Who?

Who?

by Algis Budrys

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781497653092
Publisher: Open Road Media
Publication date: 02/02/2016
Sold by: Barnes & Noble
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 315
Sales rank: 463,928
File size: 1 MB

About the Author

Algis Budrys (1931–2008) was born in Königsberg, East Prussia, where his father served in the Lithuanian diplomatic corps. The family came to the United States when Budrys was five years old. A Renaissance man, he wrote stories and novels, and was an editor, critic, and reviewer, a teacher of aspiring writers, and a publisher. In the 1960s Budrys worked in public relations, advertising products such as pickles, tuna fish, and four-wheel-drive vehicles. His science fiction novels include Rogue Moon, Hard Landing, Falling Torch, and many others. His Cold War science fiction thriller Who? was adapted for the screen, and he received many award nominations for his work. Budrys was married to his wife, Edna, for almost fifty-four years.
 

Read an Excerpt

Who?


By Algis Budrys

OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA

Copyright © 1958 Algis Budrys
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-1-4976-5309-2


CHAPTER 1

I

It was near the middle of the night. The wind came up from the river, moaning under the filigreed iron bridges, and the weathercocks on the dark old buildings pointed their heads north.

The Military Police sergeant in charge had lined up his receiving squad on either side of the cobbled street. Blocking the street was a weathered concrete gateway with a black-and-white striped wooden rail. The headlights of the M.P. super-jeeps and of the waiting Allied Nations Government sedan glinted from the raised shatterproof riot visors on the squad's varnished helmets. Over their heads was a sign, fluorescing in the lights:

YOU ARE LEAVING THE ALLIED SPHERE
YOU ARE ENTERING THE SOVIET SOCIALIST SPHERE


In the parked sedan, Shawn Rogers sat waiting with a man from the ANG Foreign Ministry beside him. Rogers was Security Chief for this sector of the ANG administered Central European Frontier District. He waited patiently, his light green eyes brooding in the dark.

The Foreign Ministry representative looked at his thin gold wristwatch. 'They'll be here with him in a minute.' He drummed his fingertips on his briefcase. 'If they keep to their schedule.'

'They'll be on time,' Rogers said. 'That's the way they are. They held him four months, but now they'll be on time to prove their good faith all along.' He looked out through the windscreen, past the silent driver's shoulders, at the gateway. The Soviet border guards on the other side – Slavs and stumpy Asiatics in shapeless quilted jackets – were ignoring the Allied squad. They were clustered around a fire in an oil drum in front of their checkpoint shack, holding their hands out to the warmth. Their shroud-barrelled sub-machine-guns were slung over their shoulders, hanging clumsily and unhandily. They were talking and joking, and none of them were bothering to watch the frontier.

'Look at them,' the Foreign Ministry man said peevishly. 'They don't care what we do. They're not concerned if we drive up with an armed squad.'

The Foreign Ministry man was from Geneva, five hundred kilometres away. Rogers had been here, in this sector, for seven years. He shrugged. 'We're all old acquaintances by now. This frontier's been here forty years. They know we're not going to start shooting, any more than they are. This isn't where the war is.'

He looked at the clustered Soviets again, remembering a song he'd heard years ago: 'Give the Comrade With the Machine Gun the Right to Speak.' He wondered if they knew of that song, over on their side of the line. There were many things on the other side of the line that he wanted to know. But there was little hope for it.

The war was in all the world's filing cabinets. The weapon was information: things you knew, things you'd found out about them, things they knew about you. You sent people over the line, or you had them planted from years ago, and you probed. Not many of your people got through. Some of them might. So you put together the little scraps of what you'd found out, hoping it wasn't too garbled, and in the end, if you were clever, you knew what the Soviets were going to do next.

And they probed back. Not many of their people got through – at least, you could be reasonably sure they didn't – but, in the end, they found out what you were going to do next. So neither side did anything. You probed, back and forth, and the deeper you tried to go, the harder it was. For a little distance on either side of the line, there was some light. Farther on, there was only a dark fog. And some day, you had to hope, the balance would break in your favour.

The Foreign Ministry man was taking out his impatience in talk. 'Why the devil did we give Martino a laboratory so near the border in the first place?'

Rogers shook his head. 'I don't know. I don't handle strategy.'

'Well, why couldn't we get a rescue team of our own in there after the explosion?'

'We did. Theirs just got in first. They moved fast and took him away.' And he wondered if that had been a simple piece of luck.

'Why couldn't we take him back from them?'

'I don't handle tactics on that level. I imagine we might have had trouble, though, kidnapping a seriously hurt man out of hospital.' And the man was an American national. Suppose he'd died? The Soviet propaganda teams would have gone to work on the Americans, and when the next ANG bill came up in their Congress, they might not be so quick with their share of next year's budget. Rogers grunted to himself. It was that kind of war.

'I think it's a ridiculous situation. An important man like Martino in their hands, and we're helpless. It's absurd.'

'That's the kind of thing that gives you your work to do, isn't it?'

The Foreign Ministry representative changed his tack. 'I wonder how he's taking it? He was rather badly knocked about in the explosion, I understand.'

'Well, he's convalescent now.'

'I'm told he lost an arm. But I imagine they'll have taken care of that. They're quite good at prosthetics, you know. Why, as far back as the nineteen forties, they were keeping dogs' heads alive with mechanical hearts and so forth.'

'Mm.' A man disappears over the line, Rogers was thinking, and you send out people to find him. Little by little, the reports come trickling in. He's dead, they say. He's lost an arm, but he's alive. He's dying. We don't know where he is. He's been shipped to Novoya Moskva. He's right here, in this city, in a hospital. At least, they've got somebody in a hospital here. What hospital?

Nobody knows. You're not going to find out any more. You give what you have to the Foreign Ministry, and the negotiations start. Your side closes down a highway across the line. Their side almost shoots down a plane. Your side impounds some fishing boats. And finally, not so much because of anything your side had done but for some reason of their own, their side gives in.

And all this time, a man from your side has been lying in one of their hospitals, broken and hurt, waiting for you to do something.

'There's a rumour he was quite close to completing something called a K-Eighty-eight,' the Foreign Ministry man went on. 'We had orders not to press too hard, for fear they'd realize how important he was. That is, in the event they didn't already know. But, of course, we were to get him back, so we couldn't go too soft. Delicate business.'

'I can imagine.'

'Do you think they got the K-Eighty-eight out of him?'

'They have a man on their side called Azarin. He's very good.' How can I possibly know until I've talked to Martino? But Azarin's damned good. And I wonder if we shouldn't run this gossip through another security check?

Out beyond the gateway, two headlights loomed up, turned sideways, and stopped. The rear door of a Tatra limousine snapped open, and at the same time one of the Soviet guards went over to the gate and flipped the rail up. The Allied M.P. sergeant called his men to attention.

Rogers and the Foreign Ministry representative got out of their car.

A man stepped out of the Tatra and came to the gateway. He hesitated at the border and then walked forward quickly between the two rows of M.P.s.

'Good God!' the Foreign Ministry man whispered.

The lights glittered in a spray of bluish reflection from the man in the gateway. He was mostly metal.


II

He was wearing one of their shapeless drab civilian suits, with lumpy shoes and a striped brown shirt. His sleeves were too short, and his hands hung far out. One was flesh and one was not. His skull was a polished metal ovoid, completely featureless except for a grille where his mouth ought to be and a half-moon recess, curving upwards at the ends, where his eyes lurked. He stood, looking ill at ease, at the end of two rows of soldiers. Rogers came up to him, holding out his hand. 'Lucas Martino?'

The man nodded. 'Yes.' It was his right hand that was still good. He reached up and took Rogers's hand. His grip was strong and anxious. 'I'm very glad to be here.'

'My name's Rogers. This is Mr Haller, of the Foreign Ministry.'

Haller shook Martino's hand automatically, staring.

'How do you do?' Martino said.

'Very well, thank you,' the Foreign Ministry man mumbled. 'And you?'

'The car's over here, Mr Martino,' Rogers cut in. 'I'm with the sector Security office. I'd appreciate it if you came with me. The sooner I interview you, the sooner this'll be completely over.' Rogers touched Martino's shoulder and urged him lightly towards the sedan.

'Yes, of course. There's no need delaying.' The man matched Rogers's quick pace and slipped in ahead of him at his gesture. Haller climbed in on the other side of Martino, and then the driver wheeled the car around and started them rolling for Rogers's office. Behind them, the M.P.s got into their jeeps and followed. Rogers looked back through the car's rear window. The Soviet border guards were staring after them.

Martino sat stiffly against the upholstery, his hands in his lap. 'It feels wonderful to be back,' he said in a strained voice.

'I should think so,' Haller said. 'After what they –'

'I think Mr Martino's only saying what he feels is expected of people in these situations, Mr Haller. I doubt very much if he feels wonderful about anything.'

Haller looked at Rogers with a certain shock. 'You're quite blunt, Mr Rogers.'

'I feel blunt.'

Martino looked from one to the other. 'Please don't let me unsettle you,' he said. 'I'm sorry to be a source of upset. Perhaps it would help if I said I knew what I looked like, and that I, for one, am used to it.'

'Sorry,' Rogers said. 'I didn't mean to start a squabble around you.'

'Please accept my apologies, as well,' Haller added. 'I realize that, in my own way, I was being just as rude as Mr Rogers.'

Martino said, 'And so now we've all apologized to each other.'

So we have, Rogers thought. Everybody's sorry.

They pulled into the ramp which served the side door of Rogers's office building, and the driver stopped the car. 'All right, Mr Martino, this is where we get out,' Rogers told the man. 'Haller, you'll be checking into your office right away?'

'Immediately, Mr Rogers.'

'OK. I guess your boss and my boss can start getting together on policy towards this.'

'I'm quite sure my Ministry's role in this case was concluded with Mr Martino's safe return,' Haller said delicately. 'I intend to go to bed after I make my report. Good night, Rogers. Pleasure working with you.'

'Of course.' They shook hands briefly, and Rogers followed Martino out of the car and through the side door.

'He washed his hands of me rather quickly, didn't he?' Martino commented as Rogers directed him down a flight of steps into the basement.

Rogers grunted. 'Through this door, please, Mr Martino.'

They came out into a narrow, door-lined corridor with painted concrete walls and a grey linoleum tile floor. Rogers stopped and looked at the doors for a moment. 'That one'll do, I guess. Please come in here with me, Mr Martino.' He took a bunch of keys out of his pocket and unlocked the door.

The room inside was small. It had a cot pushed against one wall, neatly made up with a white pillow and a tightly stretched army blanket. There was a small table, and one chair. An overhead bulb lit the room, and in a side wall there were two doors, one leading to a small closet and the other opening on a compact bathroom.

Martino looked around. 'Is this where you always conduct your interviews with returnees?' he asked mildly.

Rogers shook his head. 'I'm afraid not. I'll have to ask you to stay here for the time being.' He stepped out of the room without giving Martino an opportunity to react. He closed and locked the door.

He relaxed a little. He leaned against the door's solid metal and lit a cigarette with only a faint tremor in his fingertips. Then he walked quickly down the corridor to the automatic elevator and up to the floor where his office was. As he snapped on the lights, his mouth twisted at the thought of what his staff would say when he started calling them out of their beds.

He picked up the telephone on his desk. But first, he had to talk to Deptford, the District Chief. He dialled the number.

Deptford answered almost immediately. 'Hello?' Rogers had expected him to be awake.

'Rogers, Mr Deptford.'

'Hello, Shawn. I've been waiting for your call. Everything go all right with Martino?'

'No, sir. I need an emergency team down here as fast as possible. I want a whatdyoucallit – a man who knows about miniature mechanical devices – with as many assistants authorized as he needs. I want a surveillance device expert. And a psychologist. With the same additional staff authorization for the last two. I want the three key men tonight or tomorrow morning. How much of a staff they'll need'll be up to them, but I want the authorization in so there won't be any red tape to hold them up. I wish to hell nobody had ever thought of pumping key personnel full of truth-drug allergens.'

'Rogers, what is this? What went wrong? Your offices aren't equipped for any such project as that.'

'I'm sorry, sir. I don't dare move him. There's too many sensitive places in this city. I got him over here and into a cell, and I made damned sure he didn't even get near my office. God knows what he might be after, or can do.'

'Rogers – did Martino come over the line tonight or didn't he?'

Rogers hesitated. 'I don't know,' he said.


III

Rogers ignored the room full of waiting men and sat looking down at the two dossiers, not so much thinking as gathering his energy.

Both dossiers were open at the first page. One was thick, full of security check breakdowns, reports, career progress resumes, and all the other data that accumulate around a government employee through the years. It was labelled Martino, Lucas Anthony. The first page was made up of the usual identification statistics: height, weight, colour of eyes, colour of hair, date of birth, fingerprints, dental chart, distinguishing marks and scars. There was a set of standard nude photographs; front, back, and both profiles of a heavy-set, muscular man with controlled, pleasantly intelligent features and a slightly thickened nose.

The second dossier was much thinner. As yet, there was nothing in the folder but the photographs, and it was unlabelled beyond a note: See Martino, L. A. (?) The photographs showed a heavy-set, muscular man with broad scars running diagonally up from his left side, across his chest and around his back and both shoulders, like a ropy shawl. His left arm was mechanical up to the top of the shoulder, and seemed to have been grafted directly into his pectoral and dorsal musculature. He had thick scars around the base of his throat, and that metal head.

Rogers stood up behind his desk and looked at the waiting special team. 'Well?'

Barrister, the English servomechanisms engineer, took the bit of his pipe out of his teeth. 'I don't know. It's quite hard to tell on the basis of a few hours' tests.' He took a deep breath. 'As a matter of exact fact, I'm running tests but I've no idea what they'll show, if anything, or how soon.' He gestured helplessly. 'There's no getting at someone in his condition. There's no penetrating his surface, as it were. Half our instruments're worthless. There're so many electrical components in his mechanical parts that any readings we take are hopelessly blurred. We can't even do so simple a thing as determine the amperage they used. It hurts him to have us try.' He dropped his voice apologetically. 'It makes him scream.'

Rogers grimaced. 'But he is Martino?'

Barrister shrugged.

Rogers suddenly slammed his fist against the top of his desk. 'What the hell are we going to do?'

'Get a can opener,' Barrister suggested.

In the silence, Finchley, who was on loan to Rogers from the American Federal Bureau of Investigation, said, 'Look at this.'

He touched a switch and the film projector he'd brought began to hum while he went over and dimmed the office lights. He pointed the projector towards a blank wall and started the film running. 'Overhead pickup,' he explained. 'Infra-red lighting. We believe he can't see it. We think he was asleep.'


(Continues...)

Excerpted from Who? by Algis Budrys. Copyright © 1958 Algis Budrys. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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