The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 93

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"None of us do," Sheridan Hennessey said sourly. "Do you think any of us do?" He must have pressed a b.u.t.ton.

From behind them the major's voice said briskly, "Will you come this way, Mr. Kuran?"

In the limousine, on the way out to the airport, the bright, impossibly cleanly shaven C.I.A. man said, "You've never been behind the Iron Curtain before, have you Kuran?"

"No," Hank said. "I thought that term was pa.s.se. Look, aren't we even going to my hotel for my things?"

The second C.I.A. man, the older one, said, "All your gear will be waiting for you in London. They'll be sure there's nothing in it to tip off the KGB if they go through your bags."



The younger one said, "We're not sure, things are moving fast, but we suspect that that term, Iron Curtain, applies again."

"Then how am I going to get in?" Hank said irritably. "I've had no background for this cloak and dagger stuff."

The older C.I.A. man said, "We understand the KGB has increased security measures but they haven't cut out all travel on the part of non-Communists."

The other one said, "Probably because the Russkies don't want to tip off the s.p.a.cemen that they're being isolated from the western countries. It would be too conspicuous if suddenly all western travelers disappeared."

They were pa.s.sing over the Potomac, to the right and below them Hank Kuran could make out the twin Pentagons, symbols of a military that had at long last by its very efficiency eliminated itself. War had finally progressed to the point where even a minor nation, such as Cuba or Portugal, could completely destroy the whole planet. Eliminated wasn't quite the word. In spite of their sterility, the military machines still claimed their million ma.s.ses of men, still drained a third of the products of the world's industry.

One of the C.I.A. men was saying urgently, "So we're going to send you in as a tourist. As inconspicuous a tourist as we can make you. For fifteen years the Russkies have boomed their tourist trade--all for propaganda, of course. Now they're in no position to turn this tourist flood off. If the aliens got wind of it, they'd smell a rat."

Hank Kuran brought his attention back to them. "All right. So you get me to Moscow as a tourist. What do I do then? I keep telling you jokers that I don't know a thing about espionage. I don't know a secret code from judo."

"That's one reason the chief picked you. Not only do the Russkies have nothing on you in their files--neither do our own people. You're safe from betrayal. There are exactly six people who know your mission and only one of them is in Moscow."

"Who's he?"

The C.I.A. man shook his head. "You'll never meet him. But he's making the arrangements for you to contact the underground."

Hank Kuran turned in his seat. "What underground? In Moscow?"

The bright, pink faced C.I.A. man chuckled and began to say something but the older one cut him off. "Let me, Jimmy." He continued to Hank. "Actually, we don't know nearly as much as we should about it, but a Soviet underground is there and getting stronger. You've heard of the stilyagi and the metrofa.n.u.shka?"

Hank nodded. "Moscow's equivalent to the juvenile delinquents, or the Teddy Boys, as the British call them."

"Not only in Moscow, they're everywhere in urban Russia. At any rate, our underground friends operate within the stilyagi, the so-called jet-set, using them as protective coloring."

"This is new to me," Hank said. "And I don't quite get it."

"It's clever enough. Suppose you're out late some night on an underground job and the police pick you up. They find out you're a juvenile delinquent, figure you've been out getting drunk, and toss you into jail for a week. It's better than winding up in front of a firing squad as a counterrevolutionary, or a Trotskyite, or whatever they're currently calling anybody they shoot."

The chauffeur rapped on the gla.s.s that divided their seat from his, and motioned ahead.

"Here's the airport," Jimmy said. "We'll drive right over to the plane. Hid your face with your hat, just for luck."

"Wait a minute, now," Hank said. "Listen, how do I contact these beat generation characters?"

"You don't. They contact you."

"How."

"That's up to them. Maybe they won't at all; they're plenty careful." Jimmy snorted without humor. "It must be getting to be an instinct with Russians by this time. Nihilists, Anarchists, Mensheviks, Bolsheviks, now anti-Communists. Survival of the fittest. By this time the Russian underground must consist of members that have bred true as revolutionists. There've been Russian undergrounds for twenty generations."

"Hardly long enough to affect genetics," the older one said wryly.

Hank said, "Let's stop being witty. I still haven't a clue as to how Sheridan Hennessey expects me to get to these Galactic Confederation people--or things, or whatever you call them."

"They evidently are humanoid," Jimmy said. "Look more or less human. And stop worrying, we've got several hours to explain things while we cross the Atlantic. You don't step into character until you enter the offices of Progressive Tours, in London."

The door of Progressive Tours, Ltd. 100 Rochester Row, was invitingly open. Hank Kuran entered, looked around the small room. He inwardly winced at the appearance of the girl behind the counter. What was it about Commies outside their own countries that they drew such crackpots into their camp? Heavy lenses, horn rimmed to make them more conspicuous, wild hair, mawkish tweeds, and dirty fingernails to top it off.

She said, "What can I do for you, Comrade?"

"Not Comrade," Hank said mildly. "I'm an American."

"What did you want?" she said coolly.

Hank indicated the travel folder he was carrying. "I'd like to take this tour to Leningrad and Moscow. I've been reading propaganda for and against Russia as long as I've been able to read and I've finally decided I want to see for myself. Can I get the tour that leaves tomorrow?"

She became businesslike as was within her ability. "There is no country in the world as easy to visit as the Soviet Union, Mr--"

"Stevenson," Hank Kuran said. "Henry Stevenson."

"Stevenson. Fill out these two forms, leave your pa.s.sport and two photos and we'll have everything ready in the morning. The Baltika leaves at twelve. The visa will cost ten s.h.i.+llings. What cla.s.s do you wish to travel?"

"The cheapest." And least conspicuous, Hank added under his breath.

"Third cla.s.s comes to fifty-five guineas. The tour lasts eighteen days including the time it takes to get to Leningrad. You have ten days in Russia."

"I know, I read the folder. Are there any other Americans on the tour?"

A voice behind him said, "At least one other."

Hank turned. She was somewhere in her late twenties, he estimated. And if her clothes, voice and appearance were any criterion he'd put her in the middle-middle cla.s.s with a bachelor's degree in something or other, unmarried and with the aggressiveness he didn't like in American girls after living the better part of eight years in Latin countries.

On top of that she was one of the prettiest girls he had ever seen, in a quick, red headed, almost puckish sort of way.

Hank tried to keep from displaying his admiration too openly. "American?" he said.

"That's right." She took in his five-foot ten, his not quite ruffled hair, his worried eyes behind their rimless lenses, darkish tinted for the Peruvian sun. She evidently gave him up as not worth the effort and turned to the fright behind the counter.

"I came to pick up my tickets."

"Oh, yes, Miss...."

"Moore."

The fright fiddled with the papers on an untidy heap before her. "Oh, yes. Miss Charity Moore."

"Charity?" Hank said.

She turned to him. "Do you mind? I have two sisters named Honor and Hope. My people were the Seventh Day Adventists. It wasn't my fault." Her voice was pleasant--but nature had granted that; it wasn't particularly friendly--through her own inclinations.

Hank cleared his throat and went back to his forms. The visa questionnaire was in both Russian and English. The first line wanted, Surname, first name and patronymic.

To get the conversation going again, Hank said, "What does patronymic mean?"

Charity Moore looked up from her own business and said, less antagonism in her voice, "That's the name you inherited from your father."

"Of course, thanks." He went back to his forms. Under what type of work do you do, Hank wrote, Capitalist in a small sort of way. Auto Agency owner.

He took the forms back to the counter with his pa.s.sport. Charity Moore was putting her tickets, suitcase labels and a sheaf of tour instructions into her pocketbook.

Hank said, "Look, we're going to be on a tour together, what do you say to a drink?"

She considered that, prettily, "Well ... well, of course. Why not?"

Hank said to the fright, "There wouldn't be a nice bar around would there?"

"Down the street three blocks and to your left is Dirty d.i.c.k's." She added scornfully, "All the tourists go there."

"Then we shouldn't make an exception," Hank said. "Miss Moore, my arm."

On the way over she said, "Are you excited about going to the Soviet Union?"

"I wouldn't say excited. Curious, though."

"You don't sound very sympathetic to them."

"To Russia?" Hank said. "Why should I be? Personally, I believe in democracy."

"So do I," she said, her voice clipped. "I think we ought to try it some day."

"Come again?"

"So far as I can see, we pay lip service to democracy, that's about all."

Hank grinned inwardly. He'd already figured that during this tour he'd be thrown into contact with characters running in shade from gentle pink to flaming red. His position demanded that he remain inconspicuous, as average an American tourist as possible. Flaring political arguments weren't going to help this, but, on the other hand to avoid them entirely would be apt to make him more conspicuous than ever.

"How do you mean?" he said now.

"We have two political parties in our country without an iota of difference between them. Every four years they present candidates and give us a choice. What difference does it make which one of the two we choose if they both stand for the same thing? This is democracy?"

Hank said mildly, "Well, it's better than sticking up just one candidate and saying, which one of this one do you choose? Look, let's steer clear of politics and religion, eh? Otherwise this'll never turn out to be a beautiful friends.h.i.+p."

Charity Moore's face portrayed resignation.

Hank said, "I'm Hank, what do they call you besides Charity?"

"Everybody but my parents call me Chair. You spell it C-H-A-R but p.r.o.nounce it like Chair, like you sit in."

"That's better," Hank said. "Let's see. There it is, Dirty d.i.c.k's. Crummy looking joint. You want to go in?"

"Yes," Char said. "I've read about it. An old coaching house. One of the oldest pubs in London. d.i.c.kens wrote a poem about it."

The pub's bar extended along the right wall, as they entered. To the left was a sandwich counter with a dozen or so stools. It was too early to eat, they stood at the ancient bar and Hank said to her, "Ale?" and when she nodded, to the bartender, "Two Worthingtons."

While they were being drawn, Hank turned back to the girl, noticing all over again how impossibly pretty she was. It was disconcerting. He said, "How come Russia? You'd look more in place on a beach in Biarritz or the Lido."

Char said, "Ever since I was about ten years of age I've been reading about the Russian people starving to death and having to work six months before making enough money to buy a pair of shoes. So I've decided to see how starving, barefooted people managed to build the largest industrial nation in the world."

"Here we go again," Hank said, taking up his gla.s.s. He toasted her silently before saying, "The United States is still the largest single industrial nation in the world."

"Perhaps as late as 1965, but not today," she said definitely.

"Russia, plus the satellites and China has a gross national product greater than the free world's but no single nation produces more than the United States. What are you laughing at?"

"I love the way the West plasters itself so nicely with high flown labels. The free world. Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia, Pakistan, South Africa--just what is your definition of free?"

Hank had her placed now. A college radical. One of the tens of thousands who discover, usually somewhere along in the soph.o.m.ore year, that all is not perfect in the land of their birth and begin looking around for answers. Ten to one she wasn't a Commie and would probably never become one--but meanwhile she got a certain amount of kicks trying to upset ideological applecarts.

For the sake of staying in character, Hank said mildly, "Look here, are you a Communist?"

She banged her gla.s.s down on the bar with enough force that the bartender looked over worriedly. "Did it ever occur to you that even though the Soviet Union might be wrong--if it is wrong--that doesn't mean that the United States is right? You remind me of that ... that politician, whatever his name was, when I was a girl. Anybody who disagreed with him was automatically a Communist."

"McCarthy," Hank said. "I'm sorry, so you're not a Communist."

She took up her gla.s.s again, still in a huff. "I didn't say I wasn't. That's my business."

The turboelectric s.h.i.+p Baltika turned out to be the pride of the U.S.S.R. Baltic State Steams.h.i.+p Company. In fact, she turned out to be the whole fleet. Like the rest of the world, the Soviet complex had taken to the air so far as pa.s.senger travel was concerned and already the Baltika was a left-over from yesteryear. For some reason the C.I.A. thought there might be less observation on the part of the KGB if Hank approached Moscow indirectly, that is by sea and from Leningrad. It was going to take an extra four or five days, but, if he got through, the squandered time would have been worth it.

An English speaking steward took up Hank's bag at the gangplank and hustled him through to his quarters. His cabin was forward and four flights down into the bowels of the s.h.i.+p. There were four berths in all, two of them already had bags on them. Hank put his hand in his pocket for a s.h.i.+lling.

The steward grinned and said, "No tipping. This is a Soviet s.h.i.+p."

Hank looked after him.

A newcomer entered the cabin, still drying his hands on a towel. "Greetings," he said. "Evidently we're fellow pa.s.sengers for the duration." He hung the towel on a rack, reached out a hand. "Rodriquez," he said. "You can call me Paco, if you want. Did you ever meet an Argentine that wasn't named Paco?"

Hank shook the hand. "I don't know if I ever met an Argentine before. You speak English well."

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 93

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