Uptown traffic was terrible and there was an abandoned vehicle on the Henry Hudson Elway at Sixty-first Street that everybody was afraid to approach until the bomb squad got there. Colonel Morrisey’s driver had to detour all the way over to Broadway. It was snowing enough to slow everyone down, and the traffic went from terrible to worse.
10 a.m. Traffic Advisory
The New Jersey Turnpike is mined between Exits 14 and 15 southbound. One lane is open during mine-removal activities.
An abandoned car, presumed booby-trapped, is in the northbound Henry Hudson Elevated Highway at Sixty-first Street and traffic is diverted.
The Lenni-Lenape Ghost Dance Revengers have declared a free-fire zone within four hundred meters of the World Trade Center from 4:00 to 4:30 p.m. today.
No other warnings currently in effect
Fortunately they wouldn’t be coming back that way, because a plane would be waiting near the yacht basin on the river. But the woman who was on her way to arrest, or rearrest, her favorite agent was getting short-tempered. Her name was Hilda Jeanne Morrisey. She had kept that name unchanged all her life, even through her two marriages—both of them brief, ancient and (as she now thought) pretty damn stupid, since there were so many less troublesome ways of having sex. Hilda Morrisey stood a hundred and sixty centimeters tall and weighed fifty kilograms, give or take a kilo or so. That weight also had not changed since her long-ago days as a police cadet, although it was true that it seemed to take more and more effort to keep it so. Her rank in the National Bureau of Investigation was full colonel. It had taken a lot of work on her part to keep that unchanged, too. Colonel Morrisey was long overdue for the promotion that the Bureau’s higher brass kept trying to force on her.
The thing about that promotion wasn’t that Hilda Morrisey objected to either the higher pay or the higher rank. What she minded was the consequences. Being promoted one step higher would automatically move her to a desk in the NBI headquarters in Arlington, Virginia, and Hilda hated desk jobs.
The place where she felt at home was in a communications truck in, say, Nebraska, commanding a raid on their rad-right religious militias, or flying high over the Sea of Marmara to listen to the furtive, coded reports of the agent she had run into the Kurdish command post somewhere on the slopes of Mt. Ararat. Or, for that matter, her present assignment in New York, which was recruiting bilingual Japanese-Americans to penetrate the car factories in Osaka, who were apparently violating the trade agreements by using New Guinea—made parts in their allegedly all-Japanese cars.
Anywhere, in short, but in a desk job. A brigadier’s star was hers by right of seniority, but accepting it would cost her all those fun jobs. True, Bureau policy was “Up or Out,” but not for Hilda. She had been beating that rule for years. When the personnel people got too antsy about her status they always had to buck the question up to the director himself. Who always said, “Hilda won’t take Up, and she’s just too damn good for Out. Give the silly bitch another waiver.” And they always did.
The other thing about Colonel Hilda was that, even at never-mind-how-old, she was still a pretty neat-looking woman—which is to say one who had very little trouble in attracting any man who attracted her. Like, for instance, the man friend of the moment, Wilbur Carmichael, who—once this distasteful job was complete—she had every intention of giving a call that evening.
But the other thing about those jobs she liked so well was that every once in a while they had a bad spot. Like the present one, which required her to do something she really hated, namely to arrest—or rearrest—one of her own.
* * *
When they reached the corner of Jim Daniel Dannerman’s block Sergeant McEvoy had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting the overflow from a minor riot going on. Two sidewalk vendors were having an argument in the snow. It had gotten violent. Punches were being thrown, and one of them had overturned the other’s tray of inflation-beating collectibles. Tarot cards and genuine guaranteed simulated Confederate currency were all over the sludgy, gray-black snow at the curb. The bystanders had joined in, and two street cops were doing their best to cool everybody down. When they caught sight of Master Sergeant McEvoy’s uniform they hastily cleared a path for the Bureau van.
In front of Dannerman’s apartment building Hilda unbuckled herself and looked over at the sergeant. “Target status?”
Sergeant McEvoy already had his head down over his instrument panel. “He’s back in his room. He got himself one of those gyro sandwiches at the place on the corner and took it back to his room to eat.”
“I hope he eats fast,” Hilda said, stepping out into wet slush.
A little man was waddling hastily toward her. He wore a fleece jacket, a wool cap and an armband that said Neighborhood Watch and he was shaking, of all things, a golf club at her. A golf club! Obviously one of those nuts who had some sort of airy-fairy objection to carrying a gun like everybody else. He was belligerent enough for anybody, though. “Move it, lady!” he barked. “No double-parking today; you got to leave room for the plows to get through.” Then, as he caught sight pf the sergeant stepping out of the other side of the van—Sergeant Horace McEvoy, in full Federal Police Force uniform, big as a house and with his hand on the butt, of his shotgun, the man added, “Oh.” He didn’t look impressed. He just looked surly, but he backed out of the way.
As Hilda got out of the elevator on Dannerman’s floor she saw the landlady peeking at her out of one of the rooms. Clearly the woman recognized Hilda Morrisey. She didn’t say anything, though she was looking surly, too.
The colonel let herself into Dannerman’s room with her own key, and caught him in the act of taking off his wet socks. He was sober, if unshaved. He didn’t look like the agent she had commanded through a dozen tough assignments, but then no one could look like an agent when he was wearing a house-arrest radio collar. “Oh, shit, Hilda,” he said, wearily but unsurprised. “Don’t you ever knock? I could’ve been doing something private.”
“You don’t have anything private anymore, Danno,” she told him. “Did you sign that release yet?”
He touched his spy collar. “You know damn well that I didn’t.”
She nodded, since it was the truth, but only said, “Then put your socks back on. They want you in Arlington. You can eat your lunch on the plane.”
* * *
Dannerman didn’t ask any questions—not in his room, not in the car that took them to the VTOL pad by the river, not on the way to Arlington. He chewed away at his cold and congealing lamb sandwich with full attention. He didn’t even ask for anything to drink with it. When the sandwich was all swallowed and its paper wrappings neatly stowed in the seat back, Dannerman closed his eyes. He kept them that way until the plane circled the Washington Monument, preparing to set down at the Bureau’s pad across the Potomac. Colonel Morrisey approved. It was precisely the way she would have comported herself if, unimaginably, she had ever found herself in his position.
Hilda Morrisey was as fond of Dannerman as she ever let herself get of any of the field agents she was charged to run. She certainly didn’t spoil them, but they were—well—family. As long as they remembered that she was the head of their family, with the power to punish or, occasionally, reward, Hilda gave them her unflinching support and even a little bit of as much as she had to give in the way of affection. Dannerman, how, had had quite a lot of both. The man was often a pain in the ass, and irritatingly likely to go off on tangents of his own, and at such times he needed to be brought back in line. But he generally got the job done.
Hilda’s affection for Dan Dannerman wasn’t sexual. At least it wasn’t exactly sexual, though at rare times when she had nothing better to do she had let herself daydream a little about Danno as a stud. She certainly wasn’t sexually jealous of him. She knew that he was currently banging some actress in that little theater group in Coney Island he played around with, plus God knew how many other previous women, now and then, when he was out in the field—well, God knew, but He wasn’t the only one who knew. So did Hilda, because it was her business to know that sort of thing. She had sometimes even felt a little hostility toward the other women she knew Dannerman bedded, like that Kraut terrorist bimbo who had put him in the hospital. Hilda had to admit she’d enjoyed putting the cuffs on that one.
Federal Reserve Inflation Bulletin
The morning recommended price adjustment for inflation is set at 0.37%, reflecting an annualized rate of 266%. Federal Reserve Chairman Walter C. Boettger predicts continuing moderation in the inflation rate for the next sixty days.
But it didn’t pay to think that way about Dan Dannerman. Not only could she not afford to get sexually involved with anyone in that much deep shit, but he was her property. The Bureau had strict rules about that. And so did she.
Dannerman opened his eyes at last when the sound of the plane’s engines changed. They were switching to hover mode; they had arrived. While the plane was depositing itself on the landing pad by the three-story structure that was the visible part of the Bureau’s headquarters, Hilda peered outside. Three people were waiting in the cold drizzle. It wasn’t until they were out of the aircraft and Sergeant McEvoy and the two headquarters guards were hustling Dannerman away that Hilda realized that the third of the waiting men, his face obscured by the rain hood, was Deputy Director Marcus Pell himself .
Pell didn’t offer to shake hands, and Colonel Morrisey didn’t bother to salute. “Good to see you again, sir,” she said, electing to be a little more deferential than usual. “Now, unless you’ve got something you need me here for, I guess I’ll just catch the return flight.”
He gave her the smile she specially disliked, the one that said he was about to give her an order she didn’t want to hear. “Not today, Hilda. I want you to sit in on the Ananias team briefing before we interrogate your boy again.”
“Sir! I’ve got this Japanese car-parts thing—”
“Screw the Japanese car parts. Don’t look so unhappy; we’ve got some lunch for you, if you haven’t eaten yet? Fine. Let’s go.”
There was no use arguing, but she hesitated. “What about Dannerman?”
“Well, what about Dannerman? He can sweat for a while. Do him good.”
* * *
The Operation Ananias team had expanded since the last time Hilda visited Arlington. A dozen people waited in the deputy director’s private briefing room, half of them strangers. As promised there was a small salad and a plate of sandwiches at each place on the blond-oak table, and big ceramic coffee jugs scattered handily about. Some people were eating, and that was good enough for her. As soon as she was seated she began to follow their example.
The deputy director, in no hurry to get started, was thoughtfully sipping at a cup of coffee while keying through his notepad. The men and women around the table were murmuring to each other or staring into space—except for the woman across the table, who was signaling for Hilda’s attention. It was Pell’s vice deputy, Daisy Fennell, She was pretending to scribble with one hand on the palm of the other, looking at Hilda with a questioningly raised eyebrow. Hilda got the message. She shook her head: no, Dannerman hadn’t signed. Fennell pantomimed a sigh of resignation and went back to her own notepad.
Hilda chewed methodically (lettuce crisp, good; but whoever had had the idea of putting fruit-flavored dressing on it needed, reeducation) as she sorted out the people on the team. The screen ID’d the civilians at the table for her and the Bureau personnel were mostly easy: Daisy Fennell, two of the staff psychologists, the elderly Asian woman Who was in charge of electronic operations. That left one she couldn’t quite place; a Bureau man, she was sure, but what was his specialty?
She got no help from Marcus Pell, either. As he refilled his coffee cup, he said, “Might as well get going. All you Bureau people know each other, of course, and I guess the rest of you have introduced yourselves around already. The colonel here is Hilda Morrisey, who has been Agent Dannerman’s keeper. Hilda, this is Dr. Xiang-li Hou, from the Naval Observatory—” And he went around the table, repeating what the screen had already said. The stout black woman in the paisley dress turned out to be a cerebrospinal surgeon from Walter Reed; the two youngish women with me careworn looks were legislative liaison from, respectively, the Senate and the House, and one of them, surprisingly, had her senator sitting next to her. Alicia Piombero, the black woman from Georgia. (Not the worst of the senators, Hilda knew, but still the enemy: the damn Congress was, always trying to mess around in Bureau business.) The aggressively trim-looking man with the obvious hair transplant was a brigadier general from the Pentagon; the one who looked like a prosperous corporation lawyer was. Was some kind of a lawyer, at least, though his specialty wasn’t given. He wasn’t a bad-looking man, though. He might almost have been a somewhat older edition of Wilbur Carmichael, whom—Hilda glanced at her watch—if this damn meeting ever got itself over with, she might still get a chance to see that evening.
She looked up at Pell as he finished. “So now we all knew each other, and I’d like to thank all of you from outside the Bureau for volunteering your time to—I beg your pardon. Dr. Evergood?”
To all National Bureau of Investigation units
Subject: Current terrorist alerts
Welsh Nationalist Dawid ap Llewellyn, sought in connection with the British Museum firebombing, has been reported in Mexico City, presumed en route to a United States destination. Scotland Yard requests Bureau assistance in apprehending this fugitive.
The Rocky Mountain Militia Command deadline for amnesty for convicted assassins in federal custody expired at midnight. The threatened release of anthrax agents in the Missoula, Montana, water supply has not occurred, but emergency measures are still in force.
All standing alerts remain in effect.
The surgeon had raised her hand. “I said, ‘Who volunteered?’ It was put to me as an order.”
“Which makes us even more grateful to you, Dr. Evergood,” the deputy director said, smiling tolerantly. “What we’re here for is a matter that urgently affects the national interest. You probably know some of the background, but I’m going to ask Vice Deputy Fennell to fill in some of the details. Daisy?”
The vice deputy didn’t miss a beat. “You all remember the messages from space mat came in two years ago. Many people thought they were a hoax. A few did not. One of those was an astronomer named Dr. Patrice Adcock, head of the Dannerman Observatory in New York City, who believed they came from an abandoned astronomical satellite called Starlab. Dr. Adcock, by the way, is on the premises and you will be seeing her later.”
Hilda suppressed a grin as she translated for herself: what “on the premises” meant; of course, was “in one of our confinement cells.” Daisy Fennell was as slick as the deputy director himself; she had come a long way since she was Hilda’s own field manager, back when Hilda was a junior agent and the quarry of die moment was the man who had placed a bomb in the Smithsonian. And Daisy hadn’t aged very much in the process. She hadn’t gained a gram, and, Hilda observed, hadn’t touched her sandwiches, either.
“Dr. Adcock,” the V.D. was going on, “discovered some astronomical evidence that an unidentified object had entered our solar system and conjectured that it had dropped a probe which attached itself to the Starlab satellite.” She glanced at the man from the Naval Observatory. “Dr. Hou?”
The astronomer stirred himself. “Yes. At Mr. Pell’s request I made a study of that comet-like object. The data are sparse but consistent with what you just described, although I saw no probe being dropped.”
“Neither did Dr. Adcock,” Daisy agreed, “but she came to believe that one had been, and that there might be some sort of extraterrestrial technology on Starlab. So she asked the space agency to provide her with a spacecraft to visit the satellite, ostensibly with the purpose of repairing it and putting it back in service; she believed she had the right, under the original contract when Starlab was launched. The space agency was unable to grant her request—”
The translation of that, Hilda knew, was we leaned on them to slow her down until we found out what the hell she was up to.
“—because, among other reasons, no American space pilots were available. However, Dr. Adcock recruited two other pilots: one was a Floridian, General Martín Delasquez, the other a Chinese national, Commander James Peng-tsu Lin. She obtained a court order requiring the agency to provide a Clipper spacecraft to carry out the mission. In addition to herself and the two pilots, she had obtained the services of a Ukrainian national, Dr. Rosaleen Artzybachova, an instrument specialist who had helped design Starlab in the first place; Dr. Artzybachova was to go along to study Starlab’s present instrumentation.”
The V.D. paused. “At this point,” she said, “the Bureau had become aware mat Dr. Adcock’s purpose was not to repair the satellite, but to see if there was indeed some alien technology now present on it, which she conjectured might be worth a lot of money.”
Marcus Pell held up his hand; now that they were coming to the good part he was taking over. “Which it damn well would be, of course. As well as being of great national interest to this country. So we took a hand. We arranged for one of our agents, James Daniel Dannerman, to go with her. This is not public information, and I caution you all not to discuss it with anyone outside this team. Go on, Daisy.”
“So,” she said, “the five of them—Adcock, the two pilots, Artzybachova and our agent—launched to the orbiter and came back. They reported that nothing had changed—no alien technology—and the satellite was not repairable. And that seemed to be the end of it.”
She looked inquiringly at the deputy director, who nodded. “That’s when it got hairy,” he said. “Dr. Artzybachova was ill when they landed, I guess because of the stress of the trip—she was, actually, a very old lady. She returned to her home, near the city of Kiev, Ukraine, and died shortly thereafter.”
He paused to look around the table. “I caution you again that what you are about to hear is highly classified, and not under any circumstances to be discussed except within this team.
Stariab, one of the largest and best of the world’s as tronomical satellites, was the property of the T. Cuthbert Dannerman Astrophysical Observatory. It was designed to house visiting astronomers for weeks or months at a time, in the days when passenger launches to Low Earth Orbit were merely very expensive, not preposterous. Then it was called the Dannerman Orbiting Astrolab—the DOA for short—until the last scientist to use the place, a condensed-matter physicist named, Manfred Lefrik, had the bad judgment to die there. By the time the automatic monitors reported to Earth what had happened it was far too late to save his life and, in view of the declining interest in space exploration, not worth the trouble to send up a ship to rescue his body. What the Observatory did, however, was to rename the satellite “Stariab,” because they thought “DOA” sounded too apt. Still, some people preferred to call it the Starcophagus.
“There is an organization of Ukrainian nationalists who think Ukraine should be ruling Russia, the way it used to like a thousand years ago, instead of the other way around, the way they claim it is now—I don’t know enough about Russian-Ukrainian history to get the details straight. And don’t want to, actually. Anyway, this group wants to take over Russia, and they’re willing to use terrorist tactics to make it happen.
“Of course, that’s a local matter. Normally the Bureau wouldn’t consider it an American concern. But, like a lot of these cockamamie terrorist groups, they’ve got cells here and they get a lot of their financing from Ukrainian-Americans. So the Russians asked us to lend a hand. And one of our assets in place in the Chicago cell passed on a report that the Ukrainians had autopsied the old lady…and found something weird.
“Take a look at your screens.”
It wasn’t necessary to do anything to comply. The pop-up screens were rising again at every place, and what they displayed was a sort of X ray of a human skull. Where skull joined spine mere was a fuzzy object the size of a hazelnut.
“This is a slice of a PET scan,” Pell said. “It shows the thing the Ukrainians found in Dr. Artzybachova’s head. And this other one”—click—“comes from the head of our agent, Dan Dannerman. There’s one just like it in Dr. Patrice Adcock’s head—and, we think, though we can’t get at them to check, in the heads of Commander Lin and General Delasquez as well. Nothing like it has ever been found in the heads of anybody else we’ve examined, just in the people that went to Starlab and came back.”
He paused there, gazing amiably around the table, until Senator Piombero couldn’t contain herself any longer. “Well, what is it, Marcus? Some kind of a tumor?”
The D.D. shook his head. “No, it’s not a tumor. We have a copy of the Ukrainian report on the object they took from Dr. Artzybachova’s body. It’s metal. It does not resemble any human artifact. It appears to have been implanted in them while they were on the orbiter.” He paused, giving the group a sort of half smile—not so much a smile as the grimace of somebody who had bitten into something really foul. “Now We come to Operation Ananias. There seems to be a lot of lying going on. Both Dannerman and Dr. Adcock deny that anything of the sort happened. The Floridians haven’t been very cooperative, but we’ve established that General Delasquez denies it, too; we haven’t been able to get much out of the Chinese about Commander Lin.
“But what it is, definitely, is a piece of that extraterrestrial technology that Dr. Adcock went looking for. We want to find out why one of our senior agents is lying to us, not to mention that we damn well need to know exactly what the implant thing is.” He glanced at his watch, seemed about to add something but changed his mind. “There’s more, but let’s leave it at that for the moment. Now we should go to the interrogation theater so you can get a look at Dannerman and Dr. Adcock yourselves.”
Copyright © 1997 by Frederik Pohl