Steve, Judy, and Jane joined the work brigade for the day. They rode out to the antitank ditches with everyone else and spent the morning digging together. They moved far enough from the other workers to talk among themselves privately, but Steve did not call Hunter again. He knew that Hunter would not try to contact him, and that left him undecided about what to do.
At midday, they got in line with the others for lunch. After they received hard rolls and bowls of a thin vegetable soup, they sat down to eat by themselves on the top edge of the ditch. The other workers sat with their own friends.
“Have you looked up the ditch that way at all?” Jane pointed.
“Hm?” Judy turned, her mouth full.
“There’s a guy up there who’s small enough to be MC 4. I saw him just now.”
“Really?” Steve tore off a piece of a hard roll. “There must be hundreds of people in the ditch all around us. Where is he?”
“Right now, he’s lost in the crowd,” said Jane, leaning to her right as she tried to see him again. “And he was in the distance, almost out of sight.”
“I don’t see him, either,” said Judy, leaning the other way to look.
“How well did you see him?” Steve asked. “I mean, are you sure it was MC 4?” He looked in disgust at his bowl of watery soup.
“Well, no. But he was dressed poorly; his coat was too big and one sleeve was tom.”
“Like he might have picked up cast-off clothing from somewhere,” said Steve.
“What was he doing?” Judy asked.
“He was digging like everyone else.” Jane was still looking up the long ditch, but she shook her head. “I don’t see him now.”
“Judy,” said Steve. “What would happen if we went to look for him?”
“I don’t think we should. These brigades are rigidly organized.”
“What would happen to us?” Jane asked.
“I don’t know. But I don’t see anybody walking around socializing.” Judy lowered her voice. “It’s hard to convey just how oppressive the Communist Party is during this era. Even the military units have party members watching over the ideological purity of everyone. And, of course, they can summon the NKVD at any time to take away dissidents, real or imagined. The same is true right here.”
“I’m convinced,” said Steve. “We don’t want to attract attention to ourselves. Without Hunter here, I don’t want to take any unnecessary risks.”
“Especially since that guy might just be someone else,” said Jane. “I only got a glimpse.”
“Let’s just keep looking from here for now,” said Steve. “If he does look like MC 4, then at the end of the day, maybe we can see which truck he gets on. That will help us find him later tonight.”
“Good,” said Judy.
Steve thought a moment. “What are the chances that we would just run into him like this? Doesn’t that seem farfetched to you?”
“I suppose it does seem like a coincidence,” said Judy.
“It’s not just pure chance,” said Jane. “Remember, Hunter specifically identified a certain area of Moscow where he expected MC 4 to appear. Our warehouse is nearby.”
“That’s right,” said Judy. “And all the displaced citizens who are not working at something more essential are being drafted into the work brigades.”
“Exactly,” said Jane. “So his presence here, in a brigade from the same neighborhood as our warehouse, is not really too unlikely.”
Steve nodded, looking through the crowd in the distance again. “Maybe we have a chance, then.”
Ishihara drove while Wayne sat rigidly next to him. Though Wayne had to be excited by the prospect of finding MC 4, a glance at him told Ishihara that his human companion was frightened by the fact that other NKVD agents were going to the same location. So far, they had hardly even left the outskirts of Moscow.
“We’re leaving the city,” Wayne said anxiously. “What’s our route?”
“I have been considering this,” said Ishihara. “From what I have been able to observe and overhear on our travels so far, the Soviet lines are positioned mainly to the north of Moscow. I believe they are poised to make a flank attack on the Germans when and if the Germans advance eastward on the city. The antitank ditches are being dug straight west of Moscow, but still have military patrols behind them.”
“And that’s where we’re headed.”
“Yes.” Ishihara drove a varied pattern through the west side of Moscow. Finally he found a well-used, unpaved road leading out of the city. They drove in silence.
After the midday break, Judy picked up her shovel and looked again where Jane might have seen MC 4. Then as Judy resumed digging, she worked her way toward a middle-aged woman in her own brigade. Steve glanced at her but merely nodded, trusting her to be careful.
Casually, keeping her head down while she continued to dig, Judy spoke quietly to the other woman.
“Where is that other brigade from? Do you know?”
“What? Which one?”
“The one working right next to us.”
The woman looked up at her suspiciously. She was missing a couple of lower teeth. “Why?”
“Well…” Judy smiled and shrugged in what she hoped was an embarrassed manner. “There is a man over there I would like to meet.”
“Ah!” The woman laughed. “Ah, yes, I see. Well, they spend their nights in that school near us. You know the one, that was bombed. They had to fix up the roof.”
“Uh-yes. It’s down the block from us?” Judy did not want to admit how little she knew.
“No, no. It’s on the next block.”
“East of us?”
“No, my dear. North.”
“Oh, yes. I’m sorry.”
The woman looked over toward the other brigade. “So which one is he?”
“Well…I don’t see him right now. He’s a rather short fellow.”
“Short?” She laughed, shaking her head. “Ah, you’re so silly.”
They went on digging. Gradually, Judy worked her way back to Steve and Jane. When they were far enough from the others not to be overheard, she told them what she had learned.
“I just wish we could get a good look at him,” said Steve. “If we knew for sure it was MC 4, we could make some definite plans. Maybe we could even grab him, take him back, and then return for Hunter.”
“Really?” Jane asked. “You’d do that?”
Steve grimaced. “I wouldn’t like it much. It’s a possibility, but I’m getting worried about Hunter.”
Eventually, Ishihara could see the military patrols ahead of them on the rolling steppe. Sentries blocked the road. It was 2:37 P.M.
“Have you decided what you’re going to say to them?” Wayne asked.
“I shall say something similar to what we said to the commissar in the factory.”
Ishihara slowed the car as they approached the checkpoint. Wayne stiffened visibly in his seat. Ishihara rolled down his window, preparing to speak to the sentries.
Without a word, a uniformed sentry nodded grimly and waved them through the checkpoint. Wayne glanced at Ishihara in shock. Ishihara showed no sign of surprise as he nodded back and drove past them.
“This is really easy,” said Wayne, with a sudden laugh. “This NKVD car makes all the difference, doesn’t it?”
“I believe part of the reason is up ahead,” said Ishihara, pointing. Ahead of them on the same road, another car similar to their own was just moving out of sight in the distance. Ishihara slowed down a little.
Wayne looked. “What do you mean?”
“I suppose that the agents in that car explained what their business was out this way,” said Ishihara. “The sentries just assumed we were with them. That is why they felt no need to question us. Even in the military, no one in this society wants trouble with the NKVD.”
“But now we have to worry about those other agents,” said Wayne.
“I have already slowed down to let them move away from us,” said Ishihara.
“What if they saw us?”
“If we find them waiting, I shall turn around the car and we shall flee. However, I do not expect that. I believe that they will be searching for MC 4, just as we are, without great concern for us.”
“But you said that the theft of our car has been reported now. Why wouldn’t they check us out?”
“Maybe they will,” said Ishihara. “However, they would not expect the car thieves to be following them. Most likely, they expect us to flee at the very sight of another NKVD car. Remember that the alert to find MC 4 here went out to all the NKVD cars. The agents who come here will expect to see each other near the ditches.”
“I hope you’re right,” Wayne muttered quietly.
“I expect so.”
Ishihara drove over the next slight rise in the ground. Ahead of them, down a long but very gentle slope, work brigades dug ditches with shovels. The NKVD car ahead of them had turned right and stopped. Two agents had just left the car and were walking toward the nearest work brigade.
Next to him, Ishihara saw Wayne slide down in his seat, covering the side of his face with one hand.
Instead of continuing straight down the slope, which would have taken them close to the NKVD agents, Ishihara turned at an angle. He began driving left down the slope, leaving the road. One of the NKVD agents glanced back over his shoulder at the sound of their car. Then he turned back to his business at hand, uninterested in them.
“Okay so far,” Wayne muttered.
Ishihara took the car down to the ruts that ran behind the ditch. The tracks of large truck tires filled the ruts. They had spontaneously carved a rough service road simply by driving up and down here every day.
“I still hear nothing concerning us on the NKVD radio band,” said Ishihara.
“Good.” Wayne sighed. Then he looked back over his shoulder. “Those agents are out of sight now. You want me to drive? Then you can scan the workers for MC 4.”
They traded places and Wayne drove slowly down the rough road. When Ishihara instructed him to slow down or stop, he did, always nervously looking around for more NKVD cars. Gradually, they moved down the length of the ditch as Ishihara searched the work brigades. The ditch was full of people digging up and down its entire length.
“Didn’t the alert identify which work brigade MC 4 was in?” Wayne asked.
“No. It only gave this general vicinity.”
“You could radio MC 4 directly,” said Wayne. “And tell him that we are from his own time.”
“That would merely alert him to the pursuit,” said Ishihara. “He would flee.”
“That’s what I mean,” said Wayne. “We might flush him out that way.”
“Ah, I understand. You mean, instead of remaining camouflaged, he would reveal himself by running away.”
“Maybe. What do you think?”
“It could work if he is in our sight,” said Ishihara. “If he is too far ahead of us, or if he was in the other direction when we turned left, then we would not see him.”
“These ditches are very long,” said Ishihara, looking ahead. “To protect Moscow from attack, they must be many kilometers long. We have many workers to consider.”
“This is as close as we’ve come so far,” said Wayne, shrugging. “Besides, I’m really getting the feel of how to drive this car now.” He grinned wryly.
They continued their slow progress down the length of the ditch. The sun was low over the horizon when Ishihara heard the rumble of large trucks behind them, still in the distance. He did not bother to turn and look.
“Looks like quitting time,” said Wayne, glancing into the rearview mirror. “Here come the trucks to take people home.”
A familiar shape in the distance, among the workers, momentarily slipped into Ishihara’s vision and then disappeared again. “Stop,” Ishihara said sharply.
Wayne hit the brake and the clutch quickly. “What’s wrong? I don’t think the truck drivers will care what we’re doing here.”
“No, that is not the reason. I saw MC 4.”
“What? Where?” Wayne stopped the car and leaned toward Ishihara to look.
Ishihara pointed. “I saw him there, but he is not visible now. He is lost in the crowd.”
“Did he run away?”
“I do not believe so. He has no way of knowing our identities and was not looking toward us.”
Near them, the workers had also seen the trucks coming. They were picking up their shovels wearily and climbing out of the ditch. The crowd was dense, however, and Wayne could not see MC 4 anywhere.
“Maybe we can have him brought to us,” said Ishihara. “We do not have to chase him ourselves.” He got out of the car and slammed the door.
Wayne got out and hurried around the car to join him. Ishihara saw a man approaching him and waited for him with an arrogant expression. The man smiled nervously.
“Can I help you, comrade?” His voice quivered slightly.
“NKVD,” Ishihara said imperiously. “Do you know the code name MC 4?”
“Mm, no, I don’t.” He shook his head tightly. “I really don’t.”
Ishihara described MC 4.
“Yes, I remember seeing him. He just joined us a few days ago. A real little guy.” The man nodded vigorously.
“Have some people bring this man to me immediately. Do not let him escape.”
“Yes, comrade.” The man hurried back down toward the ditch.
Wayne, next to Ishihara, let out a long breath. “Is he going to help?”
“Yes,” said Ishihara. Then his internal receiver picked up another alert on the NKVD radio band. They had been spotted standing outside the car by a pair of agents who did not recognize them. Those agents were on their way for a closer look.
“We must go,” said Ishihara, turning and looking into the distance. In the middle of the line of trucks, he saw another NKVD car. It was trying to get around the trucks in front of it, but the slope was too rough in that spot for it to pass them. “Get in the car and start it. Wait for me. Now.”
Wayne hurried back to the car.
Ishihara ran down the slope after the man he had just sent to find MC 4. “Comrade, wait.”
“Huh? What is it?”
“An emergency has arisen. Tell no one about this man called MC 4. I repeat-no one.”
“Where does this work brigade spend the night?” Ishihara asked quickly.
The man gave him an address.
Ishihara ran back up to the driver’s side of the car. Taking the hint, Wayne slid quickly over to the passenger side. The driver of the other NKVD car honked his horn and waved for the trucks to move out of his way. When the truck drivers could, they slowly worked their way to the side on the uneven terrain.
“It may be a rough ride,” said Ishihara. “Hang on. I will search for a place where we can turn back toward Moscow.” He took the car forward with a jerk. Some distance behind them, the other NKVD car still honked angrily at the trucks in its way.
“What if they have us surrounded?” Wayne asked frantically. “How do we know which way to go?”
“Only one car has reported sighting us so far,” said Ishihara. “I do not believe they saw the license plate on this car. They saw us standing outside the car and must have had our personal descriptions.”
Ishihara gripped the wheel hard and drove forward, glancing in the mirror. The NKVD car had finally passed the trucks and was speeding toward them.