Blondel sought out the back stairs, descended silently, emerged in a rubbish- packed back alley.
He followed it until it debouched into a cramped rectangle of lumpy black top under a towering
billboard announcing the availability of Jewels on Credit. Something dark and massive loomed in
the deep shadows against a lichenous wall of kidney- colored brick. It was the SCRAG Z- car.
Blondel started past it, then paused.
Dashing to SCRAG headquarters with the news of the true nature of the Invader had been a
serious error in judgment. But if he could get through to Washington now, it might not be too late.
There, if anywhere, some still- organized remnant of U.S. sovereignty might yet be found. And
with the information he could supply — plus the miracle gadgets in his pockets …
The rest was a little vague, but the immediate objective was obvious. The car was waiting.
True, it was a trifle conspicuous. But if he could reach open country it might well slip through,
what with its armor, radar-negative gear, and cross-c ountry speed. So far, every move he had
made to join the resistance to the invaders had ended in a hung jury. Now, at last, direct action
was at hand. He took a moment to lift the access panel over the rear- mounted power plant and
check for TNT charges, found none.
As he reached for the door there was a stir behind him. Something icy cold touched the back of
“Yeah,” a thin voice murmured near his right ear. “It’s a gat. You the guy who owns this
“Ahhherrrummm! … Yes,” Blondel decided quickly. “But you can have it. I don’t need it anymore. It’s a terrible gas-eater, and as for parking the thing – – ”
“Good,” the voice cut him off. “Nasty Jack wants to see you.”
“Ah … Nasty Jack?”
“Let’s go. We’ll take my car.”
“Look, there’s something I’d like to confess — ”
“Save it for Sunday.” The gat poked a little harder. “Shake it, rube.”
“About the Z-car — ”
There was a soft click as the safety went off the gun. Blondel moved hastily off in the indicated
direction, fetched up beside the dark- gleaming, chrome – fitted bulk of a late-model hearse.
“Inside. If you handle yourself nice, you get to finish the trip sitting up.”
“Can’t we talk this over? You’re making a serious mistake — ”
“Some guys got wrong ideas about when to flap their lip,” the voice grated. “Inside! Drive slow
and stick to the back streets. If they spot us, go into high and we’ll find out if the guy was lying
about what this can will do.”
Silently, Blondel slid behind the wheel, started up, maneuvered the heavy car out into the dark
Forty minutes of cautious travel by circuitous routes which skirted the growing islands of
Monitorial reconstruction brought them to a section of blocky, porticoed houses perched at the
edges of truncated lawns fronting cracked sidewalks.
“Next left.” The command came from the darkness. Blondel complied.
“Turn in here.” Blondel swung into a graveled drive, pulled to a stop beside a stately old frame
house shaded by lofty elms, its facade gleaming a ghoulish pale blue in the glow from a large
rectangular sign planted in the center of the lawn, discreetly announcing “Personalized Care For
Your Loved Ones.”
“Uh, there’s something I really think I ought to explain before this goes any further,” Blondel
“Tell Jack. He likes to listen to guys try to explain.”
They crossed the lawn, rounded the house to a side door; Blondel’s guide rapped three times,
then two, then four. Nothing happened.
“Hey, Max!” he shouted.
“Yeah?” The door opened and an unshaven man with a fat, pale face looked out. Blondel
responded to a poke in the lumbar vertebrae, stepped into a spacious kitchen redolent of tomato
paste and Chianti.
“This is the mug Jack was wanting to talk to.”
The fat man frisked Blondel in a bored way, nodded.
“Go on in.”
Again the prod from behind. Blondel twitched, thinking of the glove in his coat pocket, the
repellor- field gear —
“Don’t stall, rube.” At an extra – sharp jab he fairly leaped through a swing door and was in a
room of corroded rococco elegance, staring at a man who sat alone at the head of a long table,
peeling a grape with a penknife.
“Meet Nasty Jack,” the voice behind him said. “Don’t do nothing, don’t say nothing, unless he
tells you to.”
The man called Nasty Jack was lean, dark, with shiny Valentine hair and a gold tooth. The
sleeves of his purple silk shirt were held up by diamond- studded arm bands, and another
diamond, the size of an elk’s tooth, impaled his yellow knit tie. He thrust the grape into his
mouth, chewed thoughtfully, looking Blondel over, spat the seeds on the tablecloth.
“So you’re a general, hah?” His voice was a bass rumble.
“No, I’m not, and if that nitwit who brought me here would have listened to me — ”
“Got busted, hey?” Nasty Jack nodded understandingly. “The same thing happened to me, the
time I was in the army. Some stoolie from the IG claimed I was renting out recruits at a buck fifty
an hour to crooked contractors. Three stripes and a rocker down the drain.” Jack poured dusky
red wine from a bottle, into a jelly glass, swallowed it whole.
“You don’t seem to get the idea — ” Blondel started.
“But I’m broad- minded, General,” Jack cut him off. “As far as I’m concerned, once a general,
always a general.”
He folded the knife with a flick of the thumb and dropped it into the pocket of a checkered vest.
“Now let’s talk over this deal of yours.”
“If you’d let me explain – – ”
Jack waved away the offer. “Everybody falls off the wagon once in a while, General,” he said.
“The only difference, you and me got caught.” He leaned forward. “You still ready to go ahead
with the proposition?”
“As a matter of fact — ”
“Because in case you had a change of plans, General, Nasty Jack is not the guy to take it calm.
“Certainly. But — ”
“So that just leaves the details to iron out, right?”
“Well … ”
“OK.” Jack poked a finger at Blondel. “Now, how soon can you have the dough ready?”
“The dough … ?”
“I hope you got no funny ideas about the dough, General,” Jack said ominously.
“No, no, of course not. It’s just that — well, we generals have a lot on our minds. I seem to
have sort of forgotten some of the details.”
“Geez!” Jack looked at him admiringly. “Any guy which can forget a detail like five million iron
men in gold is the kind of operator to which I take my hat off to!”
“Sure,” Blondel swallowed. “Five million. How thoughtless of me – – ”
“So – – just as soon as you make delivery, the skilled manpower of my organization is ready to
go, just like I told you.” Jack leaned back and smiled. His gold tooth threw back a sinister
reflection from the candle- shaped bulb in the unshaded socket on the wall.
“Your, ah, organization,” Blondel stalled. “Ummm, skilled manpower … ”
“Now, I’m not the nosey type, General,” Jack raised his hands, fending off the idea. “I don’t
know exactly what you got in mind. But Central Headquarters for American National Crime,
Robbery, and Extortion is strictly a patriotic group. We’re with you all the way — as soon as I get
“Behind me,” Blondel gulped.
“As Chairman of CHANCRE, let me tell you, General, you’re getting a loyal bunch of boys, ready
to do their bit for freedom.”
“Freedom.” Blondel nodded. “Well, that certainly sounds … ” He paused. “You say they’re …
ready to do their bit … ?”
“Damn right! General, if there’s one thing the membership of CHANCRE is against, it’s better
law- enforcement. And from what I seen of these Monitors, once they’re in the saddle, the good
old days are on the way out fast!”
“How many men have you got?” Blondel inquired crisply.
“About six thousand skilled technicians, all equipped with bullet-proof vests, two- way wrist
radios, and records as long as your arm, each and every one. In a word,” reliable pros; none of
these punk red- hots which they seen a little television and think they’re Al Capone.”
“Jack,” Blondel leaned forward tensely, “those other plans – – they’re out the window.
Something, new has come up.”
Jack scowled. “Just a minute, General! A doublecross — ”
“Skip the commercial,” Blondel cut in. “This is important. We both want the same thing: to get
rid of the Monitors. Now pass that wine bottle over here and let’s get down to some serious
discussion. There are a couple of things you ought to know about … ”
“Martians, hey?” Jack shook his head self- critically. “I should of figured that one myself. I knew
there was something creepy about that mob. They’re all over this town like grated cheese on a
plate of pasta, but they steer clear of my little place of business here like it was poison. I checked
with a couple colleagues, and they tell me the same thing: not one customer in a yellow suit.
Believe me, General, with as many of these dudes as we got in town, that ain’t natural.”
“Now, my idea is that everyone in the country will feel the same way you and I do, Jack,”
Blondel pursued his point. “All we have to do is get the information to the public. The minute they
realize we’ve been invaded by nonhuman monsters from outer space, they’ll spontaneously rise in
“With the odds a couple hundred million of us patriotic citizens to maybe a hundred thousand of
them, how can we lose?” The CHANCRE chief looked at his solid gold strap watch.
“If I get on the hook right now, I can catch Vito in Brooklyn, Ricco in Detroit, Carlo in
Washington, Dino in Philly, Sacco in Albany, Ralph in Pittsburgh – – ”
“I see you got the same old idea that all hoods are Italians,” Jack said pityingly. “I’m calling a
general meeting of the whole Board of Directors for ten o’clock tonight. By that time, General, you
better have everything set. We got no time to Waste if we’re going to put the country back in the
hands of the common people.”
From his chair at the head of the long table, Nasty Jack waved a gold- tipped cigarette toward
Blondel and said: “Take it, General. The boys are listening.”
Blondel looked along the row of expectant faces. With the exception of one or two eye- patches
and crumpled ears, they looked like nothing so much as a group of respectable county
commissioners, meeting to divide up the week’s haul of bribes.
He cleared his throat. “Gentlemen,” he announced, “our only hope of success depends on split-
second timing and perfect co- ordination. Our first move will be to seize the radio and TV stations
in selected cities, and put the news on the air. At the same time, we distribute leaflets, hitting
every major city between Boston and Miami. Simultaneously, our runners cover the same areas
on foot and bicycle, passing out proclamations.”
“Nice,” Jack nodded. “I can see how you made your star, General. Now, on the print contracts,
I got a cousin – – ”
“No nepotism, Jack,” Blondel said sternly. “This is for the good of the country. Remember?”
“What’s good for private enterprise, is good for the country,” Jack retorted. “That’s what
Abraham Lincoln, or one of them guys, said.”
“I think you’re quoting him out of context,” Blondel rebutted.
“Chief, you want I should rub out this monkey?” a scholarly- looking member inquired from his
“Keep your dukes away from your rod, Angelo,” Jack said sternly. “You ain’t got the eye for a
precision assignment. Besides, when I want the general plugged, I’ll say so.”
“Maybe we’d better get on with the plans,” Blondel said hastily. “I’ve drawn up a list of clear-
channel stations that can blanket the eastern seaboard. I don’t know exactly what techniques the
Monitors are using to jam our broadcasts, but I’m pretty sure that possession of these
transmitters is the key to the situation.” He handed out sheets of paper which were passed from
hand to hand along the table.
“You boys know the situation in your own areas,” Jack stated. “So how about it? Let’s have
some proposals from the floor on the best way to knock ’em off without busting ’em up.”
“I got a better idea,” a member offered. “Let’s pass this jazz, and knock off a couple banks instead. I know of a couple over Duluth way which they’re practically begging for it.”
“Yeah,” another chimed in. “We can fix soldier- boy here with a cement overcoat and let him go
for a swim in the lake – – ”
“Nuts,” contributed a third. “Why mess with banks, when the mint is sitting right there in DC – –
and nobody watching it but some nancies in yellow pants?”
Jack dipped into his coat pocket and produced a large business- like automatic. He rapped on
the table with it and cleared his throat menacingly.
“Objections overruled,” he announced. “General, go ahead with the plan.”
“Ah – – the leaflets will have to be ready twenty- four hours before M- minute,” Blondel went on.
“The bicycle corps will have to move out as soon as possible thereafter, and be in position – – ”
“Nobody ain’t going to get me on no bicycle,” a stout, bishop-like member stated flatly. Jack
fingered the gun and looked at him thoughtfully.
” … Unless I feel like riding a bicycle,” the man added. Jack lifted the gun and weighed it on his
” … And it just so happens I feel like it,” the speaker concluded, looking around defiantly. “And
when I feel like riding a bicycle, there ain’t nobody that can stop me from riding a bicycle.”
“You ain’t riding no bicycle, Mario,” Jack told him.
” … Unless I change my mind.”
“And … ?”
“And I just changed my mind,” Angelo muttered, subsiding.
“Now, our best bet for taking the stations is to infiltrate them in advance,” Blondel said into the
conversational gap. “We’ll need forty picked crews of about twenty men, dressed up as fans and
equipped with autograph books and guitars.”
“What’s with the guitars?” a tiny, spider- like member with a prominent Adam’s apple
demanded. “We got fast cars, and plenty of ammo. I say we fan out and plug every yellow- back
we see, and any incidental coppers that maybe are still running around loose. Then we move on
to DC and clean it out. Then we round up all the congressmen we can find, shoot ’em, and appoint
ourselves to fill out the terms.”
“Fiorella, you are a dirty, lousy, un-American rat,” Jack cut him off coldly. “Boys – – take him for
a ride in the country.”
“Hey — wait a minute!” Fiorella protested, as his neighbors rose and closed in. “So OK, I was
out of line — ” Large hands clamped on him, lifted him bodily, bore him doorward, kicking futilely.
“Don’t take the Caddie,” Jack called. “I just had it washed. Now” – – he looked around at the
others — “where were we?”
“Just infiltrating the radio stations,” Blondel said. “Remember, violence is no good; but it — ”
There was a sharp rat-tat- tat-tat! from outside. Nasty Jack looked up with an annoyed
expression. “I told them punks to take a run out in the boondocks,” he said. “But no, they got to
litter up the back yard.”
“As I was saying, violence is out,” Blondel pressed on. “The Monitors have equipment that will
protect them from anything we can throw at them. We’ll have to use trickery and passive
resistance — ”
“Hey, Jack,” Mario spoke up. “How does this pigeon get the inside info on the yellow- backs?
What is he, some kind of stoolie?”
“Yeah, no gats, he says,” Angelo joined in. “This pansy is a like plant, if youse ask me — ”
“I’m a no lika thees beez,” a blue- jowled fellow growled. “Whatsa good we gotta machines gun,
we no usa, hah?”
“Quiet, Ralph.” Jack raised a hand. “The General here scouted around and done some nifty
inside work. He knows what he’s talking about.”
“Sez he,” someone growled.
“I’ll show you a sample of their work.” Blondel took out the glove and slipped it on, just as a rap sounded at the door.
“Yeah?” Nasty Jack bellowed.
“There’s a guy out here, he wants you should talk to him,” a muffled voice sounded through
“Tell him to drop dead, I’m busy!”
“Boss, I think maybe you ought to talk to the bum.”
“OK … OK. Send him in.”
“He wants you should come out.”
Jack slapped the table with both hands. “Boy! What I got to put up with.” He rose, went to the
door. As he opened it, a thunderous bam bam bam bam! roared, racketing between the walls,
– – –
sending dust flying from sudden craters in the opposite wall. Blondel whirled in time to see Jack
fly backward into the room, slam the floor on his back, and slide. The tiny figure of Fiorella came
through the door, dwarfed by the Thompson submachine gun in his hands.
“No artillery, hah?” he inquired brightly of the assembled spectators. “I told you his clutch was
slipping.” He handed the gun to a subordinate, drew a yellow hankie from the breastpocket of his
fawn-colored suit, dabbed at his forehead, and took the chair vacated by the former CHANCRE
“OK.” He rubbed his hands together and gave Blondel a piercing look. “Now let’s decide what to
do about this wisey and his big ideas, eh, boys?”
“If you idiots would listen to me,” Blondel appealed for the fourteenth time, “you’d realize that
none of your schemes for butchering Monitors is going to work! Our only chance is to arouse the
populace by exposing them as invaders from space — ”
“You slobs are all wrong,” Ricco stated. “We ought to dump this mug in the lake tonight, or
maybe first thing in the morning on account of it’s too late to get a couple yards of ready- mix
“Yeah, all we ever get to do is plug guys,” Vito mourned. “I read in the comics all these swell
capers, how they string guys up by the thumbs, and strap ’em down to the streetcar tracks, and
dump ’em in melted iron, and all. But us, we got to go the conservative route: bing! bing! and it’s
“You got to sacrifice some of the glamor for high production,” Fiorella pointed out patiently.
“Also, we got the public relations angle to figure. You throw a guy off the Trib tower, and some
pedestrian is liable to get hurt. You got to be safety conscious.”
“So, OK, we tie his wrists to the back bumper of a car, and his feet to the front piazza, and — ”
“Why don’t you listen?” Blondel demanded. “Time is growing short — ”
There was a rap at the door. “Hey, Fiorella,” someone called. “There’s a guy out here wants to
The little man drew a large watch from his vest pocket and studied it.
“Twenty minutes,” he wagged his head sadly. “It don’t take long for the rot to set in.”
“He says it’s important,” the voice persisted.
“Carlo, you go,” Fiorella directed hopefully. Carlo shook his head silently.
“Look, you guys ain’t even given me a chance I should explain my program,” the recently-
appointed leader protested.
“Better go ahead, Boss,” Rocco said in an ominous tone.
“Yeah, if there’s one thing us boys don’t stand for, it’s a chief which he’s got a yellow streak,”
Fiorella pushed back his chair. “Sometime I wonder why I bucked so hard for the job.”
“Remember Jack,” Ricco encouraged. “He looked pretty good going out that door.”
“Yeah, but he didn’t look so hot coming back in.” Fiorella squared his narrow shoulders,
marched to the door, threw it wide with a dramatic gesture and braced himself. However, no shots rang out.
“He’s in the living room, boss,” Max’s voice was audible. “He says … ” The c onversation was
cut off by the closing door.
“Now, fellows,” Blondel said into the heavy silence in the room. “Let’s forget past differences
and face up to the fact that the freedom and independence of humanity are at stake here. We’ve
got to stop all this bickering and take effective action before everybody in the country has joined
Happy Horinip’s Quota Toppers and settled down to the role of subject race — ”
“Now’s the time, boys,” Ricco said flatly. “While nobody ain’t looking.” He flicked his wrist and a
snubnosed Walther .635 appeared from nowhere, nestled in his palm.
“Fiorella won’t like it if he comes back and finds another mess on the rug,” Vito predicted.
“I’ll just croak him barehanded,” Carlo offered, rising.
Blondel got to his feet and backed away from the table. “Fellows, you’re making a great
mistake! The Monitors are the enemy, not little old me!”
Ricco stood, planted himself solidly, placed his left hand on his left hip, raised the gun and
brought it down carefully, drawing a bead.
“Right through the gravy stain under the first button,” he called the shot. “No fair moving, now,
Blondel squeezed his eyes shut. “Don’t do it — ” His words were drowned by the shattering
report of a gun. He waited for a moment for the pain to hit, then opened one eye in time to see
Ricco drop his gun and tumble to the rug. Fiorella stood in the doorway, blowing smoke from the
business end of a large revolver.
“I turn my back five minutes, and you mugs start clowning,” he said in an aggrieved tone.
“Don’t nobody shoot the Rube. It looks like maybe we got a use for him, after all.”
“Thanks very much, Fiorella,” Blondel started, feeling his legs begin to wobble in reaction to the
excitement of the last few moments. “You’ll never regret — ” He broke off as the CHANCRE chief
stepped back and waved a dark- cloaked figure into the room.
“It looks like poor old Jack, are eye pee, missed a couple bets,” Fiorella said. “Boys” – – he
indicated the newcomer — “meet the real General Blackwish.”
“A heart attack, you say?” The general eyed the sprawled corpse of Nasty Jack with distaste.
“In that case, what accounts for the holes in his chest?”
“Moths,” Fiorella said succinctly. “Now, General, since you tipped us off this monkey is a ringer,
which we was going to do away with him anyway, I don’t exactly get the reason why you was in
such a sweat to keep him alive. Ricco was one of my best boys, and — ”
“Men,” Blackwish looked sternly along the table. “We face an enemy of awesome power.
Traditional offensive techniques are useless against them. In that, Blondel was right.” He paused,
impressively. “But we at SCRAG have the answer.”
“What’s the question?” Vito asked, puzzled.
“The question is survival!” Blackwish’s fist struck the table a resounding blow. “To harass them
with mere guns is futile! To attempt lesser measures, such as the visionary scheme to discredit
them with wild stories of extraterrestrial origin is nonsense! – Only one course is open to us:
Instant, total, utter annihilation of their headquarters in a single, irresistible blow!”
“You can’t — ” Blondel started.
“Gentlemen,” Blackwish purred, “we have located this target. It consists of an immense floating
fortress — a manmade island over five miles in length — anchored in the south Atlantic, some
thirty miles south southeast of Dry Tortuga.”
“They have defensive screens that will stop anything you can drop on them!” Blondel
interrupted. “If you’d give me a chance, I could show you – – ”
“Our weapon,” Blackwish’s voice rose, “is of such a nature that no defense can stand against
“You’ll never get it to the target,” Blondel persisted. “They have a repellor field – – ”
“Have you gentlemen ever heard,” Blackwish shouted him down, “of an implosion bomb?”
“How’s about if we hit the First National,” Carlo proposed. “It ain’t a fancy bank, but it’s solid,
you know? My old man knocked it off once, back in ’28, and he says to me, Carlito — ”
“I don’t care what kind of weapon you’ve got,” Blondel yelled. “A stack of H bombs won’t do
any good if you can’t get them through – – ”
“H- bombs?” Blackwish smiled grimly. “Child’s toys,” he dismissed them. “The implosion bomb
is based on a new principle: A core of annihilated matter into which the surrounding material is
forced by pressures comparable to those at the heart of a star! The result: A localized collapse of
the very fabric of space. In short — implosion on a titanic scale!”
“How you figure to get this bomb out to this here island?” Sacco demanded.
“I have a miniature SCRAG copter of advanced design,” Blackwish said. “At this moment it is
concealed under a tarpaulin behind the greenhouse, where my men placed it earlier this evening.
The bomb is aboard, armed and ready.”
“What’s to keep ’em from shooting it down?” Carlo queried.
“Experience has shown that the Monitors are incapable of intercepting our aircraft,” Blackwish
“Nuts,” Blondel commented. “I think they let aircraft through because they don’t want to injure
anybody by forcing them to crash- land.”
“Who’s supposed to fly this baby out there?” Mario inquired.
“That, gentlemen, is where Mr. Blondel enters the picture,” Blackwish stated. “He happens to
be an experienced pilot.”
“I won’t do it,” Blondel said loudly. “It would be asking for reprisals on the whole human
“Is that the only reason you need the mug?” Fiorella raised his eyebrows.
“The reason seems to me to be sufficient!” Blackwish snapped. “It happens that SCRAG has no
qualified aeronautical specialists in its ranks.”
“Yeah?” Fiorella snapped his cigarette butt over his shoulder and picked up his revolver. He
spun the cylinder, then turned to face Blondel.
“I used to be Navy,” he said. “I got over four thousand hours in jets. I’ll take your bomb in,
General. And we can dump this mug right now, which I don’t trust him no farther than I can throw
“Oh- oh, here we go again.” Blondel watched the gun muzzle swing to bear on him. “Look, give
me thirty seconds, OK? Just to show you what I’m talking about … ” He fumbled desperately in
his pockets, turned up a stick of Wrigley’s, several pennies, the miniature hearing aid – – and the
tiny control device taken from the Monitor’s boot – heel.
“That is it.” He held it up. “You just turn this little know knob here – – ”
The blam! of the .44 revolver filled the room with acrid smoke. Blondel felt a light tap at his
chest, followed instantly by a sensation of heat that swept over him and faded at once. Fiorella
lowered the gun, peering through the smoke.
“Hey.” Someone waved his hands to clear away the obscuring veil. “He’s still sitting up!”
“Kind of short range for a miss, chief,” Sacco commented. “But don’t worry … ” He brought his
gun up and fired. Again Blondel felt t he light blow, this time directly over the heart. Sacco’s
confident grin faded as he blinked at Blondel, still sitting rigid in the chair. The gunman turned the
weapon so as to look down the barrel.
“It ain’t never done that before,” he said. “All I done was pull the trigger – – ” There was a
deafening bang and Sacco executed a back- flip, flopped around for a few seconds, and lay still.
There seemed to be considerable blood.
Fiorella, holding the big revolver in both hands now, with the butt resting on the table, he’d it
out at arm’s length, the muzzle almost touching Blondel’s shirt front. Blondel, still sitting as if paralyzed, roused himself suddenly, reached, caught the gun in his hand.
“This is what I was trying to tell you,” he said. “It’s the repellor field – – ”
“My … my gun,” Fiorella quavered, staring at it. The barrel was folded almost double. Fiorella
carefully placed the weapon on the table before him. It looked like squeezed modeling clay.
“Here, what’s this?” Blackwish queried. “What … what … ?”
Vito’s gun whipped up, fired twice. Blondel reached out, put his palm over the smoking hole
just as the third round fired. The resultant explosion sent four members of the CHANCRE steering
committee sprawling, bleeding from multiple contusions, and knocked Vito over backwards, to sit
up cursing, holding his shattered hand. Blondel jumped up, knocking his chair over, backed
around the table.
“Grab him!” a survivor yelled weakly. Hands reached cautiously – – and were thrown back by
what seemed to be an invisible barrier six inches from Blondel’s body. Blackwish recoiled in” his
chair, his mouth open. The CHANCRE men still functioning backed away, hands raised. “You’re all
a bunch of idiots,” Blondel said. “Maybe between us we could have accomplished something, but
all I’ve gotten have been double- crosses, excuses, and assassination attempts. OK. I’m through
trying to line up any help. I’ll do it alone. Just stay where you are. I’m leaving now.” They
watched dumbly, as Blondel stepped over the various bodies on the floor and opened the door.
The dumpy figure of Max stood in the hall, the Thomp son gun aimed across his hip. It jumped,
spouting red fire, and Blondel felt the rapid slap- slap as the heavy slugs struck the shield around
him. He kept coming, and Max tossed the Thompson into the air and dived for cover.
No one else barred his way. He went along the drive, past the black gleam of the hearse,
crossed a formal lily garden, saw the shrouded shape projecting from the bushes beside a small
greenhouse. He pulled it out, stripped off the tarp. The contraption thus exposed resembled a
cross between a vacuum cleaner and a diving suit. A hoarse call came from behind him; he
“Blondel … !” It was General Blackwish, coming across the lawn, waving an arm excitedly. “It’s
my duty to inform you that I’ve declared martial law here!” he hooted. “In the name of the
Federal Government I’m ordering you to place yourself at the disposal of the nearest military
commander, who happens to be myself! I’m also commandeering for official use the bulletproof
vest you’re wearing, as well as any other items of military value you may have in your
“Go soak your eyeballs,” Blondel retorted. “I’m taking your flying pogo stick, General. I hope
it’s got plenty of fuel aboard.”
“That’s government property!” Blackwish protested, as Blondel deployed the folding blades,
unbuckled the straps which secured the pilot to the saddle. “I’m warning you, this is an act of
“Where’s the bomb stowed?” Blondel demanded.
“My lips are sealed,” Blackwish declared, backing away.
“General, I don’t have any time to waste. It’s a long way to Dry Tortuga.”
“You wouldn’t deliver your nation’s secret weapon to the enemy?” Blackwish’s face looked
purple in the moonlight.
“Isn’t that what you wanted?”
“I … you mean … am I to understand you’ll fly the SCRAG mission?”
“I guess that’s up to me, eh, General?”
Blackwish’s face twitched with strain. “I … I suppose I have no choice but to place the destiny
of America in your hands,” he managed. “Surely you – – a former commissioned officer of the
American armed forces — will not betray that high trust?”
“There.” Blackwish indicated a pouch attached to the main supporting column of the tiny
machine. Blondel opened it, lifted out a heavy cylindrical object no larger than a salt shaker.
“Is this all there is to it?”
“It’s armed and ready,” Blackwish said in a hushed tone. “It’s necessary merely to give it a
brisk rap. Dropping it from waist height onto a hard floor will do nicely.”
Blondel tucked the bomb gingerly into his pocket, then inserted himself into the loose- fitting
coverall that served as pilot’s compartment, settled himself in the saddle. The straps buckled
securely across his knees, tying him in place. He tilted the plastic helmet down over his head,
snugged his feet to the control pedals.
“You will drop it, won’t you, Blondel?” Blackwish’s voice was faint through the headpiece. “You
won’t yield to any insane impulse to defect to the borsht – and- vodkaswilling enemies of the
democratic way of life?”
“It’s about a three-hour flight,” Blondel said. “Maybe by the time I get there I’ll have the
answer to that one.”
He studied the controls, flipped a switch, depressed a key. The rotors came to instant life. He
grabbed the steering levers, angled the abruptly lifting machine away from the outspread
branches of a tree. He looked back, caught one glimpse of the foreshortened figure staring up
after him. Then darkness closed in, and he was alone, rising fast into the inky night sky.