Almost at once, there was a new sound--a multiple throbbing, at a quick, snarling tempo that hinted at enormous power, growing louder each second. Hradzka stiffened and drew his blaster; as he did, five more aircraft swooped over the crest of the mountain and came rushing down toward him; not aimlessly, but as though they knew exactly where he was. As they approached, the leading edges of their wings sparkled with light, branches began flying from the trees about him, and there was a loud hammering noise.
He aimed a little in front of them and began blasting. A wing flew from one of the aircraft, and it plunged downward. Another came apart in the air; a third burst into flames. The other two zoomed upward quickly. Hradzka swung his blaster after them, blasting again and again. He hit a fourth with a blast of energy, knocking it to pieces, and then the fifth was out of range. He blasted at it twice, but without effect; a hand-blaster was only good for a thousand yards at the most.
Holstering his weapon, he hurried away, following the stream and keeping under cover of trees. The last of the attacking aircraft had gone away, but the little scout-plane was still circling about, well out of blaster-range.
Once or twice, Hradzka was compelled to stay hidden for some time, not knowing the nature of the pilot's ability to detect him. It was during one of these waits that the next phase of the attack developed.
It began, like the last one, with a distant roar that swelled in volume until it seemed to fill the whole world. Then, fifteen or twenty thousand feet out of blaster-range, the new attackers swept into sight.
There must have been fifty of them, huge tapering things with wide-spread wings, flying in close formation, wave after V-shaped wave. He stood and stared at them, amazed; he had never imagined that such aircraft existed in the First Century. Then a high-pitched screaming sound cut through the roar of the propellers, and for an instant he saw countless small specks in the sky, falling downward.
The first bomb-salvo landed in the young pines, where he had fought against the first air attack. Great gouts of flame shot upward, and smoke, and flying earth and debris. Hradzka turned and started to run. Another salvo fell in front of him; he veered to the left and plunged on through the undergrowth. Now the bombs were falling all about him, deafening him with their thunder, shaking him with concussion. He dodged, frightened, as the trunk of a tree came crashing down beside him. Then something hit him across the back, knocking him flat. For a moment, he lay stunned, then tried to rise. As he did, a searing light filled his eyes and a wave of intolerable heat swept over him. Then darkness...
"No, Zarvas Pol," Kradzy Zago repeated. "Hradzka will not return; the 'time-machine' was sabotaged."
"So? By you?" the soldier asked.
The scientist nodded. "I knew the purpose for which he intended it. Hradzka was not content with having enslaved a whole Solar System: he hungered to bring tyranny and serfdom to all the past and all the future as well; he wanted to be master not only of the present but of the centuries that were and were to be, as well. I never took part in politics, Zarvas Pol; I had no hand in this revolt. But I could not be party to such a crime as Hradzka contemplated when it lay within my power to prevent it."
"The machine will take him out of our space-time continuum, or back to a time when this planet was a swirling cloud of flaming gas?" Zarvas Pol asked.
Kradzy Zago shook his head. "No, the unit is not powerful enough for that. It will only take him about ten thousand years into the past. But then, when it stops, the machine will destroy itself. It may destroy Hradzka with it or he may escape. But if he does, he will be left stranded ten thousand years ago, when he can do us no harm.
"Actually, it did not operate as he imagined and there is an infinitely small chance that he could have returned to our 'time', in any event. But I wanted to insure against even so small a chance."
"We can't be sure of that," Zarvas Pol objected. "He may know more about the machine than you think; enough more to build another like it. So you must build me a machine and I'll take back a party of volunteers and hunt him down."
"That would not be necessary, and you would only share his fate." Then, apparently changing the subject, Kradzy Zago asked: "Tell me, Zarvas Pol; have you never heard the legends of the Deadly Radiations?"
General Zarvas smiled. "Who has not? Every cadet at the Officers' College dreams of re-discovering them, to use as a weapon, but nobody ever has. We hear these tales of how, in the early days, atomic engines and piles and fission-bombs emitted particles which were utterly deadly, which would make anything with which they came in contact deadly, which would bring a horrible death to any human being. But these are only myths. All the ancient experiments have been duplicated time and again, and the deadly radiation effect has never been observed. Some say that it is a mere old-wives' terror tale; some say that the deaths were caused by fear of atomic energy, when it was still unfamiliar; others contend that the fundamental nature of atomic energy has altered by the degeneration of the fissionable matter. For my own part, I'm not enough of a scientist to have an opinion."
The old one smiled wanly. "None of these theories are correct. In the beginning of the Atomic Era, the Deadly Radiations existed. They still exist, but they are no longer deadly, because all life on this planet has adapted itself to such radiations, and all living things are now immune to them."
"And Hradzka has returned to a time when such immunity did not exist? But would that not be to his advantage?"
"Remember, General, that man has been using atomic energy for ten thousand years. Our whole world has become drenched with radioactivity. The planet, the seas, the atmosphere, and every living thing, are all radioactive, now. Radioactivity is as natural to us as the air we breathe. Now, you remember hearing of the great wars of the first centuries of the Atomic Era, in which whole nations were wiped out, leaving only hundreds of survivors out of millions. You, no doubt, think that such tales are products of ignorant and barbaric imagination, but I assure you, they are literally true. It was not the blast-effect of a few bombs which created such holocausts, but the radiations released by the bombs. And those who survived to carry on the race were men and women whose systems resisted the radiations, and they transmitted to their progeny that power of resistance. In many cases, their children were mutants--not monsters, although there were many of them, too, which did not survive--but humans who were immune to radioactivity."
"An interesting theory, Kradzy Zago," the soldier commented. "And one which conforms both to what we know of atomic energy and to the ancient legends. Then you would say that those radiations are still deadly--to the non-immune?"
"Exactly. And Hradzka, his body emitting those radiations, has returned to the First Century of the Atomic Era--to a world without immunity."
General Zarvas' smile vanished. "Man!" he cried in horror. "You have loosed a carrier of death among those innocent people of the past!"
Kradzy Zago nodded. "That is true. I estimate that Hradzka will probably cause the death of a hundred or so people, before he is dealt with. But dealt with he will be. Tell me, General; if a man should appear now, out of nowhere, spreading a strange and horrible plague wherever he went, what would you do?"
"Why, I'd hunt him down and kill him," General Zarvas replied. "Not for anything he did, but for the menace he was. And then, I'd cover his body with a mass of concrete bigger than this palace."
"Precisely." Kradzy Zago smiled. "And the military commanders and political leaders of the First Century were no less ruthless or efficient than you. You know how atomic energy was first used? There was an ancient nation, upon the ruins of whose cities we have built our own, which was famed for its idealistic humanitarianism. Yet that nation, treacherously attacked, created the first atomic bombs in self defense, and used them. It is among the people of that nation that Hradzka has emerged."
"But would they recognize him as the cause of the calamity he brings among them?"
"Of course. He will emerge at the time when atomic energy is first being used. They will have detectors for the Deadly Radiations--detectors we know nothing of, today, for a detection instrument must be free from the thing it is intended to detect, and today everything is radioactive. It will be a day or so before they discover what is happening to them, and not a few will die in that time, I fear; but once they have found out what is killing their people, Hradzka's days--no, his hours--will be numbered."
"A mass of concrete bigger than this place," Tobbh the Slave repeated General Zarvas' words. "The Ancient Spaceport!"
Prince Burvanny clapped him on the shoulder. "Tobbh, man! You've hit it!"
"You mean...?" Kradzy Zago began.
"Yes. You all know of it. It's stood for nobody knows how many millennia, and nobody's ever decided what it was, to begin with, except that somebody, once, filled a valley with concrete, level from mountain-top to mountain-top. The accepted theory is that it was done for a firing-stand for the first Moon-rocket. But gentlemen, our friend Tobbh's explained it. It is the tomb of Hradzka, and it has been the tomb of Hradzka for ten thousand years before Hradzka was born!"
by MACK REYNOLDS
His assignment was to get things done; he definitely did so. Not quite the things intended, perhaps, but definitely done.
The knock at the door came in the middle of the night, as Josip Pekic had always thought it would. He had been but four years of age when the knock had come that first time and the three large men had given his father a matter of only minutes to dress and accompany them. He could barely remember his father.
The days of the police state were over, so they told you. The cult of the personality was a thing of the past. The long series of five-year plans and seven-year plans were over and all the goals had been achieved. The new constitution guaranteed personal liberties. No longer were you subject to police brutality at the merest whim. So they told you.
But fears die hard, particularly when they are largely of the subconscious. And he had always, deep within, expected the knock.
He was not mistaken. The rap came again, abrupt, impatient. Josip Pekic allowed himself but one chill of apprehension, then rolled from his bed, squared slightly stooped shoulders, and made his way to the door. He flicked on the light and opened up, even as the burly, empty faced zombi there was preparing to pound still again.
There were two of them, not three as he had always dreamed. As three had come for his father, more than two decades before.
His father had been a rightist deviationist, so the papers had said, a follower of one of whom Josip had never heard in any other context other than his father's trial and later execution. But he had not cracked under whatever pressures had been exerted upon him, and of that his son was proud.
He had not cracked, and in later years, when the cult of personality was a thing of the past, his name had been cleared and returned to the history books. And now it was an honor, rather than a disgrace, to be the son of Ljubo Pekic, who had posthumously been awarded the title Hero of the People's Democratic Dictatorship.
But though his father was now a hero, Josip still expected that knock. However, he was rather bewildered at the timing, having no idea of why he was to be under arrest.
The first of the zombi twins said expressionlessly, "Comrade Josip Pekic?"
If tremor there was in his voice, it was negligible. He was the son of Ljubo Pekic. He said, "That is correct. Uh ... to what do I owe this intrusion upon my privacy?" That last in the way of bravado.
The other ignored the question. "Get dressed and come with us, Comrade," he said flatly.
At least they still called him comrade. That was some indication, he hoped, that the charges might not be too serious.
He chose his dark suit. Older than the brown one, but in it he felt he presented a more self-possessed demeanor. He could use the quality. Five foot seven, slightly underweight and with an air of unhappy self-deprecation, Josip Pekic's personality didn't exactly dominate in a group. He chose a conservative tie and a white shirt, although he knew that currently some frowned upon white shirts as a bourgeois affectation. It was all the thing, these days, to look proletarian, whatever that meant.
The zombis stood, watching him emptily as he dressed. He wondered what they would have said had he asked them to wait in the hallway until he was finished. Probably nothing. They hadn't bothered to answer when he asked what the charge against him was.
He put his basic papers, his identity card, his student cards, his work record and all the rest in an inner pocket, and faced them. "I am ready," he said as evenly as he could make it come.
They turned and led the way down to the street and to the black limousine there. And in it was the third one, sitting in the front seat, as empty of face as the other two. He hadn't bothered to turn off the vehicle's cushion jets and allow it to settle to the street. He had known how very quickly his colleagues would reappear with their prisoner.
Josip Pekic sat in the back between the two, wondering just where he was being taken, and, above all, why. For the life of him he couldn't think of what the charge might be. True enough, he read the usual number of proscribed books, but no more than was common among other intellectuals, among the students and the country's avant garde, if such you could call it. He had attended the usual parties and informal debates in the coffee shops where the more courageous attacked this facet or that of the People's Dictatorship. But he belonged to no active organizations which opposed the State, nor did his tendencies attract him in that direction. Politics were not his interest.
At this time of the night, there was little traffic on the streets of Zagurest, and few parked vehicles. Most of those which had been rented for the day had been returned to the car-pool garages. It was the one advantage Josip could think of that Zagurest had over the cities of the West which he had seen. The streets were not cluttered with vehicles. Few people owned a car outright. If you required one, you had the local car pool deliver it, and you kept it so long as you needed transportation.
He had expected to head for the Kalemegdan Prison where political prisoners were traditionally taken, but instead, they slid off to the right at Partisan Square, and up the Boulevard of the November Revolution. Josip Pekic, in surprise, opened his mouth to say something to the security policeman next to him, but then closed it again and his lips paled. He knew where they were going, now. Whatever the charge against him, it was not minor.
A short kilometer from the park, the government buildings began. The Skupstina, the old Parliament left over from the days when Transbalkania was a backward, feudo-capitalistic power of third class. The National Bank, the new buildings of the Borba and the Politica. And finally, set back a hundred feet from the boulevard, the sullen, squat Ministry of Internal Affairs.
It had been built in the old days, when the Russians had still dominated the country, and in slavish imitation of the architectural horror known as Stalin Gothic. Meant to be above all efficient and imposing and winding up simply--grim.
Yes. Josip Pekic knew where they were going now.
The limousine slid smoothly on its cushion of air, up the curved driveway, past the massive iron statue of the worker struggling against the forces of reaction, a rifle in one hand, a wrench in the other and stopped before, at last, the well-guarded doorway.
Without speaking, the two police who had come to his room opened the car door and climbed out. One made a motion with his head, and Josip followed. The limousine slid away immediately.
Between them, he mounted the marble stairs. It occurred to him that this was the route his father must have taken, two decades before.
He had never been in the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, before. Few Transbalkanians had, other than those who were employed in the MVD, or who came under the Ministry's scrutiny.
Doors opened before them, closed behind them. Somewhat to Josip Pekic's surprise the place was copiously adorned with a surplus of metal and marble statues, paintings and tapestries. It had similarities to one of Zagurest's heavy museums.
Through doors and down halls and through larger rooms, finally to a smaller one in which sat alone at a desk a lean, competent and assured type who jittered over a heavy sheaf of papers with an electro-marking computer pen. He was nattily and immaculately dressed and smoked his cigarette in one of the small pipelike holders once made de rigueur through the Balkans by Marshal Tito.
The three of them came to a halt before his desk and, at long last, expression came to the faces of the zombis. Respect, with possibly an edge of perturbation. Here, obviously, was authority.
He at the desk finished a paper, tore it from the sheaf, pushed it into the maw of the desk chute from whence it would be transported to the auto-punch for preparation for recording. He looked up in busy impatience.
Then, to Josip Pekic's astonishment, the other came to his feet quickly, smoothly and with a grin on his face. Josip hadn't considered the possibility of being grinned at in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
"Aleksander Kardelj," he said in self-introduction, sticking out a lean hand to be shaken. "You're Pekic, eh? We've been waiting for you."
Josip shook, bewildered. He looked at the zombi next to him, uncomprehendingly.
He who had introduced himself, darted a look of comprehension from Josip to the two. He said disgustedly, but with mild humor oddly mixed, "What's the matter, did these hoodlums frighten you?"
Josip fingered his chin nervously. "Of course not."
One of the zombis shifted his feet. "We did nothing except obey orders."
Kardelj grimaced in sour amusement. "I can imagine," he grunted. "Milka, you see too many of those imported Telly shows from the West. I suspect you see yourself as a present day Transbalkanian G-Man."
"Yes, Comrade," Milka said, and then shook his head.
"Oh, hush up and get out," Kardelj said. He flicked the cigarette butt from its holder with a thumb and took up a fresh one from a desk humidor and wedged it into the small bowl. He looked at Josip and grinned again, the action giving his face an unsophisticated youthful expression.
"You can't imagine how pleased I am to meet you, at last," he said. "I've been looking for you for months."
Josip Pekic ogled him blankly. The name had come through to him at last. Aleksander Kardelj was seldom in the news, practically never photographed, and then in the background in a group of Party functionaries, usually with a wry smile on his face. But he was known throughout the boundaries of the State, if not internationally. Aleksander Kardelj was Number Two. Right-hand man of Zoran Jankez himself, second in command of the Party and rumored to be the brains behind the throne.
The zombis had gone, hurriedly.
"Looking for me?" Josip said blankly. "I haven't been in hiding. You've made some mistake. All I am is a student of--"
"Of course, of course," Kardelj said, humorously impatient. He took up a folder from his desk and shook it absently in Josip's general direction. "I've studied your dossier thoroughly." He flicked his eyes up at a wall clock. "Come along. Comrade Jankez is expecting us. We'll leave explanations until then."
In a daze, Josip Pekic followed him.
Comrade Jankez, Number One. Zoran Jankez, Secretary General of the Party, President of the U.B.S.R., the United Balkan Soviet Republics. Number One.
Josip could hardly remember so far back that Zoran Jankez wasn't head of the Party, when his face, or sculptured bust, wasn't to be seen in every store, on the walls of banks, railroad stations, barber shops, or bars. Never a newsreel but that part of it wasn't devoted to Comrade Jankez, never a Telly newscast but that Number One was brought to the attention of the viewers. His coming to power had been a quiet, bloodless affair upon the death of the Number One who had preceded him, and he had remained in his position for a generation.
Josip Pekic followed Aleksander Kardelj in a daze, through a door to the rear of the desk, and into a somewhat bigger room, largely barren of furniture save for a massive table with a dozen chairs about it. At the table, looking some ten years older than in any photo Josip had ever seen, sat Zoran Jankez.
He looked ten years older, and his face bore a heavy weariness, a grayness, that never came through in his publicity shots. He looked up from a report he was perusing and grunted a welcome to them.
Kardelj said in pleasurable enthusiasm, "Here he is, Zoran. Our Comrade Josip Pekic. The average young citizen of Transbalkania."
Number One grunted again, and took in the less than imposing figure of Josip Pekic. Josip felt an urge to nibble at his fingernails, and repressed it. He had recently broken himself of the smoking habit and was hard put to find occupation for his hands when nervous.
Zoran Jankez growled an invitation for them to be seated and Kardelj adjusted his trousers to preserve the crease, threw one leg up along the heavy conference table, and rested on a buttock, looking at ease but as though ready to take off instantly.
Josip fumbled himself into one of the sturdy oaken chairs, staring back and forth at the two most powerful men of his native land. Thus far, no one had said anything that made any sense whatsoever to him since he had been hauled from his bed half an hour ago.
Zoran Jankez rasped, "I have gone through your dossier, Comrade. I note that you are the son of Hero of the People's Democratic Dictatorship, Ljubo Pekic."
"Yes, Comrade Jankez," Josip got out. He fussed with his hands, decided it would be improper to stick them in his pockets.