Hunter remained standing by the bars in the prison pen after the guard walked away. He kept his back to his fellow prisoners, hoping to avoid a confrontation. Many of them were muttering angrily among themselves about his willingness to cooperate.
A very few defended his choice to reveal information about the German enemy. He decided not to speak to any of them. As always, he feared that unnecessary interaction might lead to events that would be historically significant.
While Hunter waited for the guard to return and, he hoped, take him back upstairs, he also monitored the NKVD radio traffic. He heard the alerts go out to locate the stolen NKVD car. By now, the NKVD had confirmed to him that the stolen car was being driven by Wayne and Ishihara.
Hunter also noticed that an alert had gone out for someone of MC 4’s description. No word of his apprehension had been reported yet. Now Hunter was more eager than ever to escape from NKVD custody.
Finally the guard returned with a partner. Without a word, the guards unlocked the door and escorted Hunter back upstairs to the same interrogation room in which he had been held earlier. They seated him inside and looped handcuffs around a table leg before snapping them closed on his wrists. Then they left him alone again.
The room was reasonably warm, much more comfortable than the prison pen in the basement. The steam radiator was a luxury not wasted downstairs. Its occasional hissing was the only sound in the room.
Hunter felt more confident now, however. No matter what happened in this room, he could arrange his own escape without revealing any robotic abilities to the prisoners downstairs. Getting away was now just a matter of time.
More than two hours passed uneventfully. Hunter heard occasional footsteps and voices down the hall and elsewhere in the building, but he overheard nothing pertinent to him. As he continued to monitor the NKVD radio band, he followed the pursuit of the stolen car. He compared the information from the radio communication among agents and their dispatcher to the map of Moscow and outlying areas stored in his memory. As the pursuit continued, he followed the movements of the pursuit cars. He realized that Wayne and Ishihara were working their way back to the neighborhood where the public housing was concentrated.
Abruptly, he received a direct call on another radio band.
“Steve calling Hunter. Don’t respond! Just listen, okay?” Steve’s voice on the other band was muffled, and nearly drowned out by the sound of rushing air and a loud, rumbling engine. “I hope you’re there!”
Hunter understood that Steve was in a place where Hunter’s voice might be overheard if it came over Steve’s lapel pin. From the background sounds, he surmised that the team was riding one of the big trucks on the way home with the work brigade. Instead of speaking, he transmitted a clear tapping sound in a repeating rhythm: one, two…one-two-three… one, two…one-two-three…
“I read, Hunter! Jane and I are huddling down in one corner of a truck, pretending to talk to each other. Look-Judy took off in one of the other trucks. She’s chasing MC 4, but we’ve already lost sight of her truck in the dark.”
Again, Hunter acknowledged his receipt of the message by transmitting the rhythmic tapping.
“If there’s any way you can meet us back at the warehouse tonight, we need you! And we’ve all seen MC 4, so we have a shot at getting him. I’m shutting off again. Steve out.”
Hunter felt a renewed urgency. His team was on the verge of finding MC 4, but Wayne and Ishihara were also drawing near. In their most recent mission, back to Germany in Roman times, they had taken the component robot into custody and back to their own time only moments before Wayne Nystrom would have caught him, instead.
The voices he could hear down the hall began diminishing. Most of the people left the building, while a few new ones entered. The night staff, much smaller than the day staff, had started its shift.
Shortly after that, Hunter heard two sets of deliberate footsteps enter the front door and come down the hall. The door to the room opened and Agents Raskov and Konev entered. Both their faces were red from the cold; they still wore their overcoats and fur hats.
“This had better be very important,” said Agent Konev. “It had better be more important than what we were doing when we were ordered back here.”
“It is very important,” Hunter said politely. He waited for them to sit down.
“You have further information about the Germans?” Agent Raskov demanded. He pulled off his hat and unbuttoned his coat. “Do not waste our time. What is it?”
Hunter watched him for a moment without speaking. “It is warm in this room, is it not? Perhaps you would like to be comfortable.”
Agent Konev scowled but pulled off his hat and tossed it onto the table. Then he unbuttoned his coat and hung it on the back of a chair. Light from the one lamp reflected off the handcuffs hanging from his belt.
Hunter carefully calculated the moves he could make to escape. Of course, he could not actually harm any humans or clearly display any robotic abilities. However, he could use any ability that he could hide.
“What do you have to say?” Agent Konev glared impatiently at him.
“I apologize for the inconvenience,” said Hunter. At the same time, under the table, he quietly pulled one of the links loose between his cuffed wrists. When it had opened wide enough, he unlinked the chain between the two cuffs.
“Get to the point,” ordered Agent Raskov.
Without a word, Hunter stood up, in the same motion turning over the table toward the two men. Agent Konev was on his left, and as the table fell over on its side and forced the two agents to jump backward, Hunter reached over and yanked the handcuffs from Agent Konev’s belt.
“Hey!” Agent Raskov stuck one hand inside his coat, still backing away.
Hunter could not risk getting shot, which might reveal some evidence of his robotic insides. He quickly jumped toward Agent Raskov and ripped the gun out of his hand. Hunter surreptitiously used his strength to bend the trigger sideways slightly, so it could not be pulled. Then he dropped it on the floor.
Agent Konev was reaching for his own handgun. Hunter shoved his partner hard against him, causing them to fall to the floor next to the radiator. The motion threw Agent Konev’s gun hand off to one side. Hunter also snatched his gun away and bent the trigger in the same manner.
Before the two men could get up, Hunter snapped Agent Konev’s handcuffs on them, looped around one leg of the radiator. While they pulled and scuffled, not yet realizing what had happened, he searched their pockets for their keys. When he found their handcuff keys, he bent them, too.
Hunter heard footsteps running down the hall toward him, probably in response to the noise of the fight. He stepped to one side of the door and waited for only a few seconds. The door was flung open and two more agents ran inside, past him.
Hunter shoved them both from behind, using their own momentum. They both stumbled against the overturned table. Hunter slipped out the door and ran up the hallway.
A man at the reception desk leaped to his feet when Hunter came into view, but then halted at the sight of him. Hunter threw open the front door and found himself outside on the cold, dark street. He no longer had his winter coat, but for now, he had enough stored energy to function even in this temperature. Without stopping, he turned and began jogging in an evasive pattern, around the corners of buildings and through alleys.
Steve and Jane arrived back at the warehouse without any further discussion of their situation. He was worried about Judy but could not see anything to do at the moment. Once they got off the truck, however, Jane leaned over to him.
“Maybe we can find out where that other work brigade went.”
“I could ask around our own brigade. Somebody will know.”
“Let’s wait for Hunter. I don’t want to attract any special attention to us with a question like that. “
By now, they were accustomed to the routine. They joined everyone else in line for the customarily bland dinner. Then they returned to their private corner to eat it.
Steve looked up from his bowl, feeling a little defensive. “It’s tough just waiting, isn’t it? I feel like we should be doing something. But right now, waiting for Hunter to rejoin us really is a good idea, I think.”
Jane grinned. “You know, you’re getting more levelheaded and responsible all the time.”
“Who, me?” He smiled wryly. “Too much time with you and Hunter, I guess.”
She laughed lightly and nudged him with her elbow, almost spilling the contents of her bowl.
Steve returned his attention to his own meager dinner. He really liked Jane and in moments like this he wished they could talk leisurely, without the danger of discovery that surrounded them and the urgency of completing the mission safely. Then, as always, his earlier doubts recurred. Their rapport was based on the dangers around them, not on any ordinary friendship.
After dinner, the exhausted work brigade members settled in for the night. Some were still talking quietly among themselves about the anticipated German attack. Steve sat against the cold wall, anxiously waiting for Hunter.
Finally he heard a knock at the front door. Steve and Jane both watched as the guards spoke to the visitor. When they backed up and let him in, Steve straightened in surprise.
Hunter had kept his body unchanged, but his face was longer and narrower than before. Even at his height, no one who had seen his face before would believe this was the same person. Most importantly, he plodded wearily, as though he had just finished a long day of physical labor. He worked his way down the wall toward Steve and Jane.
“I’m sure glad to see you,” Steve said with a smile. “I would have thought you’d make yourself shorter, though.”
Jane was looking at Hunter carefully. “Hunter, are you okay?”
“I am extremely low on energy,” said Hunter. “I did not receive any sunlight from which to recharge my solar cells today. I have been using my stored energy through all of last night, during the day, and now tonight.”
“Wait a minute,” said Jane. “You can store immense amounts of energy. What happened?”
“You are correct. Until I escaped the NKVD a short time ago, I was using very little energy and still had much to spare. However, I left without my winter coat and had to flee through the city without any insulation. Further, I am conserving my energy for the remainder of the night because I feel we should leave here immediately and make our way somehow to MC 4. At dawn, of course, I will begin to recharge.”
“We don’t know exactly where to find MC 4,” said Steve. “Or Judy.”
“We can ask someone,” Jane added.
“No need,” said Hunter. “Judy called me and told me where she is. But MC 4 is not there.”
“What?” Jane asked. “What happened?”
“MC 4 never got on the trucks to return to the city. He slipped out of the crowd and disappeared. She saw him heading westward across the steppe, but it was too late for her to get off the truck. She rode back to the school used by that particular work brigade for shelter.”
“So we should start by joining up again,” said Steve. “Or do you want to have us spend the night where we are and start again tomorrow?”
“No, I do not dare risk that now,” said Hunter. “Judy does not have your experience with living in other times. Also, we now know something about MC 4’s location and direction. Last, I fear that the NKVD may yet come back here searching for me again. They might take you two for questioning this time.”
“Then let’s get out of here,” said Jane. “How should we do it this time?”
“The lights will be turned off in a few minutes,” said Hunter. “We can afford to wait that long. I suggest we leave the same way as last time, from that other warehouse.” He nodded toward the rear door, then toward the circuit breaker box. “This establishment has the same basic design as our previous residence.”
“Good idea.” Steve glanced around. “I guess it will work again. But I hope we don’t need another shelter. If we keep sneaking out of every place we can spend the night, then pretty soon we’ll use up all the public housing.”
As Hunter had said, the overhead lights were turned out shortly; leaving only a small table lamp burning in the front. Steve and Jane worked their way across the crowded room and flipped the circuit breaker, while Hunter opened the rear door in the sudden darkness and held it. The procedure worked just as well this time as it had before. In a few moments, the team again ran up a back alley out in the cold, clear, night air.
When they were sure no one was chasing them, Hunter stopped to allow his team members to put their coats on and catch their breath.
“Are you both all right?” Hunter asked. His appearance had now returned to normal.
“Yeah,” said Jane, as she buttoned her coat. “Wow, it’s cold out here.”
“I’m fine,” said Steve. “Which way do we go?”
“Please simply follow me. It will be faster and quieter than explaining.”
Hunter led them at a brisk walk through the darkened city. He kept to alleys and side streets as much as possible, ducking into shadows on the rare moments when vehicles appeared nearby. When they reached the school Judy had told him about, Hunter knocked on the door.
A tall, stocky man opened the door and looked at Hunter coldly. “We are full, comrade. Sorry.” He started to close the door.
“We are not seeking shelter.” Hunter grabbed the edge of the door in one hand and held it fast. His tone was firm and authoritative. “Please tell Judy Taub to come to the door.”
The guard made one more attempt to jerk the door shut. His eyes shifted to Hunter in surprise when he realized that he could not move it even slightly. He turned and called Judy’s name over his shoulder.
Judy, with a big smile of relief, was already hurrying to the door.
“We shall relieve you of your overcrowding,” Hunter said, as Judy slipped out past the guard. “Thank you.”
The guard slammed the door loudly.