5-Monitors (Laumer)


After a quarter of an hour, the fumes had cleared sufficiently from Blondel’s head to enable him
to sit up and look around at a corrugated metal floor, a padded curve of door, the clear plastic
canopy and a spread of lighted instrument faces before which Maxwell and another man sat,
hunched forward over a small screen that threw a theatrical light on their faces. Blondel saw that
it was an illuminated map, unreeling steadily across, the frame. Maxwell glanced up. “Ah, you’re
feeling better,” he called over the shrill of wind and the roar of the engines.
“I guess so. What’s going on?”
Maxwell pointed to a glowing blue dot at the center of the screen.
“This is our present location. We made the pickup here” — he indicated a spot on the map – –
“and our destination is to the north of here.” He tapped the upper edge of the screen.
Blondel fought back a sensation of seasickness induced by the swaying, bobbing motion of the
vehicle. “This is quite a machine you’ve got here,” he said. “Who owns it, the Army?”
Maxwell patted it affectionately. “Our Z- car has been quite a little surprise to the enemy.
Radar- negative, nuclear- powered, impregnably armored. Nothing they’ve got can touch it.” He
frowned. “Everything works but the guns. I’ll have to speak to the General about that.”
“General who?”
Maxwell pursed his lips, cast an oblique look at Blondel. “After what you’ve been through, I
assume you’re ready to join the fight in an active capacity?”
“Urn,” Blondel said. Maxwell nodded, as though this were the countersign. “As I told you
earlier,” he said, “there were some of us who were not entirely unprepared for the present
“By the way, what is the present situation?” Blondel cut in. “How much of a beachhead have
they established? What’s our side doing?”
“The enemy controls New York, Philly, Boston – – the whole eastern seaboard, as far as we’ve
been able to reconnoitre,” Maxwell said gruffly. “Every city and town seems to have its quota of
the scoundrels.”
“Where have we hit back? Are their troops on the move? Any armor? What about air action?
Any infantry dropping in to secure the ground?”
“Curiously, they seem content for the present merely to, er, occupy the country,” Maxwell
“They’re content? What about us — has there been much bloodshed?”
Maxwell shook his head. “Not yet — insofar as we know.”
“What’s the Pentagon doing?”
“Nothing.” Maxwell clamped his jaw. “There hasn’t been a peep from Washington. We did have
a verbal report from a pair of refugee bureaucrats that the capital is heavily invested by the
enemy and that the President was last seen headed west in a used station wagon – – but of course,
that’s merely hearsay.”
“What about our allies – – Britain, Liberia, Tierra del Fuego?”
“You forgot Lebanon.” Maxwell looked grave. “All occupied, it appears. None of them have
cashed their first- of-the- month aid checks.”
“This is really serious!” Blondel exclaimed.
Just then the radio went beep! and a fruity voice said: “Hi, fans! This is Happy Horinip, with
your latest Progress Bulletin! It’s a pleasure to report that Block 354, Zone 67 – – remember to
look at your wall chart, if the new terminology is still a little confusing – – Block 354 is the winner
of this hour’s co- op award! Yes sir, Block 354 has topped some keen competition to fulfill their
registration quota a record four minutes, twelve seconds early! Congrats, Block 354, and there’ll
be an official Quota Toppers club emblem and pennant on the way to you … ”
“Is that … ?”
“That’s them,” Maxwell said grimly over the patter. “They’ve adopted this approach on all their
late-night spots. Early in the morning, they use what we’ve designated the HTM – – Hi There Moms
— format, and at 4:46 P.M. they switch to code AYC — All You Commuters. Our top psych men are
trying to crack the implication of it but, so far, no luck.”
” … now for a couple of requests.” The Monitor’s voice was still registering barely suppressed
elation. “Here’s a card signed Bunny and Whitey … ” Maxwell whipped out a notebook, began
writing, his head cocked to the speaker.
“Bunny,” he muttered. “We’re compiling a master list of collaborationists,” he said over his
shoulder. “Whitey. … We already have over seven hundred thousand names on it, and that’s after
less than thirty- six hours.” He closed the book with a snap and looked resolute. “After the
Liberation, we’ll see about some of these fellow travelers.”
“What outfit are you with?” Blondel yelled over the thump and jangle of the record Bunny and
Whitey had requested.
“Blondel, have you ever heard of the Special Counter Retaliatory Action Group?” Maxwell
looked solemn.
“We in SCRAG,” Maxwell said, “have, for over two years, had as our prime mission preparation for the inevitable day of contact with a technologically superior power.

This vehicle in which we’re now traveling” – – he thumped it – –

“is merely one example of the sort of thing we’ve held in reserve for the crisis.”
“SCRAG – – is that some kind of governmental department?”
Maxwell pushed his lips out, indicating cautious confirmation. “Actually, our funds have come in
part from, ah, private contributions, with the balance made up through a special allocation to the
Summer Program of Leisure-Time Undertakings for Retired Government Employees.”
“I think I’ve heard of that one.” Blondel nodded. ” ‘A Sunnier Senility for Senior Civil Servants.’
Isn’t that their motto?”
“Something like that. At any rate, suffice it to say that virtually unlimited funds and the best
efforts of some of the finest brains in the country have gone to prepare the Group to meet any
threat the Enemy could throw at us. As you can see, this vehicle is a special model, superior to
anything our armed forces have at their disposal; all of our equipment is equally advanced.”
“Why don’t the Army and the Air Force have it?”
Maxwell looked astounded. “My God, man, you know as well as I the military services are
riddled with subversives!”
“No.” Maxwell nodded. “SCRAG knows how to keep her secrets. Our network of underground
installations were planned and constructed with a view to maximum security combined with
optimum strike capability. Of course we’ve suffered from a chronic shortage of qualified personnel,

but we’ve always felt that a small elite cadre was preferable to an unwieldy roster of unreliables.”
Blondel cleared his throat and tried to look reliable.
Maxwell cocked an eye at him. “I’ve seen you in action, Blondel,” he said crisply. “I like your
style. I know a one- hundred-per-cent American when I see one.”
“Of course my parents were immigrants,” Blondel confided. “But maybe you’ll forgive that.”
“Say, don’t get the wrong idea about us.” Maxwell chuckled tolerantly. “SCRAG isn’t some kind
of wildhaired extremist group out to make the world safe for blueeyed Protestants. We don’t give
a damn about a man’s race, color, or creed. All we’re interested in is his loyalty to his country.”
His chin got firm. “And I think we can agree that anyone who wants to hand this nation over to a
foreign power to run needs his marbles counted.”
“Any idea where these lads in yellow come from?” Blondel countered. “What kind of fire-power
they’re holding in reserve, if the spot commercials don’t do the job for them?”
Maxwell nodded. “We’ve definitely pinpointed their origin as being somewhere east of the Urals.
We’ve got some pretty fancy radar-type gear that recorded their blips almost three minutes
before the moment at which their landings took place: 3:26 P.M., Eastern Daylight Saving Time,
last Wednesday.”
“Oh.” Blondel scratched his chin. “How did you know where I was?”
“I planted a sounder on you.” Maxwell smiled wisely. “Subcutaneous, little needle the size of a
human hair.”
The raucous sounds from the radio stopped, and five seconds of silence ensued. Then: “Mr.
Blondel,” the Tersh Jetterax’s voice came from the speaker, “I’m most disappointed that you left
us before viewing the remainder of the orientation. I feel that we were making splendid progress.
It is, after all, men of action like yourself whom we need most urgently in our task of bringing the
New Dawn to your people. Since you wish so strongly to leave us, I shan’t press the point. But if
you should change your mind, simply notify one of your friendly Monitors.”
“Oh- oh, I’ll bet they’re on our tail,” Blondel hissed in Maxwell’s ear.
“No – – radar’s clear. They know better than to tangle with one of our Z- cars.” Maxwell was
eyeing Blondel with sudden suspic ion. “That chap seems to think you planned to defect.”
“Well — he did try to recruit me,” Blondel said, “but I didn’t sign anything.”
“Ummm … That’s not good, Blondel. Did they use any drugs on you, any electronic devices –flashing lights, monotonous voices, that sort of thing?”
“They showed me a few pictures and tried to sell me on a retraining program,” Blondel
conceded. “But it was pretty routine stuff.”
“Describe it.”
Blondel delivered a five- minute briefing on Frokinil’s plans for developing the population’s latent
“Tap dancing, eh?” Maxwell frowned and chewed his lip. “The General isn’t going to like this.”
“I wasn’t crazy about it myself.”
“Well … we’ll have to defer any decision until the General’s seen you.”
“Decision about what?”
“About your future usefulness to SCRAG, of course.”
“Oh.” Fighting a slight uneasiness, Blondel made himself comf ortable with his back to the wall
and watched the map unreel as the car headed northwest over rough ground at a speed he
estimated at something over 100 MPH.
He awoke stiff and fuzz-eyed from a dream of being sent over Niagara Falls in a barrel of
cement, groped his way out into crusty snow and a temperature that would have seemed mild to
a Polar bear. Across a wide sweep of tracked white a big rustic lodge, built of logs like a Viking
mead hall, reared up against a backdrop of blueblack spruce and star- sequined sky. There were
lights in the building, and more lights bobbing around outside it. A carbon arc on a derrick built of
timber cut a path across to where he stood. Maxwell made semaphoring motions with his arms
and it swung away. A dog was barking somewhere, and a man’s voice was calling someone’s
name. The sounds had the edge-irritating quality that such things take on with insufficient sleep.
Maxwell told Blondel to follow him; together they stamped across the snow, went up on a wide
porch with benches and ski racks, and a big iron- banded door with a round pink- and- yellow glass
in it. A small, plump man in shirt-sleeves was holding it open and hugging himself.
Inside, there were steps up to a broad hall with coat racks loaded with mackinaws and parkas;
then more steps led down into a big roughhewn room with a high beam ceiling, all dark wood and
antlers and Indian rugs. The fireplace at the far end was ten feet wide, faced with fieldstone; in it
a pair of six- foot logs blazed away like the Chicago fire. A tall, lean, high-shouldered man stood
with his back to the flames, feet planted apart, hands behind his back. He wore riding breeches
and boots, and a red flannel shirt open to show gray winter underwear at the neck. His face was
vague against the light; but he seemed to have a thick, Mussolini- type nose, a straight line for a
mouth, thick slicked- back white hair and a jaw like a power shovel – – not big, but capable of biting
Maxwell went across to him, swung around to wave a hand at Blondel in a gesture like an MC
introducing a featured act.
“General Blackwish, Mr. Blondel.”
The general gave Blondel an up- and- down look, then did a right-face and took three steps,
executed a left about- face and came back, finished off with a snappy right-face and came back to
parade rest.
“You want to be a member of the SCRAG team, do you, Blondel?” His voice was startlingly high
and thin, almost a falsetto.
“Well, not exactly, General,” Blondel said. “Actually, I was sort of thinking I’d just grab a
night’s sleep and be on my way.” Blondel gave Blackwish a hopeful smile; the general’s look
shriveled it in mid-air. “To Ecuador, maybe,” Blondel amplified. His voice seemed to have a loud,
lonely sound in his own ears. “On personal business … ”
Blackwish had thick black brows that grew in a heavy bar. His eyes looked out from the
shadows like a matched pair of black opal stickpins. They bored into Blondel’s face for a full ten-
second count, then flicked past him to Maxwell.
“General, I think Blondel’s a little tired — ” Maxwell started.
“Colonel, I understood you to describe the pickup as a highly- motivated, loyal American!” The
general’s voice had gone a tone or two higher and acquired an edge like a meat saw.
“Well, now, General, I’m sure that what Blondel meant was — ”
“Personal business, eh?” Blackwish drowned him out. “His country invaded by a foreign power
dedicated to the destruction of the American Way of Life, and he’s concerned about his overseas
business interests! You call that Americanism?”
“Well, it’s not exactly business interests, General,” Blondel soothed. “More of a job. Actua — ”
“What job can compare with the duty of hurling the borsht-and-vodka- swilling enemy back
from our shores?” Blackwish’s face had moved forward until his nose was six inches fro m
Blondel’s. He caught an aroma of Scotch mingled with a ruggedly masculine after shave. “You’re
content to hear the tramp of booted foreign feet in your country’s peaceful streets? The jabber of
alien voices in the shrines of Democracy? The thunder of gunfire, mowing down your fellow
“They speak English,” Blondel pointed out. “And I haven’t seen them shoot anybody – – ”
“That’s beside the point!” Blackwish raised both hands as if to call down lightnings. “They’re
invaders! Do you realize that this is the first time since the birth of our nation that the tramp of
booted foreign feet has sounded in our peaceful streets?”
“Well, the British got as far as Washington — ”
“And were hurled into the sea! Would you tuck your tail between your legs now, with the jabber
of alien voices sounding in the shrines of Democracy, and scuttle off to safety in wherever- it-
“I thought maybe I’d give it a try, inasmuch as the Air Force — ”
“Riddled with subversives!” Blackwish shrilled. “Went over to the enemy in a body! Not a
sortie’s been flown, not a bomb dropped, while the enemy swills borsht and vodka on U.S. soil
and their guns mow down loyal Americans, unresisted!”
“Ah, General,” Maxwell eased a word in edgeways. “I think what Mr. Blondel meant was — ”
“You sponsored this fellow, brought him here, to my secret headquarters!” Blackwish blasted
him down. “What’s your excuse, Colonel? You know security regulations!”
“Yes, indeed, General. I just wanted to point out that Mr. Blondel did wreck an enemy chopper,
and that he … ” Maxwell shot Blondel a look pregnant with obscure meanings, ” … penetrated
enemy headquarters at Pulaski and brought out important intelligence regarding their
brainwashing scheme.”
Blackwish opened his mouth and closed it with a snap like a carp taking a bare hook.
“Brainwashing scheme?”
“It’s insidious as hell, sir,” Maxwell said admiringly. “The idea seems to be that they’ll offer to
teach grease monkeys to become ballet dancers and, er, acrobats, and thus lure them into their
toils — ”
“What self-respecting grease monkey would want to become a toe dancer?” the general
bellowed. “Don’t these fellows know they’re dealing with Americans?”
“That’s just a rough idea, of course,” Maxwell said quickly. “Blondel can fill you in on the whole
“Well, what about it?” Blackwish snapped his eyes at Blondel. “Never mind the window
dressing. What have they got in the way of firepower?”
“I didn’t see any guns, but maybe they don’t need them. They’ve got other things.”
“Such as?”
Blondel described the eerie experience of being walked from his car as though his legs
belonged to someone else. “And to judge from the tricks they can play with radios and TV’s, it’s a
safe bet they’ve got more up their sleeves than we’ve seen so far.”
“Is that all you learned, Mr. Blondel?” Blackwish showed him a set of square-cut store teeth.
“Just about — plus the fact that they seem eager not to do any damage.”
“Hmmph! Indeed!” Blackwish snapped his fingers. A bow-legged nautical type, who had been
hovering in the wings, came over.
“Bring me File Y,” the general commanded.
The trio stood in chilly silence, listening to the fire crackle, while Blackwish took two more turns
up and down the quarter- deck. The sailor came back and handed him a black leather folder as big
as a Chinese menu. He snapped it open. “Less than seventy- two hours after initial contact, the
enemy had demolished over forty- one square miles of Metropolitan New York,” he said crisply,
and flipped the page. “In Philadelphia, twenty-one square miles of the municipal area have been
similarly razed.” He flipped another page. “In Boston, fifteen square miles. The figures are
approximate, of course.”
“They’ve blasted the cities?” Blondel frowned.
“There, ah, wasn’t necessarily any actual bloodshed,” Maxwell put in, then faded back under
Blackwish’s glare.
“No actual bombs were employed, it appears,” the general said grudgingly. “Some sort of, er,
instantaneous, ah, disintegrator ray was employed – – if my reports are correct.” He closed the
“Could I see that, General?” Blondel held out a hand. Blackwish put the folder behind him.
“Certainly not! This is classified material!”
“In that case, I guess I don’t believe you,” Blondel said. “Disintegrator rays, yet.” He folded his
arms and looked scornful.
Blackwish bridled like a southern matron encountering a colored citizen in the front of the bus.
“You’re questioning my word?”
“I don’t know you from Adam,” Blondel pointed out. “Maxwell here has dropped a few dark
hints that your outfit is responsible for the last few unbalanced national budgets; but that’s just
talk. What are you a general in, the Salvation Army?”
“I hold my commission as Brigadier- General of State Militia,” Blackwish snarled. “I’m hardly
accountable to a civilian – – ”
“Er, Mr. Blondel has been through a lot, General,” Maxwell interjected. “His nerves are frayed. I
think we ought to forget this little meeting – – we seem to have gotten off on a couple of bad feet –
– and get together in the ” morning, eh?”
“I’d like to see the proof that the Monitors have actually wiped out our cities,” Blondel said.
“Then maybe there’ll be something to talk about.”
Blackwish sucked in a breath — about a bellow and a half’s worth – – but Maxwell slid smoothly
into the gap: “That’s easy enough, eh, General? We’re in dire need of good men, here at SCRAG –
– and, naturally, a man has a right to know the enemy. Why don’t we just show him the photos,
sir, let him grasp the full extent of the atrocities these fellows have carried out while prating of
peace and good will?”
Blackwish grunted, worked his lips around a little, then shoved the folder at Maxwell. Maxwell
opened it and pulled out an eight- by-ten, black and-white glossy, passed it over to Blondel. It was
a clear shot from about ten thousand- feet, obscured by a little early evening haze and a king-
sized fingerprint. But it showed clearly that the city of New York looked like a dingy birthday cake
with a rectangular slice lifted out of the middle. The edges of the annihilated area were as smooth
and straight as if they had been planed off by a power mower, leaving a vacant stretch as clean
as a morgue slab.
“Philadelphia,” Maxwell said crisply, and handed over a second shot. This time the wiped-out
area was in a thick L shape, taking in a good half of the city. The view of Boston was equally
“These were shot about eight hours ago,” Maxwell said. “Just before we set out to collect you.”
“How did you manage to get that close? They’ve got blimps and copters.”
“For some reason we haven’t yet cracked, they don’t molest our copters except to render the
firearms aboard inoperative.”
“Were there any military objectives in those areas?” “None whatever,” Maxwell said flatly.
“Those were some of the most densely- populated urban areas on the North American continent!”
Blackwish stated heatedly. “Uncounted thousands of our fellow citizens have been rendered
homeless by this dastardly act of unprovoked ferocity!” “I wonder what the point was?”
“I think that’s clear enough!” Blackwish snorted. “This was intended as a warning – – a sample
of the brutal power and vicious intent of the invader! But they underestimate the fighting spirit of
America! Rather than intimidating us, these barbaric acts serve only to reinforce our
determination to throw the borsht – and- vodka- swilling scoundrels into the sea!”
“That’s only a part of the picture,” Maxwell contributed. “According to their own admissions,
they’ve closed down every school in the country. The hospitals have been taken over and placed
under what we’ve termed a gauze curtain, with all admissions controlled by the enemy. The same
with the prisons; they boast of having released vast numbers of psychotic killers on the streets —

“Claim to have cured ’em,” Blackwish piped up. “Tommyrot! You don’t cure that kind of human
debris! If I had my way, we’d put an end to coddling and make more use of the death penalty!”
“Our computers indicate that no more than two hundred thousand troops have been landed so
far,” Maxwell stated. “The time for our counterstrike is now, before they’re massively reinforced.”
Blackwish rubbed his hands together. “These fellows are in for a little surprise! They imagine
we’re beaten, cowering to the tramp of booted foreign feet and the thunder of enemy gunfire — ”
“And the jabber of alien voices in the shrines,” Maxwell reminded him.
“Well put, Maxwell. But we have a trick or two up our sleeves, eh, Colonel?”
“Right, sir!”
“What kind of surprise were you thinking of, General?” Blondel queried.
“During the past two years, we’ve not been idle,” Blackwish stated, nodding in agreement with
what he was saying. “Our laboratories – – the finest in the land, manned by scrupulously reliable
personnel, all with impeccable security records, of course — have come up with a number of
devices which will make the invader regret the day that he left his borsht and vodka to tackle
“You must have an impressive complex of laboratories,” Blondel commented. “Where are
“In the basement, of course.”
“You mean – – just one basement?”
“Well, our boys didn’t exactly invent anything,” Maxwell clarified. “We tended to concentrate
our emphasis on technical intelligence work, and I think I can say that our chaps are among the
most adept in the field.”
“They’ve rifled the files of every supersecret agency in the government.” Blackwish almost
beamed. “Turned up some remarkable items, buried in the vaults by the subversives who have
been entrusted with the nation’s security.” He rubbed his hands together.
“Well, what about it Blondel? Are you with us? Do you want a part in the Great Struggle? Are
you an American patriot, or are you not?”
“I have a feeling a new design for a WAC’s brassiere isn’t going to help much,” Blondel said.
“Or, for that matter, a vest pocket H-bomb. Technically, these Monitors are out in front like a co-
ed’s frat pin.”
“Hah! You jape, sir!” Blackwish looked triumphant. “But we hold a weapon in reserve which will
exceed your wildest expectations — and those of the enemy as well!”
“And we’re pretty sure it will be undetectable,” Maxwell added. “It employs an entirely new
destructive principle — and it’s small enough to carry in your coat pocket.”
“I don’t see what good tossing hand grenades is going to do,” Blondel objected. “The Monitors
are scattered all over the country, and I don’t think they’re going to stand around and let you
sneak up on them one at a time.”
“Grenades, pah!” Blackwish chirped. “This is no toy, sir, but a weapon of truly hellish power!”
“And we don’t plan to pop off Monitors one at a time,” Maxwell put in. “We’re carrying out an
intensive search for their headquarters; not the little field HQ from which I plucked you, Blondel,
but their central base of operations. When we do – – blooie!”
“I think you’ve said enough,” Blackwish announced. “More than enough. It’s time Mr. Blondel
declared himself. What about it, sir? Are you with us — or against us?”
“General, I think you’re going at the whole thing wrong,” Blondel told him. “Even if you could
blow Monitors up wholesale – – which I doubt, frankly – – it’s not a move that’s likely to do our side
any good. Up to now they’ve kept things on a high plane – – lots of propaganda, but no firing
squads. But if you succeed in murdering some of them – – ”
“Bah, sir! We’ve no time for the counsels of mollycoddles! They’ve asked for violence! They’ll
get it by God, with bells on!”
“All you’ll do is stir up reprisals. What we need is a grass-roots resistance mo vement. If you’ll
use your Z- cars to distribute leaflets urging passive resistance — ”
“That’s enough!” Blackwish yelled. “Don’t imagine you can spread your defeatist doctrines
here!” He had a bark like a Pekinese pushed off its favorite pillow. “We know how to deal with fifth
columnists — ”
“Ah, General, sir,” Maxwell stepped in. “Don’t be hasty, now; after all, Blondel hasn’t yet said —

“Then speak up, sir!”
“Suppose you do hit them – – or try to – – and fail to knock them out?” Blondel asked.
“Then, at least, we’ll have shown them that we’re not a nation of weaklings – – quitters who’ll
give up their land without a struggle!”

“A suicide mission won’t help matters. Now, if — ”
“It would teach them a decent respect for American patriots!”
“The more they respect us, the harder they’ll fight. Why don’t we let them go on thinking we’re
softies, and then — ”
“For God’s sake, Blondel, tell him you’ll join up!” Maxwell hissed.
“You fellows don’t seem to get the picture,” Blondel protested. “The Monitors could squash us
like bugs if they wanted to. For some reason they don’t seem to want to. I’m against doing
anything that might change their minds.”
Blackwish reached for his hip pocket, produced an automatic. “There are direct methods for
dealing with treason,” he snarled. “I don’t know what your masters imagined they could
accomplish by sending you here, but — ”
“Now hold on a second, General.” Blondel managed to get the words past a sudden constriction
in his throat. Blackwish was holding the gun as steady as a corpse’s smile.
“General,” Maxwell got in, “may I respectfully suggest you not shoot him until we’ve all had
time to get a little better acquainted? We don’t actually know he’s a spy – – and he is an
experienced pilot – – just the man we need for you- know-what.”
“Pah!” Blackwish lowered the pistol, pushed the safety on, thrust it back in his pocket. “At best,
the man’s an arrant coward and a defeatist, Maxwell! I can’t understand how he was able to
hoodwink you into bringing him here. However, for the present I’ll permit you to take him
downstairs and lock him up until I decide what disposition to make of him.”
“Lock him up, sir? But, sir – – ”
“I have a number of captured German technicians on my staff who’ll have the answers out of
him in jigtime! Afterward — ”
“But, General, I brought Blondel here to recruit him, not scare him to death!”
“Colonel, this headquarters is in a state of full War Emergency, condition Red Alert ! I’ll have no unreliables free to snoop here! Lock him up. That’s an order!”
“But he’s likely to get a bad impression — ”
“Colonel, I still have my gun, in case you’re contemplating mutiny in the face of the enemy!”
“Yes, sir.” Maxwell gave Blondel a disgusted look. “Come along, Blondel. I’m afraid you’ve
failed to make a favorable impression.”
Blondel followed Maxwell up to a small room on the third floor under the eaves. It had knotty-
pine walls, heavy rafters slanting down to a small window; a bunk bed with a patchwork quilt, and
a miniature fireplace with a rag rug in front of it.
“Very homey,” he said. “But I thought the General specified the basement.”
“There’s nothing down there but the coal bin and a room full of preserve jars,” Maxwell said in
a tight voice.
“And the laboratories.”
“That’s the coal bin.”
“He might get upset and shoot you for insubordination.”
“The general’s a great man,” Maxwell snapped. “He was the only man in the country with the
vision to foresee this day. He can’t help it if he acts like an idiot at tunes.”
“You think you can talk him out of this raid?”
“Don’t get the wrong idea, Blondel,” Maxwell said sharply. “I’m all for the raid! It’s a
magnificent plan! Don’t let appearances deceive you. SCRAG’s new weapon is all the general said,
and more!”
“Look, if you boys want to play war, that’s fine; but why don’t you just slip me out the back
way, and — ”
“Blondel, I brought you here in good faith, thinking you’d want to get into the fight. Perhaps I
was wrong – – but I’m still a loyal member of the SCRAG team. I feel a certain responsibility for
you – – but don’t fool yourself, I’d shoot you down myself if I thought there was anything in the
general’s idea that you’re a traitor or spy.”
“Just a suggestion,” Blondel said cheerfully.
“Get some rest,” Maxwell ordered. “Perhaps in the morning you’ll see things more clearly. And
don’t get any ideas about leaving. Our security’s watertight; take my word for it.”
He went out, and there were noises from the latch as though large padlocks were being hung
on the door. Then footsteps retreated and left Blondel in silence.
Curled under the quilt, Blondel watched the firelight throw flickery shadows across the ceiling
and listened to the wind whining around the windows, regretting his failure to sign up for the
general’s program – – suicide raids and all, with the option of beating a tactical retreat at the first
opportunity. After all, he reflected sleepily, there was nothing to keep him from putting on his
birdsuit — funny, he’d forgotten how nice it was to fly — and just flit away through the open
window. But first, he’d surprise the general by sailing into his room and buzzing his bed a couple
of times. He was out in the hall now, cruising along effortlessly just under the ceiling. It was a
long, gray hall, with lots of doors with shiny brass knobs. Blondel tried one after another, but they
were all locked – – which was a shame, because there were wonderful things stored there if he
could just get inside. And all the time it was getting harder and harder to fly, and now he was
flapping for all he was worth, but something warm and soft seemed to be engulfing him – –
smothering him – –
“Shhh!” a feminine voice was hissing hotly in this ear, along with an aroma of Spearmint and
Nuit d’Amour. “Do you want to escape from this kook farm, or don’t you?”


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