Grant was only dopily aware of the hammering at his door. He stumbled upright and emerged from his bedroom, walking flat-footedly across the cold floor, and yawning prodigiously.

"Coming . " He felt drugged and he wanted to feel drugged. In the way of business, he was trained to come alive at any extraneous noise. Instant alertness. Take a mass of sleep, add a pinch of thump and there would be an instant and vast flowering of qui vive.


But now he happened to be on his own time and to heck with it.

"What do you want?"

"From the colonel, sir," came from the other side of the door. "Open at once."

Against his will, Grant jolted into wakefulness. He stepped to one side of the door and flattened against the wall. He then opened the door as far as the chain would allow and said, "Shove your ID card here."

A card was thrust at him and he took it into his bedroom. He groped for his wallet and pinched out his Identifier. He inserted the card and read the result on the translucent screen.

He brought it back and unhinged the chain; ready, despite himself, for the appearance of a gun or for some sign of hostility.

But the young man who entered looked completely harmless. "You'll have to come with me, sir, to headquarters."

"What time is it?"

"About 6:45 sir."

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"Yes, sir."

"Why do they need me this time of day?"

"I can't say, sir. I'm following orders. I must ask you to come with me. Sorry." He tried a wry joke. "I didn't want to get up myself, but here I am."

"Do I have time to shave and shower?"

"Well. . ."

"All right, then, do I have time to dress?"

"Yes, sir. -But quickly!"

Grant scraped at the stubble along the angle of his jaw with his thumb and was glad he had showered the night before. "Give me five minutes for `clothes and necessities." He called out from the bathroom, "What's it all about?"

"I don't know, sir."

"What headquarters are we going to?"

"I don't think..."

"Never mind." The sound of rushing water made further speech impossible for a moment.

Grant emerged, feeling somberly semi-civilized. "But we're going to headquarters. You said that, right?"

"Yes, sir."

"All right, son," said Grant, pleasantly, "but if I think you're about to cross me, I'll cut you in two."

"Yes, sir."

Grant frowned when the car stopped. The dawn was gray and dank. There was a hint of forthcoming rain, the area was a rundown melange of warehouses and a quarter mile back they had passed a roped-off area.

"What happened here?" Grant had asked and his companion was the usual mine of non-information.

Now they stopped and Grant gently placed his hand on the butt of his holstered revolver.

"You'd better tell me what happens next."

"We're here. This is a secret government installation. It doesn't look it, but it is."

The young man got out and so did the driver. "Please stay in the car, Mr. Grant."

The two stepped away for a hundred feet, while Grant looked warily about. There was a sudden jerk of movement and for a split second he was thrown off balance. Recovering, he began to fling the car door open, then hesitated in astonishment as smooth walls grew upward all about him.

It took him a moment to realize that he was sinking along with the car; that the car had been sitting on the top of an elevator shaft. By the time he had drunk that in, it was too late to try to leave the car.

Overhead, a lid moved into place and for a while, Grant was in complete darkness. He flicked on the car's headlights but they splashed uselessly back from the round curve of the rising wall.

There was nothing to do but wait for an interminable three minutes and then the car stopped.

Two large doors opened, and Grant's tensed muscles were ready for action. He called them off at once. A two-man scooter bearing one M.P.-one obvious M.P. in a completely legitimate military uniform-was waiting for him. On his helmet were the letters CMDF. On the scooter were the same letters.

Automatically, Grant put words to the initials. "Centralized Mountain Defense Forces," he muttered, "Coastal Marine Department Fisheries."

"What?" he said aloud. He had not heard the M.P.'s remark.

"If you'll get in, sir," repeated the M.P. with stiff propriety, indicating the empty seat.

"Sure. Quite a place you have here."

"Yes, sir."

"How big is it?"

They were passing through a cavernous empty area, with trucks and motor-carts lined against the wall, each with its ('MDF insigne.

"Pretty big," said the M.P.

"That's what I like about everybody here," said Grant. "Full of priceless nuggets of data."

The scooter moved smoothly up a ramp to a higher level and a well-populated one. Uniformed individuals, both male and female, moved about busily, and there was an indefinable but undeniable air of agitation about the place.

Grant caught himself following the hurrying footsteps of n girl in what looked like a nurse's uniform (CMDF neatly printed over the curve of one breast) and remembered the plans he had begun to make the evening before.

If this was another assignment ...

The scooter made a sharp turn and stopped before a desk.

The M.P. scrambled out. "Charles Grant, sir."

The officer behind the desk was unmoved at the information. "Name?" he said.

"Charles Grant," said Grant, "like the nice man said."

"I.D. card, please."

Grant handed it over. It carried an embossed number only, to which the officer gave one curt glance. He inserted it into the Identifier on his desk, while Grant watched without much interest. It was precisely like his own wallet Identifier, overgrown and acromegalous. The gray, featureless screen lit up with his own portrait, full-face and profile, looking as it always did in Grant's own eyes-darkly and menacingly gangsterish.

Where was the open, frank' look? Where the charming smile? Where the dimples in his cheeks that drove the girls mad, mad? Only those dark, lowering eyebrows remained to give him that angry look. It was a wonder anyone recognized him.

The officer did, and apparently without trouble-one glance at the photo, one at Grant. The I.D. card was whipped out, handed back, and he was waved on.

The scooter turned right, passed through an archway and then down a long corridor, marked off for traffic, two lanes each way. Traffic was heavy, too, and Grant was the only one not uniformed.

Doors repeated themselves at almost hypnotically periodic intervals on either side, with pedestrian lanes immediately adjacent the walls. Those were less heavily populated.

The scooter approached another archway over which was a sign reading: "Medical Division."

An M.P. on duty in a raised box like that of a traffic policeman hit a switch. Heavy steel doors opened and the scooter slid through and came to a stop.

Grant wondered what part of the city he was under by now.

The man in the general's uniform, who was approaching hastily, looked familiar. Grant placed him just before they had closed to within hand-shaking stage.

"Carter, isn't it? We met on the Transcontinental a couple of years ago. You weren't in uniform then?"

"Hello, Grant. -Oh, darn the uniform. I wear it only for status in this place. It's' the only way we can establish a chain of command. Come with me. -Granite Grant, wasn't it?"

"Oh, well."

They passed through a door into what was obviously ' an operating room. Grant glanced out through the observation window to see the usual sight of men and women in white, bustling about in almost visible asepsis, surrounded by the hard gleam of metal-ware, sharp and cold; and all of it dwarfed and rendered insignificant by the proliferation of electronic instruments that had converted medicine into a branch of engineering.

An operating table was being wheeled in, and a full shock of grizzled hair streamed out over the white pillow.

It was then that Grant had his worst stab, of surprise.

"Benes?" he whispered.

"Benes," said General Carter, bleakly.

"What happened to him?"

"They got to him after all. Our fault. We live in an electronic age, Grant. Everything we do, we do with our transistorized servants in hand. Every enemy we have, we ward off by manipulating an electron flow. We had the route bugged in every possible way, but only for electronified enemies. We didn't count on an automobile with a man at the controls and on rifles with men at the triggers."

"I suppose you got none of them alive."

"None. The man in the car died on the spot. The others were killed by our bullets. We lost a few ourselves."

Grant looked down again. There was the look of blank emptiness on Benes' face that one associated with deep sedation.

"I assume he's alive so that there's hope."

"He's alive. But there isn't much hope."

Grant said, "Did anyone have a chance to, talk to him?"

"A Captain Owens-William Owens-do you know him?"

Grant shook his head, "Just a glance at the airport of someone Gonder referred to by that name."

Carter said, "Owens spoke to Benes but got no crucial information. Gonder spoke to him, too. You spoke to him more than anyone. Did he tell you anything?"

"No, sir. I would not have understood if he had. It was my mission to get him into this country and nothing more,"

"Of course. But you talked to him and he might have said more than he meant to."

"If he did, it went right over my head. But I don't think he did. Living on the Other Side, you get practice keeping your mouth shut."

Carter scowled. "Don't be unnecessarily superior, Grant. You get .the same practice on this side. If you don't know that . . . I'm sorry, that was unnecessary."

"It's all right, general," Grant shrugged it off, tonelessly.

"Well the point is, he talked to no one. He was put out of action before we could get what we wanted out of him. He might as well never have left the Other Side."

Grant said, "Coming here, I passed a place cordoned off..."

"That was the place. Five more blocks and we would have had him safe."

"What's wrong with him now?"

"Brain injury. We have to operate-and that's why we need you."

"Me-?" Grant said, strenuously. "Listen, general, at brain surgery, I'm a child. I flunked Advanced Cerebellum at old State U."

Carter did not react and to Grant his own words sounded hollow.

"Come,with me," said Carter.

Grant followed, through a door, down a short stretch of corridor and into another room.

"Central Monitoring," said Carter, briefly. The walls were covered with TV panels. The central chair was half-surrounded by a semi-circular console of switches, banked on a steep incline.

Carter sat down while Grant remained standing.

Carter said, "Let me give you the essence of the situation. You understand there's a stalemate between Ourselves and Them."

"And has been for a long time. Of course."

"The stalemate isn't a bad thing, altogether. We compete; we run scared all the time; and we get a lot done that way. Both of us. But if the stalemate must break, it's got to break in favor of our side. You see that, I suppose?"

"I think I do, general," said Grant, dryly.

`Genes represents the possibility of such a break. If he could tell us what he knows ..:'

"May I ask a question, sir?"

"Go ahead."

"What does he know? What sort of thing?"

"Not yet. Not yet. Just wait a few moments. The exact nature of the information is not crucial at the moment. Let me continue ... If he could tell us what he knows, then the stalemate breaks on our side. If he dies, or even if he recovers but without being able to give us our information because of brain damage, then the stalemate continues."

Grant said, "Aside from humanitarian sorrow for the loss of a great mind, we can say that maintaining the stalemate Isn't too bad."

"Yes, if the situation is just as I have described, but it may not be."

"How do you make that out?"

"Consider Benes. He is known as a moderate but we had no indication that he was having trouble with his government. He had shown every sign of being loyal for a quarter of a century, and he'd been well-treated. Now he suddenly defects ..."

"Because he wants to break the stalemate on our side."

"Does he? Or could it be that he revealed enough of his work, before realizing its full significance, to give the Other Side the key to the advance. He may then have come to realize that, without quite meaning to, he had placed world dominion securely into the hands of his own side, and perhaps he wasn't sufficiently confident in the virtues of his own side to be satisfied with that. -So now he comes to us, not so much to give us the victory, as to give no one the victory. He comes to us in order to maintain the stalemate."

"Is there any evidence for that, sir?"

"Not one bit," said Carter. "But you see it as a possibility, I presume, and you realize that there is not one bit of evidence against it, either."

"Go on."

"If the matter of life or death for Benes meant a choice between total victory for us or continued stalemate-well, we could manage. To lose our chance of total victory would he a damned shame, but we might get another chance tomorrow. However, what might be facing us is a choice between stalemate and total defeat, and there one of the alternatives is completely unbearable. Do you agree?"

"Of course."

"You see, then, that if there is even a small possibility that Benes' death will involve us in total defeat, then that death must be prevented at any price, at any cost, at any risk."

"I take it you mean that statement for my benefit, general, because you're going to ask me to do something. As it happens, I've risked my life to prevent eventualities considerably short of total defeat. I've never really enjoyed it, if you want a confession-but I've done it. However, what can I do in the operating room? When I needed a band-aid over my short-ribs the other day, Benes had to put it on, for me. And compared to other aspects of medical technique, I'm very good at band-aids."

Carter didn't react to that, either. "Gonder recommended you for this. On general principles, in the first place. He considers you a remarkably capable man. So do I."

"General, I don't need the flattery. I find it irritating."

"Darn it, man. I'm not flattering you. I'm explaining something. Gonder considers you capable in general, - but more than that, he considers your mission to remain incomplete. You were to get Benes to us safely, and that has not been done."

"He was safe when I was relieved by Gonder himself."

"Nevertheless, he is not safe now."

"Are you appealing to my professional pride, general?"

"If you like."

"All right. I'll hold the scalpels. I'll wipe the perspiration from the surgeon's forehead; I'll even wink at the nurses. I think that's the complete list of my competencies in an operating room."

"You won't be alone. You'll be part of a team."

"I somehow expect that," said Grant. "Someone else will have to aim the scalpels and push them. I - just hold them in a tray."

Carter manipulated a few switches with a sure touch. On one TV screen, a pair of dark-glassed figures came into instant view. They were bent intently over a laser beam, its red light narrowing to thread-like thinness. The light flashed out and they removed their glasses.

Carter said, "That's Peter Duval. Have you ever heard of him?"

"Sorry, but no."

"He's the top brain surgeon in the country."

"Who's the girl?"

"She assists him."


"Don't be single-tracked. She's an extremely competent technician."

Grant wilted a bit. "I'm sure of it, sir."

"You say you saw Owens at the airport?"

"Very briefly, sir."

"He'll be with you, too. Also our chief of the Medical Section. He'll brief you."

Another quick manipulation and this time the TV screen came on with that low buzz that signified sound-attachment two-way.

An amiable bald head at close quarters dwarfed the intricate network of a circulatory system that filled the wall behind.

Carter said, "Max!"

Michaels looked up. His eyes narrowed. He looked rather washed out. "Yes, Al."

"Grant is ready for you. Hurry it on. There isn't much time."

"There certainly isn't. I'll come get him." For a moment, Michaels caught Grant's eye. He said, slowly, "I hope you are prepared, Mr. Grant, for the most unusual experience of your life. -Or of anyone's."

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