Joshua reached into a small inner pocket in his trousers waistband and brought out a ring, made very simply of gold and holding a stone that looked like a ruby. The mounting seemed to be the least simple thing about the ring; it was a series of golden threads, woven about the stone so as to make a sort of pattern, complicated and asymmetric. Esmerelda turned from the view of the Colonel and unfastened a smaller but very similar ring from her clothing. The two then turned to face the dawn again and, with the light of morning on their faces, surrounded by the small wild flowers, they raised their hands in unison and put the rings on the ring fingers of their right hands, slowly drawing the metal and stone down their fingers; even more slowly turning the stone inward so that the woven mounting was against their palms. The ceremony had begun.
Even the Colonel, who knew nothing of magic, could realize immediately that there had been a beginning. He watched the two simply-clothed people, one a man, one a woman, shake off their sexuality and assume a stature completely different. Their posture straightened but, more importantly, their entire system had become responsive to a different group of thoughts and intelligence, and the bodies that carried these entities reflected the change in numberless ways. They seemed to have suddenly put on more substance, becoming more patently who they were than they had been, and the first light seemed to concentrate, suddenly, on them.
The two held their hands up for several seconds, then placed them palm to palm, and lowered them.
“I desire to know, in order to serve.” They spoke in unison, their voices nearly of the same pitch: very low, even lower than Joshua’s normal speaking voice, and almost hushed, but with a quality of intensity that made each word so clear to the Colonel that he almost felt the sounds impact upon his body. His emotions stirred, and as Joshua began to go through the ritual that banished negativity, he involuntarily began to lift from his own earthly body that part of him which was mental, and move into harmony with the speakers.
Colonel Timothy Church, for fifty years an unthinking ally of his corporeal reality, began to see things he could not explain, things that seemed to him more real than all previous experience. His emotions were riveted by the magnetism generated by the magical personalities of Joshua and his apprentice, and he began to see the light not just as parts of undifferentiated sunlight around them, but as what it really was: their thought images of their magical selves, which they had, with the turning of their rings, brought forth into the physical light beside them, linking their astral and physical realities. Church could see with a totally sensitive eye that these figures were hooded and robed; in fact, were clothed as Theodore and Pablo had viewed them the day of the ritual that had brought the space visitors to this planet. The signs Joshua made with each vibrated word flamed in the air, until the Colonel could hardly see the two standing over their friend in the blaze of articulated light.
Then Joshua built the five-pointed stars, his ritual words bodying forth into the air in light forms, given power by the concentrated thinking which Joshua and Esmerelda had expended over careful years of steady application. And the Colonel saw each shade of color, each sensation that smote the air around him, for he was, more than either Theodore or Pablo had been, a completely receptive instrument and a natural student of magic, with a talent for visualization that does not normally come without much practice. He saw far beyond his capacity for understanding, and his personality came closer and closer in those minutes to a drastic change. For the key to his thinking had changed, and a new key had been minted and honed, and was waiting to turn. Just as a new entity learns to walk, and then to think clearly, so Timothy Church had taken the first step towards a totally new activity. It was never the policy of any master to allow such novices as Church to be exposed fully to the power of ritual magic without preparation, but Joshua had had no choice. And so the Colonel absorbed in a few minutes an experience that normally requires years of preparation.
The ritual of banishment was over now, and Joshua and Esmerelda lay down beside their brother, in the same posture as he: legs crossed at the ankle, hands folded across their breasts. And the Colonel saw the hooded thought images become more and more vital, until suddenly replicas of both magicians’ bodies, bathed in light, loosed themselves from their prone forms and took residence in their hooded projections. The two light forms glowed, pulsing with moving life, connected by a shining cord to the now sleeping magicians. And the thought forms, in which now resided the total consciousnesses of Joshua and Esmerelda, began to move towards the man between them in the flowers. They stood at his head and laid their ringed hands in gentle pressure on the space man’s head, as a bishop does in Confirmation.
“As the silver cord pulls, so we beckon you to follow, my brother.”
Esmerelda’s hooded face turned towards the speaking Joshua, her mental body lending his all its power, sending into the higher planes of the astral light all its love.
“Through many planes we call you here, and through many more might you have given your being its choice of sight, for there are things unseen to us that are open to you, my brother in light. But we summon you back to this plane.”
And the Colonel began to see the silver cord that connected the physical body of the man from space to his mental body; then the mental body itself materialized. It was not hooded and robed, as were the two magicians’ spiritual forms, but was rather swathed in a form of light, without stitch or fold of material, fitting him like a skin.
And three consciousnesses instead of two took up physical existence again. The light around them remained, losing form and gaining luminosity until its special brightness filled the meadow, and the Colonel felt himself bathed in its flow of cleansing substance. Fire and water, he thought in confusion, how could fire be so cool? Or water so bright? The two magicians woke from their sleep, and knelt over the body of the man from space, their earthly hands now on his temples as their astral hands had been before. The light ebbed and flowed about the form, which seemed at first to do no more than shimmer in its glow, but then Col. Church could see that there was some slight movement of the space man’s diaphragm.
Esmerelda stood up and faced the rising sun again. Joshua stood beside her. They raised their hands, and turned their rings so that the stones faced outwards once more.
The ritual of healing was over.
The Colonel sat numbed by the power of the ritual, and the authority of the two magicians who had summoned that power from the astral light. His breath was ragged, and the two turned towards him, hearing the sharp intake of air. Joshua had become his ordinary self again; he grinned at the Colonel with jaunty ease, and walked over to him. “How did you like the hocus pocus, Colonel?” Esmerelda stood beside the man from space still, looking down at him. “He will be fine now, if we can just leave him here long enough to gain the strength to walk by himself. It won’t take long.”
She walked the few steps over to the Colonel. He was still sitting, in precisely the same posture he had been using when the ritual started. Joshua’s words had caused him to look up, but he couldn’t speak; in fact, his expression was on the edge of fear.
A glance passed between the two magicians, and they looked at him more carefully. “Tell me,” said Josh casually. “What did you see down there?”
The Colonel swallowed, his sharp, tenor voice hoarse, his precise delivery muted to slow words. “You left your bodies behind and went off in other bodies. They looked like they were made out of light. I saw the man I thought was dead come back in the same kind of body, and then you all got back in your real bodies, I mean, the ones you’re in now …” He paused and swallowed again.
“Yes,” said Esmerelda, sitting beside him. “Go on.”
“Well, you drew crosses and some other figures in the air, and they stayed where you drew them …”
Joshua waved him to silence. “Col. Church, I am sorry that you were introduced to ritual magic without any previous preparation. We didn’t expect you to see anything at all. I hope that you understand that we use this power only for good. I must ask that you keep this utterly secret, as our rituals and keys are not things that could be used by anyone except us who have worked with them. And if someone knew about them, and wished to harm us, he might be able to hinder us from our work. For since these keys are created by thought, they can also be affected by thought. Will you promise not to tell anybody what you saw?”
Church’s thin lips moved into the first genuine smile Joshua had seen. “Who would believe me if I told them?”
“By the way.” Joshua stood still and lean, with a look of real interest on his face. “You seem to have an unusual amount of aptitude for magic. Would you be interested in pursuing it?”
“I certainly would.”
Joshua nodded. “I’m not sure that I would be the correct person to help you, but at any rate I can give you some books to read, and start you on the first disciplines. As soon as this business is over …
The man from space sat up, slowly and without visible difficulty. After he had become totally aware of his environment, looking all about him and completing whatever preparations for action he felt necessary, he arose without a word and walked, steady-legged, to the Colonel, and past him, to stand beside Esmerelda and Joshua.
“You are again with us, my brother.” Esmerelda got to her feet and reached out to clasp his hand. “How very glad I am to see you are all right again.”
“From Kamaloka to Maya, I am unable to contact my sister.” The man from space gazed without blinking at the two.
“He means from the astral plane to our world of illusion, Colonel. The astral light was that which you visualized earlier. It is another kind of universe than this one, much fuller and more vast.”
“I can’t find her either, my brother,” said Esmerelda.
The man from space stood waiting further instruction; Joshua took the Colonel, who was still sitting dazedly on the ground, by the arm, and helped him to his feet, and then led him off towards the small house where Padeyevsky and Behr were waiting. Esmerelda and the man from space followed, reaching the back steps in time to see the Sergeant come barreling through the door, eyes and mouth wide open. “Christ! It’s a miracle!” He turned to the Colonel. “If we could teach that to the medics, think of what we could do in combat!”
The newly aware Colonel turned and looked at Sgt. Armstrong as if he were an offending infidel, his mouth tight with scorn, but he could think of nothing to reply. He shook his head and went in through the door, followed by the trio of new-style doctors and patient. The space man was made comfortable on the sofa; he was almost immediately in a state of trance.
“Is he dead again?” the Sergeant wanted to know.
“No, he’s just concentrating all his energy on completing the healing process now. He sort of closed off everything he wasn’t using, so that he could mend faster. He just needs to build up his strength.”
Padeyevsky’s face was full of concern. “Did he find anything out about his sister?”
Esmerelda shook her head, long, light hair moving on her shoulders and back. “No, he couldn’t find her. I can’t either. What can we do?”
Padeyevsky faced the Colonel. “Church, you’ve seen that this problem is really one of people from another planet.” He held up a hand. “Yes, I mean people. You’ve seen the man. Well, the girl that was kidnapped comes from the same place he does, and looks as much like Esmerelda as this man here looks like Mr. Behr. That was why she was mistaken for Esmerelda. And neither he nor Esmerelda can find her. They don’t mean physically, of course, they mean that they can’t communicate with her in thought.”
The Colonel was still dazed. “What could have happened to her?”
“We have no idea. That’s why it’s such a life and death matter for us to get going and trace her as far as we can. I think we can at least get to where her physical body was last. Can’t we?”
Esmerelda nodded, affirmatively.
Sgt. Armstrong, feeling that the Colonel had been hypnotized somehow, and had lost control of himself and the situation, pushed forward. “Don’t listen to this bunch, Colonel. They’ve figured out some miraculous cure, and they’re going to try to get away with the secret. Can’t you see that they’re all nuts?”
“Sergeant, please withhold your comments.” The Colonel turned back to Padeyevsky as though the offending Sgt. Armstrong weren’t even present. “I am convinced, Padeyevsky. f don’t know how I’m going to explain this to my superiors, but I think the most important thing right now is to help your friends, and the planet they represent, on behalf of the United States government, and the world. Tell me what to do. I’ll give you all the help I can.”
The Sergeant found it impossible to hold his tongue at this. “Colonel, what about Capt. Crouse? He’s still dead, remember, and there has to be some police action taken. You can’t just let them go, can you? He had an afterthought, and turned to Esmerelda. “Hey, can you bring him back to life, too?”
Esmerelda shook her head regretfully. “No, Sgt. Armstrong, I’m afraid that in his case the silver cord was severed almost immediately after his physical body had lost its ability to remain conscious. We cannot bring him back. I’m terribly sorry. Was he a friend of yours?”
The Sergeant, who had spent his time in this house looking either scornful or angry, lost those violences from his rather indistinct, stubby features, and took on a look of earnest sadness. “Yes, he was. We worked together for almost two years. And now he’s dead, and he wasn’t even in uniform. He was a West Pointer, you know.” His face threatened to dissolve into tears. “And, if it’s your fault …”
Esmerelda spoke as earnestly as he. “Sergeant, please believe me. We had nothing to do with this terrible accident; we were being held prisoner by the same gun that killed your friend. And we are telling the truth about the need for hurry in finding our other friend.”
“Maybe he has a uniform back at headquarters. I could put it on him before we go to tell his wife.” The sergeant sat heavily, stocky body somehow less firm than before. “Are you really going to let these people go, sir?”
“Yes, Sergeant, I believe I am. I wish you would think about the magnitude of this. These are representatives of another race. We should do all we can to help them. If you can’t realize this yourself, please just follow my orders.”
“Yes, sir.” The Sergeant sat back in his chair, his mind boggling at the possibility that the Colonel might be correct. What if these were people from outer space. He’d seen lots of science fiction movies, and he knew all about extraterrestrials. Sometimes they sent a few spies down first to get everything ready, and then they always tried to take over the planet.
The havoc wrought by interplanetary war rose in his visions. He contemplated it sourly. Of course the United States would win: the United States always won. But meanwhile, men in uniform had to give their lives-for these spies.
Well, maybe he would go along with the Colonel for a little while. But after he got back to headquarters and told what he knew, there would be people who thought like he did. The spies would be caught, and their information and mission ascertained. The important thing was to make sure that they didn’t lose sight of the space man while they went haring off after this alleged girl.
“Well,” Padeyevsky was saying, “the most important thing is to find the girl from space as quickly as possible.”
“Would a helicopter be of help to you?” asked the Colonel. “A helicopter?”
“I thought perhaps an air search might be faster. I might be able to get one.”
Pablo’s lip went into his mouth again. “Esmerelda, could you follow the trail in a helicopter?”
“Yes … yes, I think so. It shouldn’t be any different than in the car.
“Can the space man go with us?” asked the Colonel.
“No, I don’t think so.” Padeyevsky’s eye sought Joshua’s for advice.
“No,” said Joshua. “I should think the best thing for him would be to go somewhere where he could rest. He can do it anywhere really, now that the process has been internalized into his own body. But it would be better in my temple, or at least someplace relatively peaceful and quiet.”
Theodore moved forward. “I could drive him back in Pablo’s car. I’d be able to give him food, or anything else he might need. I’m the most expendable of the group right now, anyway.”
Sgt. Armstrong was listening narrowly, and had found his chance to obtain an amount of control over this situation. “You’re not going to let him drive this man off without a guard, are you, sir? Let me go with them, as guard. Crouse’s murder still isn’t settled yet, sir.
The Colonel looked at Esmerelda. “Would it hurt for the Sergeant to be with your friend while he recovers?”
“No, I don’t think so. Could he stay outside the temple, though? No one goes inside the temple without some preparation, usually. It’s on Joshua Starr’s property. It’s a private place.”
“That sounds quite reasonable to me. Right, Sergeant?”
“How many doors are there?”
“Just one,” said Pablo. He held out the keys of the Mercedes for Theodore, but the Sergeant appropriated them. He reached into his pocket, and handed a card to Theodore, after thumbing through his wallet to produce it. “Here’s the name and telephone number of my lawyer, Ted. Any trouble, just give him a call.”
The Sergeant was walking jauntily out of the front door. “Let’s go.
Sergeant Armstrong was smiling as he went through the door of the little house because he was pleased with himself. He had managed to achieve partial control of this so-called space man, and he was sure that the U. S. Army was, ultimately, going to be very happy with him for that. This business about the helicopter excursion was sheer madness. He saw Joshua come through the door with three sheets from Lily’s linen closet. Those were markers for the coming helicopter, presumably. Really bad judgment.
Well, it didn’t matter so much, as long as he had the man from space.
Theodore came out of the front door, leading the man from space by the arm. He had more bedding, and he installed it and the man in the back seat of the car.
The Sergeant bent into the car door. “Listen, I’m sorry that I hurt you, mister. Ah, I’m glad that you’re feeling better.” He stuck out his hand.
The man addressed looked at Armstrong gravely, feeling no instinctive urge to take him by the hand, not understanding what was expected of him. The glance was held for some little time. Then the Sergeant dropped his hand as though it had been stung, his guilt giving way to resentment of the man’s snobbishness.
Esmerelda leaned through the other door and took the man from space by the hand, wishing him good-bye and good health. He turned to her, grave and calm. “There shall be no more actions on my part that are initiated by my own thinking.”
She leaned over him, loosening her hand from his and touching his cheek. “All is well, my brother. You did well. Rest and regain your strength, and send your spirit to join us in our search when you can.
She backed out of the right door, the Sergeant backed out of the left, and then sat in the driver’s seat, rubbing his hands together briskly, and looking out at Theodore. “Well, I imagine you want to get started. I’ll drive, so that if your patient needs anything, you’ll be free to help him.”
Theodore chewed this over. He didn’t like the idea of not being in control of the car, but he had no real reason to object, and the point about being free to help his charge was a valid one, as far as he could see. Besides, the Sergeant had appropriated the keys, and was already inserting them into their slot.
Theodore accepted the plan, and busied himself making the man from space comfortable, putting pillows and blankets where they would do the most good. The blonde heads, so much alike in outline, so far different in expression, were close together for several minutes, and the Sergeant, watching them over his right shoulder, could see how the kidnappers might have made the mistake they did. If that girl they kidnapped and that blonde they called Esmerelda looked as much alike as Theodore and this other man did, then the mistake would have been easy to make, especially at night, and in a hurry. Wait a minute, he told himself. You’re getting to believe that ridiculous story.
Theodore got into the right side of the front seat, and Sergeant Armstrong started the engine of the big car. After such a hard run, it seemed remarkably healthy; its tone was quiet and even. “Listen,” said Armstrong as he backed to the winding road and turned to retrace the path the car had taken so much more hastily earlier during the day. “How did those two get the bullet out, anyway? I didn’t see any knives or anything.”
“As far as I know, they didn’t get it out. It’s still in there. His body chemistry will dissolve the bullet, and carry it away in molecular form, just the way we dissolve different foods, and carry the nutrition to various parts of our body, and the waste matter out. Sort of a garbage-in, garbage-out thing.”
“What? Oh, yeah. Computers say that, don’t they. Well, nobody can dissolve a bullet. That’s half an inch of lead and copper. You can’t tell me he can get rid of that?”
“As I understand it, that’s exactly what he will do with it. See, it’s negative, but he is very positive, and he can use the natural healing powers of his body. We can’t do that, because we’re pretty negative ourselves.”
“You make me sound like some kind of monster.”
“No, that’s not what I meant. I mean, we’re all like that on this planet. It’s just sort of a negative planet.”
“And he’s from a positive planet. Is that right?” Is that right?”
The Sergeant turned onto the limited access highway and drove back towards their supposed destination in silence. He was reflecting on the situation, sifting ways of putting these two he guarded in the hands of the proper authorities, who could be trusted to question them, control them, find out what they knew, not leave them to their own devices. It didn’t really matter to the Sergeant whether the man was from space or not, whether Behr was telling the truth or not. If they were liars, they had, indirectly or directly, caused a murder, and deserved to be brought to justice. This was peacetime! You couldn’t just go around shooting soldiers! And if the man sleeping in the back seat was really from another planet, then the military had far more reason to get him, to get what he knew. The Sergeant visualized the War of the Worlds again in passing, identifying completely with Victory by Earth and the U. S. Army. And, finally, if the two were not connected with the murder, and were not from outer space either, they had still been able to perform a miraculous healing, and this skill had great military use. If medics could heal, very rapidly, the dead and near-dead on the battlefield, you’d have an indestructible army! Sergeant Armstrong nearly took his hands from the steering wheel to rub them together.
It was quite clear that the Colonel’s orders or no, his duty was to bring these two into the protective custody of the U. S. Army. The Colonel didn’t really have the right to command him, after all. He outranked him, sure, but he wasn’t connected in any way with the C.I.D.; the C.I.D. had just agreed to help the Signal Corps on this assignment. His orders actually came from the Criminal Investigations Division, and he was quite sure, although he hadn’t had time to find out, that any new orders would be to do just as he was doing now. Bring ‘em in.
But there were two of them, and he was only one. He would need to move carefully, and fool them, until he had been able to get word to headquarters to have the car picked up.
The Colonel. That was the trouble with the military. It had so many pseudo-civilians running around with uniforms on. The Colonel would probably have trusted Adolf Hitler if he’d talk well. And these people were actors. Hadn’t one of them said that this man from space was an actor? Well, it was his duty to protect the military from civilian tampering. He was, after all, a twenty-year career man. And he knew a civilian when he saw one. That Col. Church was basically a civilian clear through. A reservist given an indefinite extension just because of some fancy degrees.
He couldn’t turn directly and go to Fort Benson, that much was clear. He had to admit it: he was a little scared of these two. Normally, he would just have pulled his .45 and handled the situation. But he’d shot one of them with the .45, and it hadn’t seemed to hurt him for long. Maybe the other one was the same way, on whatever dope or drugs had made him able to recover like that. The Colonel had said that that little fat man Padeyevsky was a genius and he could have invented something like this. What if he shot these two, and they just kept on coming, like zombies. He could be killed that way. They could strangle him. He’d seen gooks doped up, and he’d shot them two and three times with his carbine, and they’d kept on coming. The .45 was supposed to be a manstopper, but it sure hadn’t stopped that space man. Sgt. Armstrong checked on the man in his rear view mirror. Yes, he was still asleep, or pretending to be asleep.
What should he do? Better move while the “space man” was still quiet. There was a rest stop up ahead, with a restaurant and a filling station, in a concrete island right on the super-highway. He pondered his situation, stubby hands clenched on the wheel, jaw muscles moving, and he devised a plan.
Theodore had been watching his driver as closely as he could, and the clenched fingers and jaw were not lost on him; he suspected the Sergeant of getting ready to cross the Colonel’s orders. And he was determined not to let him do that. His long, rather narrow face was tense with that determination. The man from space had been put into his protection and, by heaven, he would protect him!
Sgt. Armstrong slowed and pulled into the island’s vast expanse of concrete, concession buildings, and shrubs.
“Where’re you going? Tank’s half full.”
“I know, son, but nature calls.”
Armstrong carefully parked the car around the corner from the filling station, so that anyone sitting inside the Mercedes couldn’t see into the office of the concrete block building. He twisted the key in the ignition and withdrew it in one quick motion, dropping it into his pocket as he headed for the station. Theodore had no choice but to stay put, for the man from space might awaken at any time. It was impossible, so Esmerelda had told him, to be sure just how long it would take the space man’s body to assimilate the bullet. And when he had finished, he would simply wake up, totally well. Theodore had to stay with him.
Armstrong had strolled casually around the side of the station, and then sprinted to the pay phone and inserted his quarter to call the operator.
“Operator,” announced the operator in the peculiar tones of her kind.
“I want to call collect to the Provost Marshall’s office at Fort Benson. I want to talk to Major Harris. My name is Sgt. Armstrong.”
There were clicks, buzzes, sounds of other operators’ professional conversations, a snatch of popular music from somewhere on the line. Major Harris’s voice cut through phantasmagoria to complete the connection, and the line quieted.
“Major Harris here.”
“This is Sgt. Armstrong. Listen, sir. I got a real crazy story to tell you. I don’t think I can tell you the whole thing over the phone, and I’m in a hurry. Listen, can you have a detail pick up this vehicle here he rattled off the car’s license number and its description-at an intersection as soon as possible? The next exit from here is Redland Road. Can you make it in fifteen minutes? It’ll take us at least that long to get there.”
“We can probably do that ourselves, but I’ll call the police in your area and have them hold the car until we catch up.”
“Well, sir, if a civilian detail picks them up, have them take us to the hospital off that exit. There’s a sick man in the car.”
“Will they be likely to be dangerous, your passengers?”
“No, sir, I don’t think so. But tell them to approach with caution.”
“Will do. What have you got there, Sergeant?”
“I don’t really know, but I’ll tell you this. They’re suspected of selling government secrets. And they might be spies.”
“You’ll have a detail, Sergeant.”
“Thank you, sir.”
Armstrong hung the phone back on its metallic cradle and wiped his short, broad hand off on his pants. He hated pay phones; they always felt grimy and polluted, as if they were sour and matted, microscopically, with unspeakable disease. He shoved that hand into his pocket and began to run back to the Mercedes, wishing that he had indeed had time for his ostensible errand. Theodore was sitting much as he had left him, looking casually and aimlessly out the front window; the “space man” was still motionless in the back seat. That was more of a relief than he had anticipated; this case really had gotten him going. He slid under the wheel and inserted key in starter, but there was no sound of life at all from the engine.
He turned to Theodore, who was looking with a vague air of puzzlement at his hand on the key. “Is the battery in bad shape on this car?”
“I don’t know. First time I ever rode in it was this morning.”
“Well, at least we’re right in a filling station.” He flipped the door handle and got out of the car again with alacrity, disappearing back around the corner of the station.
Behr moved rapidly, sliding under the wheel, reaching under the dashboard and grabbing the wire that he had disconnected. Replacing it against its terminal, and checking with sudden alarm to see that the Sergeant had indeed gone out of sight, he made sure that the car was in first gear, depressed the clutch, and started the engine. The sound brought Sgt. Armstrong tearing around the corner again, in time to see Theodore leaving the parking and rest area in a dead hurry, accelerator pedal to the floor. The tires made gratifying noises, and Theodore was on the entrance ramp, and then down the expressway and away before the Sergeant had a ghost of a chance to catch him.
The Sergeant kept running at a decreasing rate of speed until he jogged gently onto the ramp, stood in the middle of it, and gave up. He cursed himself at length for having fallen for such a simple trick. And after all his years in the military, too. He ran back to the telephone. A teenager’s trick. It was something he was going to be ashamed to report. He’d be hearing about it. Well!
He reached the telephone, panting and beginning to sweat in the slight chill of the morning air, and picked up the sticky receiver again.
The same number was called, and the Major answered quickly. “Yes, Sergeant. What is it now?”
Armstrong told him of his loss of the two, and suggested a roadblock. The Major agreed at once.
“You might send somebody here to get me, too,” said the Sergeant.
“Yes, I’ll have to, I suppose.” The Major’s voice sounded halfway between amusement and anger. Armstrong winced, and hung up.
When Padeyevsky’s automobile had come under Theodore’s hands, it had not found itself in the hands of a master. Theodore was not particularly familiar with the ignition circuit, and he had no idea what would happen if he let the wire go and it came loose again, now that the car was started. Would it stop again? Theodore thought it might. Holding a wire with one’s fingers, however, means shifting in some alternate fashion, and after the first, gloriously wound-out gear, there was a series of lurches, hurried steering movements, and perceptible mechanical grinding sounds while second gear was achieved. After this rather harrowing, and surely too eye-catching experience, Theodore determined to let go of the wire, and hang caution, and that seemed to work much better; the engine continued purring confidently.
It now came to Behr that he was going to have to get off of the superhighway before he could lose the Sergeant. He knew that the Sergeant had called ahead; most probably there would be someone waiting at the next exit. Well, he’d have to hope that he could drive by that exit and seek another one. If he stepped on it, perhaps they wouldn’t have gotten there quickly enough. He couldn’t turn around; the lanes going the other way were across an impossibly deep depression in the road. The Mercedes wasn’t a Land Rover. The speedometer needle went up again, over the eighty mile-per-hour mark. In the back seat, the man from space slept quietly on.
Here was the intersection: Redland Road, the signs said, next exit. He turned onto the cloverleaf. There was a police car sitting at the foot of the ramp so as to control the intersection completely. Theodore slammed on his brakes to try and stop far enough in front of the barricade so that he could back up and try, somehow, to drive the wrong way, in the emergency lane perhaps, back to the expressway. But the waiting policeman had obviously had experience at this sort of thing. His engine was running, and just as Theodore came to a full stop and started to back up, he pulled to a stop right in front of him.
“Hands up and out of the car.”
Behr considered putting that to music. It certainly was catchy. With an ease born of practice, he maneuvered the door open and swung his torso out onto his legs and balanced, hands up again. Again he was frisked; this time, for a pleasant change, his hands were being allowed to rest on top of the car. There really were refinements to this sort of thing. Lessons on polite detainment, by Theodore Behr. If he ever got his hands down, he could write a book.
One of the brave forgers of the bonds of justice was examining the man in the back seat.
“Is he dead, Charlie?”
“No … I can get a slow heartbeat. I think he’s in a coma.”
“Yeah. We’re supposed to take them to the hospital right away. This all of you there are?” The policeman looked suspiciously at Behr.
That did it. Theodore was normally the mildest of people, the most shy. “No,” he grated turning teeth to the sun in an authentic snarl. “There is a confederate in the glove box and an accomplice with a machine gun in the trunk. And if you touch my nose, I’ll blow up. I’m mined!”
“OK, Charlie, give me some help with the sick one.”
“Yeah. And watch this one. He’s a punk.”
“Where are you taking us?” Theodore was afraid he had heard the hospital mentioned.
“No! You can’t take us there! That’s the worst place for my friend. He doesn’t need treatment. He just needs rest.”
No one paid any attention to Behr, and the police car drove off the exit ramp towards the hospital, with a frantic, volubly objecting Theodore Behr inside, and a man from a bright planet, with brightness inside him that was dissolving a dim bullet, asleep and calm beside him.