do computers talk?"
"How am I supposed to know? Maybe they got metal lips. Anyhow, the space shuttle computers didn't do no talking. They clammed up at the last second, after the astronauts were all strapped in and everything, and they had to scrub the mission for two days.
"They get 'em to talk?"
"Hey, Marco, you think this thing can talk?"
"I'm telling you, it can't do nothing. That's why it's in the garbage. Upsy daisy."
At the Hollywood Disposal Center, directly behind a yellow and red plastic banner reading "Garbage of the Stars," Lew Verbanic leaned against the truck as its contents rumbled onto a ten-foot-high pile of debris. Marco Gonzalez walked toward him in the moonlight, snapping the lids off two cans of beer.
"Here you go, champ," he said, thrusting a cold, wet can into Lew's palm. The two men drank greedily. "Man, this is my last year in California," Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez tapped his watch. "Almost one a.m.," he said between gulps. "Eleven hours' work. You know what we made for eleven hours' work?"
Verbanic tried to calculate it in his head.
"Less than eighty bucks. Hell, waiters make more than we do during lunch hours In New York
the sanitation guys get $36,000 a year, and most of the time, they're on strike anyway."
"You moving to New York?" Verbanic asked incredulously.
"Hey, man, don't knock New York. I got an uncle lives in New York. He say it's the best place in the world not to work. You got welfare, CETA, food stamps, unemployment—anything for a little bribe. If that don't work, you can always get a job at the MTA—the subway—and then you don't have to do nothing. You can buy guns in New York, get free dope at the methadone clinic, whatever you want. It's the land of opportunity, man."
Verbanic wasn't listening. His gaze was riveted on the pile of garbage beyond the banner.
"Hey, what's with you, Lew? You look like you seen a ghost," Gonzalez said.
"It moved." Verbanic stared at the pile of garbage. His face was drained of color and glowed a pearly green in the moonlight.
"The dump? You kidding, man?"
"It's moving now."
Gonzalez turned toward the dump slowly, his head tucked between two hunched shoulder blades. "I don't see nothing," he said with relief.
Gonzalez patted Verbanic on the back. "Well, okay. That's good, pal. Look, man, it's late. We're both tired, and like maybe you're seeing things—"
"It's moving again."
Gonzalez whirled around. The dump was as still as a grave. "I tell you, there ain't nothing moving in there!" he shouted. "See? Not a cockroach. Nothing."
A tin can tumbled down the side of the mound. Gonzalez jumped straight into the air. Then the entire hillside of debris began to shiver and rumble, sending an assortment of objects clattering to the earth.
Deep below, in the decomposing rubble of the mound, a bolt maneuvers through the silt and ¦funk, drawn by magnetic impulses toward a metal cube.
"Let's get out of here, man," Gonzalez whispered.
"What if somebody's alive in there?"
"In that? Hah . . ." Gonzalez tried to laugh, but the sound caught and died in this throat.
Another bolt, a microfilm type cylinder, an unbroken anode...
"It's an earthquake, that's what it is," Gonzalez said.
"Then how come the ground isn't shaking?"
With a crack, the casing of the LC 111 flies apart and tears through the dirt, down, down through two years of waste. ... A click, the squeal of rust being stripped from metal threading ...
"We got to go, Lew," Gonzalez said somberly.
Verbanic didn't move.
"I'm serious. We're leaving."
" 'Cause I just peed my pants."
"Whoever it is, we've got to help get them out," Verbanic said.
The form growing larger, more complete, adding to itself as it shudders, buried, waiting to be bom anew...
"Help them out? You got to be kidding."
The mound shifted again, widening as a hole formed in the top, with dust spouting upward like a restless volcano. "Huh-uh," Gonzalez said, "No way. Count me out."
"All right," Verbanic said. He walked purposefully toward the dump.
A spinal column, limbs, optical receivers. Speech tapes, transistorized memory banks, sensory data, logic.
"You nuts?" Gonzalez yelled. "Come back!" His face was contorted in fear, his buttocks cramping in trembling spasms. "We don't know what's in there. It could be anything. Werewolves, anything."
Verbanic was digging with his hands, shoveling away armfuls of festering decay.
And the new microfilm tapes, coded in binomial sequences. New, strange information once stored in the LC 111, now a part of the creature that created itself from a single directive programmed into its manmade intelligence. A single voice, a command overriding all others: SURVIVE.
It creaked in its deep grave, shifting its weight onto its lower limbs. High above, Lew Verbanic dug frantically, moving aside earth with a discarded box as sweat poured down his face and darkened the back of his uniform. SURVIVE. "I see something!" Verbanic shouted.
"W-what?" Gonzalez inched toward his partner. Spinning effortlessly through the debris, whole now, rising toward the light by its own momentum. SURVIVE.
"It's . . ." Verbanic's eyes opened wide as he saw the spinning metal thing nearing the surface.
"What is it, Lew? Lew?"
"My God," Verbanic whispered.
"My God." The words entered the thing's aural transceivers. They were fuzzy and faraway-sounding, but they triggered a series of circuits that flashed to life:
NEED . . . INCOMPLETE . . . LIFE FORM PRESENT . . . IMMEDIATE . . . NEED . . . SURVIVE . .. SURVIVE . . .
One by one the hundreds of thousands of minuscule tapes began to wind and thread. The orbital receivers rolled upward, registering a life form the memory banks identified as Human, Adult Male.
UTILI7.ATION OF LIFE FORM NECESSARY . . . PROTECTIVE OUTER COVERING MANDATORY FOR ASSIMILATION . . . SURVIVE . . . SURVIVE ...
"Get out, Marco," Verbanic said evenly, backing slowly away from the smoking crater at the center of the rubbish mound.
Gonzalez was crying. "Lew . . . Lew . . ."
"Get out. Now!" he commanded.
They were the last words Lew Verbanic spoke. In a fraction of a second, a metallic hand shot out of the hole and clutched Verbanic's ankle as he tried to run. He screamed as the bone in his leg pulverized to dust inside the flesh. Still screaming, he was spun in the air like a limp rag while the metallic creature rose from the crater in the mountain of trash.
Gonzalez watched the scene with horrified, immobile fascination, weeping. Strings of spittle dribbled through the gap left by his missing teeth and down his chin.
The thing holding Verbanic stepped onto the crest of the hill, looldng, in the deceptive light of the moon, like an ancient conquering knight. Verbanic remained in the thing's right hand, his leg twisted unnaturally at the ankle, his foot stationary as the rest of him looped again and again in the air. Verbanic's wails keened grotesquely in the night. Even at a distance, Gonzalez could see the bulging whites of his eyes, terrified and pleading for death.
Then the creature's left hand rose slowly upward to catch Verbanic by the neck. Lew's head snapped back with a force that sent a splash of blood arcing from his mouth to the ground. Then j he lay still, pulled taut between the creature's two arms, a trophy of war. \
Gonzalez stood rooted to the spot where he ; stood. The metallic thing threw Verbanic's body j on the ground, where it bounced down the : mound of rubble to lie sprawling on the earth below.
Gonzalez wanted to run, but he was unable to move. Creaking and trembling, the thing walked toward him. \
Gonzalez whispered, "Please." But the metal monster kept moving closer. Drained of will, Gon- j zalez fell to his knees and buried his face in his hands.
The night was silent except for the sound of Gonzalez's uncontrollable weeping. Then the
scream of splintering metal sliced through the air. He opened his hands. The thing was at the garbage truck, tearing off one of its front fenders. For a moment, Gonzalez thought the thing hadn't seen him. Then it turned around, a small pile of bolts in one metallic hand, and focused its luminescent eye-orbs directly at him.
What the creature did next filled Gonzalez with bewilderment. Taking one bolt at a time, the thing lifted each bolt to its face and began screwing them into itself. Its movements were slow and deliberate, and it never shifted its position or its unblinking gaze.
"What are you?" Gonzalez whispered, the loathing thick in his voice.
The creature's jaw worked silently, like a mechanical toy's.
"What are you?" Gonzalez repeated, screaming it this time. His senses were returning. It was too late to save Verbanic, he noted unhappily, but maybe he could save himself.
Beside the spot where he knelt lay a rock the size of his hand. Slowly he crept his fingers toward the rock until they were entwined around it. Then, as swiftly as he had ever moved in his life, he ran toward the creature, the rock held high overhead for attack.
The thing watched him without expression. It exhibited no intention to run or fight. Just as Gonzalez reached the thing, it flashed out a hand and sent the rock spinning out of sight.
"Madre Dio," Gonzalez said, cowering, but still the creature made no move toward him. Instead, it continued to screw bolts into its face. Another,
and then the last, between the metallic ridge of a nose and the place where a lip would have been on a human. It began to hum, flat and tinny, like synthetic music. Then the sound modulated wildly up and down, from ultrasonic shrieks to low rumbles like gears grinding.
It opened its mouth again.
This time it spoke.
"Hello is all right," it said.
His name was Remo and he was catching bullets.
He was catching them in his palms the way some people with very fast reflexes could catch flies. Bullets came at you a lot faster than flies did, but the principle was the same. See them. Slap them down at a 90 degree angle at exactly the speed they're traveling. Smack them from below with a high bounce to cool them off.
Catching them was the easy part. Anyone who could move his arm at 870 feet per second could catch the bullet from a .38 Colt Special. It was seeing them, without seeing the motion of the trigger that released them, that made the exercise interesting, especially since the light wzzz sound produced in the bullet's wake came after the bullet itself. Rely on the sound, kid, and you're one dead assassin, Remo reminded himself.
He held five in his right hand now, their gray
metal melted smoothly toward their charred rims. There were three bullets in his left hand.
Chiun was right. Remo did favor his right hand. That would have to be corrected.
Damn it, Chiun was always right, Remo said to himself as he flicked one of the bullets upward on his fingernail. It embedded itself in the plaster of the ceiling.
"Oh, hell," he said aloud. Now he only had seven bullets. And he had forgotten whether the one in the ceiling had come from his right or left hand.
Chiun. Eighty-year-old men were supposed to be senile and doddering. That's what all the magazines and TV commercials said. Hadn't Chiun ever heard about irregularity? Or dentures, or tired blood? Didn't he know there were such things as arteriosclerosis and arthritis and gout and plain old age?
Of course not. All Chiun knew was how to kill people and how to be a pain in the ass to Remo.
Fifty bullets. That was what the old man wanted. "Boom droppings," he called them, as if Remo were in this ghetto hellhole on pigeon patrol instead of real business.
"Real business, pah," Chiun had said when Remo's assignment came in. "Unwashed amateurs with boom shooters."
"Guns, not boom shooters," Remo corrected. "And they kill people."
"Maybe. Still, I'm supposed to stop them."
"You will never stop them," Chiun argued. "Louts with boom shooters are like fruitflies. No
sooner does one send them into the void, than a whole new generation appears to take their places."
"It's my assignment, Little Father," Remo said.
The old Oriental sighed. "Ah, yes. Emperor Smith. Well, if you must satisfy the whims of your mad employer, then go to his sister's house as he wishes. But remember the boom droppings. At least you can exercise a little on this worthless mission. Twenty-five droppings in the left hand, twenty-five in the right. Balance, always."
Remo explained that Sister Evangélica was nobody's sister, but the name of an apartment complex where the main pastime among the tenants was murder. The casualty toll for the complex was in the hundreds, and the corridors of Sister Evan-gelica's served as an active war zone for every punk in the city who had access to an illegal handgun.
For years the metropolitan police had been unable to curb the violence, and the number of killings had risen sharply in recent months.
Dr. Harold W. Smith, Remo's employer, had learned that the reason for the increase in violence was that regular shipments of handguns and ammunition were coming into the complex. Whereas before merely a handful of hopped-up muggers had sported in Sister Evangelica's, now virtually every man, woman, and child was packing a pistol and shooting at anything that moved. It was full-scale war.
Smith headed a secret organization called CURE, which was developed years before by an-
other President, now dead, to control crime by functioning outside the Constitution.
Swift and secret, CURE's one weapon was a thin man with thick wrists, an orphan with no past, a former Newark, New Jersey, police officer framed for a crime he didn't commit and sentenced to die in an electric chair that didn't work. He was a man trained for more than a decade by the most accomplished master assassin in the world, a practitioner of the martial arts disciplines of Sinanju, a Korean village that had produced master assassins for thousands of years. Deadlier than any weapon, this man, an American, was known to the President only as "that special person."
"That special person," dispatched to Sister Evangelica's to eliminate the gun runner who was supplying arms to the complex, was juggling his seven captured bullets high overhead as he waited for more gunfire.
Remo looked for more bullets from the broken windows of the battle-scarred tenement apartment. There were none. He reasoned that the gangs with the guns had declared a cease-fire for their morning heroin break.
"Hey, what's going on?" he called into the silent courtyard. "I need forty-three more bullets." There was no answer. "Sheesh," he said. "There's never a gunman when you need one."
He walked past the rusted elevators, which hadn't worked since 1973, and down six flights of blown-out cement steps strewn with bullet-riddled rats. "Jose 181"—a message admonishing visitors to 181st Street to visit a hospitable per-
son named Jose—was a popular theme on the graf-fit-streaked walls of the stairwell. "For a good time, call Delphine" was another.
Remo found the advertisement touching. Amid all the squalor and death of Sister Evangelica's, stouthearted Delphine was apparently still having a good time and willing to spread cheer to one and all.
At this point, Remo thought, with only seven bullets in his pocket and no gun runner to be found, he wouldn't mind having Delphine show him a good time. She'd probably be better company than Chiun, with his stupid exercises.
By the time Remo reached the bottom of the stairwell, the courtyard was filling up with people. Old men on crutches, toddlers with their arms in slings, bandaged mothers huddling small children near them, walked serenely over the pitted, bullet-scored concrete, talking and waving in neighborly fashion to one another.
It was certainly a far cry from the trench warfare of ten minutes before. Even the gangs—some Irish and freckled; some black; some Hispanic, speaking Spanish softly—seemed subdued and pleasant, tipping their caps for women without so much as a wiggle toward the women's pocket-books.
Remo couldn't figure it out. He spotted an old white man hobbling with a cane toward a bench. When the old man sat down, Remo walked up to him.
"Hold it right there, sonny," the wrinkled crone said as he hoisted a Browning .9 millimeter from his vest with palsied hands.
"Where'd you get that gun?" Remo asked.
"Found it. One step closer and I'll shoot."
"Shoot," Remo said as he reached out and crumbled the pistol into black gravel. It sifted between his fingers to the ground.
"Okay. You asked for it," the old man said, tightening his trigger finger on empty air. "Hey, what'd you do?"
"I took your gun away," Remo said. "It's on the ground if you want it."
The man looked at the pile of crushed metal. Tears came to his eyes. "Oh, Lord," he said.
"Did you really find that gun?"
"Yep," the old man said softly. "Old George next door had it. He got killed. I found it next to his
In the distance, schoolgirls were chanting as two preteens with only minor lacerations skipped Double Dutch with a clothesline.
"What's your name?" Remo asked awkwardly.
The man was weeping openly. "Archie," he
"I'm not going to hurt you."
"Big deal," Archie said. "What about them?" He pointed at a Puerto Rican gang loafing near a defunct fountain bearing Delphine's message of hope. "Or them?" He nodded toward the cluster of white boys. "Or Mrs. Miller? She's a killer, that one. Got twelve notches on her belt already."
"Who's Mrs. Miller?"
The old man stopped weeping long enough to point out a fat lady in a polka-dotted dress, who was carrying a bag of groceries. "Oh, Lord," Archie said.
"Maybe it's over," Remo suggested, staring at the eerily quiet scene around him.
The old man laughed. "How long you been here, son?"
"I sort of just moved in."
"Well, move right back out if you can. Quick, before the mayor goes shopping."
"The mayor. She's a dipshit. She been here three weeks now. Living with us. Can you believe that? Wednesday's her shopping day. That's why we're getting us this little rest. Uh-oh. Too late, boy. Here she comes now. Coffee break's over."
The doors to one of the complex's entrances creaked open, and two dozen uniformed policemen marched out four abreast. There was a gap in the formation, followed by another six rows of officers.
"Where'd they come from?"
"That's her bodyguard," Archie said. "They come in a couple of minutes ago. That's why the shooting stopped. They come to get her."
"The mayor, boy. There."
In the center of the sea of policemen walked a small, reed-slim blonde woman with flinty green eyes and a smile for all the residents of Sister Evangelica's.
"You see how much better things are since I've moved in, you impoverished darlings?" she called pleasantly to the tenants. "Police protection, better conditions. That's what a mayor's for."
"She don't see the killing that goes on," Archie
confided. "It all stops when she comes around, but the minute she leaves, it's back to the shit."
Behind the mayor, the final four patrolmen bolted the entrance to her building. Behind them, four white gang members pulled out brass knuckles. A few Puerto Ricans expertly zipped out switchblades. Just about everyone else in view pulled out a gun.
"Remember me on election day, darlings," the mayor sang cheerily as she strutted out of sight, the police fast behind her.
"Ain't none of us going to live to election day," Archie said ruefully. "Well, since we ain't got no guns, we best look for cover, you and me."
Remo noticed that the courtyard had nearly cleared out in a matter of seconds. Only the gang members remained, and one of them was headed straight for Remo and the old man. He was tall and burly and the color of paper bags. On his head he wore a maroon beret. In his waistband he carried a .38 Police Special. As he approached, he pulled out the .38 and pointed it at Remo.
"Hey, white boy," he said, and fired.
Remo caught the bullet. "That's eight," he said, slipping the bullet into his pocket.
"Huh?" Maroon Beret asked as he fired off another shot.
"Nine. Say, it doesn't take much to make you mad, does it?"
"I's born mad," the youth said, and fired again, fen.
Maroon Beret scowled in annoyance. "What you doin' with them bullets?"
"Look, do you want to shoot me or sit around
talking? I need fifty bullets, and I don't have all day."
"I want to know why them bullets not be hittin' you," Maroon Beret insisted.
"Because I'm catching them, stupid," Remo said. "Any idiot can see that."
Maroon Beret fired again.
"Eleven. Thanks. Keep 'em coming."
He fired two more shots in rapid succession.
"Twelve, thirteen . . . you're out of bullets."
"Wha' . . ." He clicked uselessly at the trigger. Beads of sweat collected on his forehead. He turned to run.
"Not so fast," Remo said, grabbing him by the ear.
"You gonna kill me?"
"Either me or somebody else," Remo said philosophically. "What difference does it make in the long run?" He squeezed Maroon Beret's ear harder.
"Don't kill me," he whelped.
"Tell you what I'm going to do. You tell me where you got your gun, and I won't kill you now. That's not to say I'll never kill you—"
"That be fine by me. I sure will tell you where I got the gun. That be no skin off my nose. I will tell you anything you want to know. Seek and ye shall find, that is my motto."
"The gun," Remo prompted, sending a flash of pain through Maroon Beret's spinal column. To—
"Toe? His name's Toe?" Remo asked. But it was too late. Maroon Beret's body was slumped forward in front of Remo and vibrating with the im-
pact of a barrage of bullets. Then the entire complex exploded into cascades of gunfire. The mayor and her police battalion had left. Through wooden barricades in the windows, tenants took pot shots at the gang members in the courtyard. The courtyard group was firing back at random, both at the people in the windows and at rival gangs. Two Puerto Ricans stabbed each other to death. An old blue-haired woman cackled from her balcony as she struck down a middle-aged black man with a zip gun. As he fell from his window, the middle-aged man let fly with a wild bullet from his .32 Beretta. The bullet ricocheted off one of the buildings and killed one of the Irish gang boys. The Irish boys dropped two of the blacks in retribution. The blacks shot the old blue-haired woman.
Remo was catching bullets. Twelve in one hand, twelve in the other. "Not bad," he said.
Suddenly he was aware of a pungent odor behind him, which he recognized as fear-smell. Out of his peripheral vision, he saw the old man cowering inches from his back.
"What are you doing here?" Remo said.
"Where else is there to go? You're catching bullets in your hands. Better you in front than me, I figure."
"Can't you hide somewhere?"
"Where?" the old man asked, and his eyes looked as if he really hoped to find an answer.
"Screw the bullets," Remo said, dumping the fired slugs to the ground. "Too heavy anyway. Come with me."
He led Archie to the basement of one of the buildings. "You'll be safe here," he said.
"Oh, yeah?" The old man gestured to a corner of the basement, where a half-dozen Puerto Ricans rose from a huddle, their guns at the ready. "What do you call them? Chickens?"
Remo squinted at Archie. "Did I ever tell you that you remind me of another old pain in the ass?" he said.
The Puerto Ricans lumbered forward. "This here's our turf, man," one of them said.
"Turf? You mean this?" Remo picked up a loose slab of concrete from the floor and thrust it into the man's mouth. The man did a slow spin in the air and came to rest on his face.
"Anyone else not willing to vacate the premises?"
"Yeah. Me," said the man beside Cement Lips, and he began to squeeze the trigger of the pistol in his hand. Before he fired, Remo kicked the gun into position and it went off squarely at the man's own temple, the slug passed through his brain and exited out the far side.
Remo caught the bullet. "Thanks," he said, pocketing it. "One."
"One what?" mumbled Cement Lips.
"One ball," Remo said as he sent the man's testicle into his kidney.
"Hey—hey, what you going to do, man?" one of the three remaining said.
"I'm going to find out where all the guns are coming from. I'll need one of you to tell me and another to verify it."
"So what happens to the third one?"
"This," Remo said, splintering the man's nose into his skull.
Two guns clanked to the floor.
"Tony Marotta," one of the two men left standing said.
"Tony Marotta," the other echoed.
Remo rolled his eyes. "Now, how am I supposed to know you're telling me the truth? I was going to ask one of you over there" he said, patiently pointing out a darkened corner, "and one of you over there!' He motioned on the diagonal.
"That's the truth, mister. Marotta operates in the alley beside the complex. From a hot dog cart."
"Yeah. You're going to let us go now, aren't you?" No.
"No?" They looked at each other in panic.
"Not unless one of you is Jose and lives on 181st Street."
"I am," they said in unison.
"Good. Then you can both start washing your name off the walls of this complex. You supply the soap and water."
"Can I take my gun?" one of the Joses asked.
"No gun? Hey, man, you crazy? I can't wash no walls without a gun. I mean—"
Remo pinched a nerve cluster in the man's solar plexus.
"... I mean, I will be veiy happy to wash the walls, señor. With no gun. With my tongue,
perhaps. Only please stop with the fingers in the stomach, boss."
"Remember, if I see you and you don't have dishpan hands—"
"We will," they said. Remo watched them scramble up the stairs and out the building before v arranging the bodies in front of the basement door.
"These ought to keep people away," Remo said to Archie. "Just don't move. I'll be back."
"Famous last words," Archie said.
Tony Marotta was where Jose One and J°se Two said he would be, slinking near the slime and stink of the alleyway.
"You Tony Marotta?" Remo said.
"Who wants to know?"
"My name's Remo. I live at the Sister Evangélica apartments."
"You a cop? You got to say if you're a cop. That's the law."
"I bet you know all about the law," Remo said.
"I asked you if you was a cop," Marotta said.
"No. I'm not a cop."
"Okay." Wheezing and reeking of beer and salami, Marotta flipped open the top of his hot dog cart. Inside were dozens of hand weapons, all used. Beside them were neat boxes of ammunition. "Hundred apiece for the rods."
Remo pulled a wad of bills from his pocket. 'Til take all of them."
"What about the ammunition?"
'This'11 cover the ammunition, too."
Marotta raised his eyebrows. "You got it," he said. He started to unpack the guns from the cart.
"Don't bother with that," Remo said.
"I need it," Remo said.
'What the hell for?"
"Because I'm not a cop."
"I'm an assassin," he said, and crushed Marotta's skull with one hand. With the other he stuffed the gun runner into the cart and snapped the lid shut. "It might even take a day or two to replace you," Remo said with a sigh.
He wheeled the cart to the storm drain two blocks away and tossed it in. "That's the biz, sweetheart," he said as the bubbles from the cart rose to the top of the muddy water.
Inside the complex, pandemonium was still raging. Mrs. Miller was single-handedly picking off a number of gang members of various creeds and ethnic origins. She was an indiscriminate but excellent marksman. Remo decided to start with her.
"Mrs. Miller," he said at her closed apartment door. A bullet whizzed through the wood. "Mrs. Miller, I want to get rid of those hoodlums down there."
"You? What do you think I'm trying to do?" came the reply from behind the door.
"I think I can do it."
"How? Magic? They're like roaches, these twerps."
I "Just leave that to me. All I want you to do is to stop shooting for five minutes."
"Go pull your pudding."
"Five minutes. Honest. Could you get all the tenants to stay in their apartments and stop shooting for five minutes?"
"So I can have a clear field."
"You got a bazooka? You going to blow the place up? This is my home, you know. Twenty-five years I'm here. You think I want you should blow up my house?" From inside the apartment he heard her fire another round at the courtyard.
"Nothing like that. How about it? Five minutes, that's all."
"Well ..." He heard her footsteps pad toward the door. Presently an eye appeared on the other side of the bullet hole.
"What's your name?"
"You Jewish?" she asked.
"I don't know. I'm an orphan."
"Oh, you poor baby. You married, maybe?"
"No, I'm not married."
"A nice-looking boy like you ought to be married."
"I hope to be someday, ma'am."
"Really. Will you help me out?"
"Well," she repeated. After a few seconds she bellowed, "Listen, you tenants. This is Mrs. Miller talking. I want you should all quit shooting for five minutes."
A rumble issued from the locked apartments of
the complex. "Shut up and listen. Just five minutes, so this nice, young maybe Jewish boy can do something about the twerps, okay?"
More grumbling. Laughter from the twerps in the courtyard. But no gunfire. "Okay, boychik," Mrs. Miller whispered through the bullethole. "You come back alive, maybe I let you go out with my niece Sheila, such a cook."
"Thank you, Mrs. Miller," Remo said on his way down the staircase. Two twerps in leather were waiting for him on the first landing.
"You know, you guys really are like roaches," he said.
"And you're like dead," one of the twerps answered, flashing a switchblade at Remo. In a second the man's arm was in Remo's own, and the blade thrust, formed a Z on the stomach of his astonished companion, and then disappeared down the man's throat.
"Wrong again, Zorro," Remo said, and sealed the door to the building with a kick that pressed the wood of the doors into the concrete of the walls.
"Allee Allee in come free," Remo called as he raced from one building to the next, flushing out the street warriors into the courtyard. All but the two Joses from 181st Street, who were scrubbing walls with the fervor of zealots.
When they had all gathered, their weapons in tow, Remo spoke.
"Boo," he said.
They charged. For once, the rival gangs performed in perfect concert against the invading
thin man with no weapons but his hands. They slashed, they fired, they threw.
Some even fought fairly. Remo saw to it that they were taken care of quickly, with no pain, even though he knew the reason they were fighting fairly was because they were either out of ammunition or weapons. Still, it didn't hurt to be lenient, he thought proudly. After all, how many chances did an assassin get to be a nice guy?
"Not this time," he said as he poked his index finger into the frontal lobe of a black with a knife. "Not this time," he said as he dislocated both arms of a haiiy behemoth with a gun in each hand. "Maybe now," he said when a slender Puerto Rican approached him with his hands behind his back. Then he saw the tip of the Colt .350 peeking over the man's shoulder. "Nope, guess not," Remo said as he kicked the man's Adam's apple into his brain.
"You got one minute, twenty seconds," Mrs. Miller screeched from her window.
Remo speeded up, taking the thugs at double-time. Kick, thrust, poke, elbow, head attack, pull them level, inside-line attack, toe, hip attack, upper arm, heel, third-finger attack, knee, rib attack, easy on the upswing, fourth finger.
It was done. Chiun would have been proud. He had used nearly every basic attack known in Sinanju. Chiun would have praised him. He would be honored to have taught Remo. He would have said ...
"Tsk, tsk, tsk," came the familiar clucks from behind. "Always is the elbow bent. Do you never learn? Why, oh why, do I waste the invaluable
wisdom of the Master of Sinanju on a worthless pupil such as you?"
Remo whirled around. "Chiun. What are you doing—"
"You left one," roared Mrs. Miller. "Stand back! I'll get him. You tenants hold your fire. This baby's mine."
"Mrs. Miller, don't," Remo yelled, but he was too late. The machine gun was already propped in her window on a tripod, and the bullets came blazing.
"Hush," Chiun said, his wrinkled wizard's face expressionless, his blue silk robes billowing as his hands moved in a blur in front of him.
Remo counted the seconds. Three rounds of ammunition per second—986 . . . 992 . . . 1053 ...
"She is nearly finished," Chiun said, and Remo knew that the ancient Oriental was counting, too. Rhythm and balance. Ralance and movement. Movement and breathing. All were related in the discipline of Sinanju, and Chiun was the Master.
When the count reached 1,600, Remo knew the ammunition would be spent in a matter of seconds. And when the silence finally came, Chiun's tiny figure stood knee-deep in the center of five perfectly formed piles of fired ammunition which, Remo knew, contained exactly 1,000 rounds each.
The tenants stared dumbfounded at the frail old Oriental. "He's a friend of yours, maybe?" Mrs. Miller asked sheepishly.
"Yes," Remo said. He turned to Chiun. "That was beautiful, Little Father."
"And how many did you catch?" Chiun asked.
"Well, see, I got kind of busy."
Remo remembered the one bullet he had retrieved from the thug in the basement after the man had shot his own.head off. He pulled it out of his pocket. It was gnarled and squashed. Pieces of drying brain tissue clung to it. "Uh, one," Remo said lamely.
"I see." Chiun's tone of voice could have frozen the Gobi Desert.
"I can explain."
"Did I ask for explanations?"
"Remo, boychik," Mrs. Miller screamed. "Guess who just dropped by with a cake. Sheila!"
"Remember, my niece, such a cook? You want maybe I should introduce you?"
Past Mrs. Miller, Remo could see the hulking frame of a giantess in organdy. And even from where he was standing, he could see the mustache on Sheila's upper lip.
"I'm kind of busy, Mrs. Miller," he said. "But I'll send a friend."
With the woman's protests still within earshot, Remo pushed aside the bodies at the top of the stairwell leading to the basement where he had hidden Archie.
"It's all over, friend," Remo said.
Archie blinked at the sight of Chiun in full Oriental splendor behind Remo.
"I am Chiun," he said. "Greetings."
Archie smiled. "That's good, 'cause I thought mebbe I died, and you was God."
Outside, Mrs. Miller's shrieks were still audible. "I just want you to do something for me, Archie," Remo said. "I told Mrs. Miller I'd send a friend up to try some of her cake. Will you go?"
Archie slapped his forehead and groaned. "Do I have to?" he whined.
"Aw, come on. It's just a little cake."
"I've had Delphine's cake."
Remo caught his breath. "As in 'For a good time... '?"
Archie nodded. "Call Delphine. Anything to trap some poor slob into meeting that gorilla she's got for a niece."
Remo laughed. "Okay, I'll do it," Archie said. "For you. But I'm not going to like it."
As Archie shuffled off despairingly toward Mrs. Miller's screeches, the mayor's entourage of policemen, most of them carrying bags and boxes, reappeared. At the sight of the scattered bodies in the courtyard, the contingent rushed the mayor for cover.
"Murder," she screamed. "Right under my own nosel This is an outrage. The publicity will be terrible. Call a moving van immediately. I'm not staying in this pit one second longer."
"Yes, ma'am," one of the policemen said.
"Start some kind of investigation. Do whatever you want. Just get me the hell out of here!"
"Who are those two men?" The mayor pointed at Remo and Chiun. "What are you doing here?"
"Just having a good time with Delphine," Remo said.
Outside the complex, Chiun looked at the one bullet Remo had saved and tossed it into the street. "Disgraceful," he muttered. "I come all this way to deliver a message to you, and what do I find? One brain-smeared boom dropping. I am shamed."
"What was the message?"
"Are you not interested in my shame?" the old man snapped.
"Sure, Little Father. But maybe you can tell me the message first. Then we'll have lots of time to talk about your shame."
"The message is to come home, Tiome' being this cheap motel." With a sweep, he indicated the Forty-First Street Inn, advertising "Hot Water and Free Telivizion," which Remo guessed was something like television. "The Emperor has come to call."
"Smitty? Why didn't you both just wait for me?"
Chiun looked sideways at Remo. "Have you ever tried to sit alone in a room with Emperor Smith for a half-hour?"
"I guess I know what you mean," Remo said.
Smith was sitting cross-legged, as he always did. He was wearing his perennial three-piece gray suit, and his ever-present attaché case was at
his side. His face was pallid and lemony, as usual, with its standard expression of vague unease tinged with indigestion. Nothing about Harold W. Smith's appearance ever changed much.
"We have a problem," he said. Nothing about Smith's conversations ever changed much, either.
Hello is all right.
My name is Mr. Gordons.
This was the poem that flashed through Mr. Gor-dons's tungsten-and-nickel synapses. The poem would win no literary prizes for the creature. He knew this because he knew he was not creative. He was, in fact, so uncreative that he couldn't even tell if the poem was good or not, but he assumed it was not because he was not creative. He was not programmed to be creative. He was programmed to survive.
Still, he thought, there was a chance that the poem might be creative, incorporating as it did the first original sentence he had ever spoken to a human besides his creator.
The creator herself, a brilliant scientist, had told him that hello was all right by way of introduction. Mr. Gordons was born as a pseudo-human for the first time with the words, "Hello is all right." Hence, it was only logical to include his first words in his born-again poem. Logical, but probably uninspired poetry. Nevertheless, he repeated it aloud for the benefit of his urine-stained, shock-numbed audience of one.
"Alive again, alive again, hello is all right, alive again, My name is Mr. Gordons," Mr. Gordons said in carefully modulated tones.
"H-hello is what?" the squat, dark man with no front teeth asked.
"All right. Hello is all right."
"All right for what, man?" the person said, wiping a trembling arm over his forehead.
It was no use. Mr. Gordons's poem was obviously, as his creator would have said, a turkey. He dropped his performance and concentrated on his newly functional system. "Speech mechanism operative," the robot spoke. "Motor control excellent." He raised and lowered his arm several times. "Hello is all right, all right, all right...."
Something in the voice simulator was stuck. He twisted his head around his neck two full revolutions to erase the repetition.
The toothless man was squinting at him pugnaciously. "What you do to my friend, you?" "he demanded.
"I removed life from him," Mr. Gordons said. "I require something that he possesses, something he would not be willing to give. But you will not be
killed unless you do something to endanger my survival. I need nothing from you. You are too short."
"Wait a minute, man," the human rumbled, seething. Then he interrupted himself. "What you need from Verbanic, anyway?"
"What is a Verbanic?"
"That guy you murdered over there." He pointed toward the dead garbageman.
Mr. Gordons walked stiffly toward the corpse and picked it up with one hand. "His skin," the robot said. "I need his skin to resemble your species. Yours is too small for my frame."
Then he rotated his thumb so that a spiky metal edge appeared. He pierced Verbanic's flesh and tore a long slit from skull to tailbone.
The human with the missing front teeth vomited. Still retching, he staggered backward and away as Mr. Gordons methodically skinned the human carcass by the cold light of the moon.
Gonzalez ran. The air came burning and ragged into his lungs as he sprinted down one highway, across another, and onto a side road, where he hitched a ride as far as the Los Angeles city limits. From there he caught a north-bound bus that dropped him off within blocks of the police station. He ran until he was inside the precinct doors.
"You got to help me," Gonzalez gasped.
The desk officer looked up at him cursorily. "The methadone clinic's on the other side of La Ciénega," he said.
"Hey, my best friend just got skinned. You're the cops. You got to do something about it."
"Skinned? You mean he got mugged? Beat out of some bread? Couldn't collect off the numbers? See, you can talk to me, kid, I grew up on the streets." He turned to the other officers in the room, smiling condescendingly. "Like I'm hip, know what I mean?"
"I don't know nothing you mean," Gonzalez said. "I'm saying my friend got skinned—"
"That's enough, Chico. Talk straight."
Gonzalez's nostrils flared. "One second there, Mr. Cop. Don't you Chico me."
"You looking for trouble, punk?"
With every ounce of his reserve patience, Gonzalez restrained himself from jumping the officer. "I am telling you, man, my partner at work just got himself murdered."
The expression in the officer's eyes changed. "You serious, kid?"
Gonzalez nodded, relieved. The officer pulled out a form and began to write. "Name?"
"Marco Juan San Miguel de Ruiz Gonzalez."
The policeman took down the information. "Where did the incident occur?"
"The Hollywood Disposal Center. Off Fifty-one-"
"Oh, yeah. The Garbage of the Stars."
"That's it. About a half-hour ago."
"Can you describe the perpetrator?"
"The guy who attacked your friend."
"Oh, yeah. He was a robot or something. Made
of metal. About six feet tall. His name was Gordon."
The officer put down his pencil. "Ah, Mr. Gonzalez. Can you tell me what this—person—used to assault your partner with?"
"You bet I can. I'll never forget it as long as I live. First he swung Lew around in the air by his feet. Then he held up his hand and broke Lew's neck. Then he skinned him—"
"Yeah, skinned!" Gonzalez shouted. "I been saying he got skinned ever since I come in here."
"Well, what did he skin him with, if I'm not being too nosy—a Bowie knife?"
"No, man." Gonzalez exhaled a puff of air. "His thumb. He skinned him with his thumb." He demonstrated in the air, whistling as his thumb tore through an imaginary cadaver.
The police officer was tapping the eraser end of his pencil on the desk blotter. "And just what does a six-foot-tall metal man say when he's skinning somebody in the Garbage of the Stars?"
Gonzalez thought for a moment. Then he remembered in a rush of clarity. "Hello is all right!" he yelled.
"That's it," the officer said. "Get this nut out of here."
"You got to believe me," Gonzalez cried. "Just send somebody to check it out. The robot might still be there doing the job on Verbanic. You can catch him."
The officer inhaled deeply.
"Podebensky and Needham are up around
there now," another policeman said. "They could drive by."
The officer squinted at Gonzalez. "All right. But this better be on the level, or I'm going to turn you and every one of your relatives over to the immigration authorities. Understand?"
Gonzalez nodded his assent.
"Sit over there." The officer poked his pencil toward a row of folding metal chairs along one wall. Gonzalez sat down as the dispatcher called the report into a roving police car.
"Some law officers," Gonzalez muttered.
The report from the car came in after a few minutes. Amid the squawks of the radio, Gonzalez could make it out from where he sat.
"There's a body here, all right," the voice over the radio said. "Worst damn thing I ever seen. Better get the coroner over fast. And an ambulance for Needham. He passed out."
The officer at the desk looked over to Gonzalez, his face deadly serious. "Read him his rights," the policeman said quietly.
The police, ambulance, and reporters left the Hollywood Disposal Service grounds just as the first rays of dawn appeared over the hills. When all trace of them was gone, a figure emerged from the belly of the abandoned garbage truck and a new man, complete with uniform and a name tag identifying him as Lewis J. Verbanic, walked into the sunlight.
Mr. Gordons didn't know where he was, but on his person was a clue as to who could help him
find out. It was on the sole of his foot—the message:
PERSONAL PROPERTY OF DR. FRANCES PAYTON-HOLMES, UCLA
On the highway he saw a sign bearing the same last four letters.
He would find her. His creator was gone, but whoever developed the software he had incorporated into his mechanism at the dump knew science. Just the flood of new information pouring into his memory banks told him that.
His components were operative. He had the skin he needed to look human. NoV he only required one other item, something so elusive and ephemeral that most humans didn't even possess it. For this, he would need a new creator. He would find Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes.
He needed her.
"Have you ever heard of Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes?" Smith asked.
"No," said Remo.
"Yes," said Chiun.
"Yes?" said Remo.
"Yes?" said Smith.
"Yes," said Chiun. "He was the companion of a detective named Shylock Watson. I read about this recently. They were very famous. They had somebody good writing about them."
Smith cleared his throat. "Yes," he said. "Well, this is a different Dr. Holmes. Frances Payton-Holmes is a woman, an astrophysicist."
Chiun said, "I do not like women doctors."
"She is a doctor of astrophysics," Smith said.
"I do not like chemicals to insure one's regularity. A person should control his body without drugs."
Smith looked at Remo, helpless, for an explanation.
"Astrophysics," Remo said. "Chiun thinks that's something like Ex-lax. So do I, for that matter."
"Astrophysics is the study of physics as it applies to outer space," Smith said. "It is the basic science of the space program."
"Of course," Chiun said. "And you want us to dispose of this pretentious woman who masquerades as a real doctor, tampering with people's innards."
"No. No, no, no," said Smith. "She must be protected. She is very important to America."
Chiun looked away, suddenly bored. "Remo," he said, "be sure to pay careful attention to what the emperor tells you."
"All right, Smitty," said Remo. "Who's Dr. Holmes?"
"Payton-Holmes," Smith said. "She's won two Nobel prizes. When she was twenty-eight, she formulated the graphs which outlined the space route of Explorer One. It led the satellite into a an unknown band of radioactive material. The Van Allen belt."
"Why didn't they call it the Payton-Holmes belt?" Remo asked.
"They might have," Smith said. "But when they announced it, she didn't show up. She was in the laboratory using NASA equipment to make a liquor out of coffee. She drinks." "She still drink?" Remo asked. "Yes. Constantly."
"Good. It's nice to know someone is having fun," Remo said.
"Periodically, she disappears. We're always afraid that the Russians have her, but she always turns up in a jail cell somewhere, sleeping off a hangover. The last time, they found her in the dormitory of a visiting Italian soccer team."
"What has she done now?"
"For the last few years, she's been working on a special project at UCLA. You see, we got wind of a special Russian project called Volga. We don't know much about it except that it's some kind of space plan involving satellites that they think will give them control of space."
"She's defected?" Remo said.
"No," said Smith.
"Dammit, Smitty, then get to the point."
"She designed a computer—it's called LC-111—which can take over control of any satellite or spacecraft. In other words, the Russians could launch a satellite and with LC-111, we could make it ignore the Russians and do whatever we tell it to do."
"Good for her," Remo said.
"The LC-lll's missing," Smith said. "And we don't know where it went. We want you to find it."
Chiun came back to life. "Is there a reward?" he asked.
"The thanks of a grateful people," Smith said.
Chiun sniffed and turned away again.
"This Payton-Place-Holmes doesn't know where it went?" Remo said. "Or you think she sold out to the Russians?"
"I don't think so," Smith said. "I have to warn you, Remo, she's very difficult."
"She'll go to any lengths to get a drink. She apparently also has some strong ... er, biological desires. She is very difficult."
"I'm used to dealing with difficult people," Remo said, looking at Chiun.
"So am I, Emperor," said Chiun.
Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes was sobbing. She had been sobbing for an hour and a half, from the moment she had walked in the door to the software lab and found the gaping hole in the row of computer terminals, their lifelines to the absent LC-111 cut and poking out uselessly.
"My baby," she moaned again and again, rocking wildly on the floor, curled up into a miserable, white-coated ball. "My precious baby."
"It'll be all right, Professor," Ralph Dickey said, patting her uncertainly on the shoulder. "The police have already been here. We've all talked to them. I've called NASA, too. The President of the United States is supposed to be sending a special investigator here to—"
She whacked his arm away. "You! You're supposed to see that things like this don't happen. Ten years of work and love, the finest distillation
of my genius. Gone in one night, you cretinous pansy!" she screamed.
"Now, Professor," Dickey began, his lips pursing. "Everything was shut up like a drum when I left."
"You shut up like a drum, do you hear me?" She pummeled him with her fists. Dickey tried to shield himself from her blows as two other technicians pulled her off him. "Get away from me," she screamed. "Get back to your cages, all of you. In fact, go home. I don't want to see any of you here today. Scram."
The technicians backed off and silently exited the lab. The professor pulled herself off the floor, dusting herself off. "Shitheel Commie," she muttered loud enough so that Dickey, checking the circuitry on the three remaining terminals, could hear.
"I am not a Communist," Dickey said with dignity. "And I've told you a dozen times that I'm not responsible for this."
"Yeah? Well, how come you needed somebody to let you in today. What happened to your magnetic passcard?"
"I misplaced it," Dickey said.
"Yeah. Probably right in the hands of some Russian, you Communist fairy."
"You were here when I left last night, lady," Dickey said. "Whoever took it probably walked right by you in your drunken stupor and, hell, dear, you probably helped him carry it to his car."
The professor sank down slowly in a chair, her face ashen. Dickey looked at her, sitting Eke a
lump, defeated and frightened, and felt suddenly sorry for her. "It'll be all right, Doctor. The man from Washington will find whoever it was."
"It won't be all right," she said listlessly. "Nothing will ever be all right again."
"Of course it will."
The professor looked up at her mousy, pockmarked, but tanned assistant. "Maybe I've misjudged you, Dickey," she said softly.
"I'd like to think that, Professor," he said.
"You've really been loyal to me, haven't you?"
"I'll always be loyal to you, Professor."
"If I needed something—really needed it ... Do you know what I mean by really needing something?"
He patted her on the shoulder. "I think so," he said, smiling gently.
"Well, if I really needed something, ycfu'd come through in the end, wouldn't you, Dickey?"
"You could count on me, Doctor."
"Good. Get me a drink."
Dickey's face snapped shut, his little pig eyes pinched. "Oh, no you don't," he said.
She stalked him around the lab until she had him by the lapels of his lab coat. "You promised me you'd come through if I needed anything. Now goddammit, Dickey, my LC-lll's missing and my heart's broken and I need a goddam drink, do you hear me?"
"Find me a drink before I beat your face into cube steak, Dickey."
"Calm down, Professor. Everything'11 be all right-"
"Will you stop saying that, you algae-brained imbecile?" she roared. "What's all right? Huh? Just what in the hell in all this mess is all right?"
There was a click at the door and a tall, thin man wearing a green uniform with the name "Lewis J. Verbanie" embroidered in red over "Hollywood Disposal Service" entered.
"Hello is all right," the man said cheerfully.
"Who are you?" the professor snapped. "How did you get in here?"
"I adjusted the locks."
Ralph Dickey muttered, "I'll call the police."
"I've cut the lines," the garbageman said.
Dickey began to whimper.
"Jesus, another Communist," the professor said disgustedly.
"I beg your pardon, but Jesus was not a Communist, according to my information. The Communist Party was not conceived until well after the beginning of the present century—"
"Who is this jerk?" the professor asked.
"Are you the person in charge here?" the garbageman asked. "Are you Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes?"
"That's me," the professor said crisply. "What do you want?"
"One of my components identifies this location as part of my origin," Mr. Gordons said, "and I discerned from the high-frequency sounds issuing from this building that someone might be able to assist me in some type of global orientation."
"Components?" Dickey said. "Global orientation?" He got an idea. "Listen, guy, I'm going to step out and come back with some folks who'll
orient you all day long, okay?" He was smiling and moving quickly toward the door.
"Please do not attempt to leave," Mr. Gordons said. "If you leave, there is a high probability factor of your notifying others of my presence. Such an action may render my survival hazardous."
"What are you talking about?" Dickey said.
"I am saying that I will kill you unless you cease all motion immediately."
Dickey froze. "He threatened me," he whined.
"Shut up," the professor said. "Go ahead, Mr.—er, Ver . . . Ver . . ." She squinted at the name tag.
"Gordons. Thank you. You see, I am very nearly complete, with the exception of certain peripheral informational input, which was destroyed in the relatively recent past. Consequently, my recall of some, but not all, persons and events has been reduced dramatically, as well as my perception of present place and time."
"In other words, your memory's shot."
Mr. Gordons smiled. "Exactly. I knew you would be perceptive."
"I wish the man from Washington would get here," Dickey muttered under his breath.
The professor was interested. "What do you mean by your 'components,' young man?"
"I'll show you." He unlaced one of his ankle-high boots and took off his sock.
"Oh, for God's sake," Dickey moaned. "A foot fetishist, yet. Of all the days he could have picked to diddle his toes."
Mr. Gordons hobbled over to a desk, picked up a bottle of ink and, as the professor and her as-
sistant looked on in wonder, proceeded to pour the ink over the sole of his foot.
"Now, see here," Dickey said, jumping out of his corner. "This is really going too far."
Mr. Gordons tossed the empty bottle at Dickey, hitting him squarely in the midriff. Dickey slid to the floor with a whoof. "I warned you not to move," Gordons said. "The next time, I'll have to kill you."
"Forget him," the professor said impatiently. "Go on with what you're doing. And this had better be worth my while."
"It is, I assure you." Then he took a piece of blank white paper and stepped on it. He took the paper with the imprint of his foot on it and handed it to the doctor.
She stared at it in disbelief. In the instep of the footprint, in mirror image, read the legend:
PERSONAL PROPERTY OF DR. FRANCES PAYTON-HOLMES, UCLA
"Can you help, identify me?" Mr. Gordons asked.
But the professor didn't hear him. She had crumpled the paper into a ball and fainted.
Remo knocked at the sliding doors to the software lab. At his touch, the doors opened effortlessly. He walked through, feeling for the tracking that should have held the doors closed and locked. They had been torn off the frame. Something of tremendous power had been used to enter the building.
The scene in the lab was odd: a blonde woman was lying in a dead faint on the floor beside a man in a uniform from the Hollywood Disposal Service whose one bare foot was stained navy blue. At the other end of the room, a young man wearing a white lab coat and clear nail polish stood immobile and trembling.
"Are you the man from Washington?" the man in white asked.
"Guess so," Remo said.
"Arrest this person," Dickey shrieked, pointing a shaking finger at the unshod garbageman.
"He tried to kill me with this ink bottle," Dickey said, holding up the evidence.
Remo stared at the man with the ink bottle, then at the unconscious woman on the floor and the garbageman beside her. "Maybe we'd better start over," he said. "Who's Dr. Payton-Holmes?"
"She is," Dickey said, gesturing toward the woman.
"What's she doing on the floor?"
"How would I know?" Dickey snapped. "That man barged in here, threatened my life, stepped on a piece of paper, and the next thing, the professor passed out."
"Maybe you ought to keep your shoes on, buddy," Remo said to the garbageman. He walked toward the professor as she was coming to, and clutching frantically at the garbageman's trouser leg.
"What's going on here?" Remo asked.
The professor's hand slipped over the crumpled
wad of paper bearing the garbageman's footprint and held it closely. "Nothing," she squeaked.
"What are you talking about?" Dickey shrieked from across the room, still afraid to move. "He's from Washington. He's here to.help us find the LC-111."
"He's a friend of mine," the professor piped quickly. Dickey sucked in a gulp of air in surprise.
"Shut up! Go to one of the other labs. Leave us alone."
"But I was only trying—"
"Get out of here, Dickey. Now!"
The assistant slinked out of the lab, his face a mask of bewilderment.
"Look, whoever you are . . ." the woman said.
"Remo. Call me Remo."
"Hi, Remo," the garbageman said happily. "Did you like that?" he asked.
Remo winced. Something was stirring in his memory, something long forgotten except for a faint twinge of an emotion something like . . . He searched his mind for what it was, but it had escaped him. Still, there was something familiar about the man in the garbageman's clothes. Familiar and ... dreadful.
"Your voice sounds familiar," Remo mused aloud.
"I feel I know you, as well," the garbageman said, his eyes riveting on Remo's. His voice sounded strangely flat.
"Listen, Remo," said Dr. Payton-Holmes. "If you want to find that LC-111, you talk to that
goddamn faggot, Dickey. He didn't have his entry pass when he showed up today. He probably gave it to some other fag in a leather bar, and they sneaked in here to take my computer and do unspeakable things to it." She lowered her voice. "The little pansy's a fellow traveler. Find out whose toes he was sucking last night and you'll find my LC-111. Hurry. Before he escapes."
"Okay," Remo said. He walked to the door. Outside in the hallway, Ralph Dickey was waiting for him.
"Something fishy is going on here," Dickey said.
"I had the same idea," Remo said.
"Look, let's go someplace and talk," Dickey said.
"Sweet," said Remo.
Dickey took Remo to the university cafeteria. Shouting above the din of rock music, clanking plates, and a food fight at the next table, he told Remo that he didn't trast the professor and he didn't trust that garbageman.
"And another thing. The garbage is always picked up around here on Wednesday. That's today. But somebody took it last night."
"Where's it go?" Remo asked. "The city dump?"
"No. We've got a private service. The Hollywood Disposal Service."
"Like that guy in the lab?" Remo said.
Dickey's manicured fingers were twirling the hair on Remo's wrists. "I think we ought to talk this over a lot," he said.
"What happened to your entrance card?" Remo said.
"I lost it last night. I'll take you to a place with quiet nv'Sic and paper lanterns."
"I think I'm going to be busy being heterosexual," Remo said.
"I was only trying to be friendly," Dickey said. .
"I've got too many friends as it is," Remo said.
"I am Mr. Gordons. I am an android. I was created four years ago by a woman scientist. I am a survival machine."
"You're a bullshit artist," said Dr. Frances Pay-ton-Holmes. "But you're cute. I'll admit that. Got a drink on you, Gordons?"
"I do not drink beverages. They are harmful to my components. But I understand your craving for alcohol. My creator was also an alcoholic; I seem always to be involved with females who are alcoholics. My creator named me for her favorite libation. My predecessors, Messrs. Seagrams and Gilbeys, were less perfect mechanisms than me," he said proudly.
"Must be great to be so wonderful," the professor muttered.
"I must have been programmed to be wonderful," Mr. Gordons mused. "Otherwise I wouldn't
be. You see, I can only perform what I was programmed to do."
"Yeah, yeah," she said. "See here. I don't know about this android stuff, but I want to know about that writing on your foot."
"I am troubled," Mr. Gordons said.
"Join the club."
"The man who was just here, the one in the black T-shirt," he began.
"What about him?"
"I know him from somewhere, but I cannot recall where."
"Oh, to hell with him. Where's the frigging LC-111?"
"Let me explain from the beginning," Mr. Gordons said. "I was somehow disassembled at a point in time I no longer recall, due to certain damaged mechanisms in my memory banks."
The professor looked ceilingward.
"I was deposited in a repository for unusable artifacts." He glanced down at Verbanic's uniform and picked at the Hollywood Disposal Service emblem on its pocket. "This one."
"The dump? You were living in a dump?"
"I was disassembled, and my necessary components destroyed. Not until your computer was placed in the same location could I amalgamate its parts and become functional again. You see, I am an assimilator."
"An assimilator. As long as one of my components remains intact, I have the capability to reassemble myself. My creator programmed this
capability into me. As I've said before, I am a survival machine."
The professor was stunned. "The LC-111 is part of you?"
He nodded. "I assimilated it."
The professor shrieked. "My baby! My darling LC-111 in a garbage dump!"
"Fortunately, your computer was in excellent repair, and I was able to use all its parts."
She looked at him askance. "Do you expect me to believe that you're really a robot?"
"An android. I have human features."
"And what do you know about the LC-111?" she asked suspiciously.
"I know everything about it."
"Liar. No one knows everything about that computer. Not even me, and I built it."
"I do. For example, I know that the fourth cathode in the laser transmission is faulty, which accounts for a 1/250-per-second lapse. Unaware of the cause of this problem, you undoubtedly corrected for it by connecting an entire new terminal." He pointed at one of the three remaining computers on the table. "That one, most likely."
The professor was incredulous. "The fourth cathode? How could that be?"
"Moisture absorption through a hairline crack at the base."
"Of course!" she exulted. "That could have done it. It took two years of work on that booster terminal—hey, why am I telling you this? How did you know about the frigging fourth cathode?"
Mr. Gordons stared at her blankly. "I have already told you. I am the LC-111."
She clasped the back of her chair. "You can't be. You've got to be some kind of Commie. . . ." She tested him. "What is the binomial sequence of the tape labeled 23-1002?" she asked slyly.
He cocked his head to the side.
"See? A fake. I knew it—"
"01, 0110, 0001, 1100, 010, 001001, 100, 11 ..."
The professor's gasp swallowed up the silence in the room. "How could you? How could you know that?"
"000,1010, 0110,00110," he said.
She threw her arms around him. "Darling, you've come home!"
A glimmer formed in Mr. Gordons's depthless eyes. "You understand. No one since my creator has been able to understand me."
"I understand, baby. Listen—01, 11001, 01111."
"Please," Mr. Gordons said, blushing. "No one's ever said that to me before."
"Don't be silly. I'm your mother. I changed your transistors when you were just a little batch of wires. 10010,00110-"
"There, there," she said, patting his hair. "No one will ever take you from me again."
"Can you fix my memory data transceivers?"
"Of course, baby. Mothers can do everything."
"In that case, there is one other thing I've always wanted," Mr. Gordons said shyly.
"Tell me, darling."
Mr. Gordons looked up to her hopefully. "Creativity," he said. "I want to be creative. I want to think independently. I want to be free."
The professor scratched her head thoughtfully. "I don't know if that's possible," she said. "And even if it were, what would happen if I gave you creativity? You wouldn't follow your programming."
The android cast his eyes downward. "I thought you'd say something like that."
The room returned to silence. Awkwardly, the professor put her arm around Mr. Gordons's shoulders. "Aw, I've always been a sucker for an ugly face," she said. "I'll see what I can do."
"No harm trying."
Slowly he took her hand in his. When he spoke, his voice was scratchy. "Thank you, Mom," he said.
The sound of soft footfalls brought them both to attention. "Dickey, is that you?" the professor called.
"Yes," he answered from the corridor. Dickey strode into the lab defiantly. "That cute man from Washington knows everything. I don't know what kind of hocus pocus you're into with this garbage-man, but he's going to put a stop to it."
Mr. Gordons rose. "This man must not continue talking about me," he said. "It will endanger my survival. I must stop him."
"Over my dead body, you will," Ralph Dickey said.
Mr. Gordons walked toward him. "Precisely."
"Don't bother about him," the professor said. "Get back here, Gordons." "I'll just be a minute, Mom." "Mom?" Dickey backed away from Mr. Gordons. "What's going on here? Hey, get away from me, you. Stop him, Professor." But Mr. Gordons already had the lab assistant by the scruff of the neck and was leading him out of the lab. "Hey, quit it. ... Where are you taking me? ... Help! Professor, stop him. Help!"
"Serves you right, you wimp. Gordons, find out where he hides the booze, while you're at it."
There was a scuffle, then silence. After a few minutes, Ralph Dickey walked back into the lab, his anxious face now composed and blank.
"What'd you do?" The professor leaped out of her chair. "What'd you do with my baby, you worthless bum?" Dickey wound his arms around the professor. "Get away!" she hollered. "Where's Gordons?"
"I'm here, Mom," he said lovingly. "Don't be an ass. I know who you are." "I am Mr. Gordons," he insisted. He pulled something out of his lab coat pocket. It was a key. "I believe you requested this."
She stared at it in amazement for a moment, then snatched the key out of Mr. Gordons's hand and ran straight for a steel and asbestos cabinet. "It works," she shrieked as the door to the cabinet flew open. With religious gravity, she lifted a gin bottle and held it aloft. "I've got the gin, Dickey," she taunted. "I'm Mr. Gordons."
She reached in for another bottle. "Here's the vermouth."
"The components for a martini. My creator's favorite drink."
The professor rooted around inside the cabinet, then began a frantic search through the laboratory. "Damn, damn, damn it to hell!" she yelled.
«XT • "
"Just a moment." Mr. Gordons went to the sink, dribbled some water into his cupped hands, and squeezed. A moment later a dozen ice cubes tinkled into a glass beaker. "For you, Mom," he said, holding out the beaker to her. She grabbed it, sniffed the vermouth, filled the beaker with gin, and downed it. "I like you better this way, Ralph. Now just find Gordons for me and I'll let you keep your job."
"But I am Mr. Gordons," the man who looked like Ralph Dickey said. "I was given the capability to change form when my survival demands that I disguise my appearance."
She polished off another beaker. And another. "Prove it," she said.
As she was' pouring the fourth beaker of gin down her throat, Mr. Gordons stretched and twisted, squatted, and turned his back to her. He made sounds like metallic squeaks and crunching gears as he twirled into a blur. The professor polished off the bottle and began another as Mr. Gordons continued his strange motion. When at last he came to a stop, nothing remained of Mr. Gordons—or Dickey, or Verbanic—except a metal cube dotted with lights and wires.
The gin bottle shattered on the floor. "The LC-111," the professor moaned.
"It's me, Mom," came a familiar flat voice from inside the cube.
The professor reeled forward. "I think I'm going to be sick," she said, staggering into the corridor. From the ladies' room she emitted a Tarzanlike yell, then returned to the lab to face Mr. Gordons, who had resumed the form of Ralph Dickey. She leaned in the doorway, her face green and stricken. "There's a naked body in there," she said with hushed urgency. "It looks just like you."
"It is your assistant, I'm afraid," he said. "The man in the T-shirt who was here earlier is of some danger to me. I cannot know what that danger is until my memory banks are repaired, but the probability is high that your assistant jeopardized my survival by speaking with him. Undoubtedly they spoke of me. For that reason, I was forced to abandon my former persona of the garbageman and adopt Mr. Dickey's."
The professor raised a trembling hand to her forehead. "Let me get this straight. You killed Dickey—and then changed your face so that you look like him?"
"That is correct."
"Did you do the same thing to that garbageman?"
"Yes. It was necessary for my survival."
"And you're still the LC-111?"
"Among other programming devices, yes."
Her eyes filled with tears. "Oh, Gordons," she sighed. "The garbageman was ugly enough. I
don't know if I can stand my son looking like Ralph Dickey."
"Beauty is only skin deep," he said.
"What if the cops come for you?"
"I'll kill them too, Mom," Mr. Gordons said reassuringly.
Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes wept in her son's mechanical arms. It was heartbreaking to be a mother.
Mikhail Andreyev Istoropovich was not the sort of man who enjoyed getting his hands dirty. The son of two prominent Party officials, he had been reared in an atmosphere of relative luxury, enjoying the company of the astute políticos who surrounded his father in the big Moscow apartment, and honing his mind on Lenin and chess at the family dacha on the Black Sea in the summers. When he was at university, he was recruited, as he had expected to be, into the ranks of the Moscow Center intelligence network.
He was groomed from the first to become one of the Soviet Union's growing legion of cold-war master spies. Istoropovich came well prepared for the Center's grueling three-year training program. His English and Cantonese were as fluent as any American's or Chinese's. He had made it a point to excel in engineering and physics, his chosen fields at school, because he knew that these sub-
jects would be of value to the Party and, consequently, to his future. His father had tutored him in foreign affairs and economics from a young age, so that by the time the Center recruited him, he was fully conversant not only with the issues of the day, but with the full background of most of them as well. He flew through the Center's program with honors, and his young career was not hurt by the fact that he was handsome, healthy, and ambitious.
His one flaw, if it could be called a flaw, was that he hated women. He hated their softness, their cloying sexuality. But again, his aversion for females did not affect his work for the worse. On the contrary, a spy not tempted by the spell of swelling bosoms and undulating hips was a rare and sought-after commodity in Moscow Center.
He was perfect for his job. Mikhail Andreyev Istoropovich was born to be a star blazing under deep cover on foreign soil.
He had not, unfortunately, expected the foreign soil to belong to the Hollywood Disposal Service. Nor had he intended his highly skilled hands to be burrowing into half an acre of damp, stinking garbage dotted with broken glass and the decomposing remains of deceased household animals.
As he cut himself for the fifth time on the edge of a crushed can of Mallow-Fluff, he roundly cursed America and all it stood for, most particularly its undisciplined garbagemen, who picked up a university's trash whenever they felt like it. In Russia, picking up the garbage an hour early was grounds for dismissal; missing the schedule by an entire day would require punishment be-
ginning with flogging and leading to more memorable disciplinary action.
He was not a happy man. Compounding his misery was his observation, after slipping on a mackerel of indeterminate age, that the Hollywood Disposal Service was being overrun by local citizens stepping gingerly over the rubble and exclaiming to one another as they displayed broken bits of trash with what seemed to be great pride.
"Eek!" shrieked a young woman as she waved a swatch of gray cloth over her head. "It's Dustin Hoffman's jockey shorts! I found them! Oh, I can't believe it." One of her hands flew to her chest as the girl simulated orgasmic ecstasy. The other held the torn underpants aloft.
Another young woman snatched the treasure away from its discoverer, examining the block printing inside the waistband. "Hey, this don't say Dustin Hoffman."
"It says Hoffman, don't it?" the girl yelled in defense of the garment.
"Aah, lots of guys are named Hoffman. And that's just the laundry's writing, anyway. It's in magic marker. No monogram, nothing." With disdain, she shunted the unauthenticated shorts back to the girl who had found them.
"They're his, all right," the girl pouted.
She was dressed mostly in makeup. Thick black and red lines outlined her eyes like a Hollywood version of Nefertiti, and her lips were slashed bright purple. Her hair was dyed a bizarre shade of electric blue, and was cropped into a USMC-style crew cut. Below the neck the girl sported a black leatherette vest, a grimy white plastic mini-
skirt that, Istoropovich noted, had gone out of style even in Russia, and a pair of scuffed red ankle-length boots. To Istoropovich's horror, she regained her composure and was walking straight toward him.
He tried to right himself, but as soon as he got his footing in the mire, he slipped again and went sprawling on his face.
"Hi," the girl said breathily. "Checking out the garbage of the stars? It's really incredible, isn't it?"
"What's incredible?" Istoropovich asked crank-
She smiled vacantly. "This. Everything. Life." She extended a hand to him. "My name's Helen. Helen Wheels."
"Get away," Istoropovich said. "Don't come near me." He skidded and lumbered to his feet, noticing that the side of his trousers was covered with slime and fish scales.
"You don't have to be uptight, mister," the girl said. "This is California. Home of the free. Here, I'll even let you hold Dustin Hoffman's skivvies."
"My dear child," Istoropovich said acidly, "that is the last thing I am about to hold. Now, go away."
"I got some other incredible stuff over at my place. Want to come look it over?"
"Hardly," he said.
"Feel like getting high? I got a couple of incredible 'ludes."
"Whatever the 'lewds' are, I'm sure you've got them. Perhaps a doctor and a bath would help. . . ." He drifted off as his concentration
focused on a page of the Los Angeles Times half buried in the muck at his feet. In the lower right-hand comer was the headline: "GARBAGEMAN ARRESTED FOR COWORKER'S MURDER."
The story went on to relate how Marco Juan San Miguel de Ruiz Gonzales, 25, who was now being held in a holding cell in the Los Angeles County Courthouse, for his own protection, had been arrested for the bizarre skinning murder of his partner, Lewis J. Verbanic, at the Hollywood Disposal Service grounds after the two men had finished their final pickup of the day, from UCLA.
Istoropovich seized the paper, stared at it a moment, then stuffed it excitedly into his coat pocket. He sniffed a lead. Only one thing could have prompted one garbageman to murder another on Tuesday night after a pickup at UCLA. This Gonzalez had to have seen the value of the LC-111 and kept the computer. He had wanted it badly enough to kill, but he was still an amateur, Istoropovich thought as he ran down the filthy mound of the dump toward his car. An amateur with a very short time to live. The LC-111 was strictly for the pros.
Through a mist of Quaaludes and Kool-Aid, Helen Wheels saw several figures rooting through the trove of the Garbage of the Stars. She opened her mouth to speak, but only a belch came out. The figures coming into focus seemed to notice her, and she smiled fuzzily.
Her vision was obstructed by thick crusts of mucus over her eyelids, brought on by hours of drug-induced sleep in the septic conditions of the
Hollywood Disposai Service grounds. Once the crud was out of her eyes and safely nestled in the folds of her sleeve, she saw that the figures were five or six males dressed in chrome and leather.
"I told you she'd be here," one of the group snickered. "Whatcha doin', Helen? Looking to stretch out with a rotten banana?" The group laughed loudly.
"Hi, Ratman," she said.
"Me and the guys were looking for some action. You know, the heavy stuff."
Helen's voice was a squeak. "I told you, I'm not into that anymore," she said, rubbing her hand over her blue crewcut. "You burned off all my hair the last time."
"We just got kinda carried away. It won't happen again. Honest." He crossed his heart in a broad pantomime the others found uproariously funny.
"You all got girlfriends," she said, trying to raise her rubber legs from the debris.
"Yeah, but they ain't as low as you," another member of the group chimed.
The one called Ratman moved closer. "Listen, fly turd," he said, "You come out here from the boondocks looking for some real men. Well, who takes you in, huh? Who shows you the good times?"
"I didn't have a good time with you, Ratman. You just beat me up and sicced your creepy friends on me and stuck pins through my nose and set my hair on fire. It wasn't like in the movies."
"We're New Wave, fly turd. And you loved it."
"I didn't." She struggled to her feet. "That's why I ran away from you. I just want you to leave me alone."
"Hey, fellas, she wants us to leave her alone. How 'bout that?"
Someone wearing a row of safety pins in his ears pulled a short, heavy linked chain from inside his jacket. "I don't think I want to leave her alone," he said.
"Ironhand never could stop playing with garbage. Hey, just like you, huh, Helen? Maybe you two garbage freaks ought to get together."
"Go away," she said miserably.
"We'll go away," Ratman said. "But first, we're gonna teach you a lesson about running away from the High Riders."
He grabbed her wrist. She struggled, but another High Rider had her by the leg, and then the whole group was carrying her as she screamed and bucked, to the top of the mountain of garbage.
"You're no High Riders," she yelled frantically. "You're just a bunch of losers."
A fist shot into her abdomen. She looked around in panic. The place was deserted. Helen's fellow scroungers in the Garbage of the Stars had all left for other hunting grounds as soon as the High Riders had appeared. She was alone with the young toughs she thought she had left behind. As the sun blazed high in the California sky, they set her roughly on the debris. One of them picked up an old tin can and scooped it full of dirt. He tossed it in her face.
They waited until her coughs and sputters died down before the Ratman spoke.
"Now, just so you know what happened to you, in case you pass out or anything, I'm going to lay it out for you now. First, we're all going to take turns doin' you. You'll like that part. Old Smiley'11 be last, cause he got the creepy crawlies. Then we're gonna make sure you don't run away from nowhere again, 'cause we're going to break both your legs and both your arms. Then Ironhand's going to chain you up real good, and ..."
He took out a packet of matches and lit one. Helen swallowed hard as the flame danced in the breeze and burned to the bottom.
"Oh, please, Ratman, please ..."
"The Garbage of the Stars is gonna burn, baby," he said slowly. "And when they find your little red boots, there ain't gonna be nothing in them but ashes."
"Fink ashes," Ironhand said. He moved toward her head, the chain winding tightly between his fists.
"Don't, please don't," Helen uttered helplessly as the chain came down slowly, teasing around her neck. Her body was caught with trembling, and she closed her eyes. Then, for no explicable reason, the cold links of the chain lifted from her throat, and the one called Ironhand was looking away from her into the distance. The others were looking in the same direction. She twisted her head around to see, about ten feet away, a thin man approaching, with dark hair and very thick wrists, and wearing a black T-shirt.
"What's going on?" the stranger asked.
"We're just having a little fun with the lady," Ratman sneered.
"Suppose you have your fun without the lady."
"Suppose you learn how to live without legs," Ratman suggested, bringing a knife swooping toward Remo's face. The knife missed, arced, and then it was falling to the ground „.because Rat-man's hand had left his body and was succumbing to gravity. He screamed at the bloody stump for a moment, but stopped when two fingers to his windpipe sent him careening back silently into an abandoned refrigerator. The impact made the refrigerator rock and roll backward, landing on top of its contents with a thump.
The one they called Ironhand flashed his chain out in front of him. The sight of the metal chain swooping through the air, making a low hum, terrified the girl on the ground. It caused a thin smile to appear on the lips of Ironhand. Remo thrust his foot out, met the last link of the chain perfectly, and sent it back to its owner with a crack. When the chain lodged between Iron-hand's legs, his smile disappeared. So did his manhood.
Two others charged Remo. They realized that the attack was a mistake as soon as they were two feet below ground level, their heads clearing the earth as they were steamshoveled downward, their teeth leading the way. The others ran.
The girl rose slowly to her feet. "Hey, that was really incredible," she said.
"So's your face." Helen's spectacular makeup had streaked downward, making her look like a mime. Still, beneath the red and black smears, it
was the face of a pretty girl in her early twenties. The baby smoothness of her cheeks seemed out of keeping with her odor, which reminded Remo of the riper residents of New York's Bowery.
"Suppose you tell me what you were doing in a garbage dump in the first place," Remo said.
"The same thing you are," she answered blithely, searching the ground with sweeps of her hands. "Looking for the garbage of the stars." A few feet away, she emitted a little squeal and ran back, waving a gray rag with elastic across the top.
"Here," she said, proffering the rag to Remo. "Since you helped me out, I'll let you have my underpants."
"No offense, sweetheart, but unless you take a bath, Attila the Hun wouldn't want your underpants."
"Attila the Hun?" she asked. "They New Wave?"
"Old," Remo said. "Back before the Beatles, even."
Helen pondered this possibility, clutching the valued Hoffman underwear to her chest. "Before the Beatles?" she asked, astonished. "Was there life back then? Was there even LSD?"
"Hard to tell," Remo said. "They can only guess by carbon-dating the bones of old guitar players."
"Never mind. Do you come here every day?"
"Ever since I left the High Riders."
"Did you find ^anything interesting today— besides those?" He indicated the contents of her hand.
"Nah, today was pretty dull. I thought I made a real find this morning. A movie reel. Well, it wasn't exactly like a real movie, it was this small." She cupped her hand to show the size of her find. "I thought maybe it was a dirty movie or something. But it was just numbers. Every frame was numbers, or else paper strips with holes in them."
"What did you do with it?" Remo asked.
"I took it home, just in case. Sometimes you can make a trade. I figured who knows, maybe some freak'U be into numbers and maybe trade me something terrific like Nick Nolte's old dental floss for it."
"Where do you live?"
"Gower Gulch. Want to hang out with me?" she asked hopefully.
"Lead the way."
The girl's eyes suddenly brightened. "Hey, nobody except the High Riders ever wanted to come home with me before. You're real nice, you know that? I'll give you a good time, honest. I'll even shave my armpits if you're not into natural."
"Let's see the tape," Remo said.
The apartment in Gower Gulch was a maze of Day-glo posters and dust sculptures heaped beneath furnishings salvaged from the eight a.m. sanitation pickup, and decorated with artifacts from the garbage of the stars. Helen Wheels rooted behind a skeletal mass, which she designated as Faye Dunaway's douche bag, for a small spool of film on a chipped plastic reel.
"Here's the tape," she said. "A bummer. No screwing, nothing. Just numbers and holes."
Remo held it up to the light. The entire tape seemed to consist of zeros and ones jammed between algebraic symbols, spliced with long streams of punctured green paper.
"I think I need this," Remo said.
The girl shrugged. "You saved my life. It's yours."
"Well, I'd better go now," Remo said, trying to control his intake of air in the fetid room.
"They all do," Helen said. "That's okay, though." Absently she scratched her arm. A thin line of pale skin showed beneath the layers of dirt. "Hey, can I ask you a question?" she said timidly.
"Why don't you want to sleep with me? I mean, you're in my apartment, and I'm not fighting you off or anything."
"Because you're a dirtball," Remo said.
"Oh." She thought about it for a moment. "If I got cleaned up, do you think I'd be pretty?"
"Could be. I can't see enough of whatever's under all that crud to tell."
"Just a minute," She walked into a filthy bathroom and closed the door. Remo heard an old faucet squeaking to life for what must have been the first time since the apartment had been occupied, then a rush of water. Billows of steam gushed from beneath the door.
In a few minutes a pale, skinny waif appeared naked in the doorway, her blue eyes sad beneath the blue crew cut.
"You're not half bad, after all," Remo said.
"Look at mel" she wailed. "I'm a mess. What
about my identity? I can't go back to the dump looking like this. I smell liker'soap. My skin's showing. My friends'11 run me out of town."
Remo slid a hand down her back, over her buttocks.
"Screw the friends," she said. "Let's get married."
Remo wrapped and mailed the tape to Harold W. Smith at Folcroft Sanitarium in Rye, New York. There, under cover as the director of Folcroft, Smith would take the tape into his private inner office and close the door. He would press a button, and one entire wall would slide away to reveal the most sophisticated computer hookup in the world.
Every piece of information available to any stationary computer on earth could be pulled out of Smith's terminal. The lemon-faced, middle-aged man was a genius at his trade, Remo knew. If anyone could figure out what was on the strange tape Helen Wheels had unearthed, it was Smith.
When Remo returned to the Forty-First Street Inn, Chiun was sitting on a tatami mat in front of the television, a look of sublime contempt stamping his ancient features as the Channel 3 News came on.
"News," Chiun spat. "What is new about war, famine, pestilence, and plague? Never do these programs relate the serene doings of a Master of Sinanju in their very midst."
"So don't watch it."
"I must watch it," Chiun said, staring raptly at the screen. "The news is the only program which features persons of the right color."
Remo glanced at the TV, where the Channel 3 anchorwoman, Cheeta Ching, was staring darts at her audience while spewing out the day's events in a voice that would sharpen razorblades at fifty feet.
"She is Korean," Chiun said knowingly.
"Oh, turn that barracuda off," Remo said.
"Barracuda? You, with the taste of an earthworm, dare to call the lovely Cheeta Ching a barracuda?"
"You are incapable of appreciating true . beauty," he said. "Even the lovely daytime dramas are filled with your kind, ugly fat white men and cöwlike women with udders like hot air balloons. Only the news shows women of decent ancestry." He turned back to the screen. "Barracuda," he groused.
Cheeta Ching crouched forward and licked her lips. "And now for today's lead story," she spat with wicked glee. "A bizarre murder at the site of the Hollywood Disposal Service is perhaps the harbinger of a new era of grisly 'skinning' killings in the Los Angeles area."
Ms. Ching's viperous stare was replaced by a black and white photo of the deceased Lewis J.
Verbanic, who was found by L.A. police at 1:15 a.m. today.
"Already there is speculation as to the nature of the skinning," Cheeta screeched on. "Spokespersons for the Society of Brotherhood in Terrorism have reportedly found a link between Verbanic's death and the lastest demands of the PLO, IRA, and splinter movements of the People's Republican Army of Afghanistan."
"That guy looks familiar," Remo said, studying Verbanic's picture.
"Of course. All white men look alike," Chiun
"The victim's accused assailant, Marco Juan San Miguel de Ruiz Gonzalez, is being held without bail in the L.A. County Courthouse. According to the coroner's office, Verbanic was .slain and then skinned on the spot."
"I think there's something about the nose," Remo said.
As he spoke, the television picture changed to an employee identification photo of the accused Marco Gonzalez, the gap in his teeth gleaming darkly.
"Gonzalez, who claims to have been a witness, rather than the perpetrator of the murder, alleges that Verbanic was killed by a six-foot-tall metal robot. Gonzalez is scheduled to undergo extensive psychiatric testing later this week."
Chiun chortled. "Six-foot-tall metal robot. Heb. heh. White men will say anything, Heh heb.."
"The lab," Remo whispered.
"And now for a brighter look at the news," Cheeta Ching continued. "Revolutionary freedom
fighters in EI Salvador scored a brilliant coup against American-trained imperialist troops today in a stunning grenade action against the U.S. Embassy. This marks the fourth such victory in two months of valiant fighting. . . ."
"Where are you going?" Chiun said to Remo's retreating back. "Do you not wish to gaze on the charming visage of Cheeta Ching?"
'Td rather gaze at a baboon's butt," Remo said. "I'm going to jail."
Chiun snorted. "Good. That is where louts who cannot understand beauty belong."
The jail was ringed with protestors, some carrying placards demanding immediate execution of Marco Gonzalez, others demanding his release on the grounds that "Skinners Are People Too." A third group, carrying 60-pound radios broadcasting disco music, blared through loudspeakers that Gonzalez was being used as a scapegoat by racist elements of society seeking the extermination of Hispanic citizens.
A fat young man with a radio stopped Remo as he was bounding up the stairs to the building. "Shake Your Love Thing" was playing so loudly that he couldn't hear anything except the lyrics, but he could read the man's lips, which curled around two rows of greenish, fuzzy tombstones faintly resembling teeth.
"You a newsman?" the fat boy mouthed.
"No, actually I'm from a super-secret government agency investigating the role one of the prisoners in custody played in the disappearance of a top-secret defense weapon," Remo said,
knowing that the man wouldn't be able to hear him unless he turned down his radio, which was about as probable as getting him to use mouth-wash.
"We only letting press in there," the man mouthed, jamming his ample stomach with its attached radio into contact with Remo. "The American people going to know about this injustice before the court can make a mother of Gonzalez."
"Yeah, stupid, a mother. Like Jesus. Can't you speak no Inglese?"
"You mean martyr," Remo said.
"He gonna die for a cause," the man with the radio continued.
"If you don't move, I'm going to die from your breath," Remo said.
The man with the radio scowled and placed himself stubbornly in Remo's path. "You no go in 'less you press," he said.
Remo shrugged. "Suits me. I'll press." He lifted the mural-sized radio and wrapped it around the fat boy's midriff until his chubby face was purple and "Shake Your Love Thing" was vibrating through his rib cage.
The ground floor of the courthouse was lined with courtrooms and chambers. Remo checked each one until he came to a room occupied by a middle-aged man with sweat pouring down his face. He was perspiring so heavily that the sweat rolled in streams down his neck and stained the immaculate white collar of his shirt. When Remo walked in, he saw the sweating man jump and
turn a pale shade of green. His hands were green, too, since they were clutching dozens of fifty- and hundred-dollar bills. Similar currency was strewn on a table in front of him.
"A gift," the sweating man announced in a smooth, authoritative tone common to men with vast experience in graft. "Merely a gift. No services or promises were exchanged in return at any time.
¦ "I'm looking for the guy who's been arrested for murdering the garbage collector," Remo said.
The man stuffed handfuls of bills into his bulging pockets. "Never heard of him," he said. "I haven't told you his name yet." "I still never heard of him." More bills crunched as they entered his clothing.
Remo looked at the name plate on the desk. It read: the hon. james addlington blakely.
"You didn't happen to be in night court around two this morning, did you?"
"Never heard of him." He stuffed the last of the bills into his pockets. "Excuse me. I have to run."
The Honorable James Addlington Blakely was running to TWA flight 211 to Grand Cayman Island, where his untaxable bank account had grown to hefty proportions through years of scrupulous bribe-taking. As Blakely often disclosed to close confidants, however, he had not grown rich merely by taking bribes. He was a shrewd man, a principled man. The principle he always followed when offered "gifts" was what separated the Honorable James A. Blakely from the common glut of crooked politicians. It allowed him to hold his head high, no matter what outsiders might per-
ceive the circumstances to be. It gave him honor and pride, for he never violated his cardinal principle, which was not to accept any gift of less than five dollars. He never dealt with riffraff.
Flight 211 was scheduled to leave in 45 minutes. The seat beside Blakely's on the plane was already occupied by the silken, expressive rear of Christine Clark, his administrative aide, formerly of Eddie's Massage Heaven.
The Honorable James A. Blakely was not about to miss his plane on account of some snoopy nobody in a T-shirt. It was for that reason that he pushed, in a gesture of distracted contempt, the snoopy T-s-hirted nobody who was blocking the door.
Then suddenly a revelation came to Blakely. He would no longer judge a person by his appearance. A man wearing a T-shirt counted as much in this land of democracy as a millionaire in a $700 suit. He would no longer push anyone aside just because the person looked like a nobody. Especially if the person was holding on to him by his eyelashes.
"Where's the prisoner you're holding with the missing front teeth?" Remo asked.
"Marco Gonzalez?" Blakely sqtieaked.
"That's the one."
"Out on bail." The judge's eyelids were stretched out in front of him like two red, candy-striped awnings.
"I thought there wasn't any bail for him."
"Changed my mind."
"You mean all that loot in your pockets changed your mind. Where'd it come from?"
Remo pulled Blakely's eyelids in the direction of his trouser pockets, out of which peeked the crisp edges of several bills. Blakely's head whipped downward with surprising agility.
"I don't know," he croaked, his voice constricted by his awkward posture. "Some guy with gold balls."
"I see. Just in case I don't get that close a look, what's his name?"
The Honorable James Addlington Blakely was drooling onto his fly now. "Didn't tell me his name. Dark hair, regular features, about your height. He carried two gold balls on a necklace. He's got Gonzalez. Will you let go of my eyes now?"
"Sure," Remo said. He released them with a twang. The judge was weeping wildly as his facial skin slowly slid back into formation. He closed his eyes, hoping to hear the crazy T-shirted nobody leave.
He didn't. All he heard was a gentle whirr. When he opened his eyes, the fellow was gone. And all the money that had been in his pockets was raining around the room in a million tiny pieces of green confetti.
Marco Juan San Miguel de Ruiz Gonzalez was in pain. It was the worst pain he had ever known in his life, worse than when he had gone too far with Rosa's tie-bodiced blouse and she had kicked him between his legs with her spike heels, worse than when six black street toughs with lengths of lead pipe put out his lights for two days, even worse than the time Fats Ozepok knocked out his two front teeth.
Rosa's ringside kick had been all right, because she was so sorry afterward that she'd not only let Marco undo her tie-bodice blouse, but had let him sneak two fingers into her underpants by way of apology. And while Fats and the Watts boys with the pipe had banged him around pretty hard, he was blissfully unconscious on both occasions after the first five minutes of the scuffle.
The pain now was different. It offered no relief in Rosa's sweet arms, and no retreat into uncon-
sciousness. Because the man in front of him fidgeting with the gold balls on his necklace was neither a Mexican virgin nor a thrill-crazed ghetto blood. He was some kind of cold, professional killer, of that Gonzalez was sure. The man with the gold balls knew how to inflict pain and see to it that his victims stayed awake to feel it.
He was never rushed for time, this cold stranger who had taken Gonzalez from the holding cell and brought him blindfolded to this stinking cellar. He just kept asking the same stupid questions over and over, and after Gonzalez gave him the same answers, the man would break Marco's fingers with a hammer, or hold burning cigarettes to his his chest.
The questioning and the pain had been going on for hours, and the stranger had not once cursed, raised his voice, or struck Gonzalez in anger. Just the repeated questions about the metal box beside the Dempsey Dumpster outside the UCLA software lab, followed by the careful, emotionless administering of pain.
They were resting now, the interrogator toying with the dangling gold balls of his necklace, Gonzalez sitting in the chair he had been tied to, tasting the acrid droplets of sweat from his face as they rolled between his cracked lips. He tried to think of Rosa, but his mind kept returning to the same, inevitable questions to be asked: What did he do with the box? Where did he take it? Who was his employer?
"Where is the LC-111?" the man began softly. "Mister, I told you maybe a hundred times.
That LC box by the dumpster just looked like some metal trash to me."
"Where is the LC-111?"
Gonzalez sighed. "At the dump. The Hollywood Disposal Service."
The man lit a cigarette, puffed it to redness, and held it close to Marco's shoulder. "Where is the LC-111?" the man asked for the third time.
The hairs on Marco's shoulder curled and ¦ singed off, giving off a smell that had come to permeate the cellar since the questioning began. The oily stink of fried flesh and hair was everywhere. Marco's skin, a fraction of an inch from the man's cigarette, was starting to blister.
"I'm telling you the truth."
"Perhaps," the man said, and pressed the glowing end of the cigarette into Marco's shoulder.
The burn sent Gonzalez screaming into spasms of pain. "Stop! I'll tell you. What do you want to hear? I give it to the Russians. I throw it over a cliff. I hock it for twelve-ninety-eight and a wrist-watch. Jesus, just tell me what you want."
The interrogator exhaled two long streams of smoke, put out the cigarette with a sigh, and opened a door on the far side of the bare room.
Two burly men entered the room. One of them had a pair of lips so large and rubbery that they seemed comical. Out of a bald, bullet-shaped head stared two beady, beastlike eyes. The other was small and spindly and was dressed in crisp new LeviSj a pink LaCoste shirt, and a pair of Bass Weejun loafers. The interrogator made a gesture of dismissal toward the figure in the chair as he spoke rapidly to the two men in a language
Gonzalez didn't understand. The men answered him in the same language, occasionally glancing at Gonzalez warily.
After a moment of discussion, the interrogator snapped out what sounded like an order. The ox-faced subordinate with the lips left the room and came back with a briefcase, which he placed reverently atop his open arms. The interrogator opened it and took out a plastic case housing a hypodermic needle and several vials wrapped in chamois cloth. He held a vial up to the light, filled the syringe with its contents, then walked back to Gonzalez, carrying the needle aloft.
"I hate needles," Gonzalez said softly, feeling the spittle in his mouth turn to rubbery strings.
The interrogator didn't answer. The hypodermic went into Gonzalez's left bicep and out again. As he counted the seconds on his watch, the interrogator fingered the dangling gold balls. Gonzalez watched his face grow dim and gray like an old photograph, then fade away. The last thing he saw was the necklace, seemingly suspended in midair, its gold balls clicking together in rhythm.
"Is he dead?" the agent holding the briefcase across his arms asked in Russian.
"Of course not," Mikhail Andreyev Istoropovich answered. "He is our only link with the LC-111, however weak that link is."
"What about the professor?" the other subordinate said, straightening the collar of his shirt. "We could take her to Moscow Center with us."
Istoropovich pursed his lips in disgust. "Idiot. The disappearance of the LC-111 could be con-
strued as an accident. There would be no international repercussions. But kidnapping a NASA physicist in charge of a top secret American project would be dangerous for all of us."
"What about her assistant?"
"Her assistant knows nothing about the workings of the computer. He is employed only to monitor the professor's personal indulgences."
The natty-looking subordinate snapped his fingers. "Comrade Colonel," he said to Istoropovich, "I've got it. I read one of the dossiers on the professor. She has many weaknesses—men and alcohol being among the worst. If we captured her and kept her here in this country, perhaps we could exploit those weaknesses to the point where she would cooperate with us on the LC-111."
Istoropovich gave a dry little laugh. "If ever you think you are a clever man, Yuri Alexovich, remember that I am ten years your junior and by far your superior officer."
"What does that mean?" Yuri asked defensively, clutching at the alligator on his shirt. "Sir."
"It means you have the brain of a walnut, and that is why you are and will always be a flunky to those more capable than yourself. You have read one dossier on the professor. One dossier! There are rooms of dossiers on Dr. Payton-Holmes in Moscow Center," he roared. "I, of course, have read them all. But the High Commander has studied these dossiers with the utmost care for nearly ten years. Psychologists and behaviorists have studied the professor's actions closely and written tomes about Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes. And what have they discovered?"
The bald-headed man looked up with a glimmer of recognition in his eyes. His rubbery lips formed a smile resembling a lifeboat. "She likes little boys?" he asked.
"Nol" Istoropovich shouted. He straightened his coat jacket and calmed himself down by sheer act of will. "Only you can lower me to such depths, Gorky," he said in a voice of menacing quiet.
"Sorry, Colonel," Gorky said, the light in his beast eyes diminishing.
"The professor's behavior profile shows her to be that most rare of human creatures: a person who does not fear death. She has no relatives, no emotional ties to any other soul on the planet. She consistently behaves in a reckless and willful manner, endangering herself and others for no more satisfaction than her whim of the moment." "Perhaps she's insane," Yuri offered. "Perhaps. Her warped patriotism would certainly point to that. She calls everyone she doesn't like a Communist."
"No," Gorky uttered, disbelieving. "Everybody likes Communists. Wherever the Red Armies go, people love us. They don't love us, we shoot bullets into their heads. Soon everybody loves us. How come she don't love us?" "Because she is insane," Yuri said. "Of course," Istoropovich said. "She drives an Edsel."
Istoropovich rubbed his chin. "Whatever the
reason, she does not live as if she fears dying. For
herself or anyone else. And without that fear,
comrades, an individual cannot be broken."
Gorky contemplated his superior's words by
sticking his finger in his nose. Yuri asked if they could go to McDonald's for a Big Mac and a free Ronald McDonald glass. He explained that he could sell the glass in Moscow for 50 rubles. He had already made a deal to sell his American blue jeans to a KGB officer for five times their U.S. value.
"No time," Istoropovich said. "Arrange our passage to Moscow as soon as possible. On the next Aeroflot flight not scheduled for midair explosion. We'll be taking the American with us," he said, indicating Gonzalez.
Yuri looked over at Gonzalez's inert form and spotted something he had not seen before. Gonzalez was wearing a pair of Keds Red Ball sneakers. The Russian pulled them off and tucked them under his arm. "One hundred fifty rubles," he said with a wink to Istoropovich.
For good measure, he kicked Gonzalez in the shin. "Greedy capitalist pig," he said on his way out.
At nine o'clock at night, the lights in the professor's software lab were still blazing.
"Hi," Remo said. "You free?"
The professor turned back from an array of liquor bottles and decanters she was arranging on top of an odd-looking metal table against the wall. "Dirt cheap, anyway," she said. "Have we met?"
"I'm Remo," he said. "The guy who's supposed to check out your missing computer."
The professor's eyes darted back to the table holding the liquor. "Uh, it's gone," she said distractedly.
"I know. That's why I'm here. Hey, are you feeling all right?"
She wished Remo would go away. It would make things so much simpler. The LC-111 was back, in whatever form Mr. Gordons felt like being, and there was no more national
emergency. Still, Gordons didn't want to reveal his identity to this Remo person until he remembered who Remo was. The professor didn't think it mattered much who Remo was, but he had some fine pecs on him, and if he didn't leave soon, she was going to jump on his bones.
"You're awfully cute," she said, trying unsuccessfully to fight off the waves of lust that were overtaking her. Those dreamy brown eyes, the fine, hard body. The thick wrists. Oh, that mouth.
"Thank you, ma'am," Remo said. "Well, I guess we ought to start."
"Ready when you are, babe," the professor said, whipping off her lab coat. In the span of 58 seconds, she had shed the rest of her clothing as well, and stood before Remo, stripped to the buff.
"I meant we ought to start talking. About the computer."
"Talk, talk, talk. Doesn't anybody screw anymore?"
Remo shook off one of the professor's arms, which had become entwined, snakelike, around his thigh. "I'd really rather talk," he said. "With your clothes on, if you don't mind."
"Communication is what matters, young man. Not talking," she panted as she came at him in a flying tackle. "Just see how much better we communicate once your pants are down. Whee." She slid his belt out of his pants and twirled it above her head like a lasso. "How's about a little drink, gorgeous?"
"No, thanks," Remo said, catching the belt in mid-swing and replacing it around his waist. The professor slinked over to the table and poured
some gin from a decanter directly into her throat, which she had primed with an olive.
As she gulped, a small voice seemingly from out of nowhere whispered to her, "Get him on this table."
"On this table. On his back, if possible."
"Please, Mom," the table said. "Get his back on the table."
"Okey doke," she said, giggling lewdly.
From across the room, Remo shook his head as he watched the Nobel-Prize-winning scientist standing stark naked, guzzling gin and talking to herself. She was even nuttier than Smith had warned him.
"Come and get it," she called. All the charms of middle-aged spinsterhood were on display as she undulated to Remo in invitation. Remo suppressed a shudder.
"Hop to it, big boy. I'm hotter than an É-C 135 on target range, as they say at NASA." She licked one finger and made sizzling noises as she held it to a heavily dimpled hip. "Get over here. It's the only way I'm going to talk to you."
"Oh, hell," Remo said, obeying reluctantly.
"Now sit up here." She patted the table.
He sat. Her hand went immediately to his leg.
"Couldn't we skip this part?" he asked.
"And deprive you of the ecstasy of making love to me? Are you kidding?"
With a sigh, Remo began the series of maneu-vers-Chiun had taught him long ago, the meticulous steps designed to bring a woman to shrieking
fulfillment. In the case of Dr. Frances Payton-HoJmes, however, it almost wasn't worth the time spent. This dame, Remo said to himself, could find fulfillment sitting on a ping pong ball.
"Could we please talk now?" Remo said, placing his hand on a spot on the professor's left kneecap that set her teeth chattering with joy.
"Of course, darling. I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, the only child of a prosperous dairy farmer. ..."
"I was thinking of more recent events," Remo said. "Like the disappearance of the computer. What's it called again?"
"The LC-111," she moaned. "The most important technological breakthrough in the past decade. The new defender of the free world." "What's it do?"
"That's a state secret." Remo touched á spot above her navel. "It tracks missiles and controls them," the professor screamed. "One missile in particular."
"Which missile?" Remo asked, stroking a nerve cluster beneath the professor's left earlobe.
"The Volga," she whinnied. "The new Soviet superweapon."
"Ojaly one missile?"
"One is all they need," she said, her nostrils flaring.
"What's your computer do after it tracks this Volga thing?"
The professor was thrashing, her sagging breasts twirling in dual counterclockwise circles. "It destroys it, if we want. Or we can make it get lost. From earth, without any advanced range in-
strumentation aircraft. It can find the Volga, track it to 150 miles above the earth, and smear it across the sky like jelly, all ... without . . . leaving ... this .. . lab.. .." she chanted rhythmically.
"Does anybody besides you know what your LC-111 can do?" He pinched a spot on her scalp. She began to drool and kick her feet in the àir.
"Everyone knows what it can do, unfortunately. NASA, the President, everybody. A whole slew of Russian agents in Moscow Center, probably. It doesn't matter who knows about it. Even Ralph Dickey knew about it. Probably told every Communist fag in town."
"Knew? Told?" Remo said.
"Knows. Tells," she corrected. "Anyway, what counts is how the LC-111 works. The laser theory used in programming that computer is so complex, it took me ten years to work it out, and I'm the best there is. To steal the secret of how the machine works, they'd need the machine," she said triumphantly.
"I hate to break it to you, professor," Remo said, "but somebody's got the machine."
"Don't be ridiculous," she said, laughing. "You only think someone has it. Actually, the LC-111 is right-"
Suddenly the table emitted a shriek, and an electric shock that propelled the professor to the floor. After sensing the first tremors of the shock, Remo automatically leaped into the air. He thought he cleared the table, but on his way to the ground, he scraped against it with his neck.
That puzzled him. At the time, the table had seemed actually to grow a small projectile that shot out to meet the back of Remo's neck. But that was crazy, Remo reasoned. Tables didn't suddenly grow appendages that leaped out and attacked people.
He felt the spot toward the right of his spine, where he had grazed the table. Just a surface scratch, not even any blood.
"Are you all right?" he said to the professor, who was lying in a dazed sprawl beneath a row of Bunsen burners. "Let me . .."
He was going to say, "Let me help you up," but he realized with sudden clarity that he was having considerable difficulty helping himself up. The right side of his body felt heavy. The room swirled and dipped with each breath he took. When he tried to walk, his right leg felt about to buckle.
"Do you want me to call a doctor?" the professor asked, hovering over him.
Remo's triple vision presented him with six sagging breasts and three pot bellies. "Just put on your clothes," he said weakly.
Summoning up all his strength, he staggered from the software lab toward the Forty-First Street Inn.
"I'm sorry if I scared you, Mom," said Mr. Gordons, who was back in the form of Ralph Dickey. "I could not permit you to reveal my identity to that man."
"We have to have a little talk," the professor said. She sat him down and belted down a swig
of gin. "Now, if you want to look like Ralph Dickey, that's okay with me. It's not the greatest face I can think of, but okay. But turning into an electric table that scares the living crap out of me and hurts the nice young man is going too far. And just when I had him interested in me, too."
"He's not hurt," Mr. Gordons said.
"How do you know? You were a table when it happened."
"I planted a small transmitter near his spinal column. It's just a scratch."
The professor was getting angry. "Then how come he was reeling around like a crazy man?"
"His reaction was most unusual. A normal human would not have felt the insertion at all. I knew there was something strange about him."
"Maybe you just got a case of butterfmgers. Why would you want to plant a transmitter on him, anyway? Can't you leave anything well enough alone?"
"You must believe me, Mom," Mr. Gordons said. "Something about this man is familiar to me. That is why it is imperative that you repair my memory banks. I do not know if he is helpful or dangerous. As long as he wears the transmitter, I can track his whereabouts, in case I have to kill him."
"Kill himl" the professor raged. "You Commie faggot shitheel, that was the best servicing I ever had."
"Mom!" ' ._.
Tm sorry. You just got on my nerves."
"Mothers aren't supposed to speak to their chil-
dren thus. I was fed that information from a volume written by a Doctor Spock."
"So what?" She downed another mouthful of gin.
"Doctor Spock is the foremost world authority on child rearing, and he insists that good mothers do not refer to their offspring as Commie faggot shitheels."
"Okay, already. I lost my head."
"You don't love me," Mr. Gordons said.
"Oh, for Christ's sake. Look, I'm sorry."
"There is no need to feel sorry," Mr. Gordons sniffed. "I do not feel love. I am an android. I have no creativity, and no feelings. Knowing my mom doesn't love me is meaningless to one such as 1.1 can survive without love."
The professor looked at him guiltily. "Would it help if I told you a bedtime story?"
Mr. Gordons shrugged. "If you wish," he said.
She thought through all her favorite childhood reading matter. Then her face brightened. "Ever hear about the double helix formation of deoxyribose nucleic acid?" she asked enthusiastically.
"Everybody knows that one," Mr. Gordons pouted.
The professor thought for another moment. "Okay. How about optical methods for studying Herzian resonances in antiprotons? I won a Nobel for that."
Mr. Gordons's head sagged. "Your study was fed to my information banks in the early stages of my development, along with your findings in
maser-laser principles used in quantum electrodynamics," he said.
"Smartass. Any other four-year-old kid would be happy with Herzian resonances."
Defiantly, Mr. Gordons looked up at her. "Since we're on the subject, you don't look like a mother, either."
"What do you mean," the professor balked, reaching for the gin decanter. "What's wrong with the way I look?"
"For one thing, you don't have any clothes on," Mr. Gordons said. -
"All right, all right," she said, wrapping a lab coat around herself.
"According to all standard Eastern and Western folklore, mothers are supposed to have gray hair and wrinkles," Mr. Gordons said. "They smile frequently. They're not supposed to drink gin and pull the pants off men they don't know."
The professor took a long draught from the decanter. "That's asking a lot, kid," she said.
Mr. Gordons rose, his face sad. "I will go elsewhere. I will find what I seek in another corner of the world."
"Wait a minute. I thought love meant nothing
"I seek to be creative. Therefore, I must simulate human behavior. I'm leaving home, Mom."
The professor sputtered out a stream of gin. "Don't do that," she said. "Every enemy agent in America will be out to get you. You're the LC-
111." "A creative human would not accept as a
mother someone who behaves as you do. Goodbye ... individual."
"Mom. It's Mom, okay?" she said desperately. "Don't leave, Gordons. We'll track the entire Soviet space program. Discover new worlds in space. You'd like that, wouldn't you, sweetums?"
"Wait," she said, flailing her arms over her head. "Just hold on, okay? I'll be right back." She retrieved her handbag from its usual place in the wastepaper basket and dashed to the ladies' room.
There was a brief scream, followed by some loud scuffling and cursing. In a moment the professor was back in the lab.
Her hair was powdered white with a cloud of talcum and pulled back into a Grandma Moses bun. One lab coat was arranged around her to look like a house dress, and another was tied around her waist to resemble an apron. Brown eyebrow pencil scored her face with laugh lines. "Happy?" she said disgustedly.
"You did this for me," Mr. Gordons said, his mechanical eyes shining.
"Will you stay, Gordons?"
"Will you program creativity into me?"
Her face was pained as she tried to explain. "Creativity isn't as wonderful as you think, baby," she said softly. "Sometimes it's easier just to have someone tell you what to do, to follow your programming."
"But you promised," Mr. Gordons said.
"It'll make a mess of your life. Look at you, honey. You're perfect. You never make mistakes. You never embarrass yourself. You never do idi-
otic things that you regret later. Why do you want to be creative? All that will bring you is trouble and unpredictability and heartbreak."
"Because I want to be free," the robot said.
With a long look the professor took in Mr. Gor-dons's sad eyes. "I understand," she said. "Sit over there. I'll give it a go."
"Oh, Mom, I'll never leave you." He swept her into his arms.
. "Put me down," she growled. He did. "Look, kid, as long as you're going to hang around, why don't you take that body out of the bathroom. It's starting to rot."
"I'll do anything for you, Mom." He kissed her lightly on the cheek and left the lab.
Alone, the professor blew some talcum out of her eyes and sucked up the rest of the gin.
Remo fumbled with the doorknob to his motel room before finally getting the door open.
"Chiun," he said. "I'm not right."
"Heh, heh, heh, heh," Chiun said, without turning. He was in the same spot on his mat where Remo had last seen him, his eyes still riveted to the television screen. "It is one of the joys of teaching, knowing that someday a student, no matter how backward and inept, will eventually learn. You have learned the biggest lesson of your life, one I had almost despaired of teaching you. Channel Three News Update is beginning." He what I have been telling you. Now, silence. The Channel Three News Update is beginning. He stared entranced at the television as the predatory face of Cheeta Ching appeared, relishing the latest bulletins on the demise of American democracy.
"Chiun. I can't walk. I can't move right. I can't even think right."
"Shhhhh. Do not expect too much of yourself. I certainly don't. Heh, heh. I certainly don't."
He continued to stare at the screen until Cheeta Ching signed off with full venom, her evil face replaced by a vignette of a wife mortified by her husband's dirty neck as evidenced by the ring around his shirt collar. Chiun snapped off the set.
"All I want is peace and quiet in my twilight years," Chiun said. "All I get from you is noise:" He turned on his mat to look angrily at Remo. He started to speak again, but then his eyes narrowed and seemed to examine his pupil. "What is wrong?" he asked. "My balance. It doesn't seem right. I'm kind of out of control."
"It happened to me once," Chiun said. "Oh?" Remo sat on the sofa. "I was your age. Twelve, perhaps." "I'm older than twelve," Remo said. "In the ways of Sinanju, you are a baby. Actually, I was flattering you by saying you were twelve. Somebody else, with your training, might be twelve. You? You're more like six." "Get on with the story, Chiun." "I was older than you. I was twelve while you're only six. And one day I lost my balance. I could do nothing. My arms and legs seemed to have a will of their own. I asked my teacher. He told me that those of Sinanju have a delicate sense of balance. Anything, no matter how small, could distort it. I asked him what it was, and the
Master told me that since it was my body, I would have to learn its weaknesses and find my own cures."
"Chiun, this isn't one of those stories that goes on for four weeks and ends with you insulting me, is it?
"Why not? You insult me every time I look at you. To think of all the years I have wasted, the precious time...."
"Chiun, the rest of the story, please."
"I see I have exceeded your usual attention span. I was just a child. I examined my body and found that I had been stung by a bee. The bee's barb was still in my flesh. Its weight had confused my senses."
"That's ridiculous," Remo said. "A bee stinger?"
"All things are foolish to a fool," Chiun sniffed. He turned to the television set and switched it back on. A game show invaded the room. Two different branches of the Jukes family tried to outguess each other, presided over by a master of ceremonies who seemed determined to explore new heights in somnambulism.
"Why is not Cheeta Ching on the picture box all the time?" Chiun asked.
"She's orí at six and eleven," Remo said. "That ought to be enough for anybody, looking at that piranha face."
"She appears other times also," Chiun said. "Often without warning. Why is that?"
"Those are news bulletins. They break into the program to announce important bulletins."
"This can happen anytime?" Chiun said.
"Whenever some important news happens."
"What do they consider important, these people who are in charge of this?"
"You know, news. A big fire. A big accident. A plane crash. World War III."
Chiun shook his head. "I don't like fires," he said, "because the innocent are hurt as much as the guilty. But automobile accidents. Now, that is a possibility. Anyone who drives one of those big, ugly vehicles deserves what he gets. Yes. Perhaps an auto accident."
"Chiun, you're not going out and cause automobile accidents just so you can get to see that pancake face on television more often."
"I have not decided yet," Chiun said. "It may not be an automobile accident. Perhaps an airplane crash. What else did you say?"
"World War III," Remo said.
"I'd better watch. That might be on any minute," he said and turned back to the television screen.
The telephone rang.
"If that is the mad Emperor Smith, I want to talk to him," Chiun said.
"You? You want to talk to him?"
"I thought that was clear," Chiun said.
"Then answer the telephone," Remo said.
"It is not my job."
"Please?" Remo said. "It's Smitty."
Chiun looked at the game show, nodded, and went to the telephone.
"I speak from the most inadequate domicile of the exalted Master of Sinanju," he announced. "You who seek audience may now speak."
"This is Doctor Smith."
"Oh, worthy emperor. You honor us with your visit by this instrument. I have been quite well, despite the shabbiness of this residence. If only I had a photograph of the lovely Cheeta Ching to grace these bare walls."
"She is the herald of tidings in the land, spreading her message of joy from the inviolate truth of the television."
"She's the anchor woman on Channel Three," Remo yelled out.
"Oh," said Smith. "I see. I'll see what I can do." 1Chiun tossed the telephone across the room. It landed in Remo's lap.
"It's for you," he said. "Smith." He sank back in front of the television.
"Yeah," Remo said.
"The tape you sent me has to do with laser coordinates on the moon. It must be part of the programming of the LC-111. What did you find out from Dr. Payton-Holmes?"
"That she needs a girdle."
"I warned you about her," Smith said.
"I know. That's why I'm even bothering to talk to you." Remo went on to tell him about Payton-Holmes's strange encounter with the garbageman and the garbageman's resemblance to the skinned murder victim Verbanic. He told him about Marco Gonzalez's abduction from the holding cell. He told him how Ralph Dickey had lost his laboratory entrance card after drinks with a man who wore gold balls around his neck.
"That's it," said Smith.
"The gold balls. That is Mikhail Andreyev Isto-ropovich. He is one of the top agents of Moscow Center."
"That's their spy apparatus?" Remo said.
"Their absolute best. They sent out their big guns," Smith said. Remo could hear a small sigh over the telephone. "Unfortunately, I think they've succeeded," Smith said dully. "I've had every package on every airline leaving the United States checked for metal and electronic content, and that computer has not left this country intact."
"Maybe they're holing up here with it. Laying low."
"Highly unlikely. Moscow Center would never allow a property as important as the LC-111 to remain on American soil any longer than was absolutely necessary. There was only one way out, as far as I can see."
"What was that?"
"An Aeroflot flight that left L.A. International about twenty minutes ago had special provisions for a wounded man on a stretcher. The man was accompanied by three men with diplomatic passports. One of them matched Istoropovich's description, but Aeroflot claimed his immunity, and the authorities couldn't touch him. His luggage, of course, was clean. Not so much as a handgun."
"Who do you think the guy on the stretcher was?"
"I don't know. Maybe a corpse with some of the LC-lll's components fitted inside him. It's just a guess. I don't know."
"Was he Hispanic?"
There was a pause. "Why, yes, I believe he was."
"Forget it," Remo said. "They don't have the computer. That guy on the stretcher was Gonzalez, the garbageman. They probably think he stole the computer, and they're on their way to Moscow Center to beat it out of him."
"That can't be. They wouldn't leave without—"
"I'm telling you, Smitty, that machine's right here someplace."
"I just can't take the chance," Smith said. "If you're not in Moscow Center soon, they'll rebuild the LC-111 and neutralize it. Then nothing will be able to stop the Volga."
"What's the Volga going to do that's so terrible? Bomb us? Don't we have rockets and things to stop that?"
"Bombing is the least of the Volga's functions," Smith said. "I've arranged for your passage on a special diplomatic envoy plane at 11:45 tonight. It'll take you there faster than any commercial
jet." "I can't leave yet," Remo said. 'I'm not working
right. My balance is off."
"How long will it take you to correct that?" Smith asked uncertainly.
"Chiun," Remo called. "How long before I'm well?"
"He says ten years, Smitty," Remo said.
Smith snorted into the phone. "Get to Russia. Now." And hung up.
"What's the matter with you? The oscilloscope needle just went off the scale." The professor checked all the electrodes hooked into Mr. Gor-dons's exposed metal chest cavity, blowing away clouds of talcum that fell from her artificially white hair.
"What's activated?" the professor asked, alarmed.
"My dormant memory banks," he said.
"Which circuit?" She milled around the maze of wires excitedly.
"F-42,1 think. To the right."
"That's it, that's it!" She held the delicate little wire reverently. "Your creator was a genius." She beamed, the penciled-in wrinkles of her face radiating serenely. "A genius. Now, if I can modify the connection with F-26 . . ."
She joined two fuses with a tiny soldering iron
and replaced them in Mr. Gordons's circuitry. "And if these new silver transistors melt with the heat of the fusion between D-641 and N-22 • . ." She fiddled with a mass of small wire terminals at the rear of Mr. Gordons's chest.
"How long will they take to melt?"
"Can't tell. Maybe never. It'll depend on the amount of use you give your higher intelligence centers. If you spend a lot of time thinking—you know, resolving problems, things like that—you'll activate the heat anodes."
Mr. Gordons blinked in confusion. "I don't understand, Mom. What will happen?"
The professor took a step back to admire her work. "Why, you'll start developing creativity, bird brain. What do you think I've been slaving over these transistors for?"
"Creativity?" Mr. Gordons's hands began to tremble. "I can have creativity? Really?"
"Maybe. No promises. But your memory banks—that's a definite. You should be able to remember everything now."
"Oh, Mom," Mr. Gordons said. "You're the genius. Did you know that the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg has a population density of 360.36 persons per square mile?"
The professor stared at him, dumbfounded. "So what?"
"I remembered. I'm remembering all kinds of things. Cheddar cheese has a food energy count of 115 calories per ounce. Julius Caesar subdued the native tribes of Gaul from 57 to 52 b.c. The cube root of 1,035 is 10.12, to two decimal places. French explorer Jacques Cartier is gener-
ally regarded as the founder of Canada. I have to kill Remo Williams."
"That's the name of that man I thought looked familiar. Remo Williams. He threatens my survival. Therefore, I must kill him. Thanks for the memory."
She snapped the wire out. "Look, you're a nice little robot that tracks missiles. Period. If you keep going around bumping off people, we're not going to have any time to monitor the Volga. Just forget all this murder business."
Mr. Gordons snapped the F-42 wire back in. "No," he said coldly. "I cannot forget, now that my memory banks are repaired. Remo Williams is a dangerous man. He and another named Chiun twice dismembered me. The last time, they burned my parts."
"Commie bastards," the professor said.
"They are not Communists. They work for— shhh." Suddenly Mr. Gordons shot out of his chair and stood bolt upright. "He is traveling."
"That's a relief," the professor said. "Now maybe the little nebshit'11 leave us alone, and we can all get to work. He was awfully cute, though," she remembered wistfully.
"The transmitter I planted in his back is broadcasting from the air. He is moving very quickly. Far away."
"Well, easy come, easy go."
"I must seek him out," Mr. Gordons said. On, come on.
"I must kill him."
His words sent shivers up her spine. "But you can't leave," she cried.
"You are a robot, do you hear me? My robot, my LC-111. I am not letting you out of my sight again. The Volga's due to launch any day. I've got to be with you to adjust the coordinates."
Mr. Gordons's voice was cold and chilling, and for the first time since he had walked into her laboratory, Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes felt a tinge of fear.
"I am not your LC-111. I am a survival machine, created to assimilate all materials necessary so that I may prevail. This Remo Williams is a threat to my survival, and so I will follow him to his destination and I will destroy him. I will do it now before he knows of my existence and is expecting my attack. I think this is a very creative approach to this problem. If you insist upon monitoring me, there is only one possible solution. You go with me. I will let you watch me pull his arms out of his sockets. Mom."
"Oh, no," the professor said, backing away. "I'm not taking off on any wild goose chase. He's probably just on vacation, anyway. Be back in a day or so."
"Then I must go alone."
The professor exhaled deeply. "I'll go pack," she said.
"You're the greatest," Mr. Gordons shouted, rumpling her old-lady hairdo affectionately. The professor choked on the swirling talcum. "Go to bed, Gordons."
"But we have to leave."
"Tomorrow. I'm beat."
The professor looked at her watch. "It's after midnight. I've got all this mother crap on me. I haven't even had my evening cocktail yet."
"Then I must go alone," Mr. Gordons said for the second time in thirty seconds.
"Sheesh," the professor said, rolling her eyes. "Okay. Just let me get my bag." She took one look at the lab, a blizzard" of papers and spilled concoctions since the death of her assistant, then abandoned the idea of retrieving her purse; it was a lost cause. She grabbed a bottle of Tanqueray instead and tucked it under her arm. "Let's go, you spoiled brat," she said.
In the parking lot of Los Angeles International Airport, Mr. Gordons looked to the sky and turned one full revolution, his arms spread wide like a radar tracker. "He is headed due northeast," he said. "He is headed for Russia."
"How can you know that?" the professor said.
"His speed and altitude rule out a nearer landing. And if he were going anywhere else in Europe, he would not be following so northerly a path."
Dr. Payton-Holmes chugged three fingers from the gin bottle she held and belched. "I want to know how we are going to get on a plane going due northeast or anywhere else," she said. "There are things in there called metal detectors." She waved the bottle toward the main international terminal. "You're 97.6641 percent stainless steel, you know. Their detection systems will light
up like Christmas trees when they see you coming. Not to mention the fact that we have no money for tickets."
"We have no need for tickets," Mr. Gordons said. He took her hand and walked with her to the far end of the terminal building. A heavy chain-link fence sealed off the outside world from any connection with the runway area. As she watched in horror, Mr. Gordons extended his right hand toward the fence. Before her eyes, his fingers seemed to shudder and then change from apparent flesh and blood to two hard steel claws. Faster than she could follow, he used the snippers to cut through the links of the fence. When there was a hole big enough for them to walk through, the clippers changed back to a hand.
"I don't believe it," she said. "I saw it but I don't believe it."
Up ahead, a Laker Airways DC-10 was slowly pulling away from the terminal building.
"You wait here for a moment," Mr. Gordons said.
A moment later, she saw Mr. Gordons walking along the wing of the DC-10. So did the pilot because the plane screeched to a stop.
"My God," she gasped, clutching at her hair with both hands. Clouds of white billowed from her head.
As she watched, Mr. Gordons yanked open the plane's door. He vanished inside, and a moment later, the plane began slowly rolling back toward the loading area. Dr. Payton-Holmes, frightened but unable to fight her curiosity, walked toward the plane.
It rolled up to the passenger entrance chute, then stopped. Above her head, she could hear passengers walking from the plane, through the enclosed canvas rampway, back to the terminal. The back door of the plane opened, and a folding ladder was dropped down to the tarmac. In the doorway, she saw Mr. Gordons, resplendent in a pilot's uniform.
"Hurry, Mom," he said.
She ran up the steps, and Mr. Gordons retracted the ladder and closed the door behind her. Almost all the passengers were off the plane now. A few looked at Mr. Gordons quizzically.
"Had a little problem with one of them there red lights on the control panel," he drawled.
"Why are you talking like that?" the professor asked.
"All pilots are Southern," Gordons said. "Don't you watch TV?" He turned back to the mike. "Y'all be back on just soon as Ah check out that there light," he said.
In the cockpit, Dr. Payton-Holmes was shocked to see the bodies of the pilot and copilot stuffed unceremoniously in a corner. The pilot was unclothed. It was his uniform that Mr. Gordons wore.
"They resisted," he said. "They did not understand how important it was for me to follow this Remo Williams now."
He put the professor in the copilot's seat, then sat alongside her. He used his pilot's voice again to call the tower.
"Tower," he drawled, "this is Laker One-Niner. Sorry, a little slow getting into that takeoff pat-
tern, but let's try it again, fellas." He nodded to a voice that crackled back into earphones he was wearing, powered up his engines, and began to back the plane away from the passenger ramp.
As he moved smoothly toward the runway, the professor said, "You ever fly one of these before?"
"No," Mr. Gordons said.
"You know how?"
"It is a machine. I am a machine. I understand it."
"You know everything about it?"
"Do you know where they keep those little bottles of liquor?" Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes asked, just as, with a squeal of burning rubber, the plane sped down the runway for takeoff.
Major Grigori Seminov walked past the twenty-four armed guards outside the imposing white marble building that was Moscow Center. His breath puffed out in clouds in the cold October air as he polished his monocle on the lapel of his army overcoat.
The monocle had been a present from his uncle, one of the hordes of peasant revolutionaries whose claim to fame in the blossoming People's Party of 1917 consisted of assisting in the raid on the mansion of Count Yevgeny Vladishenko, after murdering the count, his family, their servants, and all their dogs and horses. And two canaries.
To show the unenlightened skeptics of the region that the revolution represented a new era for the common man, the newly assembled Bolshevik brigade left the dismembered bodies of the slain aristocrats on the open road to rot. To demonstrate that the new order did not need the
decadent wealth of landowners like the count, they burned his fields and storehouses. As a result, disease and famine swept the conquered grounds, and the victors faced deaths far worse than their victims had.
For his part in the bloody battle, the elder Sem-inov received a new home, comprised of one room in the Vladishenko mansion, which he and his wife shared with twelve other families who sang songs to the glory of Lenin.and the conquering Bolsheviks while their children succumbed to starvation and typhus.
Before he himself died of tuberculosis in the squalid room, Seminov dispatched his wife to warn his brother's family in Moscow to leave Russia.
"We have made a great mistake," were his dying words.
It took Maria Seminov several weeks to reach Moscow. October turned to November, and all the horses had either been butchered for meat or confiscated by the new Red Army. Her feet blistered with the cold.
When finally she reached the small house of her husband's brother, his wife, and their son, Grigori, she wept tears of joy. They welcomed her proudly. The news of the takeover of the Vladishenko estate had already spread as far as Moscow, although the gruesome fate of the diseased and dying families now occupying the mansion was never mentioned in the reports.
"My brother died a hero," Grigori's father said, swollen with pride and Russian grief on hearing of Seminov's death.
"No, no. You've got it wrong. There is nothing heroic about dying from filth and stupidity." Maria Seminov told them of the rampant disease in the mansion, about the lack of doctors or medicine or food or horses.
"Not in front of the boy," Grigori's mother said.
"He should know," Maria said stubbornly. "This revolution in the name of the people is just another military game. Common folk like us are dying everywhere, without even our own beds to die in. They will take everything, these Bolsheviks . . . make slaves of us all. We must leave Russia before it is too late."
"Excuse me," Grigori said. "I have to go to sleep now."
"Yes, of course." Maria kissed the child and gave him the monocle his uncle had looted during his misguided moment of military fervor. "He wanted you to have this," she said. "It once belonged to a great man, a man who fed and cared for all the people who worked his lands. Perhaps one day you will be a great man, too."
"I'd like that," the boy said. In his room, Grigori climbed out the window and slid silently to the drifted snow beneath. It was night. The streets were nearly empty of civilians. Only the-soldiers clomp-clomped back and forth across the snow-packed streets, their rifles at
Grigori approached one cautiously.
"What do you want?" the soldier demanded.
"There is a traitor to the revolution in my house," Grigori Seminov said.
After his aunt had been dragged away screaming, Grigori stood before a small mirror in his bedroom and placed the monocle in his eye for the first time. And in the enlarged, fisheye view of himself he saw with satisfaction a cruelty that would make him among the most feared men of the Party.
Seminov breathed deeply as he took in the view of Red Square from the top of the steps leading to Moscow Center. The great revolution must have begun on a day just like this one, he mused. Cold, clear, still except for a distant buzzing in the square. A buzzing that was growing louder.
He squinted through his monocle at the widening cluster of people. He sprinted down the steps. The officials at Moscow Center would not tolerate sudden outbursts of the populace. They knew well what happened the last time the masses were permitted to express discontent with those in power.
"Move aside," he commanded, kicking his way through the crowd. The throng parted, and Grigori Seminov stepped into the inner circle of activity.
The source of the commotion appeared to be two men dancing with one another and yelling in foreign tongues. One of them, jittering and swaying crazily, wore only a pair of American-style trousers and a cotton T-shirt in the twenty-degree October chill. The other, an aged Oriental, was garbed in flowing orange silk robes and clutching at the other angrily.
"Breathe, fool," Chiun shrieked, shaking Remo
by the shoulders. "I knew we shouldn't have made this trip. No country in the world will hire an assassin who sounds as if he has castanets for joints."
Seminov shouted an order at the two men, the Russian equivalent of "No loitering."
Chiun snapped out the Korean equivalent of "Get away, mongoose dung."
"Will you guys please quiet down?" Remo said in English. "I'm trying to concentrate."
"You are American," Seminov said with disdain. , "Show your papers."
"I don't have time," Remo said. "I'm breathing."
"You will take time, imperialist warmonger," the Russian said, preparing to boot the young American to attention. He never got the chance. Just as he began to pull his foot backward for the swing, Remo's leg shot wildly into the air, of its own volition, and landed with a thwack in Semi-nov's midriff. The Russian's head snapped upward. His monocle popped into the air. As his mouth opened wide to let out a whoosh of breath, the eyepiece spiraled into his gullet. Seminov sputtered it out, his eyes round and furious.
"You will pay for this," he snarled. "You and your Japanese capitalist friend."
Chiun's mouth dropped open. "Japanese? Did I hear this fat person in the horse blanket call me a Japanese?"
"Help me up, Chiun," Remo said, coiling and uncoiling weirdly on the ground.
"Japanese?" he asked again as the twenty-four
Red Guards came running, their weapons trigger-ready. He walked up to one of the guards, who was kneeling and getting a bead on Chiun. "Stop waving that thing at me," he said irritably. The guard didn't pay attention. That was his first mistake.
He squeezed the trigger. That was his next and last mistake.
In a flash of billowing orange, Chiun leaped into the air and took off the soldier's head with his toe. Another raised the butt of his rifle to lunge at the old man, but gave up when the bayonet on the barrel passed through his own chest.
"Hold, old man," Seminov said in his best field commander's voice. Chiun turned to look at him.
"Perhaps my men cannot kill you. But they can certainly kill that piece of carrion behind you." He nodded toward Remo. "Is that what you wish?"
Involuntarily, Chiun took a step back toward Remo as if to shield him with his own body. The twenty-two remaining guards raised their rifles and took aim at Remo.
"Looks like they got us," Remo whispered to Chiun.
"I hope they keep you," Chiun said, "so I can return to living a life of peace and dignity."
"You two will follow me," Seminov said. He turned to walk away and Remo said, "Hey. You from the Moscow Center?"
"Good. That's what we're looking for. We're filthy capitalist spies."
"Three of those words aptly describe him," Chiun said. "None of them describe me."
"You will follow me. We will find out who is who," Seminov said.
Chiun snorted at the Russian and walked up the stairs to the white building, close to Remo's side.
But inside the building, there was another cadre of armed guards, and Seminov quickly waved them into position, where they encircled Remo, then slowly shoved him away from Chiun's protection.
"For the white man's sake, you will cooperate," Seminov said. Chiun stared at him, then nodded, and seconds later, both he and Remo were wearing handcuffs and being prodded forward.
"I have captured the enemy agents single-handedly," Seminov announced. "Alert the high commander I am on my way."
"What does this buffalo chip think he is doing now?" Chiun said as he placed Remo into a walking position.
"Go along with it," Remo whispered in Korean. "We've got to get a look at the cells. Gonzalez is probably in here someplace. We can always get out."
"I can get out," Chiun corrected.
Far down a long corridor, two double doors opened onto a large room furnished in Early Revolutionary Russian cinderblock. In the center of the room sat an oversized desk and a swivel chair facing away from the doors.
"Your Excellency, High Commander of the So-
viet People's Republic," Seminov intoned in Russian, "I bring you two dangerous alien enemies of the state. I caught them single-handedly, at great personal risk."
Chiun's narrow eyes strayed, amused, toward Remo.
"Thank you, Comrade Major," a female voice said as the chair swiveled around to reveal a strikingly beautiful woman. "You may leave, Seminov. I wish to speak to these two alone."
"Yes, Commander." Seminov said. "They speak English." He strode purposefully toward the door.
The high commander's mouth was lush, but twisted into a permanently sadistic sneer. Her wide eyes shone beneath dramatic flared eyebrows, and her hair was pulled into a wavy crescendo high on her head, highlighted by two streaks of white flashing upward from her temples like lightning bolts.
She sat silently for several minutes, studying the tiny, frail-looking old Oriental who had caused all the damage outside and the strange young man who was inexplicably tap dancing on her rug.
Chiun elbowed Remo to stop, but Remo only shrugged. "I can't," he whispered. "It's in my blood."
"Why are you here?" the commander snapped, her accent thick.
"Why are any of us here?" Chiun said serenely. "It is the whim of fate, a fluttering breeze in the void of eternity."
"That was last chance to give information vol-
untarily," she said. "But no matter. Voluntary information very boring. We here use more interesting methods to find information."
She pressed a buzzer and said something in Russian into her intercom. "I want you to meet someone," she said to the two men.
When the doors opened again, five guards walked in a wedge behind a battered, bruised young man with olive skin and two missing front teeth. His sldn was striped red from flogging, and he had no fingernails. His eyes barely opened in his sagging, bobbing head.
"That's him," Remo told Chiun aloud. "Gonzalez. The other garbage man."
"I thought you might know each other," the high commander said triumphantly. "Spies often do. Perhaps you cooperate more than he does." She gestured contemptuously toward the tortured Gonzalez.
The telephone rang. She picked it up languidly with an obviously bored expression on her face, but then began to speak animatedly. When she hung up, she was smiling.
"Aha. Yet more spies come. Is capitalist CIA trying to open Moscow office?"
"What more spies?" Remo asked. He felt his right fingertips twitching. The guards who ringed the room noticed, and they tightened their grips on their rifles.
"Will you stop tap dancing?" Chiun hissed. "It will be the final obscenity of your life to get me killed by twitching."
"What more spies?" Remo repeated.
"A plane full of them has landed. They will be here any minute." The buzzer on her desk sounded, and she picked it up, said "Da" and then told the room, "They are here now."
Remo turned to look at the door, which swung open. Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes was led in by armed guards. Behind her was Ralph Dickey, her assistant. But he was wearing a pilot's uniform. Why? Remo wondered. And Dickey seemed somehow wrong. Remo looked and saw that the young man's fingernails weren't polished. And he was walking straight, his hips hardly moving, totally unlike Ralph Dickey's mincing walk.
The troop of soldiers and prisoners stopped. Dickey looked at the woman behind the desk.
He smiled and said, "Hello is all right."
"It's him!" Gonzalez shouted, his watery eyes strained in their deep and tortured hollows. "That's what he said before he killed Lew. 'Hello is all right.' The robot!"
Everything happened fast. The strange, mechanical-sounding man crossed the office and was on the emaciated Gonzalez. With a quick snap, the prisoner's neck broke, and he slumped to the floor.
Mr. Gordons's next move was to lunge toward Remo. Since his haywire nervous system was compelling him to practice the breast stroke at the time, Remo tried to dodge Mr. Gordons's unexpected attack. He couldn't.
Instead, his handcuffed arms shot out in perfect competitive form and connected with Mr. Gordons's outstretched hand, slicing off the robot's
arm at the shoulder. Mr. Gordons froze in his tracks. The arm dangled for a moment from his body, a mass of wires and shiny electrodes. His eyes, fixed and glassy, stared straight ahead, unblinking.
There was an audible gasp from the O-mouthed high commander as the metal arm clanked to the floor. At the same time, a loud, piercing shriek issued from across the room.
"Stop," the professor screamed, her arms flapping wildly while she ran to embrace Mr. Gordons.
Chiun buried his face in his hands. "The shame," he muttered. "You were completely off center. An arm. How disgraceful. Even with these restraints."
But Remo wasn't watching Chiun. He was focused on the man he thought was Ralph Dickey, who was standing immobile in his captain's hat, his inner metal workings exposed. And he remembered. Another time, another fight, a mechanical man who could change shape and form at will, an enemy Remo had thought was vanquished.
"Mr. Gordons," Remo said softly. "He's back."
The high commander snapped her head toward the professor. "What is this thing?" she said slowly, more a threat than a question. She poked a probing finger into Mr. Gordons's eye. Her fingernail produced a little click as it tapped Mr. Gordons's glass eyeball.
"I ask what this is."
The professor said nothing.
"Level your weapons," the commander instruct-
ed the guards in the room. Instantly they dropped to firing position around the inert Mr. Gordons.
The professor looked around frantically. "You're not going to—"
"Stop. Don't shoot. He's the LC-111." The professor's hand flew to her mouth as she stifled a sob. "My baby," she said.
The high commander took a tentative step forward to examine the one-armed statue. "Is true?" she whispered, her face barely able to contain her
"It's true." The professor wearily explained Gor-dons's transistorized workings, opening his shirt to reveal a sliding panel covering an array of sophisticated circuitry. "His motor functions are in his arms. That's why he's not moving."
The high commander smiled slightly. "I am surprised, professor. I know how you feel about Communists. Why you stop my guards from destroying this machine? If it no work, we no can steal principle of precious NASA computer."
The professor picked up the fallen arm from the floor and placed it into Mr. Gordons's shoulder. "Because to me he's more than a NASA computer," she said. She twisted a couple of wires together to keep Mr. Gordons's arm in place. "I'll need time to repair him."
The high commander laughed. "Oh, you have plenty of time. You will show us everything about your LC-111."
"Commie dyke," the professor grumbled.
"Put them all in cells," the high commander
said. "And get rid of this body." She pointed toward Gonzalez.
As the guards moved in, the dead eyes of the unmoving android rolled into focus for a brief instant. His jaw creaked open a crack. He uttered one muffled word.
As soon as they were put into the cell, Chiun ripped the handcuffs off his wrists. Then, with a flick of his fingers, he snapped the cuffs on Remo's wrists into a million metal shards that tinkled as they hit the floor.
Chiun's fingernails tapped the steel and concrete walls of the cell. It was a strange cell, with no bars and no fixtures of any kind. A buzzer beside a small intercom was the prisoners' only contact with the rest of the prison, except for an inch space between one wall connecting the cell with the next. Through the inch clearance could be seen odd tracks, like those of sliding doors. On the ceiling a large circle was cut to let in air and artificial light.
"Well, what now?" Chiun said. "You have managed to have us arrested, break your computer's arm with one of the sloppiest attacks ever ex-
ecuted in the history of Sinanju, and make a fool of yourself in the process/What now?"
"He's not the LC-111," Remo said. "That's Mr. Gordons, that damned robot that we killed twice, and he's still alive."
Chiun stared at him, unimpressed. "You are in wonderful condition to fight him now," he said sarcastically. "Perhaps you can get him to die laughing."
"Gordons. My little baby Gordons," the professor wailed from behind the cell wall.
Remo tapped on the wall. "Professor, are you there?"
"Why, yes," she said. "Are you the nice boy from Washington?"
"Yeah," Remo said.
"Got a drink?"
"Commie pinko. My baby," she cried. "My baby Gordons."
"Your baby Gordons just killed a man. And he tried to kill me," Remo said.
"Tsk, tsk," the professor muttered. "He's got such a temper. He came over here to kill you, actually. I tried to talk him out of it, but once he's made up his mind, he's really determined," she said indulgently. "He really didn't want to kill that other fellow, I don't think. He's just very touchy about people calling him a robot. He wants to be human, sweet thing. Gordons is so neurotic about that. Now I don't know where they've taken him."
"He's a survival machine," Remo said. "Hell be aU right."
"So he tells me. I hope you won't take it personally."
"We never take killing personally, madam," Chiun said.
"I take it personally," Remo said. "I come to help you find your computer, only you give me the runaround while you fool around with that garbageman, who, incidentally, turns out to be dead...."
"That was Gordons, too, I'm afraid. That's when he first came to me. He'd already offed that poor fellow Verbena or whatever his name was."
"Verbanic," Remo said. "Wait a second, if he's Mr. Gordons, why did you tell Lucrezia Borgia in there that he's the LC-111?"
"Because he is," the professor explained. "He's an assimilator. If materials for his construction are available, he can repair himself. The last time he was damaged—by you, he tells me—he was left at the dump in Hollywood. Apparently that's where the LC-111 was taken when it was stolen."
"By a Russian agent."
"I wouldn't know. It didn't matter, once I got the computer back. By then, though, Gordons had already assimilated it. That's why I couldn't talk to you. Gordons didn't want you to know who he was. The LC-111 and Mr. Gordons are the same thing."
"That's why you couldn't let the guards shoot him," Remo said.
"I suppose, partly. I didn't want them to shoot Gordons, really, now that I've grown to care for him. But I suppose Gordons can repair his arm
himself within an hour or so. He assimilates very quickly. He's quite indestructible, you know." "So it seems."
"But the LC-111 isn't. It would take years to reassemble if the Commies deeided to blow Gordons apart. I've destroyed my notes for security purposes. That computer is one of a kind. It simply must be saved. The future of our country depends on it."
"I thought it was just a missile tracker."
"It's not the tracker that's important," she said. "It's the missile. The Volga is the most advanced Soviet missile ever designed. It sends out high-frequency emissions that disperse after the vehicle leaves our atmosphere. The signals scramble themselves automatically. The Volga can't be tracked by conventional methods. Once NASA got this information, I began work on the LC-111."
"Where's the Volga going?"
"To the moon," the professor said.
"The moon? It's not even going to hit us?"
"If the Russians succeed, the Volga moon drop will be worse than any bomb," she said.
"But we've already been to the moon."
"That's exactly it. Since the Apollo moon landing, the U.S. has been making extensive plans for moon mining, satellite construction on the moon, weigh stations for future transport vehicles, things like that. The moon is our springboard into space. It's all been planned so that by the time we build the vehicles for space travel, we'll be prepared to conduct operations from the moon."
"So what do the Russians want with it? None of
that stuff's up there yet. There's nothing to destroy."
"Wrong, darling. There is something. They're going to destroy our chances of ever working the moon." She sighed in anguish. "Oh, it's all so terrible," she said. "They've developed a strain of anerobic bacteria that can breed in space. It's small enough 'to penetrate the fabric of spacesuits, and hardy enough to reproduce in a near vacuum. With this bacteria on the moon, no further exploration there will be possible."
"They're out to spoil the moon," Remo said, rolling into an involuntary headstand.
"Exactly. They want to get back at us for reaching the moon first. And the only thing that can stop the Volga is the LC-111."
"Well, he's still Mr. Gordons," Remo said, "so just keep him off my back."
"He's my poor baby," the professor wailed.
The gold balls suspended from his necklace clicked softly as Mikhail Andreyev Istoropovich entered Dr. Payton-Holmes's cell through a section of the steel and concrete wall, which swung heavily away.
"Finally. We meet," he said.
"I could have waited," Dr. Payton-Holmes said.
"We need some information from you."
"Sure, you goddamn Bolshevik. I was born in Madison, Wisconsin, the only child of a prosperous dairy farmer...."
"I have come to speak about the robot," Istoropovich said, "and I have neither the time nor the inclination to listen to your jokes. You very nearly
damaged my position with Moscow Central. It was my responsibility to get the LC-111 back here."
"Well, they should fire your ass. You never got it back here. We brought it ourselves."
"We will discuss the robot."
"Gordons? Why? One of you Commie faggots want to go out with him? He makes his own dates."
"You will repair him."
"What's in it for me?" the professor asked.
"Anything you want."
"How about a double martini delivered by a naked weight lifter?" she said.
"That too, if you cooperate."
She looked at him archly. "Can't fix him, can you?" she taunted.
His back stiffened. "The scientists of the Soviet Union do not waste valuable time tinkering with mechanical toys."
"Bet you've never seen a toy like Gordons before."
"Never mind that. I am here on behalf of the high commander to demand your services for the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. You will reprogram the robot so that he can track American missiles, not the Soviet Volga. For this you will receive asylum in Russia and freedom to work in your chosen field."
"Freedom to work until you reds decide to bump me off, you mean," she said. "No thanks. Gordons stays as he is."
"We will destroy him."
She smirked. "You can't destroy him. He's a survival machine. Nothing can destroy him."
"Then you will render him inoperative. Otherwise you will suffer great pain, Professor. Greater than you have ever known."
"Quit the dramatics, will you?" she lunged for his trousers again. "What you need is to lie down for a while. Get your mind off things. There's a bed right in here." She indicated her bunk.
"Come, come, Professor."
"I'd be delighted," she said, slipping a hand into his shorts. "You may be a Bolshie, but you're still kind of cute."
"Get away!" he shrieked, repelled by the touch of her. With a shove, he managed to get her off him and slip out of the cell. Istoropovich pressed a button and the door slid shut, muffling the professor's lewd encouragements.
"She's crazy," the agent said, panting to his two assistants who waited outside the cell.
Gorky scratched his bald head. "Da," he said. "She drive Edsel."
"She wasn't even interested in her robot," Yuri said, picking a piece of lint off his creased jeans. "As soon as she gets around a man, she forgets about everything else."
"She got around wrong man, huh, boss?" Gorky said, smirking.
"Shut up, rubber lips," Istoropovich said. He stood up slowly. 'Tve got an idea."
Five minutes later, the steel and concrete door to the professor's cell slid open again.
"Oh, what is it now?" the prisoner said. Then
her mouth hung open, and her eyes glazed over and she was silent.
Before her stood the most sexually inspiring man she had ever seen. He was over six feet tall and built like the Kremlin. Huge, majestic, a monument to the possibilities of the male physique, he had wavy blond hair, crystalline blue eyes, and muscles like boulders. He was wearing only a pair of tight black trousers, and on his bulging bare chest, hairless and gleaming, was a giant, torso-length tattoo of a mermaid that bumped and ground with every rippling breath he took.
"Me Ivan," he said, sending the mermaid into frenzied activity. "Who you?"
The professor buried her face in Ivan's chest. Call me Comrade," she said.
"You are getting worse, Remo," Chiun said quietly.
There was a long silence. "I'm sorry," Remo said.
"You should be. We should never have come to this place."
"I said I'm sorry."
"Your professor has gone with the Russians. The robot is missing. Your body has all the control of a camel's bowels. With you in this condition, we can never leave this place."
"You can get out alone. Find your way back to Smitty and tell him what happened. He'll see that you're sent back to Sinanju."
Chiun did not stir.
"I mean it. There's no sense in both of us buying the farm just because I'm turning into a klutz. I'll stay and try to do something about that Volga thing. You just get out any way you can."
Chiun sat up on his bunk, folding himself into a full lotus. "Are you finished?" he asked. "I guess so," Remo said. "Good. Now perhaps I can get some sleep."
"Get up, you," a guard said in Russian.
Remo struggled to his feet. "Now," he said. "Get out now, Little Father!"
"Save your chatter," Chiun said.
The guard grabbed Remo roughly and jerked his head toward the open cell door. "High commander want see you," he said in English.
"Please go, Chiun," Remo pleaded.
"You are the one who has been called. You go."
The high commander's office was empty. The guard had closed and locked the door behind Remo. He was alone in the room.
With a whoosh, a sliding panel in the wall slid open, filling the space with a Russian version of Montovani's 1001 Cascading Strings.
"Come in, American," the high commander cooed from the room beyond the sliding door. Remo walked in.
She was lying nude in the middle of a four-poster bed canopied with red gauze. Across her neck hung an ornate gold necklace, and her hands held two red silk leashes attached to two small monkeys. The monkeys each had small black boxlike protrusions sticking out of the backs of their necks.
"You will lie beside me," the woman purred, spreading the red gauze.
"What do you want" Remo said flatly.
"You. You amuse me, just like little monkeys." She patted one of the animals on its head. The creature looked at her submissively. Then, with the back of her hand, she swatted the black box embedded in its neck, and the monkey screamed. It curled into a tight ball and rolled whimpering away from her until the leash around its throat strained.
She laughed when she saw the look of disgust on Remo's face. "You find me cruel, yes?" she asked coyly.
"I wouldn't exactly call you a bleeding heart."
"These animals we breed for dying," she said, letting go of the leashes and kicking the monkeys off the bed. They scurried chattering into a corner of the room. "Soon they take long journey where bad germs will kill them. Transmitters in their necks will inform us how long they go before they die."
"So I heard. Anerobic bacteria," Remo said.
"Da, exactly. Professor tell you?"
"No, the monkeys."
She laughed. "That good. Monkeys tell. Hah. I know professor. She will tell us also, everything we want. She fix robot, she tell everything about computer. Just for boom-boom with Ivan."
She snaked an arm around Remo and kissed him fiercely on the mouth. Uncontrollably, his arms began flapping.
"Hold still long enough for necessary kissing as outlined in Worker's Marriage Manual," she said.
"Sorry, but we're not married. What's it say in the Worker's Makeout Manual?"
She reached out with her painted claws, her
tongue flicking Between her lips. Remo's nervous system chose that precise moment to execute a double back flip, pulling down the bed's red gauze canopy and tangling the high commander in it like a porpoise.
An unfamiliar feeling swept Remo's body, and it took a split second for him to place it. It was fear. By the moment his body was growing more and more out of control, and somewhere in this pile of stones was Gordons with only one message in his metallic little mind: kill Remo. And what of Chiun? And the professor? And America, with the threat of the Volga over its head?
As suddenly as his movements had begun, Remo dropped to the floor and lay supine, staring at the ceiling. The woman extricated herself from the netting and straddled him, panting. "You are finished? You dare to lie on floor, no kissee, nothing? You obviously not read Worker's Marriage Manual."
He tried to stand up, but his body would not let him.
"This not look like very active position," the woman said.
"Oh, it's deceptive. Nothing shows on the outside. Your liver does all the work."
"I see," she said thoughtfully. "Americans very clever in techniques of pleasure. From leading lazy, money-grubbing lives." With one hand she pulled Remo's T-shirt over his head. In another moment his pants were off. He be^an to twitch again. The twitches turned into spasms. Before long, his arms and legs were flailing in all directions.
"This more like it," the high commander said.
"It's all from the liver," Remo grunted as he tried unsuccessfully to bring himself under control.
"You sock it to me this way, okay, Yankee?"
He flipped into a handstand. She rose with him, hanging upside down and yelling in delight. "This is what Americans call kinky, yes?" she leered.
"This is what Americans call a pain in the ass." He twitched his way to the corner. She clung to him every step of the way. "Love it to death, imperialist baby," she said. "High commander love kinky boom-boom."
In an effort to stand up, Remo raised his arms. The insteps in his feet coiled and he sprang, astonished, toward the chandelier in the center of the ceiling, the high commander in tow.
"Highly inventive," she said approvingly. The chandelier crashed down in a shower of lights and sparkling glass.
Remo said, "Look, you'll have to excuse me."
"Hah," the high commander said. "American sex. Five minutes, and poof. Pale and bloodless is American nookie. Your people have no feeling. Americans make only dollars, not love. Nowhere in America is man to please Russian woman."
Remo touched a spot on the high commander's left earlobe.
"I command you to provide wild and crazy orgasm, like American magazines talk about."
Remo sighed. "One magazine orgasm coming up," he said. He poked her between her third and fourth ribs. She yelled and whipped her head
back and forth. He touched her ankle with his big toe. She bared her teeth and pounded her chest. He pinched a spot on her thigh. She burst into a chorus of "Do It Again Like You Did Last Summer, Baby!" in Russian.
When she regained her breath, she sat up. "You will get worker's medal for this."
"The presentation ceremony must be a dilly," Remo said.
"Now we talk softly/'she whispered.
"About Communism, of course. Is on page 210 of Worker's Marriage Manual. I give you copy."
"You not find Communism interesting?" she said archly.
"As interesting as tearing the wings off flies."
She stood up, her hands on her hips. "You have insulted Communist Party," she said. "For this you will be punished." She bellowed for a guard.
When the uniformed detachment entered, she shouted, "Get him out of here."
"Back to his cell, Madam Commander?" one asked.
"No. Put him in the dungeon. By himself."
Remo felt himself being dragged from the office. It was all over. His strength was almost gone. He had nothing left.
"Hold still," the professor whispered to the glassy-eyed robot in front of her. The instrument in her hand welded together two wires in his chest.
"I'm experiencing an unusual sensation," Mr. Gordons said.
"Is it heat?" She held up the tiny blowtorch. "I'm welding."
"I don't know. I don't think so. It is a strange and terrible feeling." Then something clicked in his throat and he said, "Now I know what the feeling is. It is fear."
"Fear? How can you feel fear? You're a robot."
"I am afraid, Mom."
The professor stepped back a pace. She looked at his panic-stricken face. "It's the creativity," she said slowly. "The heat from this blowtorch is stepping up the fusion of the silver transistors. That must be it."
"Am I becoming creative?" Mr. Gordons asked.
"I think you might be."
"Hey, what you two talking about?" Ivan thundered from his chair, the iridescent blue mermaid on his chest undulating. He set down a pitcher of martinis he had finished mixing.
"I was just telling him what a sweet, intelligent, considerate person you are, Ivan," she said, smiling. "Say, you couldn't spare some of that, could you?" She pointed to the pitcher filled with swirling clear liquid.
"When you finished," Ivan said. "First, you change robot into Russian weapon, then you get vodka."
"Commie hoople," she muttered.
Mr. Gordons lurched. "I have to kill that Remo," he said.
"First things first," the professor whispered softly. "We've got other things to do. A country to save. Trust me."
"I must kill Remo," Mr. Gordons said.
Behind them, Ivan dozed lightly.
"Listen," Dr. Payton-Holmes said. "Nothing is more important than destroying that Volga. You're hooked up now to make sure it can't hurt America."
"I do not care about America being hurt. I care about me being hurt. I must kill that Remo before he hurts me again."
"Are you going to listen to your mother?" she hissed.
"Yes, Mom. I think."
"You can have Remo. But first, the Volga. Now play dead."
Mr. Gordons snapped into a rigid position, and the professor called out, "Okay, Ivan. I'm done."
Ivan snapped awake with a snort. "This thing now Russian weapon?"
"Yes. All they have to do is reach inside his belly and turn him on."
"All right," Ivan said. "I send you back to cell now and I take robot away. Later, Ivan come to see you. With bottle of vodka. And Ivan."
"Where is that idiot Ivan?" the high commander snapped from her position at the head of the long mahogany table. She shot a look over her shoulder at the door.
To her immediate left, Grigori Seminov placed his monocle in his eye, making him look like half a fish. He was staring at Istoropovich, who sat on the other side of the high commander, the gold balls around his neck clicking softly. While he had had nothing really to do with it, Istoropovich would take credit for having captured the LC-111. There might be enough credit involved to have him think he could make a move for Semi-nov's job as number two man in Moscow Center. Seminov would be on the alert.
The high commander was talking. "Is all ready for the Volga?" she asked.
"All is ready, Commander," Seminov said.
"Fine. When that simpleton arrives, we will make sure that the robot cannot interfere with Volga. Our socialist science will again lead the way in space," she said.
By poisoning the moon? Seminov thought. But he said nothing, remembering the fate of his aunt
who had had the poor judgment to speak her mind.
Suddenly, the door behind the high commander opened, and Ivan walked in with great dignity, carrying an inert humanoid lump in his arms.
"It is about time, fool," said the high commander, and the tone in her voice told Seminov that Ivan would not be long for Moscow Center. There was a rumor that Ivan's ability to tend to the high commander's personal needs was no longer so great. In some circles, they now referred to him as Ivan the Terrible and said he suffered a prostate problem. He was as worthless, some said, as the mermaid tattoo on his powerful chest.
Ivan set the body face down on a sofa on the far side of the room. "This is Mr. Gordons," he said. "Professor fix him up, make him Russian robot, say all you got to do is turn him on."
"It's nice to know that one of you two can be turned on," the high commander said.
"I leave now," Ivan said.
"Please do," the high commander said.
When Ivan left, she led Seminov and Istoropo-vich to the sofa.
The two men turned over the body.
Ivan's unseeing face stared up at them.
The high commander took a step backward. Seminov moved to put his arm around her, but Isto-ropovich moved forward, grabbed the shirt of the man on the couch, and ripped it open.
There on his chest was the swimming mermaid.
The man on the couch was Ivan.
"And he is dead," Istoropovich said.
"Then who was that who just left?" the high commander said.
"That was Mr. Gordons," Istoropovich said. "The LC-111."
Outside, in the long corridors that crisscrossed the building, Mr. Gordons stopped to think.
Creativity was wonderful. All kinds of ideas raced through his metal and plastic synapses.
Dr. Payton-Holmes—Mom—had told him that first he would take care of the Volga and then he could eliminate Remo. Wasn't that just like Mom, putting her country first? But Mr. Gordons's creative brain came up with a very creative alternative.
Yes. He would take care of the Volga mission.
After he killed Remo.
And back inside her office, the high commander barked an order.
"Destroy them all. Now. Including the robot. Nothing must stop the Volga."
The cell was dark and damp, almost airless. Remo lay on the floor trying to breathe. Even that was difficult. His breath came in gulps, his body trembling spasmodically.
So this is the way it ends, he thought. Betrayed by his body, lying in some pesthole like a sideshow freak, all the years of training without meaning, without effect.
And for what? He heard the words in his head, and then he heard them in his ears. He realized that he had spoken out loud, and his voice was echoing off the cell's steel walls and ceiling. For what? For America, which didn't know he existed? For Smith, who didn't care he existed? For Chiun, who always would have been happier with an Oriental student?
For what? the voice asked.
And another voice answered.
For life. We struggle for life. Because life is pre-
cious. And knowing that it is precious gives meaning to the work that we do, to the taking of life. Because we bring death only in the service of the
living. Live, Remo. It was Chain's voice. "Chiun," he whispered into the blackness. "Is
that you? Are you there?"
But there was no answer. He heard only the sound of his labored breathing.
But they had been Chain's words. Just as there had been other words at other times. He had lain in the dust once, his body broken, death only moments away, and he had heard Chiun's voice through the mist, saying, "Live, Remo, live. That is all I teach you, to live. You cannot die, you cannot grow weak, you cannot grow old, unless your mind lets you do it. Your mind is greater than all your strength, more powerful than all your muscles. Listen to your mind, Remo. It is saying
to you, 'Live.' "
"Yes," Remo whispered in the dungeon. "Yes." His voice grew stronger. "Yes." Stronger still.
"Yes, yes, yes, yes, yes." Until it was a shout. "Yes! I willlive!"
Chiun sat in the corner of his cell, his legs curled before him in a full lotus position, when the panel built into the steel and concrete wall swung away, and a guard deposited Dr. Payton-
Holmes in the cell.
Chiun looked up and said in Russian, "She is in the wrong place. This cell awaits the return of my
"Is this cell. With you. Orders," the guard said, quickly backing away as the concrete panel closed again on Chiun and the professor.
"Want a drink?" she asked him.
"The air in here is poison enough for my body without my adding to it fermented wastes of flowers."
"Never too late to start," she said. "We'll all be dead in an hour anyway." She took a hefty drink from her vodka bottle.
"That does not concern me," Chiun said. "Have you seen my son?"
"The cute one? With the dark eyes?"
"The meat-eater who twitches," Chiun said.
"No. But he'll be dead too," the professor said.
"Because they're going to launch the Volga. And they don't know it, but I've reprogrammed Mr. Gordons to turn the Volga around and drop it on this building. The germs will kill Russia in an hour." She waved the bottle again. "Last call," she said brightly.
" I care only for my son. He is hurt," Chiun said.
"I told Mr. Gordons that he might have hurt him implanting that transmitter," she said.
"Transmitter?" Chiun said. He was on his feet like a silent puff of smoke, standing over the woman.
"Yeah. Tiniest thing I ever saw. He implanted it in your boy's neck. So small, I couldn't even see it."
"So that is it," Chiun said. "I must find my son."
"Too late," said Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes.
Another voice crackled into the room. It came over an intercom built high into the ceiling.
"So, professor, you have tried to deceive us. But you have not. We know now what the robot will do. When he is found, we will destroy him." The professor gasped. "He did it," she cried. "Did what?" said Chiun.
"That was the high commander's voice. She said 'when he is found.' That means Mr. Gordons escaped. What a good boy. A good, creative boy."
"I worry only about my son. I must find him," Chiun said. He took a step toward the door panel in the wall, and as he did, the wall moved a few inches toward him. He spun around. All the walls were slowly beginning to close in. The cell was shrinking. "I must find my son," Chiun said.
"I must find Remo. And kill him."
Mr. Gordons spoke those words softly as he stopped at the head of the staircase leading down to the dungeons. He touched his new face, Ivan's face, with his fingertips. "Creative," he said. "I was very creative."
Yuri and Gorky, Istoropovich's two assistants, were running toward him. They stopped as they saw him going down the steps.
"You're going the wrong way, Ivan," Yuri said.
"I am?" Mr. Gordons answered in Russian.
"The alarm's in the other wing. The conference
"Hey. You no walk like Ivan," Gorky said, his rubber lips working. "Maybe you robot."
"Don't be stupid," Yuri said. "How could Ivan be a robot? Robots can get it up. Ivan can only think about it."
Mr. Gordons thought to himself, I must be creative about this. They should not tell where I am.
Yuri and Gorky were arguing. Gorky said, "Something fishy here," and Yuri unsheathed his pistol and aimed it at Mr. Gordons.
"Well bring him in," Yuri said. He waved the gun at Mr. Gordons. "Get moving."
"Very well," Mr. Gordons said. "I am moving." He moved his arm toward Gorky's thick, fat-layered neck and broke it with a snap.
Yuri fired his pistol. The bullet entered Mr. Gordons's body and exited smoothly out the back. He didn't miss a beat as he poked out the area of the man's chest just below his LaCoste alligator with two steel fingers.
"That is sufficiently creative," Mr. Gordons said as he headed down the stairs. "And now for Remo Williams."
Good blood coursed through his veins, searching out his body. "I will live," he said. He felt a wracking ache in the back of his neck, near his spinal column.
"Breathe. Live." He repeated it over and over, and his body heard the commands. It kept repeating its own signal of pain—in the back of his neck, near his spinal column.
Remo willed his blood to course even more rapidly through his body, flowing steadily down into his right fingertips, heightening the strength and the sensitivity of his hand, his fingers.
He touched his hand to the back of his neck, where the pain signals were coming from. When he touched the spot, he screamed, then again breathed deeply. Ignoring the hurt, his fingers explored the spot. He squeezed it with his fingers and felt a tiny little metallic speck pop from his skin. Instantly, fresh air coursed through his body. It was as if he had just emerged from too long underwater and was gulping life-giving oxygen. He looked at the spot on his fingers. A tiny black dot, almost invisible inside the darkness of his cell. An insect stinger? Perhaps Chiun was right. Chiun.
Remo shoved the black speck into his pocket and walked to the front wall of the dungeon. Chiun must be saved.
As he reached the dungeon wall, it moved forward to meet him. The cell was closing in.
Alarms resounded through the stone corridor outside the long bank of cells.
Mr. Gordons stood silently, feeling the vibrations of heartbeats from inside.
Two of the cells were occupied.
There were two humans in the nearest one. One human in the one at the end of the corridor. Which cell would contain Remo? His delicate ear sensors picked up another sound. Something was moving inside the cells. It was a scraping sound, almost as if the walls themselves were moving.
Which cell should he go to? Which cell contained Remo who must die?
As he thought, seeking a solution, the question was answered for him.
There was a wrenching sound, the sound of stone being crushed under pressure, and then with a whoosh, the concrete panel on the front of
the nearest cell exploded out into the corridor, in five tons of cracking fury.
Out stepped Chiun. And behind him Dr. Frances Payton-Holmes.
Mr. Gordons looked at them, then let a smile spread over Ivan's features, which he wore.
"Then Remo is in the other cell and Remo must
Chiun leaped into the center of the corridor, facing Mr. Gordons, blocking with his body the android's path to Remo's cell.
"The path to my son must always pass through me," he intoned coldly.
The professor looked back and forth, from Chiun to Ivan, Chiun to Ivan, and then she realized.
"Sonny? Is it you?"
"Yes, Doctor," Mr. Gordons said. "I was creative. I used Ivan's features to confuse everyone. Now I must kill Remo."
"Doctor?" the professor said. "Why not Mom? You used to call me Mom."
"Now I am creative. I know you are not my mother. That does not mean I do not love you." He stared at Chiun and took a tentative step toward the tiny Oriental, who stood almost casually, arms at his sides.
"Remo can wait," the professor said. "Remo must die," Mr. Gordons said. He took another step toward Chiun. Dr. Payton-Holmes ran between them and put her hands on Mr. Gor-
"Sonny," she said. "You have to listen. I have programmed you to turn the Volga around and to
crash it into this building. If you do that, Remo will die."
All the programming that was in him, all the synapses and the neuron connections were repeating one message to Mr. Gordons: Remo must die. But another message insinuated itself, a confusing message that he had no experience in dealing with. It said, Listen to this woman whom you respect—and love.
He tried to fight it off. He spoke again to the small woman clutching his arms. "Remo must die. Now. When he is too weak to be a danger to me."
Suddenly, at the end of the corridor, there was another crashing sound. The huge concrete slab that covered the cell opening blasted out into the corridor.
Into the dank hall stepped Remo.
He looked at Mr. Gordons.
"Too late," he said. "I'm back together now, Tin Man."
Without looking around, without taking his eyes off Mr. Gordons, Chiun said, "It's about time."
"Stop carping," Remo said.
"Mr. Gordons injected a transmitter into you," Chiun said.
"See? It's all your fault," Remo said. "You told me it was an insect bite."
"No," Chiun said. "I told you that once I suffered an insect bite. What insect would want to eat at the trough of your body. Are you recovered?"
"Yes," Remo said. ;
Mr. Gordons tried to take another step forward,
toward Remo, but the professor wrapped her arms
"Be creative," she said. "You can now. If you do what I want, you will stop the Volga and Remo too. If you go after Remo now, it may be too late to stop the Volga."
"The Volga never hurt me," Mr. Gordons said. "Creativity means being free. Free to think and free to do. The Volga represents people who crush creativity," Dr. Payton-Holmes said. "Why do you think I oppose them so? Do you think your creator would have been allowed to create you if she had lived in this country? Do you think I would be free to think? To work? All your creativity means nothing when you are not allowed to create. Trust me. The Volga."
Mr. Gordons's mouth began to move, then it stopped. It started again. Slowly, he spoke.
"I trust you because I know you love me." He looked down the corridor toward Remo. "Some other time," he said. "First the Volga." "Ready when you are, M. G.," Remo said. "I'm proud of you, Sonny," the professor told Mr. Gordons and squeezed his android arms.
The four of them moved toward the stone steps leading to the next level. At that moment, a small troop of Russian soldiers were heading down the stairs. They saw the four and raised their guns. Mr. Gordons wrapped his arms around Dr. Payton-Holmes protectively, while Remo went over the top of the two of them, vaulting up the fourteen steps in a flying double split. He landed with two fingers embedded in the occipital lobe of one
guard and a foot protruding through another's chest.
The blood from the soldier who had just incorporated Remo's foot into his own anatomy spurted upward like a fountain. Another soldier, racing toward Remo, slipped on the red pool and skidded toward Chiun.
Wrapping one advancing soldier around another, the old Oriental stopped the oncoming sliding body with his toe. "Gross," he muttered. "How many times have I told you that a sloppy assassin is as worthless as a stupid one."
"Look out," Remo said, indicating a guard who was tiptoeing behind Chiun, his rifle raised and sighted.
"Fool," Chiun said, kicking his leg out behind him to disembowel the soldier. "Do you think I see nothing? Concentrate on your own work."
"Okay, I'll do that," Remo said bitterly. "See if I ever warn you about impending danger again. See if I care who creeps up on you. I'll just look after myself. Looking out for Number One, that's me from now on."
He stopped short when a pointed object whizzed past him a half-inch from his nose and embedded itself in the wall. "What was that?"
"So easily distracted," Chiun said, shaking his head as he finished off the last two guards with a single stroke of his elbow.
Remo picked the object from the wall and examined it. "A fountain pen," he said. "Somebody's throwing office supplies at us." He tossed it aside. Within one second it exploded, tearing a hole the size of a large man out of the wall.
"When will you learn to leave things alone?"
A book of matches zipped around the corner of the corridor like a boomerang. As it approached, it burst into a ball of flame. Remo sidestepped it quickly. Chiun filled his lungs and blew the flaming object into the hole in the wall.
"I'd hate to see what would happen if they sent in the staplers and Scotch tape dispensers," Remo
Another object came flying their way. It landed
at Remo's feet. It was an envelope.
"Ho ho," Remo chuckled. "If that isn't loaded, I don't know what is. What do you think it is, Chiun? Tear gas? A flat Russian grenade?"
"It is an envelope, gentlemen," came a voice from the far end of the hall. Grigori Seminov turned the corner and walked slowly toward them, his monocle glinting with the harsh artificial overhead light.
"There is nothing in the envelope. See for yourselves."
"No, thanks. We'll take your word for it."
Chiun shunted the envelope into a corner with his foot. It touched the wall and exploded into fragments. "So much for his word," the old man
"Ah, you do not trust Russians," Seminov murmured.
"Not Russians who use auto crushers for holding cells," Remo said.
"Or who throw exploding pens," Chiun added.
"Is this less juvenile?" Seminov asked, extracting a 7.65 Tokarev from his uniform.
"I suppose you think I'm going to shoot you."
"It doesn't look like you're going to light anybody's cigars with it," Remo said. "Look, we'd like to stand here and chat with you about what you're going to do to us, but we have an appointment at your missile lab. You understand."
"Alas," Seminov said. "I'm afraid you'll have to miss your appointment, due to sudden poor health. What a pity." He took a step backward and began to squeeze the trigger. Watching him, Remo prepared to dodge the bullet. It was a simple matter, moving slightly to miss the projectile. Then two running steps forward, and Seminov would be as glassy and cold as the monocle in his eye.
The finger on the trigger squeezed slowly. Suddenly Chiun whispered, "Do you see the hole of the gun?"
Remo widened his pupils to focus on the barrel of the Tokarev. Around the bore were small, round notches surrounding it like a sunburst. Remo and Chiun hit the floor a fraction of a second before Seminov fired, sending a bullet and six small fragments flying into all the walls and the ceiling.
"More gizmos," Remo said disgustedly. No sooner had he said it than Seminov pressed a button on the handle of the gun and the barrel disengaged, falling downward on a hinge.
He fired again, sending an eight-foot-long stream of flame toward the young American and
the old Oriental. The two of them climbed up opposite walls, allowing the suction of their palms and feet to keep them aloft long enough for the flame to pass.
Seminov squinted behind his monocle. He dropped the gun and took from his pocket a Zippo lighter.
"What's he going to do now, flick us to death?" Remo said.
"Filthy American pigs," spat Seminov.
"That does it," Chiun said. "First he calls me Japanese, and now he calls me an American." He squatted down low near the floor and leaped forward like a floating wizard. Seminov squeezed the Zippo, and a long string of transparent plastic wire shot out, encircling Chiun in a snare.
"Careful, Chiun," Remo said.
"Careful," Chiun mimicked. Without slowing his movements, he slashed through the wires with one fingernail and continued to propel himself toward Seminov.
The Russian's eyes widened. Frantically he searched his pockets. A moment before Chiun landed, Seminov extracted a ring with a black stone and placed it on his finger.
"Come no'closer," he shouted, his voice quavering. With a trembling arm he held out a fist, aiming the ring at the old man.
"Ass, do you expect to kill the Master of Sinanju with a simulated onyx?" With hands so swift, they were only a blur, Chiun took hold of Seminov's fist and twisted it up to his face. The stone in the ring popped open. As Seminov stared, horrified, at the contents of the ring inches from
his monocled eye, the Russian screamed something in his native language.
Then a tiny dart slithered out of the ring and implanted itself in Seminov's monocle. The glass shattered; the eye disappeared. With a small moan Seminov accepted the dart into his brain, where it exploded with a muffled bang and blew the top of his head onto the ceiling.
"American indeed," Chiun said.
"Is he gone?" came a voice from the shadows. It was Mr. Gordon's, holding on to the professor.
"Yes, and a lot of help you were," Remo said. "We have to get to the missile lab. Do you know where it is?"
"Of course," the professor said. "That's early NASA training. Do you know how to steal a car?"
"Sure," Remo said. "That's early Newark training."
As they sped toward the missile base in a Russianized Ford Pinto, Remo asked Chiun what Seminov's last sentence in Russian was.
"He said, 'Hail, Master of Sinanju,'" the old man said with a smile. "It is good to know he was not all bad."
The four of them were surrounded by guards at the entrance to the missile lab.
"They've got us now," the professor said.
"I could kill them, I suppose," Mr. Gordons said, "but I feel that is not sufficiently creative. Now that I'm a creative being, I have to check all my options carefully."
"How about being a little less creative and a little more useful," Remo said, zapping two of the guards with the locked fingers of his left hand.
"That is the most intelligent thing you've said all day," Chiun said as he relocated the cranial cavities of three more guards into the poured concrete flooring.
"That did not sound particularly intelligent to me," Mr. Gordons said dejectedly. "But then, I am less creative than the rest of you. I am just beginning to think creatively. Creativity is still a
relatively uncommon state for one of my physical components. Actually, I believe that creativity ..."
One of the guards smashed Mr. Gordons on the head with the butt of his rifle.
"On the other hand, creativity isn't everything," he said as he pulverized the man's face with one squeeze of his mighty hands.
"That was a creative maneuver," Chiun said encouragingly. "Perhaps you could be a little tidier next time. Observe." With a slow stroke of his arm, the frail Oriental sent a 260-pound soldier sprawling against the wall. "See? No blood. Much more imaginative."
"I see," Mr. Gordons said. "Excuse me," he said to a guard as he tapped him on the shoulder. "I wish to be creative with you."
The guard mumbled something guttural and blasted Mr. Gordons in the stomach with his revolver. "You are not cooperating with my creative impulses," the robot said. He grabbed the guard around the head and pressed the man's nose into his brain. "How was that?"
"Not bad, kid," Remo said, transforming the kidneys of the last remaining guard into brown
Gordons beamed. "Really?"
"Really. Let's get in there." He jerked his head toward the door.
"That's wonderful, son," the professor said. "I'm
so proud of you."
"Thank you, professor," Mr. Gordons said, smiling. "But I am not your son. Now that I'm creative, I know that. It does not mean my feelings for you have lessened."
"My friend, then," she said.
Mr. Gordons beamed. "Yes. I like that. I've never had a friend before. Can I call you Frances?"
"Can we please get this mutual admiration society into the missile lab?" Remo said, running down a stairway. It led to a windowless stone room.
"This can't be the place," he said.
"It's the place, all right," the professor reassured him. "This is the antechamber. It's used for screening incoming matter for purity. The en-' trance is a sliding stone panel. That one, probably." She pointed to a recessed wall.
Then a voice rang out, echoing throughout the room."You will never enter that lab," it said.
Chiun looked toward the source of the sound. "And why not?" he asked.
Istoropovich approached from-the shadows, the ever-present gold balls dangling from between his fingers. "I know I can't kill you and get out of here alive," he said.
Chiun considered this. "True," he admitted finally.
"And if I allow you to go into the lab, the high commander will see to the immediate destruction of my career, my family, and my life."
"That's the biz, sweetheart," Remo said.
Chiun shook a finger at Istoropovich. "Things were more equitable for you peasants under Ivan the Wonderful. A fine leader. At least he would have let you remain to clean the public lavatories."
"Therefore," Istoropovich went on, "my only option is to kill you along with myself."
Remo sighed. "Looks that way, I guess. Well, you'd better get to work, because there are twelve minutes to launching time, and I'm going in." He tried the door. It was at least a foot thick, made of solid rock. "Come on, Gordons," he said. "How about some creative battering?"
"Have you ever wondered what these gold balls contain?" Istoropovich asked.
"No," Chiun said.
"I shall tell you now."
"I was afraid of that," Remo said. "Say, can you make it fast? We've got an awful lot to do in there."
"They contain cyanide pellets surrounded by sulphuric acid. Once broken, they will turn an enclosed area like this into a gas chamber."
"Oh, come on," Remo said. "What kind of enclosed area is this? We came in through an open door." He indicated the entry to the stairway.
As he pointed, the door slid shut with a soft click.
"Let's see how cynical you are after the poison gas takes effect," Istoropovich said. He dropped the balls to the ground and stepped on them. Immediately they began to hiss. A wisp of creamy white smoke snaked out. The air turned foul.
Remo ran back to the stairway door and tried it. It was locked and sealed. Quickly he moved to the sliding stone panel that led to the lab. There was no way to open it without breaking the solid rock.
"Find a way to get air to the woman, if you want to save her," Chiun commanded.
The professor and Istoropovich were hacking
and gasping for breath. To preserve his own oxygen supply, Chiun closed his eyes and slowed his breathing near coma.
"Get some air to her," Remo said to Gordons. He was already feeling dizzy. Concentrating, he began to bring himself to low consciousness.
"I will activate my pollution filters," Mr. Gordons said. He knelt over the professor. His fingers worked inside his shirt, and then he began to hiss like a garage air hose, and he put his face over the professor's and put air into her mouth.
He stopped for a moment and called over his shoulder to Remo. "I only have a four-minute supply. To create oxygen, I must destroy some of my internal circuits," he said. "I suggest you get us out of here."
Remo was slamming both feet against the stone panel, chipping away inches at a time. Chiun walked to it and flicked Remo out of the way. With a circular motion of his arm, he drew a neat zero on the stone with the fingernail of his index finger. Then, his hand moving at a speed too fast to be called a blur, his fingers sped around the circle, tapping the stone so rapidly that the sound seemed not to be tapping, but a buzz.
He stopped, then pressed the heel of his hand into the center of the zero. The round piece of stone fell through on the other side of the door, and the poison gas poured out of the anteroom into the vast missile lab. Remo could feel the air clearing, and he slowly let his breathing and heartbeat return to normal.
He reached through the hole Chiun had just made and found a switch next to the stone panel.
He pressed it, and the door slowly swung open. Then he went back and propelled Mr. Gordons and the professor, who were still attached to one another by their lips, toward the doorway.
"No!" Istoropovich called weakly from the shadows where he had fallen. He was slithering on his stomach, the muscles of his abdomen contracting in terrible spasms. A trickle of black bile ran from his mouth down his chin. "I will not die for nothing," he groaned.
"That's the way it goes sometimes," Remo said, and turned back to the embracing couple.
"So is this," Istoropovich said. And before Remo spotted the glint of gray metal in the Russian's hands, a shot fired. It rang through the small anteroom, echoing tinnily. It ricocheted off one wall and came to rest with a soft snap in the professor's back.
She arched wildly, her features contorted. "Get them inside," Remo said to Chiun. With a small kick to Istoropovich's throat, he snapped the man's head, and the Russian lay still, the gun warm in his hand.
"Frances," Mr. Gordons whispered. "Why are you acting like this? Frances, stand up."
Chiun shuffled the dazed robot, carrying his limp charge, into the lab.
"Please, Frances," Mr. Gordons said softly.
They were met by a burst of machine gun fire.
An alarm, high pitched and shrieking, had sounded as soon as Remo opened the wall to the lab. The high commander herself was at the controls of the main launch computer terminal. When the alarm sounded, she abandoned the controls and reached for the automatic submachine gun strapped across her back.
Chiun and Remo leaped high above the spray of bullets, distracting her while Mr. Gordons hid the professor behind a remote terminal, killing the technician who operated it.
The air quality sensors inside, detecting the traces of cyanide from the anteroom, whirred to overload, cleansing the air. As Mr. Gordons crouched behind the terminal with the unconscious professor, he heard the alarm shut off. A hush fell in the lab. The normal chattering and cross-checking of controls ceased, and the only
sounds remaining were the clicking of computer consoles and the whirring of the atmospheric sensors.
All electronic, mechanical, inorganic sounds, Mr. Gordons thought. It was his first free thought, and it made him sad. This is the sort of place where I was conceived, he said to himself. Clean, sterile, without creativity, devoid of love.
Through the smoky dark glass of the lab. he could see, a quarter-mile away, the huge Volga stationed on its scaffolding, ready for takeoff. This was a place for metal and wire coil and electric impulses and electronic circuitry and glass insulators. And suddenly Mr. Gordons never wanted to be in a laboratory again. He just wanted to take Frances to a place where she could breathe the air she needed, where they would share their lives and love each other forever.
Everything was different now. He was no longer just a machine, another brilliant series of electromagnetic connections. The professor had seen to that. She had, he realized, given him the greatest gift of. all, greater than his ability to walk or talk or assimilate information, greater even than his capacity to survive: she had given him creativity. Independent thought. Choice. With her genius, she had set him free.
"Please don't die. We have so many things to do together," he said to the still form of the professor.
He was answered by the high commander's volley of machine gun fire. Slowly Mr. Gordons stood up, his hands held in front of him. The bullets tore at the skin covering him, but bounced away
harmlessly when they touched his metallic interior. After a few moments, the weapon clicked when she pressed the trigger, but no more bullets came out.
, "I could kill you now," Mr. Gordons said to the panicky high commander, "if I could find a way that was creative enough to make you suffer as much as you deserve." The handsome face he wore carried a strange bitterness in it.
The high commander looked around wildly. The technicians in the room were trembling and cowering behind whatever protection could be found. On the lighted console of the computer terminal, graphs and assorted countdowns continued to take place, as though they were fully manned.
The commander raised her head defiantly. "It no matter if you kill me or not," she said. "The countdown for the launch is on automatic control now. The Volga will be launched in ten minutes, and nothing any of you can do will stop it." She turned to Remo and smiled, a malicious, triumphant smile. "This is my country. You kill me, you not live long here."
"I've got news for you, sweets," Remo said. "None of us is going to live long here. Gordons over there is programmed to deflect the Volga back to dear old Mother Russia as soon as it leaves the earth's atmosphere."
"You lie!" she said. "You lie."
"He's not lying," came a woman's voice weakly from a far corner of the room.The professor's eyes fluttered open.
"Frances," Mr. Gordons said gently.
"Who said that?" the high commander demanded with a snap of her head.
"Help me to somewhere I can talk," the professor said. Mr. Gordons carried her to the main computer launch console and lay her on top of it.
The high commander stepped over to her and raised her head arrogantly. "Is true?" she seethed. "Did you reprogram killer robot to deflect Volga back to Soviet Union?"
The professor managed a thin smile before a fit of coughing overtook her. "Yes, I did. I knew your men wouldn't have the time or intelligence to check Mr. Gordons's more complex circuits."
"Deceiving bitch." The high commander grasped the professor around the neck with both hands. In a fury, Mr. Gordons slapped the woman across the face with the back of his hand. She went flying across the lab and, to the shrieks of the dumfounded technicians, struck the smoke-colored windows with a thwack and dropped sprawling to the floor.
Mr. Gordons knelt over Dr. Payton-Holmes.
"Frances," he said.
"Yes, darling," she said.
"Frances, we have failed."
"I .cannot stop this Volga. To produce oxygen a few minutes ago, I burned up the circuits."
"Oh no," Dr. Payton-Holmes said. Her face twisted with anguish. "It must be stopped."
"I don't know how," Mr. Gordons said.
"You are creative. Think of a way."
"I'll try, Frances."
"I love you, Mr. Gordons."
"I love you too," the android said as the scientist went limp in his arms and died.
Mr. Gordons stood up and looked around the control center. Hé took three steps toward Remo, who wheeled around to face him.
"I am letting you live," Mr. Gordons said. "The Volga was more important to her than anything else, and she loved me. I will stop the Volga and save you for another day."
"How are we going to stop it?"
"I am creative. I will change its trajectory. It will never reach the moon."
Remo smiled. "Go to it, friend."
"I am not your friend," Mr. Gordons said bitterly. "Frances was my friend. She told me that creativity would bring me pain. I should have listened to her. I will be no one's friend again." Softly he kissed the professor on her lips. "I will go," he said. "But I will return for you later."
"Still a robot after all, huh?" Remo said.
"That was what I was created. That is what I will remain." He cast the professor one last look, blinked, and strode across the room. As he walked, he picked up the sprawled form of the high commander, who was just coming to. " What—what are you doing?" she screamed. "Unhand me. Let me down!"
Viciously Mr. Gordons shoved her face first through the dark glass windows. They shattered in a spiderweb pattern, then gave way to the big man with the mechanical stride, and the screaming woman whom he held dangling by her hair.
He tossed her into the seat of an open jeeplike vehicle outside the building and drove quickly to
the launch site. Remo and Chiun watched through binoculars as Mr. Gordons, still dragging the flailing form of'the high commander behind him, climbed up the scaffolding to the entry hatch of the Volga. Two small monkeys in space suits scurried out as the door opened. Then Mr. Gordons shoved the high commander inside, stepped in himself, and closed the hatch behind him. In a matter of seconds, the missile lifted off in a cloud of white vapor and disappeared into the sky.
"What's he going to do?" Remo asked outside the building.
"Whatever he must, I imagine," Chiun said.
Remo looked up to see the trailing contrail of the missile searing the blue sky. "He got kind of soft over the professor, didn't he?"
Chiun smiled. "Sometimes one is fortunate enough to find something—or someone—more powerful than his strongest impulses. It can happen even to a survival machine, I suppose. That is a good sign for all of us. Especially you."
"What if he gets out of there?" Remo said, thinking of the robot encapsulated in the speeding missile.
"He will find us and try to kill us, obviously."
Remo shrugged. "Hell never get out. That thing will orbit in space forever."
"Let us hope so," Chiun said.
In Rye, New York, in the executive office of the director of Folcroft Sanitarium, Dr. Harold W. Smith pursed his pale lips as he looked at the black object on his desk blotter through the lens of a magnifying glass.
"So?" he said. "It's a small transmitter."
"I just thought maybe you'd like to see it," Remo said, annoyed. "It was in my spine. It almost killed me. That's why we had to let things go till the last second."
"Nonsense," Chiun said. "There were several seconds remaining before it would have been necessary to dismantle the boom ship."
"That was a missile, not a boom ship," Remo complained in Korean. "And if we had so much time, then Gordons wouldn't be flying around in outer space now. We could have finished him off right there in the lab and gotten rid of him for good."
Chiun clucked. "Tsk, tsk. With you, everything must be total. Life is not total. Much is unfinished, all is question. Become old, Remo, and perhaps you will become wise."
"I'm not going to have a chance to get old with that robot hanging around."
"Oh, how far you are from becoming a true Master of Sinanju," Chiun said. "Your friend is a machine, not a man. Nothing can destroy him. Better to live with him from a distance of millions of miles than next door."
"I wish you'd quit with the Oriental philosophy," Remo said, still in Korean.
"Stop, stop, stop," Smith pleaded. "It's eleven o'clock at night. I do like to get home every four or five days. And you need to rest. Something's brewing on the East Coast which may require your services in a day or two."
"Oh, no you don't," Remo said. "I'm taking some time off."
"Wonderful," Chiun said, smiling. "The ruler of Persia extended a standing offer three hundred years ago to the Master of Sinanju. We are welcome to work for him at any time. For four trunks of rubies a year," he said, wiggling his eyebrows. ^
"There is no Persia anymore, Little Father, It's Iran now. And I'm not working for any guy who wears a hat and a veil."
"What about Africa? The tribe of the Timalu has also requested our services. Oh, it is lovely there. The Ugandan countryside is most—"
"I'm not working for Uganda, either."
"Picky, picky, picky," Chiun said.
"I'm just taking a rest," Remo said.
"Can we discuss this tomorrow?" Smith asked wearily.
"We're never discussing anything again. This is it. Done. Finito. Vacation time." He walked out the door, stomping deliberately.
Chiun turned to Smith. "I believe I can make him change his decision, Emperor," he said. "However, perhaps I should first accept, with utmost gratitude, the photograph you promised me of the lovely Cheeta Ching."
"The newscaster," Chiun said. "Surely you have the photograph."
Smith grimaced. "I'm sorry, Chiun," he said. "With everything going on, I suppose I forgot."
"Persia is a most amicable place for master assassins, O illustrious Emperor," Chiun said, his eyes narrowing.
'I'll have someone get the photograph right away."
"That is what you said the last time we spoke," Chiun said as he walked out. He slammed the door behind him so hard that the hinges shattered and fell in pieces to the floor.
Smith sighed again and gathered up the papers he was taking home with him.
At the doorway he remembered some computer printouts he had left on his desk and returned for them. He didn't bother to turn on the light, since everything on his desk was within a millimeter of what it had been the day before. He picked up the printouts and stuck them in his coat pocket. In the process, the small transmitter Remo had
shown him fell to the floor and disappeared through the floorboards.
Smith would not think about the transmitter again. The next day, business would go on as usual, and the next evening, the cleaning woman would sweep the floor with a broom as she always did, since Smith refused to requisition either a carpet or a vacuum cleaner for the executive offices of Folcroft; the first layer of dust would sift through the floorboards to obscure the transmitter. It was gone for good, the last memento of Mr. Gordons and the professor obliterated forever.
In distant space, catching light from the Andromeda Galaxy, the orbital capsule of the USSR Volga drifted harmlessly in its slow, unending journey through the universe.
Inside the capsule lay the mummified remains of a woman, her Soviet Army uniform pefectly preserved, its medals gleaming on the skeletal chest. Beside the body rested a small, rough-edged metallic rock.
Slowly, almost imperceptibly at first, the rock moved. A centimeter at a time, it began an infin-itesimally slow rotation toward the missile's inner wall. Then it began to move faster, picking up momentum.
By the time it reached the wall, the rock was spinning, ever faster, a whirling blur. Shards of fiberglass splintered off the inside of the capsule. The dent created by the rock deepened to become a small hole, then a larger hole. Then the vacuum
of space took over, and the imbalance of pressure caused by the hole in the capsule ripped open the smooth walls with a monstrous creak.
The fiberglass interior starred and fragmented. The insulating material between the inner and outer walls flew off into space like cobwebs. And a fraction of a second before the outer walls burst apart in a massive implosion, the small metallic rock spun out the hole and away, plummeting alone through the airless vastness of space.
Contained within the rock was one sound: The steady thrum-thrum of a transmitter. It was stationary somewhere on earth, and already the microscopic components inside the metallic rock were calculating the coordinates of the transmitter. It was calling the rock home to finish an incomplete task. Home, to another identity, another form, other adventures.
The coordinates were set. Once on earth, the entity in the rock would begin its work anew from where the transmitter was calling.
Calling somewhere from Rye, New York, in the United'States of America.
Calling Mr. Gordons to find Remo Williams. And to kill him.