The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 97

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"If the KGB is already onto you, Henry Kuran, then you might as well give up. Your mission is already a failure."

"I suppose so. Will you have a chair? Can I offer you a drink? My roommate has a bottle of Stolichnaya vodka which he brought from the boat."

There was an amused light in her eyes even as she shook her head. "Your friend Paco is quite a man--so I understand. But no, I am here for business." She took one of the armchairs and Hank sank into another opposite her.

"The committee has decided to a.s.sist you to the point they can."

"Fine." Hank leaned forward.



"Tomorrow your Progressive Tours group is to have a conducted tour of the Kremlin museum, Ivan the Great's Tower, and the a.s.sumption Cathedral."

"In the Kremlin?"

She was impatient. "The Kremlin is considerably larger than most Westerners seem to realize. Originally it was the whole city. The Kremlin walls are more then two kilometers long. In them are a great deal more than just government offices. Among other things, the Kremlin has one of the greatest museums and probably the largest in the world."

"What I meant was, with the s.p.a.ce emissaries there, will tours still be held?"

"They are being held. It would be too conspicuous to stop them even if there was any reason to." She frowned and shook her head. "Just because you will be inside the Kremlin walls doesn't mean that you will be sitting in the lap of the extraterrestrials. They are probably well guarded in the palace. We don't know to what extent."

Hank said, "Then how can you help me?"

"Only in a limited way." She pulled a folder paper from her purse. "Here is a map of the Kremlin, and here one of the Palace. Both of these date from Czarist days but such things as the general layout of the Kremlin and the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets do not change of course."

"Do you know where the extraterrestrials are?"

"We're not sure. The palace was built in the Seventeenth Century and was popular with various czars. It has been a museum for some time. We suspect that the Galactic Confederation delegates are housed in the Sobstvennaya Plovina which used to be the private apartments of Nicolas the First. It is quite define that the conferences are being held in the Gheorghievskaya sala; it's the largest and most impressive room in the Kremlin."

Hank stared at the two maps feeling a degree of dismay.

She said impatiently, "We can help you more than this. One of the regular guide-guards at the facade which leads to the main entrance of the palace is a member of our group. Here are your instructions."

They spent another fifteen minutes going over the details, then she shot a quick glance at her watch and came to her feet. "Is everything clear ... comrade?"

Hank frowned slightly at the use of the word, then understood. "I think so, and thanks ... comrade." He, as well as she, meant the term in its original sense.

He followed her to the door but before his hand touched the k.n.o.b, it opened inwardly. Paco stood there, and behind him in the corridor was Char Moore.

The girl turned to Hank quickly, reached up and kissed him on the mouth and said, in English, "Good-bye, dollink." She winked at Paco, swept past Char and was gone.

Paco looked after her appreciatively, back at Hank and said, "Ah, ha. You are quite a dog after all, eh?"

Char Moore's face was blank. She mumbled something to the effect of, "See you later," directed seemingly to both of them, and went on to her room.

Hank said, "d.a.m.n!"

Paco closed the door behind him. "What's the matter, my friend?" he grinned. "Are you attempting to play two games at once?"

The morning tour was devoted to Red Square and the Kremlin. Immediately after breakfast they formed a column with two or three other tourist parties and were marched briskly to where Gorky Street debouched into Red Square. First destination was the mausoleum, backed against the Kremlin wall, which centered that square and served as a combined Vatican, Lhasa and Mecca of the Soviet complex. Built of dark red porphyry, it was the nearest thing to a really ultramodern building Hank had seen in Moscow.

As foreign tourists they were taken to the head of the line which already stretched around the Kremlin back into Mokhovaya Street along the western wall. A line of thousands.

Once the doors opened the line moved quickly. They filed in, two by two, down some steps, along a corridor which was suddenly cool as though refrigerated. Paco, standing next to Hank, said from the side of his mouth, "Now we know the secret of the embalming. I wonder if they're hanging on meathooks."

The line emerged suddenly into a room in the center of which were three gla.s.s chambers. The three bodies, the prophet and his two leading disciples flanking him. Lenin, Stalin, Khrushchev. On their faces, Hank decided, you could read much of their character. Lenin, the idealist and scholar. Stalin, utterly ruthless organization man. Khrushchev, energetic manager of what the first two had built.

They were in the burial room no more than two minutes, filed out by an opposite door. In the light of the square again, Paco grinned at him. "Nick and Joe didn't look so good, but Nikita is standing up pretty well."

Trailing back and forth across Red Square had its ludicrous elements. The guide pointed out this and that. But all the time his charges had their eyes glued to the s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p, settled there at the far end of the square near St. Basil's. In a way it seemed no more alien than so much else here. Certainly no more alien to the world Hank knew than the fantastic St. Basil's Cathedral.

A s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p from the stars, though. You still had to shake your head in effort to achieve clarity; to realize the significance of it. A s.p.a.ces.h.i.+p with emissaries from a Galactic Confederation.

How simple if it had only landed in Was.h.i.+ngton, London or even Paris or Rome, instead of here.

They avoided getting very near it, although the Russians weren't being ostentatious about their guarding. There was a roped off area about the craft and twenty or so guards, not overly armed, drifting about within the enclosure. But the local citizenry was evidently well disciplined. There were no huge crowds hanging on the ropes waiting for a glimpse of the interplanetary celebrities.

Nevertheless, the Intourist guide went out of his way to avoid bringing his charges too near. They retraced their steps back to Manezhnaya Square from which they had originally started to see the mausoleum, and then turned left through Alexandrovski Sad, the Alexander Park which ran along the west side of the Kremlin to the Borovikski Gate, on the Moskva River side of the fortress.

Paco said, "After this tour I'm in favor of us all signing a pet.i.tion that our guide be awarded a medal, Hero of Intourist. You realize that thus far he has lost only two of us today?"

Some of the others didn't like his levity. They were about to enter the Communist shrine and wisecracking was hardly in order. Paco Rodriquez couldn't have cared less, being Paco Rodriquez.

The stilyagi girl had been correct about the Kremlin being an overgrown museum. Government buildings it evidently contained, but above all it provided gold topped cathedrals, fabulous palaces converted to art galleries and displays of the jeweled wealth of yesteryear and the tombs of a dozen czars including that of Ivan the Terrible.

They trailed into the Orushezhnaya Palace, through the ornate entrance hall displaying its early arms and banners.

Paco encouraged the hara.s.sed guard happily. "You're doing fine. You've had us out for more than two hours. We started with twenty-five in this group and still have twenty-one. Par for the course. What happens to a tourist who wanders absently around in the Kremlin and turns up in the head man's office?"

The guide smiled wanly. "And over here we have the thrones of the Empress Elizabeth and Czar Paul."

Un.o.btrusively, Hank dropped toward the tail of the group. He spent a long time peering at two silver panthers, gifts of the first Queen Elizabeth of England to Boris G.o.dunov. The Progressive Tours a.s.sembly pa.s.sed on into the next room.

A guard standing next to the case said, "Mr. Kuran?"

Without looking up, Hand nodded.

"Follow me, slowly."

No one from the Progressive Tours group was in sight. Hank wandered after the guard, looking into display cases as he went. Finally the other turned a corner into an empty and comparatively narrow corridor. He stopped and waited for the American.

"You're Kuran?" he asked anxiously in Russian.

"That's right."

"You're not afraid?"

"No. Let's go." Inwardly Hank growled, Of course I'm afraid. Do I look like a confounded hero? What was it Sheridan Hennessey had said? This was combat, combat cold-war style, but still combat. Of course he was afraid. Had there ever in the history of combat been a partic.i.p.ant who had gone into it unafraid?

They walked briskly along the corridor. The guard said, "You have studied your maps?"

"Yes."

"I can take you only so far without exposing myself. Then you are on your own. You must know your maps or you are lost. These old palaces ramble--"

"I know," Hank said impatiently. "Brief me as we go along. Just for luck."

"Very well. We leave Orushezhnaya Palace by this minor doorway. Across there, to our right, is the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets, the Great Kremlin Palace. It's there the Central Executive Committee meets, and the a.s.sembly. The same hall used to be the czar's throne room in the old days. On the nearer side, on the ground floor, are the Sobstvennaya Plovina, the former private apartments of Nicholas First. The extraterrestrials are there."

"You're sure? The others weren't sure."

"That's where they are."

"How can we get to them?"

"We can't. Possibly you can. I can take you only so far. The front entrance is strongly guarded, we are going to have to enter the Great Palace from the rear, through the Teremni Palace. You remember your maps?"

"I think so."

They strode rapidly from the museum through a major courtyard. Hank to the right and a step behind the uniformed guard.

The other was saying, "The Teremni preceded the Great Palace. One of its walls was used to become the rear of the later structure. We can enter it fairly freely."

They entered through another smaller doorway a hundred feet or more from the main entrance, climbed a short marble stairway and turned right down an ornate corridor, tapestry hung. They pa.s.sed occasionally other uniformed guards, none of whom paid them any attention.

They pa.s.sed through three joined rooms, each heavily furnished in Seventeenth Century style, each thick with icons. The guide brought them up abruptly at a small door.

He said, an air almost of defiance in his tone, "I go no further. Through this door and you are in the Great Palace, in the bathroom of the apartments of Catherine Second. You remember your maps?"

"Yes," Hank said.

"I hope so." The guard hesitated. "You are armed?"

"No. We were afraid that my things might be thoroughly searched. Had a gun been found on me, my mission would have been over then and there."

The guard produced a heavy military revolver, offered it b.u.t.t foremost.

But Hank shook his head. "Thanks. But if it comes to the point where I'd need a gun--I've already failed. I'm here to talk, not to shoot."

The guard nodded. "Perhaps you're right. Now, I repeat. On the other side of this door is the bathroom of the Czarina's apartments. Beyond it is her paradnaya divannaya, her dressing room and beyond that the Ekaterininskaya sala, the throne room of Catherine Second. It is probable that there will be n.o.body in any of these rooms. Beyond that, I do not know."

He ended abruptly with "Good luck," turned and scurried away.

"Thanks," Hank Kuran said after him. He turned and tried the door-k.n.o.b. Inwardly he thought, All right Henry Kuran. Hennessey said you had a reputation for being able to think on your feet. Start thinking. Thus far all you've been called on to do is exchange low-level banter with a bevy of pro-commie critics of the United States. Now the chips are down.

The apartments of the long dead czarina were empty. He pushed through them and into the corridor beyond.

And came to a quick halt.

Halfway down the hall, Loo Motlamelle crouched over a uniformed, crumpled body. He looked up at Hank Kuran's approach, startled, a fighting man at bay. His lips thinned back over his teeth. A black thumb did something to the weapon he held in his hand.

Hank said throatily, "Is he dead?"

Loo shook his head, his eyes coldly wary. "No. I slugged him."

Hank said, "What are you doing here?"

Loo came erect. "It occurs to me that I'm evidently doing the same thing you are."

But the dull metal gun in his hand was negligently at the ready and his eyes were cold, cold. It came to Hank that banjos on the levee were very far away.

This lithe fighting man said tightly, "You know where we are? Exactly where we are? I'm not sure."

Hank said, "In the hall outside the Sobstvennaya Plovina of the Bolshoi Kremlevski Dvorets. The czar's private apartments. And how did you get here?"

"The hard way," Loo said softly. His eyes darted up and down the corridor. "I can't figure out why there aren't more guards. I don't like this. You're armed?"

"No," Hank said.

Loo grinned down at his own weapon. "One of us is probably making a mistake but we both seem to have gotten this far. By the way, I'm Inter-Commonwealth Security. You're C.I.A., aren't you? Talk fast, Hank, we're either a team from now on, or I've got to do something about you."

"Special mission for the President," Hank said. "Why didn't we spot each other sooner?"

Loo grinned again in deprecation. "Evidently because we're both good operatives. If I've got this right, the extraterrestrials are somewhere in here."

Hank started down the corridor. There was no time to go into the whys and wherefores of Loo's mission. It must be approximately the same as his own. "There are some private apartments in this direction," he said over his shoulder. "They must be quartered--"

A door off the corridor opened and a tall, thin, ludicrously garbed man-- Hank pulled himself up quickly, both mentally and physically. It was no man. It was almost a man--but no.

Loo's weapon was already at the alert.

The newcomer unhurriedly looked from one of them to the other. Then down at the Russian guard sprawled on the floor behind them.

He said in Russian, "Always violence. The sadness of violence. When faced with crisis, threaten violence if outpointed. Your race has much to learn." He switched to English. "But this is probably your language, isn't it?"

Loo gaped at him. The man from s.p.a.ce was almost as dark complected as the Negro.

The extraterrestrial stepped to one side and indicated the room behind him "Please enter, I a.s.sume you've come looking for us."

They entered the ornate bedroom.

The extraterrestrial said, "Is the man dead?"

Loo said, "No. Merely stunned."

The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 97

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The Golden Age Of Science Fiction Vol Iv Part 97 summary

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