Isaac Asimov



(Petrovitch, Russia: 1920 – New-York: April 1992)



Malenkigrad (3)


And yet – and here a small spark of pride managed to surface – the Soviets had wanted him. They had gone to considerable trouble to get him. When persuasion had failed, they had not hesitated to use force. They couldn’t possibly have been certain that the United States would studiously look the other way. They had risked an international incident, however slightly, to get him.


And they were going to considerable trouble to keep him safe now that they had him. He was here alone, but the windows, he noted, had bars on them. The door was not locked, but when, earlier, he had opened it, two uniformed and armed men took up from where they had been lounging against the opposite wall and asked him if he was in need of anything. He didn’t like being in prison, but it was a measure, of sorts, of his value – at least here.


How long would this last? Even though they might be under the impression that his theory of thought was correct, Morrison himself had to admit that it remained a fact that all the evidence he had gathered was circumstantial and terribly indirect. and that no one had been able to confirm his most useful findings. What would happen if the Soviets found that they, too, could not confirm them, or if, on closer consideration, they found it all too gaseous, too vaporous, too atmospheric to trouble with.


Boranova had said Shapirov had thought highly of Morrison’s suggestions, but Shapirov was a notorious wild man who changed his mind daily.


And if Shapirov shrugged and turned away, what would the Soviets do? If their American trophy was of no use to them, would they return him contemptuously to the United States (one more humiliation, in a way) or hide their own folly in taking him, by imprisoning him indefinitely, of course – or worse?


In fact, it had been some Soviet functionary, some specific person, who must have decided to kidnap him and risk an incident, and if the whole thing turned sour, what would that functionary do to save his own neck – undoubtedly at the expense of Morrison’s?


By Tuesday dawn, when Morrison had been in the Soviet Union for a full day, he had convinced himself that every path into the future, every alternative route that could possibly be taken, would end in disaster for him. He watched the day break, but his spirits remained in deepest night:


There was a brusque knock at his door at 8 AM. He opened it a crack and the soldier on the other side pushed it open further as though to indicate who it was who controlled the door.


The soldier said, more loudly than necessary:

- Madame Boranova will be here in half an hour to take you to breakfast. Be ready.


While he dressed hurriedly, and made use of an electric razor of rather ancient design by American standards, he wondered why on Earth he had been faintly astonished at hearing the soldier speak of Madame Boranova. The archaic “comrade” had long passed out of use.


It made him feel irritable, and foolish, too, since of what value was it to brood over tiny things in the midst of the vast morass in which he found himself? – Except that that was what people did, he knew.


Boranova was ten minutes late. She knocked more gently than the soldier had, and said, when she entered:


- How do you feel, Dr Morrison?


- I feel kidnapped, he said, stiffly.


- Aside from that. Have you had enough sleep?


- I may have. I can’t tell. Frankly, madam, I’m in no mood to tell. What do you want of me?


- At the moment, nothing but to take you to breakfast. And please, Dr Morrison, do believe that I am as much under compulsion as you are. I assure you that I would rather, at this moment, be with my little Aleksandr. I have neglected him sadly in recent months, and Nicolai is not pleased at my absence either. But when he married me, he knew I had a career, as I keep telling him.


- As far as I’m concerned, you are free to send me back to my own country and spend all your time with Aleksandr and Nicolai.


- Ah, if that could be so – but it cannot. So come, let us breakfast. We could eat here, but you would feel imprisoned. Let us eat in the dining room, and you will feel better.


- Will I? Those two soldiers outside will follow us, won’t they?


- Regulations, Dr Morrison. This is a high-security zone. They must guard you until someone in charge is convinced it is safe not to guard you – and it would be difficult to convince them of that. It is their job not to be convinced.


- I’ll bet – said Morrison – shrugging himself into the jacket they had given him, which was rather tight under the armpits.


- They will in no way interfere with us, however.


- But if I suddenly break away, or even just move in an unauthorized direction, I assume they will shoot me dead.


- No, that would be bad for them. You are valuable alive, not dead. They would pursue you and, eventually, seize you. – But then I’m sure you understand that you must do nothing that would be uselessly troublesome.


Morrison frowned, making little effort to hide his anger:


- When do I get my own baggage back? My own clothes?


- In time. The first order of business is to eat.



Malenkigrad, 4