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MUCH LATER, Robert Fairlie was to remember the simple act of boarding the evening plane at Boston airport as the moment when he first began to move into a new, frightening universe. But at the time, it seemed to him only a pleasing break in his quiet academic routine.

Right after take-off, he opened the newspaper he had bought in the terminal. He spared only a glance at the front page, with its headline of SOVIET ACCUSES U.S. OF VIOLATING MOON AGREEMENT. He was not much interested in that continuing controversy—the Russians had been blustering about something or other ever since World War Two ended, more than twenty years ago. He went through the inner pages, searching the columns.

"Of course," he thought a bit self-consciously, "there's likely to be nothing about me at all. But there might be."

There was. But it was only a paragraph buried opposite the woman's page, and it misspelled his name. It informed that Doctor Robert Parley, professor of linguistics at Massachusetts University and noted authority on Carian "hieroglyphics"—he winced at that word—had been called to Washington to assist the Smithsonian Institution in a matter of philological research.

Not much, Fairlie thought disappointedly. But a newspaper wasn't very important. There would be more about it in the Journal of Philological Studies. For a young scholar—thirty-three was young, in his field—it was a thing that would definitely add prestige.

"Chap I met down at the Smithsonian," he could casually say at faculty meetings, "was telling me . . ."

He wondered what the Smithsonian had for him to do. They had merely written that his work on the Carian inscriptions had convinced them he could aid them, and would he make arrangements for a temporary substitute and come down and consult? He would, and he had. Teaching bored sophomores Grimm's Law was easily left when there was prospect of real research.

Night came, and Fairlie put down the newspaper. The passenger beside him, a middle-aged businessman by the look of him, nodded down at the headline and said, "We ought to just tell those bastards to shove it."

Fairlie, reluctant to be drawn into an exchange of clichés, said, "Perhaps you're right."

"Sure I'm right," said the other. "Everything that happens, they yell warmonger at us. Berlin, and then Suez, and now this Gassendi business. What the hell is it to them what we do in Gassendi?"

His voice droned on, and presently Fairlie closed his eyes and pretended to doze. Then he did doze, until a stewardess touched his shoulder and said they were coming down into Washington airport.

When Fairlie walked down the steps from the plane, he hastily scrambled into his topcoat. A raw March wind was driving across the airport and had scoured the starry sky clean and glistening. He went into the bright crowded terminal and was starting for his luggage when a man came up to him and held out his hand.

"Mr. Fairlie? I'm Owen Withers, representing the Smithsonian."

Fairlie felt surprised, and then flattered. "I didn't imagine anyone was going to meet me."

Withers smiled faintly. He was a vaguely dusty-looking little man of perhaps forty who looked like a small-town lawyer.

"You're more important than you realize. I'll see to your suitcase. And I have a car."

The car was a dark sedan and Withers drove it expertly away from the terminal amid a herd of taxicabs and against a cataract of headlights in the other lane. Presently he turned off that heavily traveled highway onto a peripheral boulevard. They were not going now toward the glow of downtown Washington, but Fairlie assumed that the other was taking a less congested route.

His assumption was shattered when Withers said casually, "Yes, we were lucky enough to get you a ride right out there, so you won't have to stop over in Washington at all."

Fairlie turned and stared at him. "A ride out where?"

"Why, out to New Mexico," said Withers. "Where your work will be."

"No one told me that!"

It was Withers' turn to look surprised and a little dismayed. "They didn't? Oh, Lord—another example of bureaucratic bumbling."

"But why New Mexico?" Fairlie asked. "Why does the Smithsonian want me to go out there?"

Withers made a shrugging movement without taking his hands off the wheel. "I don't know—I'm just administrative hired help. All I know is that it's a field study project."

Then he added, "Here we are."

In the darkness off the road was a far-flung pattern of lights, and a tower with many lights on it. A high fence of chain-link closed all this away from the road, and Withers was turning into an entrance that had a small guardhouse. He stopped, and a serious-faced young man in uniform came out and looked at the papers Withers handed to him.

"Okay, you can go right on through to the flight line," he said.

Withers drove on through the gate.

"What is this—an Air Force field?" asked Fairlie.

Withers nodded. "That's right. As I said, we were lucky enough to hitch you a ride on an AF plane going out there tonight.

Saves your time, and our money. Our appropriation isn't unlimited, you know."

He drove past a long, low building and onto the dark tarmac. Fairlie looked around. He had never been in a military installation before and he found it confusing. He had always imagined a great uproar of planes landing and taking off, but it was not like that. There were the lights stretching far away in lines, and an occasional small jet dark and silent on the flight line, and not much else.

He felt upset. He had expected a visit to the Institution tomorrow, a quiet office, a leisurely discussion with fellow scholars. Instead, in the most offhand fashion, he was to be passed on to New Mexico, where probably some problem in Indian languages was all there was. Whatever it was, Fairlie thought resentfully, they might have made sure somebody told him. It seemed like sloppy procedure for a scientific institution.

Withers stopped the car near another of the small planes. Fairlie was vague about airplane types, but this looked like a fast jet. There were lights near it, and a mechanic in a coverall was going away from it, wiping his hands.

"This is it," said Withers. I'll take your suitcase."

Fairlie stared. "This plane? But I thought—"

"Get you out there in just a few hours," Withers assured him heartily. "It's an R-404—a reconnaissance job going west with an empty seat." And as a man came down out of the plane, "Ah, here's Captain Kwolek. Captain, Mr. Fairlie,"

Fairlie felt a revulsion. Good Lord, this was one of those crazy tin skyrockets that went hooting and screaming across the sky at insane speeds. He didn't want to ride a thing like this. He mentally damned Withers for being so helpful about getting him a ride.

But both Withers and Kwolek seemed to take it all as a matter of course. Probably people down here in Washington thought nothing of casually jetting out to New Mexico, or to Formosa or England, on a March midnight. Captain Kwolek, a broad-faced young man with a button nose, gave him a hard handshake and an appraising stare that made Fairlie suddenly conscious of his own lank, weedy and undynamic appearance. He stifled the protest he had been about to make. His male vanity wouldn't permit him to look scared.

"Thanks for giving me a lift, Captain," said Fairlie, with what he hoped was a convincingly casual air.

"No trouble," said Kwolek. "Climb up, will you? I'll take that case. So long, Mr. Withers."

Fairlie climbed up, catching his foot once on the tail of his topcoat and feeling like a fool, and poked and scrambled into a bewilderingly crowded interior that smelled of oily metal. Another young man in uniform, dark and good-looking and tough-looking, came deftly back and helped Fairlie squeeze into a bucket-seat beside which was an odd metal framework.

"I'm Lieutenant Buford," he told Fairlie. "Here you are—better strap right in. This is the photog's seat but we're running without Charlie tonight."

That meant very little to Fairlie. He had trouble getting the strap around his topcoat, and meanwhile Kwolek was squeezing past him and taking one of the seats up front.

Presently a hellish roar exploded and Fairlie would have jumped erect if it had not been for the strap. He peered out the window but they were not moving. Kwolek did something with his hands and the roar lessened. The pilot turned and said, "We'll get clearance in a minute, Mr. Fairlie."

"Oh, yes," said Fairlie. He felt angry because they treated him like a nervous elderly passenger on a transport. He was only six or seven years older than they were, at most, and while this was all new to him . . .

The roar became loud again and the plane lurched and Fairlie felt things happen to the pit of his stomach. He clutched the camera-standard beside his seat and tried to look unconcerned. He was damned if he would let these two tough young men patronize him. They went up fast, the lights dropping away, and oddly the roar seemed to diminish as the plane ripped through the night on the leading edge of its own screeching fury.

Kwolek looked back again, and raised his voice. "All right?"

Fairlie nodded. "All right." After a moment he asked, "Where do we land in New Mexico?"

"Morrow Base," said Kwolek, without turning.

Fairlie stared at the back of a neck and cap that were all he could see of the pilot. After a moment, he said, "There must be some mistake."

Kwolek shrugged. "No mistake."

But there was! Fairlie thought. He knew about Morrow Base. The whole world did. It was that area of arid land in New Mexico from which the rockets of the American lunar expedition had risen, and from which the supply rockets still went out to the base in Gassendi. And it was a guarded place. It had been said that it would be easier to get into the Fort Knox vaults than into Morrow, especially now with the angry international controversy about the American and Russian lunar bases going on.

Fairlie unstrapped and went forward, scrambling and slipping, and held onto the back of Kwolek's seat and spoke emphatically into his ear. "Listen, there's been a mix-up somewhere. I'm Professor Robert Fairlie of Massachusetts University, Department of Linguistics. I have no business at Morrow, and I don't want to go any farther with this error that someone has made."

Kwolek shook his head. "No error. Please strap in again, Mr. Fairlie."

"But use your common sense, man!" said Fairlie. "They wouldn't want a linguist at Morrow."

Kwolek shrugged. "I've got my orders. Pick up passenger Robert Fairlie at Washington and bring him to Morrow fast. You see? No error at all."

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