by Keith Laumer
It was a warm afternoon in the city. A fitful wind whirled its burden of gaily-colored aspirin and tranquillizer cartons and gum and cigarette wrappers into the faces of the well-fed burghers and their mates who puffed along on bunioned feet, their life-blunted features set in expressions of opaque anonymity, oblivious of the mixed chorus of auto horns, the spirited cries of impatient taxi drivers, and the merry voices of news vendors hawking details of the latest disaster.
Ace Blondel stood before a shop window, idly noting the temperature of the pavement through his thinning shoesoles and admiring a display of hand-painted neckties, glossy cardboard shoes and sports coats nattily fashioned of lightweight burlap stiffened with glucose, all marked down — according to attached placards — from formerly incredible sums in honor of National Easy Payment Week. In the dusty glass he saw the reflection of the busy street, the mismatched building fronts across the way with their clustered signboards thrusting for favored placement like
jungle foliage fighting for survival, and, above, a narrow strip of smoke-dimmed blue sky.
He turned in time to confront a nubile wench with lust-red lips, bosoms thrust up and forward like fruits offered on a tray, her one-piece pelvis clamped in a corset as rigid as armor plate. His tentative smile died at birth, impaled by the kind of look reserved in other cultures for convicted rapists. He sighed philosophically, glanced at his seven-jewel wrist watch, and headed for the painted-over glass door of Harry’s Marine Bar and Grill.
Inside, a television set above the long bar made sounds like a lovelorn elk, shedding its flickering glow on extinct fishermen’s nets, crumbling cork floats, a mummified tuna with a brass plate celebrating its capture, and a hand-painted mural representing extravagantly mammalian mermaids, their charms ignored by a pair of regulars perched on stools like jockeys waiting for the bell that never comes.
A large man with a white apron tied high over a massive paunch paused in his glass polishing, shifted his toothpick, and called: “Ace! Welcome home, pal! What’ll it be?”
“Just squeeze me one out of the bar rag, Harry.” Blondel slid onto a stool as far as possible
from the sound of the telly. “That’s all the budget allows for the present.”
“Broke again, pal?” The bartender shifted the toothpick again, leaned on the bar with an elbow the size of a ham hock. “I thought you had a swell job with the Health and Welfare Department airlifting encyclopedias to them underprivileged Bulgarians.”
“It was the Cambodians; and it wasn’t encyclopedias — it was movie magazines. And it was the US Information Service, not HEW. And as of last week I don’t have the job.”
“Somebody discovered the funny books were Red Chinese propaganda. A fink in the translating department, they figure. They washed out the program, and me with it.”
“Tough,” Harry commiserated. “Why don’t you sign on regular with one of the airlines, Ace? With your experience you’d be a cinch.”
“Not for me, Harry. The hours wouldn’t suit me.”
“What hours? I got a brother-in-law flies one day, off three — ”
“Regular hours. Also regular schedules and regular forms to fill out — ”
“And regular pay checks.” Harry did things with bottles and glasses, put a drink in front of Blondel. “What I’d do if I was your age, Ace, I’d head for Ecuador. I heard a guy can make a fortune down there now, with this revolution they got coming up.”
“A misnomer,” one of the drinkers called from his end of the bar. “What we call revolutions are merely the normal Latin method of holding elections. That is to say, bullets are as good as ballots and much more easily counted. Now — ”
“Nix, Prof. Ya wanna get us all picked up for some kind of Reds?” his drinking partner protested. They went on with the discussion. Blondel used the first half of the drink.
“Hey, Harry. I said the pink label stuff … “
“Too hot for rot-gut.” Harry leaned confidentially close. “You know what I think? I think the whole world situation’s a deal Washington cooked up with the Rooshians to like simulate the economy — ” He stopped talking and cocked his head at the TV set. The musical adenoids had stopped and an eerie whistling of the sort usually associated with mad scientists was modulating up and down the scale. The screen flashed solid white; then zigzags began running across it from right to left. The zigzags blinked out and circles started whirling up out of the center of the screen.
“What’s this, some new kind of commercial?” The Prof’s buddy sounded grieved.
“That set ain’t given me any trouble before.” Harry went to stand in front of it. “It’s these
noocular bombs they’re testing,” he stated positively. “The weather — “
“Attention,” a strong, he-man voice said from the TV. “Your attention please! An announcement
of vital importance will be made in five minutes. All persons are requested to go at once to a radio
or television set and stand by. Attention! An announcement of vital importance … “
There were echoes from outside; the voice was coming in strongly on a distant PA system.
Harry reached for the volume, turned it down — but the voice continued loud and clear. Harry
flipped the set off; there was a click. But the voice kept on: ” … stand by! An announcement of
vital importance … “
“I knew they’d pull one like this some day.” Harry was snapping the switch on and off with a sound like a ping-pong match. “Commercials you can’t turn off, yet! I got a good mind — ”
“Now, Harry,” the Prof said. “Don’t do anything hasty.” He was frowning fixedly at the set. “Try
pulling the plug.”
“Yeah.” Harry yanked the cord from the wall. The voice went on; the blooping circles threw spooky light on the Profs face.
” … importance will be made in four minutes! Your attention please! All persons are requested… ”
Muttering, Harry reached up, seized the set in a bearhug and hauled it down from its shelf, deposited it heavily on the bar. He slapped the top and sides. The voice bobbled and went on: ” …to the nearest radio or television set and stand by. Your attention, please … “
“Enough’s enough!” Harry swept the set off behind the bar with a crash like an airliner hitting a mountain side. Light flashed once, brightly, and went out. The voice cut off in mid -word. ” … vital importance,” the PA system outside boomed. ” … three minutes … “
“Harry, you shouldn’t have done that,” Prof said unhappily. “The phenomenon — ”
“You can still hear it.” Harry waved an arm. “I give up!” He stepped over the wreckage,
grabbed a glass and began polishing furiously.
“What was the guy selling?” Prof’s buddy asked.
“Who cares?” Harry barked. “Laxatives? Deodorant? Hell, what’s wrong with smelling natural? A
new kind of toilet paper that’ll revolutionize the art? Some kind of reducing pills that’ll take it off
faster than you can pack it on eating the stuff the other commercials are selling? The latest ten-
port-hole gas-eater with built-in metal-fatigue — ?”
“Maybe we ought to listen,” Blondel said. “It might be important.”
“Hah!” Harry snorted, but he was listening now. Outside, the PA sounded louder than ever. A
siren was howling somewhere, getting closer.
” … one minute,” the big voice was saying. “Attention … ” Blondel slid off the stool and went to the door, pushed out onto the sidewalk. Pedestrians had halted, stood with their mouths hanging
open, craning to see where the voice was coming from. A small bald-headed man ran from a TV
repair shop across the street, holding his hands over his ears.
“You don’t suppose,” the Prof said thoughtfully from behind Blondel, “that every set in his shop
A police car swung around the corner, the siren moaning down the scale as it pulled to the curb
in front of the bar. Two cops hopped out and heavyfooted it across to the TV store.
“Stand by for the announcement — NOW!” The combined volume of every set in the
neighborhood blasted out loud enough to rattle windows. It was quiet then for a few seconds
except for the sounds of police voices raised in inquiry.
“Somehow, Mr. Blondel,” Prof said, “I have a feeling that this is more than a mere advertising
stunt … ”
“Citizens of Earth,” a new voice racketed across the street. “I am the Tersh Jetterax. It is my
pleasure to announce to you that a new government has now taken over the conduct of all public
affairs. Effective at once, all former police, military, judiciary, and legislative functions are
suspended. Any individual previously serving in any official capacity whatever may consider
himself at liberty. Monitors who will assume the administration of the new system will arrive
among you momentarily. They will be distinguished by uniforms of a distinctive yellow color, and
will take full responsibility for the maintenance of law and order. Essential personnel such as
medical doctors, bus drivers, maintenance specialists, et cetera, are requested to carry on
temporarily, until relieved. All other citizens are to go at once to their places of residence and
await further instructions.”
As the speech ended, there was a blood-curdling yell. The Prof grabbed Blondel’s arm and
pointed. Something huge was settling down over the building tops: a gold-painted blimp, half the
size of the Hindenburg, unadorned except for a curlicue of black lines near one end. It dropped in
fast, maneuvered past the jungle of TV antennae on top of Levi’s, lowered itself down between the
buildings until it was hovering ten feet above the street as big as a beached ocean liner. People
were scattering, running away from it; a high, wailing sound was coming up from the crowd.
Heads were popping from windows all up and down the street.
“My God, they’re everywhere!” Prof pointed. There were other blimps in the distance drifting
down as light as dandelion feathers. One sailed in from a side street, came to rest half a dozen
blocks above where Blondel watched.
“What … what’s it all about?” Harry’s bull-tones had lost their assurance.
“There is no cause for alarm,” the original voice racketed over the confusion. “Please follow all
instructions quickly and without disorder … ”
The blimp, filling the street before the bar, hung just above the tops of a pack of stalled
automobiles whose drivers had abandoned them and run when the shadow settled over them.
Now panels flopped open near the bottom of the immense airship. Men in gleaming gold uniforms
emerged at a jog trot. They were tall fellows — at six-one — with physiques like lifeguards. They
spread out, started directing traffic, shooing pedestrians along the sidewalk, helping old ladies
across the street.
The four policemen emerged from the TV repair shop, gaped at the scene, then whipped out
whistles and blew piercing blasts. One clamped a large hand on a passing yellow-clad shoulder.
The Monitor waved a hand. The cop stiffened; then he took off his cap, tossed it in the gutter,
dropped his badge beside it, then wandered away into the crowd. The other three cops fared no
“It’s the Rooshians,” Harry groaned. “The bums got the jump on us!”
“A power seizure — an invasion — carried out in broad daylight!” the Prof gasped.
One of the Monitors was standing ten feet from them, a Captain Video in gilt long johns, making
a nice little bow to a well-shaped redhead.
“No cause for alarm, ma’am,” he was saying. His voice sounded like the announcer’s. “Go to
your home, please, and — ”
“Whatta ya yakking, go home?” She had a voice like a dry bearing. “I’m onna way to the
byooty shop! I got a appointment, for a week, already. Outa my way, ya bum!” She swung a
pocketbook the size of first base at the invader’s head.
The blow failed to connect. The swing skidded off into a vague kind of wave. The redhead’s
mouth opened, but no sound came out. Then she turned and trotted back the way she had come.
The Monitor turned toward Blondel.
“Gentlemen, please move along now to your respective domiciles.” He showed a nice smile, all
square chin and curly blond hair and shiny white teeth.
“The hell you say.” Harry pushed past Blondel, paunchy but with adequate muscle under the
fat. “Who do you Reds think you’re pushing around — ” He reached for the ma n in yellow, who
leaned aside just far enough and did something quick with his hands. Harry hadn’t been touched,
but he came to a stop, swung around with a bewildered look on his face, then started off docilely
up the street.
“Hey, where’s he going?” the Prof’s pal asked.
“Home,” Blondel guessed. “Just like the man said.” He took the Prof’s arm, eased him back
toward the door.
“Please go along to your homes now, gentlemen.” The Monitor was still using the toothpaste
“Sure,” Blondel said. “We live here. Rooms in back, you know.” He backed through the door
into the bar, eased the door shut.
“Hey, what’s — ?” the Prof’s friend started.
“Quiet, Freddy.” The Prof gave Blondel a sharp look. “What now, Mr. Blondel?”
He went to the window and looked out past the cardboard cutout of a blonde model holding a
beer stein. A squad of ten or twelve of the men in yellow had formed a column of twos and were
heading off down the block. More of them were filing out of the blimp, lining up, moving out. Most
of the local citizens were on the move now, looking back over their shoulders as they went.
“Ah-hah!” The Prof’s friend pointed across the street. A squad of invaders were moving in
through the wideopen doors of the First National. “Now I get it!”
“This is more than a bank job,” Blondel said, watching another crew marching up the post
office steps. “These boys mean business. Did you see the way they handled Harry?”
“How did these bums catch SAC with its pants down, after all the dough — ”
“Calmly, Freddy, calmly,” the Prof soothed. “Do you suppose they’re Russians?” he asked
“Try the phone; call the Times. Maybe they know what’s going on.”
“It took some brains to plan this caper,” Freddy opined. “I didn’t think them Ruskies had it in
The Prof returned from his errand. “A recorded message,” he said. “Stand by your radio or TV
for the next announcement. Same thing when I tried the television station.”
“Did you see them cops?” Freddy inquired. “They acted like they was getting their twenty-year
gold watches from the mayor.”
“Look, fellows.” Blondel chewed his lip, watching the last of the golden-hued troops
disembarking from the blimp, still hanging lightly above the stalled cars, its belly sweeping down
like a circus big top, closing off the sky. “They’ve stopped coming. It looks like there are only a
couple hundred of them.”
“Per blimp,” Prof amended. “And we don’t know how many blimps.”
“That ain’t many — not for a town this size,” Freddy stated belligerently. “Let’s rush ’em!”
“Wait a minute,” Blondel demurred. “Let’s not do anything hasty.”
“He’s right, Freddy,” Prof agreed. “That airship — it doesn’t quite fit in with what I’ve understood of the scope and sophistication of Soviet technology … ”
“So they was holding out on us.” Freddy dismissed the objection. “I say let’s jump ’em fast and
show the bums they can’t just walk in and take over, even if SAC is asleep at the switch!”
“This is no time for dramatics.” Blondel turned to face the others. “Men, we’ve got to evade
their dragnet and join up with an organized Underground!”
“Nuts! I got a good mind to — ”
“Freddy,” Prof silenced him.
“We’ll have to sneak out the back way,” Blondel planned aloud. “Once clear of the city, we can
make contact — ”
“How?” Prof interrupted.
“Hey!” Freddy said brightly. “Keen! We’ll go into some little like tavern in some hick town, and
there’ll be some beautiful dames and some old peasant types sitting around, and we’ll give the
password or something … ”
“Ummm. Too risky,” Prof demurred. “They might turn out to be counterintelligence agents. I’m
too old to perform well under torture.”
“Gee, yeah, you’re right,” Freddy conceded. “We might break and spill the whereabouts of the
secret headquarters, or something.”
“What secret headquarters?” Blondel demanded.
“I said, or something!” Freddy returned.
“Look, we can worry about contacting the Resistance later.” Blondel cut the discussion short.
“Right now, we have to get clear of the city.”
“Don’t you imagine the coup embraces a wider area than the metropolitan district?” Prof
“Maybe — but let’s not think negatively. We’ll have to pack a few iron radons and possibly
some brandy, as a stimulant … ”
“Why not just, er, depart openly?”
“Are you kidding? What kind of Underground activity would that be?”
“Sorry,” Prof murmured.
“I don’t guess we need to blacken our faces,” Blondel mused. “I guess we could snitch a couple
of ice picks from back of the bar for weapons.”
“I got this bad wrist,” Freddy said.
“Perhaps we’d better stand by and see what develops,” the Prof offered. “Probably our forces
are on the way even now; any abrupt moves on our part might merely complicate matters.”
“And be trapped here?”
” … remain in your homes” the voice of the Monitor boomed from the street. “Further
instructions will be issued shortly … ”
“Ah … ” The Prof tugged at his stiff collar. “I think perhaps, on the whole, it might be better to
do as they say — ”
“What? Take orders from some interloper you didn’t even get a chance to vote for?” Blondel
“I’ve been voting losing tickets for some decades,” Prof said mildly.
“Well, suit yourself,” Blondel said. “Freddy and I will just have to try it alone.”
“I got this back, too,” Freddy said. “Ask Prof, he’ll tell you.” Freddy put a hand on his hip and
arched his back, registering pain stoically endured.
“You mean both of you are going to just sit here and let this … this invasion happen without
lifting a finger?”
“No!” Freddy declared. He went to the bar, poured out drinks all around, tossed his back.
“Ahhh … ” he said, and patted his stomach.
“Well, it looks like I’ll have to contact the loyalists on my own,” Blondel said. He looked
expectantly at the others. They looked back. “Well,” Blondel added. “I guess I’d better get moving. It’ll be dark in seven or eight hours.”
“Yeah,” Freddy nodded. “Maybe six and a half.”
“If they should, ah, apprehend you,” Prof cautioned, “tell them whatever they want to know.
Don’t worry about us.”
“Yeah, we’ll hold the fort back here.” Freddy squared his shoulders.
“I mean, if you want me, to wait a while … ” Blondel said.
“The sooner you make your try the better chance you got,” Freddy said. “When you get
through, tell ’em me and Prof is standing, by our posts, come what may.”
“I mean, if you really think I’d be jeopardizing the defense effort — ” Blondel paused
“Go get ’em, Tiger,” Freddy said, and hiccupped.
“Each man to his own chosen duty.” Prof clapped Blondel on the shoulder. “We’ll think none the
less of you for it.”
“Hey, I’m the one that’s going on the dangerous mission,” Blondel objected.
“As to that, who’s to say?” Prof said wisely, and handed his glass to Freddy for a refill.
“A guy could take offense at a crack like that,” Freddy said darkly.
“If he didn’t have a bad wrist!” Blondel snapped. “Well, so long, fellows. See you in a
concentration camp.” He went to the bar, slipped a fifth of green-label into his side pocket, and
soft-footed it to the door at the back.
At the end of the alley Blondel peered out at a milling throng of citizens among whom the tall,
smiling figures of the Monitors moved confidently, giving instructions, shaping up the crowd,
visibly bringing order out of chaos.
“Are you saved, son?” a loud voice boomed at Blondel’s elbow. He started violently, turned to
face a chubby-jowled, florid-faced man in soiled cuffs and a drab suit of unfashionable cut.
“Well, I’m working on it,” Blondel countered. “But keep your voice down — ”
“Have “you taken thought for your soul this morning?” the stranger pressed on. “How do you
stand up in Heaven?”
“Right now I’m more concerned about my neck,” Blondel said impatiently. A finger like a Polish
sausage shot out to point at Blondel’s chin. “Son, I’m going to pretend you never said that! Now
let’s pray a few words — ”
“Pardon me.” Blondel side-stepped him. “I’m in a hurry — ”
The finger hooked his lapel. “In too big a hurry to hear the word of God?”
“Sorry; I didn’t recognize you. Look — ”
“You look, son! Ah, they are arriven among us! Down on your knees, boy! — ”
Blondel fended off the heavy hands that had landed on his shoulders.
“Look, I have things to do — ”
“Behold the angels of the Lord!” The hands gripped him, aimed him toward the street. “There
they are, wearing their golden raiment! Ah, rejoice, son, for they have come to bring the heavenly
light to us sinners!”
“Speak for yourself, pops,” Blondel retorted. “Personally, I take a different view of matters — ”
“How’s that! You utter defiance of the Lord?” The hands jumped to Blondel’s throat; they were
large, horny hands, and they closed with the force of grappling hooks. Blondel brought his clasped
fists up in a swing that broke the hold, simultaneously ramming a knee into the evangelist’s
midriff. The latter doubled over, clutching himself.
“Praise God!” he shouted. “Just wait till I get unfolded here, you shifty son of a spotted pup,”
he added in a lower tone, “and I’ll bend you into a pretzel.”
Blondel sidled past him, stepped out, and mingled with the crowd. Some of the herded citizens,
he noted, seemed bewildered, moving along in a state of shock. Others, wearing expressions of
mild interest, craned for a better view of the yellow-clad VIP’s. At a street corner, Blondel paused
while a minor traffic jam was sorted out by efficient Monitors.
” … told the old lady they was soft on Communism … ” a fat man was saying.
” … been expecting it for weeks,” a wizened old fellow stated. “My wife’s cousin is a big shot in
the Job Corps … ”
” … cute bunch of guys, but they’re all so butch … ”
” … college-educated radicals sold us out … ”
A trim, yellow-clad young fellow appeared, urging the bystanders along. Blondel attempted to
fade back, found himself facing the Monitor, who nodded pleasantly and said, “If you’ll just stand
by, sir, special transportation facilities will be in operation in a few minutes.”
“Yeah, uh, I was just ducking over to Aunt Gertie’s for some plum preserves,” Blondel
improvised. “But it can wait … ”
“Your address, sir?”
“Ah, I don’t actually have one — that is, I’m just visiting — I mean, I live right down the
“Please go to your home on foot, in that case, sir.” The Monitor smiled disarmingly. “The
confusion will be cleared -up shortly, and normal movement can be resumed.”
“Sure … ” Blondel backed into the throng, feeling eyes boring into his back. He cut down a side
street, emerged on a less densely packed thoroughfare. Monitors were on duty here too, directing
traffic, herding the pedestrians. The big voice was still blaring out instructions, almost unnoticed
over the crowd babble.
There was a gray Mustang parked at the curb; there was no one near it at the moment. The keys were in the ignition, Blondel noted. He rounded the front bumper, tried the door. It opened. He slid in behind the wheel, tried the starter. The engine kicked off with an unselfconscious roar.
Blondel wheeled the small car away from the curb. None of the Monitors seemed to notice. Blondel drove carefully, passed block after block of Monitor-occupied territory. As he neared the city’s edge, traffic slowed to a crawl. Ahead he saw a barricade across the street, manned by two Monitors. Blondel noted that they were waving most of the cars back. His turn came. A face as bland as an insurance salesman’s at renewal tune bent over and looked in the window.
“Where are you bound, sir?”
“Home,” Blondel said cheerfully. “Just like you boys said.”
“Where do you reside, sir?”
“Where is your home, please?”
“That way.” Blondel pointed ahead.
“Very well, sir. Kindly go directly there and remain by your radio or — ”
“Yeah, television.” Blondel favored the invader with a grin, wink, and chuckle. “I’ve been
listening to you boys. I got the message, yes siree!”
“Thank you, sir. Please remain on the main route.”
“Ah .. . suppose I, ah, sort of wandered off it?”
There was no visible change in the Monitor’s expression, but suddenly it seemed to penetrate like a laser beam.
“Like, if I got lost,” Blondel amplified, feeling the grin going sick on his face.
“Take care not to get lost, sir. It would create unnecessary confusion.”
“Yeah, sure thing, chief.”
The Monitor waved him on. His grin dropped as soon as he was past the barrier. It was nothing
specific that the Monitor had said or done, but Blondel was aware of a feeling under his ribs as
though he had been playing Russian roulette with all nine chambers loaded.
Twenty minutes later, with the city lights aglow far behind the racing Mustang, a noise like a
giant eggbeater penetrated over the hum of the car engine. Blondel ducked down and squinted up
through the windshield. A small helicopter was swinging across the road ahead, dropping in
quickly to intercept him. It was bright gold in color.
“Attention, motorist!” Blondel’s dash radio said in a kindly tenor. “Please pull to the right
shoulder and stop your machine.”
Blondel hunched down over the wheel and floorboarded the Mustang. It jumped ahead, snarled under the helicopter close enough to buck in the backwash from the rotors, roared ahead, wide open. A moment later the copter reappeared off to the side at about fifty feet altitude.
“Please stop your machine,” the radio said calmly. “Don’t be alarmed. This is not an arrest,
merely a routine counselling action.”
Blondel’s weight was on the gas pedal. The needle wavered up past a hundred, to a hundred
and ten Detroit, which he estimated should mean a good eighty-five actual. The heli was still
loafing along beside him.
“Sir,” the radio chided him gently, “please bring your auto to a halt at once. It will be to your
advantage to comply voluntarily with all instructions.”
Blondel ignored the order, swung a wide curve in a squeal of tortured rubber — and abruptly
the engine died. Blondel wrestled the suddenly stiff wheel, saw the copter swinging across directly
in front of him. A small puff of smoke jetted from an orifice on its underside, expanded quickly to
a pinkish cloud that enveloped the car. He sniffed once, caught the first hint of a crushed cherry
flavor, and slammed the air intakes shut.
Then he aimed the slowing car straight down the center of the road and flopped over on the wheel as realistically as comfort allowed. The car rolled on; there were a number of preliminary thumps, then a hard dip and lurch, and the car slowed to a stop. Blondel lay limp across the wheel, hearing the whap-whap of the copter growing louder, feeling the car rock as the copter settled in beside it. The noise of the rotors braked down and ceased. There were fault sounds of opening hatches, then the crunch of feet on hard ground.
Blondel opened one eye. The copter was parked twenty feet away, dead ahead. Two Monitors were walking back toward him, tall and trim in yellow. He waited until they were opposite the front bumper, then reached for the switch. The engine caught; he threw the transmission into low, gunned straight ahead.
The two men in yellow jumped aside. The wheels screamed on turf. Blondel cut the wheel hard, felt the car skid sideways; it struck the stern of the heli a solid clip, kept going in a hail of gold plastic chips. The Mustang banged down through the ditch, smashed through rusted barbed wire, clipped off a 666 sign and was back on the pavement, laying rubber all the way up to ninety-five. In the rear-view mirror Blondel saw the two Monitors standing in the middle of the road, looking after him.