Combat, p.1Jackson Gregory
Produced by Sankar Viswanathan, Greg Weeks, and the OnlineDistributed Proofreading Team at https://www.pgdp.net
This etext was produced from Analog Science Fact & Fiction October 1960. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S. copyright on this publication was renewed.
By MACK REYNOLDS
Illustrated by Schoenherr
_An Alien landing on Earth might be readily misled, victimized by a one-sided viewpoint. And then again ... it might be the Earthmen who were misled...._
* * * * *
Henry Kuran answered a nod here and there, a called out greeting froma desk an aisle removed from the one along which he was progressing,finally made the far end of the room. He knocked at the door andpushed his way through before waiting a response.
There were three desks here. He didn't recognize two of the girls wholooked up at his entry. One of them began to say something, but thenBetty, whose desk dominated the entry to the inner sanctum, grinned awelcome at him and said, "Hank! How was Peru? We've been expectingyou."
"Full of Incas," he grinned back. "Incas, Russkies and Chinks. A poorcapitalist _conquistador_ doesn't have a chance. Is the boss inside?"
"He's waiting for you, Hank. See you later."
Hank said, "Um-m-m," and when the door clicked in response to thebutton Betty touched, pushed his way into the inner office.
Morton Twombly, chief of the department, came to his feet, shook handsabruptly and motioned the other to a chair.
"How're things in Peru, Henry?" His voice didn't express too muchreal interest.
Hank said, "We were on the phone just a week ago, Mr. Twombly. It'sabout the same. No, the devil it is. The Chinese have just run intheir new People's Car. They look something like our jeepstation-wagons did fifteen years ago."
Twombly stirred in irritation. "I've heard about them."
Hank took his handkerchief from his breast pocket and polished hisrimless glasses. He said evenly, "They sell for just under two hundreddollars."
"Two hundred dollars?" Twombly twisted his face. "They can't transportthem from China for that."
"Here we go again," Hank sighed. "They also can't sell pressurecookers for a dollar apiece, nor cameras with f.2 lenses for fivebucks. Not to speak of the fact that the Czechs can't sell shoes forfifty cents a pair and, of course, the Russkies can't sell premiumgasoline for five cents a gallon."
Twombly muttered, "They undercut our prices faster than we can votethrough new subsidies. Where's it going to end Henry?"
"I don't know. Perhaps we should have thought a lot more about it tenor fifteen years ago when the best men our universities could turn outwent into advertising, show business and sales--while the best men theRusskies and Chinese could turn out were going into science andindustry." As a man who worked in the field Hank Kuran occasionallygot bitter about these things, and didn't mind this opportunity ofsounding off at the chief.
Hank added, "The height of achievement over there is to be elected tothe Academy of Sciences. Our young people call scientists egg-heads,and their height of achievement is to become a TV singer or a moviestar."
Morton Twombly shot his best field man a quick glance. "You sound asthough you need a vacation, Henry."
Henry Kuran laughed. "Don't mind me, chief. I got into a hassle withthe Hungarians last week and I'm in a bad frame of mind."
Twombly said, "Well, we didn't bring you back to Washington for atrade conference."
"I gathered that from your wire. What _am_ I here for?"
Twombly pushed his chair back and came to his feet. It occurred toHank Kuran that his chief had aged considerably since the forming ofthis department nearly ten years ago. The thought went through hismind, _a general in the cold war. A general who's been in action for adecade, has never won more than a skirmish and is currently in fullretreat._
Morton Twombly said, "I'm not sure I know. Come along."
They left the office by a back door and Hank was in unknown territory.Silently his chief led him through busy corridors, each one identicalto the last, each sterile and cold in spite of the bustling. They cameto a marine guarded door, were passed through, once again obviouslyexpected.
The inner office contained but one desk occupied by a youthfully briskarmy major. He gave Hank a one-two of the eyes and said, "Mr.Hennessey is expecting you, sir. This is Mr. Kuran?"
"That's correct," Twombly said. "I won't be needed." He turned to HankKuran. "I'll see you later, Henry." He shook hands.
Hank frowned at him. "You sound as though I'm being sent off toSiberia, or something."
The major looked up sharply, "What was that?"
Twombly made a motion with his hand, negatively. "Nothing. A joke.I'll see you later, Henry." He turned and left.
The major opened another door and ushered Hank into a room two orthree times the size of Twombly's office. Hank formed a silent whistleand then suddenly knew where he was. This was the sanctum sanctorum ofSheridan Hennessey. Sheridan Hennessey, right arm, hatchetman, _alterego_, one man brain trust--of two presidents in succession.
And there he was, seated in a heavy armchair. Hank had known of hisillness, that the other had only recently risen from his hospital bedand against doctor's orders. But somehow he hadn't expected to see himthis wasted. TV and newsreel cameramen had been kind.
However, the waste had not as yet extended to either eyes or voice.Sheridan Hennessey bit out, "That'll be all, Roy," and the major leftthem.
* * * * *
"Sit down," Hennessey said. "You're Henry Kuran. That's not a Russianname is it?"
Hank found a chair. "It was Kuranchov. My father Americanized it whenhe was married." He added, "About once every six months someDepartment of Justice or C.I.A. joker runs into the fact that my namewas originally Russian and I'm investigated all over again."
Hennessey said, "But your Russian is perfect?"
"Yes, sir. My mother was English-Irish, but we lived in a communitywith quite a few Russian born emigrants. I learned the language."
"Good, Mr. Kuran, how would you like to die for your country?"
Hank Kuran looked at him for a long moment. He said slowly, "I'mthirty-two years old, healthy and reasonably adjusted and happy. I'dhate it."
The sick man snorted. "That's exactly the right answer. I don't trustheroes. Now, how much have you heard about the extraterrestrials?"
"I beg your pardon?"
"You haven't heard the news broadcasts the past couple of days? Howthe devil could you have missed them?" Hennessey was scowling sourlyat him.
Hank Kuran didn't know what the other was talking about. "Two days agoI was in the town of Machu Picchu in the Andes trying to peddle somemining equipment to the Peruvians. Peddle it, hell. I was practicallytrying to give it away, but it was still even-steven that theHungarians would undersell me. Then I got a hurry-up wire from MortonTwombly to return to Washington soonest. I flew here in an Air Forcejet. I haven't heard any news for two days or more."
"I'll have the major get you all the material we have to date and youcan read it on the plane to England."
"Plane to England?" Hank said blankly. "Look, I'm in the Department ofEconomic Development of Neutral Nations, specializing in SouthAmerica. What would I be doing in England?" He had an uneasy feelingof being crowded, and a suspicion that this was far from the firsttime Sheridan Hennessey had ridden roughshod over subordinates.
"First step on the way to Moscow," Hennessey snapped. "The major willgive you details later. Let me brief you. The extraterrestrials landeda couple of days ago on Red Square in s
Hank Kuran was bug-eying him.
Hennessey said, "I know. Most of the time I don't believe it myself.The extraterrestrials represent what the Russkies are calling aGalactic Confederation. So far as we can figure out, there is somesort of league, United Planets, or whatever you want to call it, ofother star systems which have achieved a certain level of scientificdevelopment."
"Well ... well, why haven't they shown up before?"
"Possibly they have, through the ages. If so, they kept their presencesecret, checked on our development and left." Hennessey snorted hisindignation. "See here, Kuran, I have no details. All of ourinformation comes from Tass, and you can imagine how inadequate thatis. Now shut up while I tell you what little I do know."
Henry Kuran settled back into his chair, feeling limp. He'd had toomany curves thrown at him in the past few minutes to assimilate.
"They evidently keep hands off until a planet develops interplanetaryexploration and atomic power. And, of course, during the past fewyears our Russkie pals have not only set up a base on the Moon buthave sent off their various expeditions to Venus and Mars."
"None of them made it," Hank said.
"Evidently they didn't have to. At any rate, the plenipotentiariesfrom the Galactic Confederation have arrived."
"Wanting what, sir?" Hank said.
"Wanting nothing but to help." Hennessey said. "Stop interrupting. Ourtime is limited. You're going to have to be on a jet for London inhalf an hour."
He noticed Hank Kuran's expression, and shook his head. "No, it's notfarfetched. These other intelligent life forms must be familiar withwhat it takes to progress to the point of interplanetary travel. Ittakes species aggressiveness--besides intelligence. And they must havesense enough not to want the wrong kind of aggressiveness explodinginto the stars. They don't want an equivalent of Attila bursting overthe borders of the Roman Empire. They want to channel us, and they'rewilling to help, to direct our comparatively new science into pathsthat won't conflict with them. They want to bring us peacefully intotheir society of advanced life forms."
Sheridan Hennessey allowed himself a rueful grimace. "That makes quitea speech, doesn't it? At any rate, that's the situation."
"Well, where do I come into this? I'm afraid I'm on the bewilderedside."
"Yes. Well, damn it, they've landed in Moscow. They've evidentlyassumed the Soviet complex--the Soviet Union, China and thesatellites--are the world's dominant power. Our conflicts, ourcontroversies, are probably of little, if any, interest to them.Inadvertently, they've put a weapon in the hands of the Soviets thatcould well end this cold war we've been waging for more thantwenty-five years now."
The president's right-hand man looked off into a corner of the room,unseeingly. "For more than a decade it's been a bloodless combat thatwe've been waging against the Russkies. The military machines, equallycapable of complete destruction of the other, have been stymiedFinally it's boiled down to an attempt to influence the neutrals,India, Africa, South America, to attempt to bring them into one campor the other. Thus far, we've been able to contain them in spite oftheir recent successes. But given the prestige of being selected thedominant world power by the extraterrestrials and in possession of thescience and industrial know-how from the stars, they'll have won thecold war over night."
His old eyes flared. "You want to know where you come in, eh? Fine.Your job is to get to these Galactic Confederation emissaries and puta bug in their bonnet. Get over to them that there's more than onemajor viewpoint on this planet. Get them to investigate our side ofthe matter."
"Get to them how? If the Russkies--"
Hennessey was tired. The flash of spirit was fading. He lifted a thinhand. "One of my assistants is crossing the Atlantic with you. He'llgive you the details."
"But why _me_? I'm strictly a--"
"You're an unknown in Europe. Never connected with espionage. Youspeak Russian like a native. Morton Twombly says you're his best man.Your records show that you can think on your feet, and that's what weneed above all."
Hank Kuran said flatly, "You might have asked for volunteers."
"We did. You, you and you. The old army game," Hennessey said wearily."Mr. Kuran, we're in the clutch. We can lose, forever--right now.Right in the next month or so. Consider yourself a soldier beingthrown into the most important engagement the world has everseen--combating the growth of the Soviets. We can't afford suchluxuries as asking for volunteers. Now do you get it?"
Hank Kuran could feel impotent anger rising inside him. He was offbalance. "I get it, but I don't like it."
"None of us do," Sheridan Hennessey said sourly. "Do you think any ofus do?" He must have pressed a button.
From behind them the major's voice said briskly, "Will you come thisway, 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 behindthe Iron Curtain before, have you Kuran?"
"No," Hank said. "I thought that term was passe. Look, aren't we evengoing to my hotel for my things?"
The second C.I.A. man, the older one, said, "All your gear will bewaiting for you in London. They'll be sure there's nothing in it totip off the KGB if they go through your bags."
The younger one said, "We're not sure, things are moving fast, but wesuspect that that term, Iron Curtain, applies again."
"Then how am I going to get in?" Hank said irritably. "I've had nobackground for this cloak and dagger stuff."
The older C.I.A. man said, "We understand the KGB has increasedsecurity measures but they haven't cut out all travel on the part ofnon-Communists."
The other one said, "Probably because the Russkies don't want to tipoff the spacemen that they're being isolated from the westerncountries. It would be too conspicuous if suddenly all westerntravelers disappeared."
They were passing over the Potomac, to the right and below them HankKuran could make out the twin Pentagons, symbols of a military thathad at long last by its very efficiency eliminated itself. War hadfinally progressed to the point where even a minor nation, such asCuba or Portugal, could completely destroy the whole planet.Eliminated wasn't quite the word. In spite of their sterility, themilitary machines still claimed their million masses of men, stilldrained 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 youin as a tourist. As inconspicuous a tourist as we can make you. Forfifteen years the Russkies have boomed their tourist trade--all forpropaganda, of course. Now they're in no position to turn this touristflood 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 getme to Moscow as a tourist. What do I do then? I keep telling youjokers that I don't know a thing about espionage. I don't know asecret code from judo."
"That's one reason the chief picked you. Not only do the Russkies havenothing on you in their files--neither do our own people. You're safefrom betrayal. There are exactly six people who know your mission andonly one of them is in Moscow."
The C.I.A. man shook his head. "You'll never meet him. But he's makingthe 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 somethingbut 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 aSoviet underground is there and getting stronger. You've heard of the_stilyagi_ and the _metrofanushka_?"
Hank nodded. "Moscow's equivalent to the juvenile delinquents, or theTeddy 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 _stilya
"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 anunderground job and the police pick you up. They find out you're ajuvenile delinquent, figure you've been out getting drunk, and tossyou into jail for a week. It's better than winding up in front of afiring squad as a counterrevolutionary, or a Trotskyite, or whateverthey're currently calling anybody they shoot."
The chauffeur rapped on the glass that divided their seat from his,and motioned ahead.
"Here's the airport," Jimmy said. "We'll drive right over to theplane. Hid your face with your hat, just for luck."
"Wait a minute, now," Hank said. "Listen, how do I contact these beatgeneration characters?"
"You don't. They contact you."
"That's up to them. Maybe they won't at all;
Combat by Jackson Gregory / Science Fiction have rating 3.6 out of 5 / Based on18 votes