Agent Konev turned to Wayne. He acted more relaxed now, though he remained reserved. “Since you are traveling without credentials, you should have given us some form of advance notice.”
“We would have if it had been possible,” said Wayne. “We were afraid that the Germans would intercept any radio communication we made too soon.”
“That was a real danger,” said Agent Raskov. “You seem to have handled it well.”
“By the time we did radio you, we were closer to Red Army lines than German lines, so we felt it was safe enough to attempt,” said Wayne.
“We took a considerable risk contacting you when we did,” said Ishihara.
“How did you get across the no-man’s-land?” Agent Raskov asked. “I mean to say, as far across it as you got?”
“It was a long, cold walk,” said Ishihara. “And we only dared use our radio when we realized that we could not make the trip on our own.”
“And where is your radio now?” Agent Konev asked. “Do the soldiers have it?”
“No,” said Ishihara. “It malfunctioned. Since it was heavy, we abandoned it under fire from the Germans as we fled.”
Both Russians nodded.
Ishihara did not know if their hosts completely believed their story. However, he could see that they, like the Germans, were at least undecided about them. He was certain that the fact that he had taken the initiative to contact them lent some positive weight to their story, too.
“What help can you give us?” Ishihara asked. “In our search for the two enemy agents?”
“We must confer further on this,” said Agent Raskov. “However, first we can give you some hot coffee.” He grinned openly for the first time. “Coffee is rare these days, carefully rationed. But we can offer you some.”
“I could use something to eat, too, if that’s possible,” said Wayne.
“Of course.” Agent Raskov glanced at his watch. “We can arrange it. As for the help, however, it is quite late. What help do you want?”
“Where would two strangers find shelter in Moscow?” Ishihara asked. “Traveling individually, with no one to help them, where would they go?”
“Public housing,” said Agent Konev.
“That’s right,” said Agent Raskov. “It would be easier for them now, in wartime, than in peacetime. So many people have been displaced by the war.”
“Then we would like to visit these places,” said Ishihara. “To look for our quarry.”
Agent Raskov looked at his partner. “I think we can do this tonight.”
“Yes. Tonight is good. If we find these enemy infiltrators while they are sleeping, they will be easier to identify and apprehend.”
“I agree,” said Agent Raskov. “First we will feed you. Then we will drive you into the city and see if we can take care of this matter.”
“Thank you.” Wayne relaxed a little. Hot coffee, food, and help finding MC 4 were the best news they had received since arriving in this time. “Can you find us ordinary clothes?”
“Wait here,” said Agent Raskov. “We will send someone with coffee and something for you to eat. If we can find clothes, we shall bring them.”
“Thank you,” said Wayne. The two agents left the tent without saying anything else. In only a few moments, they were out of human hearing. However, Ishihara heard them still talking to each other with his enhanced hearing.
“How much time should we spend looking for these other agents?” Agent Raskov asked quietly.
“We should look tonight, at least, in case we can find them quickly,” said Agent Konev.
“We must have more information about our two guests. At dawn, we must interrogate them thoroughly. We cannot allow ourselves to work with only partial information.”
“Even if we find these two agents? That would back up their story.”
“No matter what we find,” said Agent Konev. “Their story is too thin and they have no documents to back it up. We must interrogate them as we would an enemy.”
Hunter lay motionless in the darkened warehouse. He had not shut himself down, but was conserving energy by not moving. Of course, he pretended to sleep at the same time. When a firm, resounding knock sounded at the main door, he did not move, but instantly magnified his hearing. He checked his internal clock and found that the time was 3:17 A.M.
The knocking was repeated, loudly, as someone from the front went to answer it.
“Who’s there?” One of the guards spoke cautiously from inside the door.
“Agents Raskov and Konev, NKVD.”
As the door was opened, Hunter reached out and gently woke Steve.
“Steve, can you hear me?” Hunter whispered.
“I believe the NKVD is looking for Judy. You and Jane move closer to her. Cover her face with something. I will try to create a diversion.”
“What?” Steve opened his eyes, startled. “The NKVD is here after all?”
Hunter slipped his belt unit into Steve’s hand. He knew Steve would not leave for their own time without him except in an extreme emergency. “I have already set the controls. Use it if you must.”
Steve nodded and moved over to wake up Jane and Judy, whispering to them quietly.
Hunter listened to the two NKVD agents ask the guards about Hunter by both his name and his description. The overhead lights came on, causing a number of people in the crowd to stir. Hunter looked up and saw one of the guards pointing directly toward this corner.
The two agents began working their way down the length of the warehouse. Their way was blocked by all the sleeping and newly awakened people on the floor. Hunter had a few seconds to consider what to do.
He was puzzled by their possessing his description but not Judy’s. Still, he expected that these agents would take the entire team if they found the group together. He had to separate himself from the others immediately.
Hunter did not want to return his entire team to their own time in front of so many witnesses. Two such events would definitely be discussed and would influence the local authorities in some way. Having everyone flee out the rear door again might not be as effective this time; the NKVD agents would maintain pursuit, where as the ordinary guards in the previous warehouse had not bothered.
The two agents stared at Hunter with grim determination as they stumbled through the crowd.
To prevent them from taking the human members of his team, Hunter could allow himself to be taken. He felt he could manage to get away later if they arrested him. His team members would still be in some danger without him, but totally avoiding significant risk was now impossible.
To help the rest of his team escape, he would have to lead the NKVD agents away from them.
Hunter got to his feet suddenly. The two agents both stopped in surprise, looking up at him; maybe his height startled them. Instead of running, however, Hunter strode toward them, imitating the scowls on both their faces.
The two Russians recovered from their surprise.
“Stop, comrade,” said one. “I am Agent Raskov. You must come with us.”
Since Hunter wanted to keep their attention on him, he did not bother to answer. He suddenly darted to his right, stepping over a sleepy, puzzled elderly man. As the two agents moved to block his way, he jumped over someone else to a small open spot on the floor.
“Halt! I command you!”
More people were sitting up, blinking in the light and looking around.
Hunter, of course, could have easily leaped through the crowd, throwing the two agents aside with his greater strength. Instead, he was hoping to make them work to capture him, so that they would forget about arresting his team members. He hesitated, giving the agents a chance to maneuver closer.
“You will not be hurt, comrade,” said Agent Konev, as he came forward, pulling a handgun out of his overcoat. “Not unless you force us to get angry.”
Around him, those who were awake gasped and squealed in sudden fear. Some scuttled away from him, still on the floor. Others lay flat, their eyes wide.
Hunter had been prepared to move toward the front door again. Now he stopped, staring at the gun aimed at him. He wondered if these agents would actually risk opening fire in the crowded room. From what Judy had said about this society, he estimated that they would.
The Third Law prevented him from taking an unnecessary risk to himself, of course, but the First Law completely prevented him from fleeing now, for fear that bystanders would be shot by mistake. He raised his hands slowly and did not move. The other agent also drew a gun.
“Do not fire,” said Hunter. “Do not endanger anyone else here.”
“Turn around,” said Agent Raskov.
“Agreed. Please do not fire.” Hunter obeyed. He felt himself being frisked. With the demands of the First Law dominating his thoughts, he fully expected that they would next go after the humans on his team-probably forcing Steve to take them all back to their own time.
Instead, to his surprise, each agent took one of his arms and they walked him forward through the warehouse.
Ishihara and Wayne had been left out in the backseat of the car each time that Raskov and Konev went inside another building. Their hosts had found them each a long, black woolen overcoat, but no other clothes to wear. Wayne kept his cloak bundled carefully under his arm.
For almost two hours after reaching Moscow, they had gone to one facility after another, looking for MC 4 and Hunter among the people displaced by the war. Ishihara had already told Wayne what he had overheard with his enhanced hearing about Raskov and Konev interrogating them when morning arrived, whether or not they located the two enemy agents tonight.
Ishihara knew that the interrogation would involve torture. Under the First Law, he could not allow Wayne to take that risk of harm. They had to escape sometime tonight.
“When are we going to make our move?” Wayne asked. “Wouldn’t this be a good time to get away from them? We’re just sitting here.”
“I fear that simply jumping out of the car and running would put you in danger of freezing to death, without improving our chances of avoiding recapture.”
“Yeah. Well…if we don’t escape to begin with, we won’t have to worry about being recaptured at all.” Wayne sighed. “I don’t want to freeze out there, either, but if we’re going to go, shouldn’t we just do it?”
“Yes, you have a point.”
“Hey-they’ve taken a lot longer in this one than the others. Before, they just talked to a few people at the door, got the lights turned on, and came back out. You think that means something?”
Ishihara turned up his hearing to maximum. Suddenly he recognized Hunter’s voice telling someone not “to fire.” Ishihara knew a weapon was being held on him.
“Get in the driver’s seat,” Ishihara said suddenly, opening his own door. “Now, quickly!” He got out and closed the door as quietly as he could.
Wayne climbed over the front seat and rolled down the window so he could speak to Ishihara. “But now what? I don’t know how to work this thing.”
Ishihara ran around to the driver’s side “They are bringing Hunter out. We must avoid him for the good of your own mission.”
“Okay! But what do I do?”
Ishihara leaned inside, pointing. “Push down that pedal, the clutch, with your left foot. Hold on to the steering wheel.” He grabbed the gearshift and moved it. “Hold this right here and, let up with your left foot.”
“Got it.” Wayne did as he was told. “How do you know how to work this thing?”
“I observed the driver carefully as we were riding before, and listened to the engine and gear sounds.”
“But he used a key to turn it on, didn’t he? And he must have taken it with him. It’s not here.”
“I realized that this vehicle is one I have some knowledge about. It will start a couple of other ways than by normal use of the key.”
“Use your other foot on the other two pedals. Those are the brake and accelerator.”
“All right. That’s the same as in our electric vehicles back home.”
Ishihara hurried to the rear of the car. His hearing revealed three sets of footsteps inside the warehouse walking resolutely toward the front door. Hoping that his information about this car was reliable, he leaned against the back of the car and used all of his strength to push it. Slowly, the car rolled forward.
The vehicle was on a fairly level stretch of pavement. In a moment, Ishihara had it moving faster. Suddenly the car jerked a couple of times and the engine made a coughing noise. Finally it roared to life.
“Halt! I order you to stop!” Agent Konev’s voice came from the front door.
Ishihara ran around the right side of the moving car. He yanked the passenger door open and jumped inside. Then he slammed it shut.
“Now what?” Wayne asked frantically, pushing the accelerator to the floor. “It won’t go very fast!”
“Push down the clutch.” Ishihara reached over at the same time and put his hand over Wayne’s on the gearshift, moving it for him. The engine roared and jerked; then the car sped up as it moved into second gear.
“Halt!” A gunshot followed the shout.
Wayne yanked the steering wheel to turn a corner, making the tires squeal.
Ishihara turned to look behind them just before they completed the turn. In the shadows, Agent Raskov held his gun pointing into the air. Next to him, Agent Konev was holding Hunter by one arm.