This story, which has grown into both a book and film, has several authors, all of whom have contributed to its present form in many different ways. For all of us, it was a long and arduous task and a great challenge, but also one of deep satisfaction and, I may say, of great delight. When Jay L. Bixby and I wrote our original story, little did we know where it would lead or what would become of it in the hands of men of great imagination and superb artistry-Saul David, the film's producer; Richard Fleischer, the director and inspired conjurer of fancy; Harry Kleiner, who wrote the screenplay; Dale Hennesy, the art director and an artist in his own right; and the doctors and scientists who gave us so much of their time and their thinking. And finally, Isaac Asimov, who lent his pen and great talent to give form and reality to this phantasmagoria of facts and fancy.
Chapter 1: PLANE
It was an old plane, a four-engine plasma jet that had been retired from active service, and it came in along a route that was neither economical nor particularly safe. It nosed through the cloud banks on a trip that took it twelve hours where five might have sufficed with a rocket-powered supersonic.
And there was well over an hour to go.
The agent aboard knew that his part of the job wouldn't be finished till the plane touched down and that the last hour would be the longest.
He glanced at the only other man in the large passenger cabin-napping for the moment, with his chin buried in his chest.
The passenger didn't look particularly striking or impressive, but at the moment, he was the most important man in the world.
General Alan Carter looked up glumly when the colonel walked in. Carter's eyes were pouchy and the corners of his mouth sagged. He tried to bend the paper-clip he was manhandling back into shape and it flicked out of his hand.
"Nearly got me that time," said Colonel Donald Reid, calmly. His sandy hair lay back smoothly but his short, graying mustache bristled. He wore his uniform with the same indefinable unnaturalness that the other did. Both were specialists, drafted for work in a super-specialty, with military rank for convenience and, considering the applications of the field, somewhat out of necessity.
Both had the CMDF insignia. Each letter, was in a small hexagon, two above, three below. The middle hexagon of the three bore the symbol that further classified the man. In the case of Reid, it was the caduceus that marked him as a medical man.
"Guess what I'm doing," said the general.
"Sure. And counting the hours, too. Like a fool!" His voice rose a controlled notch. "I sit here with my hands wet, my hair sticky, my heart pounding, and I count the hours. Only now it's the minutes. Seventy-two minutes, Don. Seventy-two minutes and they're down at the airport."
"All right. Why be nervous, then? Is there anything wrong?"
"No. Nothing. He was picked up safely. He was taken right out of their hands with, as far as we know, not a hitch. He got safely into the plane, an old one ..:'
"Yes. I know."
Carter shook his head. He wasn't interested in telling the other something new; he was interested in talking. "We figured that They would figure that We would figure time was of the utmost importance, so that We would pile him into an X-52 and rocket him through inner space. Only We figured They would figure that and have the anti-missile network at saturation level ... "
Reid said, "Paranoia, we call it in my profession. I mean, for anyone to believe They'd do that. They'd risk war and annihilation."
"They might risk just that to stop what's happening. I'd almost feel we ought to risk it if the situation were reversed. -So we took a commercial plane, a four-engine plasma jet. I was wondering if it could take off, it was so old."
"Did it what?" For a moment, the general had sunk into blackened thought.
"Yes, yes. It's coming along fine. I get my reports from Grant."
"The agent in charge. I know . him. With him in charge, I feel as safe as it is possible to feel, which isn't much. Grant ran the whole thing; flicked Benes out of their hands like a seed out of a watermelon."
"But I still worry. I tell you, Reid, there's only one safe way of handling matters in this darned racket. You've got to believe They're as smart as we are; that for every trick We've got, They've got a counter-trick; that for every man We've got planted on Their side, They've got one planted on Ours. This has been going on for over half a century now;
We've got to be evenly matched, or it would have been all over long ago."
"Take it easy, Al."
"How can I? This thing now, this thing Benes is bringing with him, this new knowledge, may end the stalemate once and for all. And with ourselves as winners."
Reid said, "I hope the others don't think so, too. If they do ... You know, Al, so far there have been rules to this game. One side doesn't do anything to back the other side into a corner so tight he has to use his missile buttons. You've got to leave him a safe ledge to step back on. Push hard but not too hard. When Benes gets here, They may get the notion They're being pushed too hard."
"We have no choice but to risk that." Then, as the afterthought plagued him, "If he gets here."
"He will, won't he?"
Carter had risen to his feet, as though to begin a hasty walk back and forth to nowhere. He stared at the other, then sat down abruptly. "All right, why get excited? You've got that tranquilizer gleam in your eye, doctor. I don't need any happy pills. But suppose he does get here in seventy-two -- sixty-six minutes. Suppose he lands at the airport. He's still got to be brought here, to be kept here, safely . . . There's many a slip . . ."
"Twixt the cup and the lip," sing-songed Reid. "Look here, general, shall we be sensible and talk about consequences? I mean-what happens after he gets here?"
"Come on, Don, let's wait for that till he does get here."
"Come on, Al," mimicked the colonel, an edge appearing on his own words. "It won't do to wait till he gets here. It will be too late when he gets here. You'll be too busy, then, and all the little ants at Headquarters will start rushing about madly, so that nothing will get done where I think it needs to be done."
"I promise ... " The general's gesture was a vague one of dismissal.
Reid ignored it. "No. You're going to be unable to keep any promise you make for the future. Call the chief now, will you? Now! You can get through to him. Right now, you're the only one who can get through to him. Get him to understand that CMDF isn't the handmaiden of defense only. Or if you can't, get in touch with Commissioner Furnald. He's on our side. Tell him I want some crumbs for the bio-sciences. Point out there are votes on this. Look, Al, we've got to have a voice loud enough to be heard. We've got to have some fighting chance. Once Benes gets here and is jumped by all the real generals, damn them, we'll be out of commission forever."
"I can't, Don. And I won't. -If you want it straight, I'm not doing a darned thing till I've got Benes here. And I don't take it kindly your trying to put the arm on me at this time."
Reid's lips went white. "What am I supposed to do, general?"
"Wait as I am waiting. Count the minutes."
Reid turned to go. His anger remained under tight control. "I'd reconsider the tranquilizer if I were you, general."
Carter watched him go without comment. He looked at his watch. "Sixty-one minutes!" he muttered, and groped for a paper-clip.
It was almost with relief that Reid stepped into the office of Dr. Michaels, the civilian head of the Medical Division. The expression on Michaels' broad face might never move higher than a quiet cheerfulness accompanied by, at most, a dry chuckle, but, on the other hand, it never dropped lower than a twinkling solemnity that never took itself, it would seem, too seriously.
He had the inevitable chart in his hand; or one of them. To Colonel Reid, all those charts were alike-, each a hopeless maze; and taken together, they were hopelessness many times compounded.
Occasionally, Michaels would try to explain the charts to him, or to almost anyone-Michaels was pathetically eager to explain it all.
The blood-stream, it seemed, was tagged with a trace of mild radioactivity and the organism (it could be a man or a mouse) then took its own photograph, so to speak, on a laserized principle that produced a three-dimensional image.
Well, never mind that, Michaels would say at that point. You get a picture of the entire circulatory system in three dimensions which can then be recorded two-dimensionally in as large a number of sections and projections as would be required for the job. You could get down to the smallest capillaries, if the picture were properly enlarged.
"And that leaves me just a geographer," Michaels would add. "A geographer of the human body, plotting its rivers and bays, its inlets and streams; much more complicated than anything on Earth, I assure you."
Reid looked at the chart over Michaels' shoulder and said, "Whose is that, Max?"
"No one's to speak of." Michaels tossed it aside. "I'm waiting, that's all. When someone else waits, he reads a book. I read a blood-system."
"You're waiting, too, eh? So's he." Reid's head nodded backward in the general direction of Carter's office. "Waiting for the same thing?"
"For Benes to get here. Of course. And yet, you know, I don't entirely believe it."
"Don't believe what?"
"I'm not sure the man has what he says he has. I'm a physiologist, to be sure, and not a physicist," Michaels shrugged in self-deprecatory humor, "but I like to believe the experts. They say there's no way. I hear them say that the Uncertainty Principle makes it impossible to do it for longer than a given time. And you can't argue with. the Uncertainty Principle, can you?"
"I'm no expert either, Max, but those same experts tell us that Benes is the biggest expert of them all in this field. The Other Side has had him and they've kept even with us just because of him; just because of him. They have no one else in the first rank, while we have Zaletsky, Kramer, Richtheim, Lindsay and all the rest. -And our biggest men believe he must have something, if he says he does."
"Do they? Or do they just think we can't afford not to take a chance on it? After all, even if he turns out to have nothing, we win just out of his defection. The others would no longer have the use of his service."
"Why should he lie?"
Michaels said, "Why not? It's getting him out. It's getting him here, where I suppose he wants to be. If it turns out he has nothing, we're not going to send him back, are we? Besides, he may not be lying; he may just be mistaken."
"Hmph," Reid tilted his chair back and put his feet on the desk in most un-colonel-like manner. "You've got a point there. And if he diddles us, it would serve Carter right. Serve them all right. The fools."
"You got nothing out of Carter, eh?"
"Nothing. He won't do a thing till Benes comes. He's counting the minutes and now so am I. It's forty-two minutes."
"Till the plane carrying him lands at the airport. -And the bio-sciences have nothing. If Benes is just pulling off a deal to escape from the Other Side, we have nothing; and if it's legitimate, we'll still have nothing. Defense will take it all, every slice, every crumb, every smell. It will be too pretty to play with and they'll never let it go."
"Nonsense. Maybe just at first, they will hang on, but we have our pressures, too. We can turn Duval loose on them; the intense, God-fearing Peter."
A look of distaste came across Reid's face. "I would love to throw him at the military. The way I feel now, I would love to throw- him at Carter, too. If Duval were negatively charged and Carter positively charged and I could get them together and let them spark each other to death ... "
"Don't get destructive, Don. You take Duval too seriously. A surgeon is an artist; a sculptor of living tissue. A great surgeon is a great 'artist and has the temperament of one."
"Well, I have temperament, too, and I don't use it to be one large pain in the neck. What gives Duval a monopoly on the right to be offensive and arrogant?"
"If he had the monopoly, my colonel, I would be delighted. I would leave it to him with all possible gratitude, if he had it all. The trouble is there are so many other offensive, arrogant characters in the world."
"I suppose so. I suppose so," muttered Reid, but he was unmollified. "Thirty-seven minutes."
If anyone had repeated Reid's capsule description of Duval to Dr. Peter Lawrence Duval, it would have been met with the same short grunt that a confession of love would have been met with. It was hot that Duval was insensible to either insult or to adoration; it was merely that he reacted to them when he had time, and he rarely had time.
It was not a scowl that he habitually wore on his face; it was rather the muscular contraction that came with thoughts that were elsewhere. Presumably all men have their escape from the world; Duval's was the simple one of concentration upon his work.
That route had brought him, by his mid-forties, to international renown as a brain surgeon, and to his scarce-realized status of bachelorhood.
Nor did he look up from the careful measurements he was making on the tri-dimensionalized x-ray photographs that lay before him when the door opened. His assistant came in with the accustomed noiseless steps.
"What is it, Miss Peterson?" he asked, and squinted even more painfully at the photographs. The depth-perception was plain enough to the eye, but measuring the actual depth called for a delicate consideration of angles, plus an advance knowledge of what that depth was likely to be in the first place.
Cora Peterson waited for the moment of additional concentration to pass. She was twenty-five, just twenty years younger than Duval, and her master's degree, only a year old, had been carefully laid at the feet of the surgeon.
In the letters she wrote home, she explained almost every time that each day with Duval was a college course; that to study his methods, his techniques of diagnosis, his handling of the tools of his trade was to be edified beyond belief. As for his dedication to his work and to the cause of healing, that could only be described as inspiring.
In less intellectualized fashion, she was perfectly aware, with almost the awareness of a professional physiologist, of the quickening of her heartbeat as she took in the planes and curves of his face bent over his work and noted the quick, sure, unwavering motion of his fingers.
Her face remained impassive, however, for she disapproved of the action of her unintellectual heart-muscle.
Her mirror told her, plainly enough, that she was not plain. Quite otherwise. Her dark eyes were ingenuously wide-set; her lips reflected quick humor when she let them do so-which wasn't often; and her figure annoyed her for its apparent propensity for interfering with the proper understanding of her professional competence. It was for her ability she wanted wolf-whistles (or their intellectual equivalent) and not for the sinuosity she couldn't help.
Duval, at least, appreciated her efficiency and seemed unmoved by her attractiveness and for that she admired him the more.
She said, finally, ""Benes will be landing in less than thirty minutes, doctor."
"Hmm." He looked up. "Why are you here? Your day's over."
Cora might have retorted that his was, too, but she knew well that his day was over only when his work was done.
She had stayed with him through the sixteenth consecutive hour often enough, although she imagined he would maintain (in all honesty) that he kept her firmly to an eight-hour day.
She said, "I'm waiting to see him."
"Genes. Doesn't it excite you, doctor?"
"No. Why should it?"
"He's a great scientist, and they say he has important information that will revolutionize all we're doing."
"It will, will it?" Duval lifted the photograph on top of the heap, placed it to one side, and turned to the next. "How will it help you with your laser work?"
"It can make the target easier to hit."
"It already does that. For what Benes will add, only the war-makers will have any use. All Benes will do will be to increase the probability of world destruction."
"But Dr. Duval, you've said that the extension of the technique could be of great. importance to the neurophysiologist."
"Have I? All right, then, I have. But just the same I'd rather you got your proper rest, Miss Peterson." He looked up again (his voice softening just a bit, perhaps?), "You look tired."
Cora's hand lifted half-way to her hair, for translated into the feminine, the word "tired" means "disheveled." She said, "Once Benes arrives, I will. I promise. -By the way."
"Will you be using the laser tomorrow?"
"It's what I'm trying to decide right now. -If you'll let me, Miss Peterson."
"The 6951 model can't be used."
Duval put the photograph down, leaned back. "Why not?"
"It's not reliable enough. I can't get it to focus properly. I suspect one of the tunnel diodes is faulty but I haven't located which one yet."
"All right. You set up one that can be trusted just in case we need it, and do it before you leave. Then tomorrow ... "
"Then tomorrow I'll track down what's wrong with the 6951."
She turned to leave, looked quickly at her watch, and said, "Twenty-one minutes-and they say the. plane's on time."
He made a vague sound and she knew he hadn't heard. She left, closing the door behind her slowly, and with muffled silence.
Captain William Owens sank back into the softly cushioned seat of the limousine. He rubbed his sharp nose tiredly and set his wide jaws. He felt the car lift on its firm jets of compressed air, then move forward with absolute levelness.
He caught no whisper of the turbo-engine, though five hundred horses champed behind him.
Through the bullet-proof windows to right and left, he could see a motorcycle escort. Other cars were before and behind, glimmering the night into a liveness of shielded light.
It made him seem important, this half-an-army of guardians, but it wasn't for him, of course. It wasn't even for the man they were going out to meet; not for the man as a man.
Only for the contents of a great mind.
The head of the Secret Service was to Owens' left. It was a sign of the anonymity of the Service that Owens was not sure of the name of this nondescript man who, from rimless glasses to conservative shoes, seemed a college professor-or a haberdasher's clerk.
"Colonel Gander," Owens had said, tentatively, on shaking hands.
"Gonder," was the quiet response. "Good evening, Captain Owens. "
They were on the outskirts of the air-field, now. Somewhere above and ahead, surely not more than a few miles distant, was the archaic plane, preparing for a landing.
"A great day, eh?" said Gonder, softly. Everything about the man seemed to whisper, even the unobtrusive cut of his civilian clothing.
"Yes," said Owens, striving to keep the tension out of that monosyllable. It was not that he felt particularly tense; it was merely that his voice always seemed to carry that tone. It was that air of tension that seemed to fit his narrow, pinched nose, his slitted eyes, and the high jut of his cheekbones.
He sometimes felt it got in his way. People expected him to be neurotic when he wasn't. Not more so than others were, anyway. On the other hand, people sometimes got out of his way for just that reason, without his having to lift a hand. Matters evened out, perhaps.
Owens said, "Quite a coup, getting him here. The Service is to be congratulated."
"The credit belongs to our agent. He's our best man. His secret, I think, is that he looks like the romantic stereotype of an agent."
"Looks like one?"
"Tall. Played football at college. Good-looking. Terribly clean-cut. One look at him and any enemy would say: There. That's what one of their secret agents ought to look like, so of course, he can't be one. -And they dismiss him and find out too late that he is one."
Owens frowned. Was the man serious? Or was he joking because he thought that would bring relief of tension.
Gonder said, "You realize, of course, that your part in this isn't something to be dismissed off-hand. You will know him, won't you?"
"I'll know him," said Owens, with his short, nervous laugh. "I've met him several times at scientific conferences on the Other Side. I got drunk with him one night; well, not really drunk; joyous."
"Did he talk?"
"I didn't get him drunk to make him talk. But anyway, he didn't talk. There was someone else with him. Their scientists go two by two at all times."
"Did you talk?" The question was light; the intent behind it was clearly not.
Owens laughed again. "Believe me, colonel, there is nothing I know that he doesn't. I could talk to him all day without harm."
"I wish I knew something about this. You have my admiration, captain. Here is a technological miracle capable of transforming the world and there are only a handful of men who can understand it. Man's mind is getting away from man."
"It's not that bad, really," said Owens. "There are quite a lot of us. There's only one Benes, of course, and I'm miles from being in his class, In fact, I don't know much more than enough to apply the technique to my ship designs. That's all."
"But you'll recognize Benes?" The Secret Service head seemed to require infinite reassurance.
"Even if he had a twin brother, which I'm sure he doesn't, I'd recognize him."
"It's not exactly an academic point, captain. Our agent, Grant, is good as I've said, but even so I am a little surprised that he managed it. I have to ask myself: is there a double-double-cross involved? Did They expect us to try to get Benes and have They prepared a pseudo-Benes?"
"I can tell the difference," said Owens, confidently.
"You don't know what can be done these days with plastic surgery and narco-hypnosis. "
"It doesn't matter. The face can fool me, but the conversation won't. Either he knows the Technique" (Owens' momentary whisper clearly capitalized the word) "better than I do' or he's not Benes, whatever he looks like. They can fake Benes' body, perhaps, but not his mind."
They were on the field now. Colonel Gonder looked at his watch. "I hear it. The ship will be landing in minutes-and on time."
Armed men and armored vehicles splayed out to join those that had already surrounded the air-field and turned it into occupied territory sealed off against all but authorized personnel.
The last of the city's lights had faded out, doing no more than to fuzz the horizon to the left. Owens' sigh was one of infinite relief. Benes would be here, at last, in one more moment.
He frowned at the intonation in his mind that had put a question mark after those two words.
Happy ending! he thought grimly, but the intonation slithered out of control so that it became happy ending?