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Title: I Was a Teen-Age Secret Weapon
Author: Sabia, Richard
Language: English
As this book started as an ASCII text book there are no pictures available.
Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

*** Start of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "I Was a Teen-Age Secret Weapon" ***

This book is indexed by ISYS Web Indexing system to allow the reader find any word or number within the document.


    _He could truthfully say that he never
    hurt anybody. You know--like the eye of
    a hurricane? It never hurts anybody...._


Illustrated by Freas


"Get away from me!" screamed Dr. Berry at the approaching figure.

"But Ah got to feed an' water the animals an' clean out the cages,"
drawled the lanky, eighteen-year-old boy amiably.

"Get out of this laboratory, you hoodoo," shrilled Berry, "or I swear
I'll kill you! I'll not give you the chance to do me in!"

Tow-headed Dolliver Wims regarded chubby Dr. Berry with his innocent
green eyes. "Ah don't know why y'all fuss at me like you do," he
complained in aggrieved tones.

"YOU DON'T KNOW WHY!" shrieked two hundred and eighteen pounds of
outraged Dr. Berry. "How _dare_ you stand there and say you don't know
why?" Berry flung a pudgy hand within an inch of Wims' nose. Slashed
across the back of it, like frozen lightning, was a new, jagged scar.
"That's why!" he shouted. Berry twisted his head into profile, thrust it
at Wims and pointed to a slightly truncated ear lobe. "And that's why!"
he roared. He yanked up a trouser leg, revealing a finely pitted patch
of skin. "And also why!" he yelled. He paused to snatch a breath and
glared at the boy. "And if I weren't so modest I'd show you another

"Kin Ah help it if you're always havin' accidents?" Wims replied with a

Berry turned a deeper red and a dangerous rumble issued from his throat,
as if he were a volcano threatening to erupt. Then quite suddenly, with
an obvious effort, he capped his seething anger and subsided somewhat.
Through taut lips he said, "I'm not going to stand here and argue with
you, Wims; just get out."

"But the animals--"

"You can come back in an hour when I've finished running these rats
through the maze."


"I SAID OUT!" Berry leaped at Wims with arms outthrust, intending to
push him toward the door, but Wims had stepped aside in slight alarm and
the avalanche of meat plunged past and into a bench on which rested a
huge, multilevel glass maze which was a shopping-center model being
tested to determine a design that would subliminally compel shoppers
into bankruptcy. There was a sustained and magnificent tinkling crash as
if a Chinese wind-chime factory was entertaining a typhoon. Berry
skidded on the shards into a bank of wooden cages and went down in a
splintering welter of escaping chimpanzees, Wistar albino rats, ocelots
and other assorted fauna.

Wims moved forward to help extricate the stunned Dr. Berry from the
Everest of debris in which he sat immersed.

"DON'T TOUCH ME!" Berry screeched.

"O.K.," Wims said, retreating, "but Ah guess y'all gonna blame me fer
this, too."

Berry's mouth worked convulsively in sheer rage but he had no words left
to contain it. He put his head on his knees and sobbed.

The other psychologists of the research division came crowding into the
laboratory to seek the cause of all the tumult.

"What happened?" Dr. Wilholm inquired.

"Well, Doc Berry has gone an' riled hisself into 'nuther accident," Wims
informed him.

"I suppose you had nothing to do with it," Wilholm snapped.

"Cain't rightly say Ah had. He worked it out all by hisself."

"Just like the rest of us, I suppose," Wilholm said with unconcealed

"Well now y'all mention it, Doc, Ah ain't nevah seen sich a collection
o' slip-fingered folk. Always bustin' either their gear or theirselves."

"Listen, you--"

"Now lookit Doc Castle up on top o' that lockah. He's gonna bust a leg
if he don't quit foolin' with that critter."

Wilholm turned to see Dr. Castle up near the ceiling trying to get at a
chimpanzee perched just out of reach on a steam pipe. "Castle, are you
crazy?" he cried. "Get down from there before you hurt yourself."

"But I've got to get Zsa Zsa into a cage before one of the cats gets
her," Castle protested. Just then an ocelot leaped for Zsa Zsa and she
leaped for Dr. Castle who promptly lost his balance and plummeted toward
Dr. Wilholm who foolishly tried to catch him. They all crashed to the
floor and lay stunned for some moments. Castle attempted to rise but he
sank back almost immediately with a grimace of pain. "I think my leg is
broken," he announced.

"Well Ah tole you," Wims said. "Ain't that so, Dr. Wilholm?"

Wilholm attempted to hurl Zsa Zsa at Wims but found to his surprise he
could only wriggle his fingers. The effort sent little slivers of pain
slicing through his back.

By this time the laboratory was resounding with the fury of a riot sale
in a bargain basement. Sounds of destruction, counterpointed with cries
of pain and imprecations increased as the staff pursued maddeningly
elusive animals through a growing jungle of toppled and overturning
equipment. At the far end there was a shower of sparks and a flash of
flame as something furry plunged into a network of wires and vacuum

       *       *       *       *       *

Two hours later, Dr. Titus, the division chief, strolled in just as the
firemen quenched the last stubborn flames. He surveyed the nearly total
ruin of the laboratory. "Really!" he said to a thickly bandaged Dr.
Berry who was attempting to rescue an undamaged electroencephalograph
from a gleeful fireman's ax, "can't you test your hypothesis without
being so untidy?"

Dr. Berry whirled and struck Dr. Titus.

"Of course you know what this means," Titus said calmly, rubbing his
jaw. "I'll just have to have a closer look at your Rorschach."

"You can just go take a closer look," Berry snarled.

"Now, now," Titus said soothingly, "why don't we just go to my office
and find out what is disturbing us? Hm-m-m?"

The ax came down on the encephalograph and Berry burst into tears and
allowed Titus to lead him away.

Titus seated himself at his desk and waited for the sobbing Berry to
subside. "That's it," he said unctuously, "let's just get it right out
of our systems, shall we? Hm-m-m?"

Berry stopped in mid-sob and became all tiger again. "Stop talking to me
as if I were a schizo!" he roared.

"Now, now, we are not going to become hostile all over again are we?

"Hm-m-m all you want to, Titus, but you'll change your tune soon enough
when you hear what happened. It was no band-aid brouhaha this time. I've
warned you time and again about Wims and you've chosen to treat the
matter as airily as possible--almost to the point of being elfin.
However, the casualty list ought to bring you back down to earth." Berry
ticked off the names on his fingers: "Dr. Wilholm hospitalized with a
broken back; Dr. Castle, a broken leg; Dr. Angelillo, Dr. Bernstein, Dr.
Maranos and four lab technicians severely burned; Dr. Grossblatt and two
assistants, badly clawed; Dr. Cahill, clawed and burned; and no one
knows what's wrong with Dr. Zimmerman. He's locked himself in the broom
closet and refuses to come out. Twelve other people will be out a day or
two with minor injuries, including your secretary who was pursued by
Elvira, the orangutan, and is now being treated for shock."

Titus protested, "Why Elvira wouldn't harm--"

"Elvira has been misnamed. Elvis might be more appropriate."

"Why I had no idea," Titus mused. "Now I'll have to rerun those tests
with the new bias."

Berry flared up again. "You don't even have a lab left to run a test in.
You can't keep Wims after this!"

"Are you blaming poor Wims for what happened?"

"How can you sit there and ask that question without choking? Ever since
that two-legged disaster was hired to sweep up, everybody in the
psycho-research division has suffered from one accident after another;
even you haven't remained unscathed. Why within the month he arrived we
lost the plaque we had won two years running for our unmarred safety
record. In fact, the poor fellow who came to remove it from its place of
honor in the staff dining room fell from the ladder and broke his neck.
Guess who was holding the ladder?"

"I was there at the time," Titus said, "and I saw the entire
performance. Wims did nothing but hold the ladder as he had been
instructed to do. Old John, instead of confining his attention to what
he was doing, kept worrying about whether or not the ladder was being
held firmly enough and, as could be expected, he dropped the plaque,
made a grab for it and down he went."

"Don't you think it significant, Titus, that Old John had been the
university handyman for eighteen years, had climbed up and down ladders,
over roofs, and had never fallen or had a serious accident until Wims
came upon the scene? And this is just about the case with everyone

"Yes, I think it is very significant."

"Then how can anyone but Wims be blamed?"

"But _Wims_ never has the accidents. _He_ never gets hurt; not so much
as a scratch!"

"The devil never gets burned."

"My dear Berry, let the scientist in you consider the fact that never
yet has Wims so much as laid a finger on any of our people. And Wims
never knocks over equipment, or lets things explode, or sets fire to
anything. I find it very odd that it is only my staff that does these
things and yet to a man they invariably fix the blame on an
eighteen-year-old lad who seems to want nothing more out of life than to
be liked. Don't you find it odd?"

"The only thing I find odd is your keeping him in the face of the
unanimous staff request to get rid of him."

"And have you ever thought of what my reason might be?"

Dr. Berry looked hard at Dr. Titus and said with unmistakable emphasis,
"Some of your people think they know."

It took Titus a moment to fully understand, then he said severely:
"Let's discuss this sensibly."

"There's no point in further discussion. There's only one thing more I
have to say. I'm not going to endanger my life any longer. Either Wims
goes or you can have my resignation."

"Are you serious?"


"Well then, it was pleasant having a good friend as an associate. I'm
certain you will easily find something more satisfactory. Of course you
can depend on me for a glowing letter of reference."

Berry sat openmouthed. "You mean to say you'd keep a mere porter in
preference to me?"

Titus regarded his steepled fingers. "In this case I'm afraid so."

       *       *       *       *       *

The telephone in the outer office rang several times before Titus
remembered he was without his secretary. He pressed a stud and took the
call on his line. He identified himself and after listening a long while
without comment, he spoke. "That's very good, general, two weeks will be
fine. You understand he must be commissioned as soon as possible,
perhaps at the end of basic training.... Of course I know it's unheard
of but it's got to be done. I realize you are not too happy about being
brought into this but someone on the General Staff is needed to pull the
necessary strings and the President assured me that we could depend on
your complete co-operation." Titus listened and when he spoke again a
trace of anger edged his voice. "I don't know why you are so hostile to
this project, general. If it succeeds, the benefit to the free world
will be immense. If not, all we stand to lose is one man, no equipment
to speak of; not even 'face' since it need not ever be made known. A far
cry, I must say, from the military, whose expensive Roman candles, when
they do manage to get off the ground, keep falling out of the sky and
denting Florida and New Mexico with depressing regularity. Good-by!"

Titus hung up and turned to Berry. "Now, my dear Berry, if you'll
withdraw your resignation we can go and have dinner and plot how we can
milk more funds from the university to refurbish the lab and keep
ourselves from getting fired in the process."

"My mind is made up, Titus, and all your cajoling will not get me to
change it."

"But Wims is going," Titus said, nodding toward the phone. "In two weeks
he will be in the Army."

Berry's face went white. "Heaven preserve us," he gasped.

"Really, my dear Berry, for a jolly, fat man you can be positively bleak
at times."

"Let's get the finest dinner we can buy," Berry said. "It may be one of
our last."

       *       *       *       *       *

Private Dolliver Wims liked the Army but was unhappy because the Army
did not like him. After only two weeks of basic training his company
shunned him, his noncoms hated him and his officers, in order to reduce
the wear and tear on their sanity often pretended he did not exist. From
time to time they faced reality long enough to attempt to have him
transferred but regimental headquarters, suspicious of anything that
emanated from the "Jonah" company, ignored their pleas. Now in his third
week of basic, Wims sat on the front bench in the barrack classroom, an
island unto himself. His company, now twenty-two per cent below
strength, and the survivors of his platoon, some newly returned from the
hospital, were seating themselves so distant from him that the sergeants
were threatening to report the company AWOL if they didn't move closer
to the lieutenant-instructor.

The lieutenant watched the sullen company reluctantly coagulating before
him and inquired facetiously of the platoon sergeant, "Prisoners of

"No such luck," the sergeant replied grimly.

"Be seated, men," the lieutenant addressed the company. Misinterpreting
the resentment of the recruits, he decided a bit of a pep talk was in
order. "I know a lot of you are wondering why you're in the Army in the
first place, and secondly, why you should be afflicted with the
infantry. As civilians you've probably heard so much about the modern
pentomic army with its electronic and atomic weapons and all the yak
about pushbutton warfare, you figure the infantry is something that
should be in the history books with the cavalry. O.K., so let's look at
the facts. In the forty-five years since World War II, there've been
almost as many localized, 'brush fire' wars as the one now going on in
Burma. Sure, there's still a limited use of tactical atomic weapons, but
it's still the infantry that has to go in and do the winning. So far
nobody wants to try for a knockout and go _whoosh_ with the ICBM. So no
matter how many wheels or rotors they hang on it, it is still the
infantry, still the Queen of Battles and you should be proud to be a
part of it."

With the exception of one recruit sitting alone on the front bench and
leaning forward with eager interest, the lieutenant observed that his
captive audience was utterly unimpressed with his stirring little
"thought for today." He knew he could find more _esprit de corps_ in a
chain gang. He shrugged and launched his scheduled lecture.

"Because of the pentomic army's small, mobile and self-sufficient battle
groups and the very fluid nature of modern warfare the frequency of
units being surrounded, cut off and subsequently captured is very high.
As early as thirty years ago, in the Laotian War, the number of
prisoners taken by all sides was becoming increasingly unmanageable and
so the present system of prisoner exchange was evolved. At the end of
every month an exchange is made; enlisted men, man for man; officers,
rank for rank. This is an advantage for our side since, generally,
except for the topmost ranks, no man is in enemy hands over thirty days.
This makes any attempts to brainwash the enlisted men impracticable and
a great deal of pressure is thereby removed.

"So, if you're taken prisoner, you have really nothing to worry about.
Just keep your mouth shut and sit it out till the end of the month. The
only information you're required to give is your name, rank and serial
number. There are no exceptions. Don't try to outsmart your interrogator
by giving false information. They'll peg you right away and easily trick
you into saying more than you intend. Now you'll see a film which will
show you the right and wrong way to handle yourself during an
interrogation and a lot of the gimmicks they're liable to throw at you
in order to trick you into shooting off your mouth." The isolated and
unnaturally attentive Wims again caught the lieutenant's eye. "You
there!" he said, pointing to Wims, "come help me set up this screen."

Wims rose to his feet and one of the platoon sergeants leaped forward.
"I'll help you, sir. Wims, sit down."

"I asked this man to help me, sergeant."

"But sir--"

Another platoon sergeant and a corporal were already on the platform.
They had seized the stand and were unfolding it. The lieutenant spun
around. "What are you _doing_?"

"We're helping, sir," the sergeant said.

"Well, cut it out. You noncoms are too officious and it's unnatural. It
makes me nervous."

Wims was now on the platform and had taken hold of the screen cylinder.
One of the corporals was tugging at the other end, trying to get it away
from him.

"Let go of that screen," the lieutenant roared at the corporal. Wims,
misunderstanding, released the cylinder a fraction of a second before
the corporal did and the corporal went tumbling backwards, knocking the
lieutenant off the platform and demolishing the loud-speaker.

The top sergeant raced outside and found one of the company lieutenants.
"Sir, you'd better move the company out of the building right away!"


"It's Wims. He's being helpful again."

The lieutenant paled and dashed inside. He took no time to determine the
specific nature of the commotion which was shaking the building. He
managed to evacuate the company in time to prevent serious casualties
when the structure collapsed.


       *       *       *       *       *

Captain Aronsen, the company commander, faced two of his lieutenants.
"You're not telling me anything new," he said wearily. "I know all about
Wims. I've tried everything to get him discharged, honorably and
otherwise. I've spent a lot of time setting things up so he could hardly
help but foul up and we could bounce him, but what happens? Everybody
else fouls up and he stays clean. And as if that isn't enough to worry
about, headquarters has notified me that General Harmon B. Fyfe of the
General Staff will come down from Washington tomorrow for a tour of
this post. He'll visit the bivouac area and observe the tactical
exercises. As you know, gentlemen, tomorrow is the final day of the
two-week bivouac for this company which completes their sixteen-week
basic training program. We'll have the usual company combat exercise
which will involve the attack, capture and defense against counterattack
of Hill Ninety-three."

"The same as always," said one of the lieutenants.

"It won't be the same as always!" the captain said, banging his fist on
his desk. "The area of action, the battle plan may be the same but this
time we've got General Fyfe as an observer and Dolliver Wims as a
participant and, if I can manage to squeeze the day successfully past
that Scylla and Charybdis, I'll promise not to devour any more second
lieutenants between meals."

"Sir," offered one of the lieutenants, "why don't we put Wims in the
hospital just for tomorrow. It would be simple to arrange--say, an upset

The captain looked sadly at his junior officer. "It's the only hospital
we have," he said. "Besides, I have a better idea. I'm detaching Wims
from his platoon and will keep him with me at the company command post
as a messenger and I'll shoot the first man who attempts to use him as a
messenger or anything else."

"Hah! No need to worry about that, sir. Wims may have us a little shook
up but he hasn't flipped us yet."

"I hope we can all say that when tomorrow ends," the captain said

       *       *       *       *       *

The company command post had been set up under a cluster of dispirited
pines obviously suffering from tired sap but in spite of the ragged
shade they provided against the mild, mid-morning sun, Captain Aronsen
was perspiring excessively and becoming increasingly unsettled. He
glanced uneasily over at the somewhat planetary bulk of General Fyfe
surrounded by his satellite colonels and other aides, and muttered to
his lieutenant, "If Old Brassbottom came down here to observe the
exercise, then why the devil doesn't he go over to the hill and observe
instead of hanging around here like a sword of Demosthenes?"

"I think you mean Damocles, captain," the lieutenant corrected.
"Demosthenes was the orator."

Aronsen looked sourly at the lieutenant. "I know what I'm talking about.
Fyfe has only to say the word and off come our heads."

The lieutenant lowered his voice. "I don't like the way he keeps looking
at Wims. Do you think he's heard about him?"

"In Washington?"

"You know how rumors travel in the Army."

"Rumors, yes," the captain said, "but the truth can't even limp out of
the orderly room." He wiped his brow and shot a venomous glance at Wims.
He said to the lieutenant, "I don't like Wims sitting there in full
view of the general. Go tell him to take his comic book and sit on the
other side of the tree."

At that moment one of the young trainees stumbled into the headquarters
area bleeding profusely from a deep gash on his cheek. Between
lung-tearing gasps he told how the machine gun, intended to serve as the
base of fire for the attacking platoons, had been captured by a Red
patrol before it could be set up. They were being led off under the
supervision of a referee when he tumbled into a ravine and in the
confusion made good his escape.

"Get the jeep and rush this man to the hospital," the captain instructed
the lieutenant.

"What about the attack?" the lieutenant inquired. "Someone will have to
get word to the forward platoons to hold up until we can move up a new

"I'll send a messenger."

"But they're all out."

"One of them is bound to return soon. If not, I'll--"

"What is the matter with that man sulking behind that tree?" boomed
General Fyfe who had been listening since the trainee had blurted his

The lieutenant snatched the bleeding recruit's arm and bolted for the

"Hey, lieutenant, take it easy," the trainee complained, "you're pulling
my arm off!"

Ignoring him, the lieutenant was absorbed in desperate calculation. "The
base hospital is about twelve miles from here," he muttered as they ran.
"We should be safe enough there."

"But, general," the captain was protesting, "that man is the company
snafu. He means well but he was designed by nature to foul things up."

"I won't buy that, captain," the general said forcefully. "If a man has
the right attitude and still doesn't measure up then it's the fault of
the people who are training him." There was a mark of menace in the
general's voice as he said, "Do you read me?"

"Like the handwriting on the wall," the captain said resignedly. He
glanced at the tree behind which, he knew, doom sat reading a comic

"Give the man a chance to redeem himself and I'm certain he'll come
through with flying colors. I'll give you the opportunity to prove it to
yourself." The general turned and bellowed at the tree, "Soldier! You!
Private Wims! Come over here!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Wims scurried over to the general and snapped a salute. The general
flicked his hand in return. "Wims, your commanding officer has an
important mission for you."

Wims turned to his captain, his face alight. He braced and saluted

"Wims," the captain said, "I want you to take a message to the
lieutenant in command of the first, third and fourth platoons now in the
jump-off area. Do you understand so far?" Wims nodded. "Tell the
lieutenant there's been a delay in the attack plan. He's not to move out
until he sees a white signal flare fired from the spur of woods on his
left. Have you got that?"

Wims nodded emphatically, "Yes, suh!"

"Repeat the message."

"Ah'm to tell the lieutenant there's been a change in plans an' he's not
supposed to move until a white flare is shot outta the woods on his left

The captain exploded. "Delay, not change! And I didn't say anything
about a left flank! The woods on his left flank and the spur of woods on
his left that stick out a hundred yards beyond his present position are
two different things! So help me, Wims, if you get this message fouled
up, I'll use you as a dummy for bayonet practice."

Wims squirmed unhappily. "Couldn't you write it down, suh?"

"Why? So you can get captured and--"

The general interposed. "Even if the message is a bit garbled the intent
should be obvious to the lieutenant if he has any intelligence."

The captain regarded the general balefully and then snapped at Wims,
"What are you waiting for? Move out! ON THE DOUBLE!"

Wims trotted away and as soon as he was out of sight the general said
abruptly to Aronsen, "I'm going over to the Red lines and watch your
Blue attack from there."

_Sure_, the captain snarled inwardly, _now that he's set the fuse he's
running for the hills_.

The general climbed into his command car and waited while one of his
majors dashed into the woods along the path that led to the attack
group's staging area. Less than a minute later he returned, followed by
a colonel. They jumped into the command car which roared off
immediately. As the captain was trying to puzzle out the incident's
meaning, three of his runners came out of the woods along the same path.

"Where have you goldbricks been? You should've been back long ago!"

"Sir," one of them spoke up, "there was a colonel a little way back
there wouldn't let us pass. Said the gen'ral was havin' a secret
conf'rence and for us to wait."

The captain tucked away the strange information for later consideration.
Right now there was no time to be lost. "You! Get over to the attack
group and tell the lieutenant in command to hold up until a white flare
is fired from the spur of woods on his left. All other orders remain the
same. If Wims has already been there, the lieutenant is to disregard any
message Wims might have given him. If you see Wims, tell him to get back
here. All right, move out!

"You! Get over to the second platoon in the reserve area and tell them
to rush a replacement machine gun with support riflemen to the tip of
the spur; base of fire to be maintained twenty minutes. Signal end of
firing with white flare."

The captain dispatched his last runner with additional tactical
revisions and then took time to consider the odd fact that the general
had one of his colonels delay his messengers. Was he only testing his
ability to improvise? Yet he seemed unduly anxious to have him use Wims.
Why? Suddenly, into his mind flashed the scene of the general calling
Wims from behind the tree and he knew what it was that had been
screaming for attention at the back of his mind these last hectic
minutes. _No one had mentioned Wims' name within earshot of the general
and yet Fyfe had called Wims by name!_

       *       *       *       *       *

Wims had not been included in the company briefing and he wished he had
had the courage to ask the captain where the jump-off area was, but the
captain had been so angry with him he had not wanted to provoke him
further. After a while of wandering he came upon two of his own
company's flank pickets nested in a deadfall a short distance beyond the
edge of the woods. They greeted him with hearty hostility. "Git outta
here, Wims. You ain't got no business here."

"But Ah'm lookin' fer the lieutenant. Ah got a message fer 'im from the

"He's over there on that hill," one of them replied, spitefully
indicating the hill occupied by the Red force.

"Thanks," Wims said gratefully and in all innocence headed for the enemy
hill. He lost his bearings in the woods and when he finally came upon
the hill he had made a wide swing around the left flank and was
approaching its rear slope. Immediately he was spotted by several
trainees of the defending force foxholed on the lower slope. Since he
came so openly from their rear area and alone, they assumed he was one
of their own men.

As they let him come within challenging distance, they saw, pinned to
his tunic, the green cardboard bar that identified him as a messenger.
The bars were worn so that noncoms wouldn't be snatching for other
duties, messengers idling between missions. As had always been done,
both sides in this exercise were using the same device to identify their
messengers, never expecting them to be delivering messages behind enemy

The challenged Wims explained his mission and he was passed through with
the information that most of the junior officers were on the forward
slope. Wims climbed up the hill, inconspicuous among others scurrying
about on various missions, many of whom did not wear the identifying red
armband of the defenders.

He reached the crown of the wooded hill without finding a second
lieutenant who was not a referee. He had almost reached the bottom of
the forward slope when a small bush jumped up and yelled, "Hey, jerk!
Why'n't ya watch where ya goin'?"

Wims pulled back just in time to avoid falling into a well camouflaged
machine-gun nest. One of the foliage-covered gunners, thinking Wims was
about to topple on him, jumped aside. His ankle twisted under him and he
fell, catching the barrel of the machine gun just under the edge of his
helmet and sagging into unconsciousness.

A platoon sergeant heard the steely clatter and rushed over. "That's
funny," he growled ominously, "I coulda sworn I set up a machine-gun
emplacement here but it's makin' noises like a boiler factory."

The assistant gunner pointed to the unconscious gunner. "He fell an' hit
his head. He's breathin' but he ain't movin'."

The chattering of a machine gun from the woods opposite the hill was
noted by the sergeant and he knew the Blues would be coming soon. He
turned to the gunner. "Get up the hill an' snag one of our looeys or a
referee. Tell 'im we got a man hurt here, needs lookin' at."

The gunner dashed off and the sergeant jerked his thumb at Wims. "You!
Get on that gun!"

"But Ah got an important message fer the lieutenant," Wims protested.

The sergeant, annoyed, glanced at the green bar. "What lieutenant?"

"The captain said the lieutenant in charge."

"Gimmee the message. I'll tell 'im."

Wims started to protest but the sergeant's eyes crackled. "Well, the
captain said fer the lieutenant not to move out 'til he saw the white
flare fired outta the woods on his left."

"Not to move out?" the sergeant echoed doubtfully. "That don't sound
right. Are ya sure he didn't say not ta _fire_ until we saw the white

"Maybe that's it," Wims said agreeably.

"Maybe!" the sergeant roared, "whaddaya mean, maybe?" He grabbed Wims by
the collar and pushed his face against the boy's as if he were about to
devour him. "Is it YES or NO?"

"Y-yes," Wims agreed nervously.

"What's your name, soldier?" the sergeant asked.

"Dolliver Wims."

"You don't happen to be a gen'ral do ya?"

Wims looked confused. "No," he ventured.

"Well then say so!" the sergeant screamed.

"Ah'm not a gen'ral," Wims said, desperately trying to please.

"Are ya tryin' ta get wise with me? WHAT IS YOUR RANK?"


"Now, what's your name, soldier."

Wims finally understood. "Private Wims, Dolliver."

"That's better." The sergeant's eyes narrowed as he searched his memory.
"I don't r'member seein' ya 'round this company before."

"Ah don't recall seein' you 'roun' here either," Wims said in suicidal

"Y'ARE GETTIN' WISE WITH ME!" the sergeant roared. "I'll take care of ya
later." He thrust Wims into the pit with the machine gun. "Now stay
there on that gun 'til I get back. I'm goin' ta find the lieutenant."

Wims squatted behind the gun, squinting experimentally through the
sights and swinging the barrel to and fro.

The sergeant returned shortly with the lieutenant. "That's him," he
said, pointing to Wims.

The lieutenant glanced at the green bar. "Are you sure you got that
message straight?"

Wims looked at the menacing sergeant. "Yes, suh," he said, swallowing.

"Somebody is crazy," the lieutenant muttered. "Sergeant, tell Lieutenant
Haas to cover my platoon. I'm going back to the CP to see Captain Blair
about this message. I'll try to be back before the attack starts to
either confirm or cancel the order, but, if not, Haas is to hold his
fire until he spots the white flare, or the Blues are right on top of
us; whichever happens first."

       *       *       *       *       *

The lieutenant hustled up the hill and the sergeant went off to find
Lieutenant Haas, leaving Wims alone with the machine gun and the still
unconscious gunner. The distant machine-gun firing had stopped and the
white smoke of a screen laid down by the Blue attackers started scudding
thickly across the face of the hill, hiding them as they charged.

"Pickets are back," the sergeant yelled at Lieutenant Haas. "The
Blues've crossed the road an' are in the gully at the bottom of the

"How the devil can I possibly see a signal flare through these trees and
all this smoke?" Haas muttered to the sergeant. "I think we've got a
first-class snafu. Let's go check the machine-gun position; if it's
still there."

A whistle sounded and the Blue company surged up out of the ditch and
swarmed up the hill. As had been ordered, not a defending shot had yet
been fired. Wims opened the breech of the machine gun to see if the
ammunition belt was properly engaged. He had a difficult time forcing it
open and when he succeeded he found the webbing twisted and a couple of
cartridges jammed in at impossible angles. As he was trying to clear it,
the unconscious gunner revived, glanced at the advancing Blues and made
for the gun which Wims had already commenced to take apart.

"Whaddaya doin'?" the gunner yelled. He pushed Wims aside, causing him
to release his hold on the powerful spring. The bolt shot out of the
back of the gun and struck the approaching Lieutenant Haas above the
left ear just as he was opening his mouth to give the order to return
fire. He fell to the ground with the command unspoken and the sergeant
knelt to his aid. At the same moment Wims recognized some members of his
platoon charging up the hill and realized for the first time he was
behind enemy lines. In sheer embarrassment he slunk away, hoping none of
his comrades would notice.

       *       *       *       *       *

The lieutenant who had gone to confirm Wims' message now came running
down the hill shouting at his men to return fire. He had his captain
with a lieutenant aide in tow and when they reached the machine-gun nest
and the fallen Haas the lieutenant looked for Wims.

"I tell you he was here," the lieutenant said. "The gunner and the
sergeant can bear me out."

"And I tell you," the captain said excitedly, "I did not issue any such
bird-brained order."


A lieutenant referee tapped the captain on the shoulder. "Sir, would you
gentlemen please leave the field," he said, indicating the lieutenant,
the captain and his aide, the sergeant, the gunner and the unconscious
Haas. "You are all dead."

The captain looked around to discover that their little group was the
target of the blank fire of several advancing Blue infantrymen. "But
we're trying to straighten out a mix-up here," the captain protested.

"I'm sorry, sir, but you're all standing here gossiping in the middle of
a battle. Theoretically you are all Swiss cheese. Please leave the

"We WON'T leave the area!" the captain shouted. "I'm trying to tell you
we wouldn't be dead if some idiot hadn't gotten in here and bollixed up
this training exercise and--"

"... It was a brilliant demonstration of infiltration and diversionary
tactics by Dolliver Wims," said General Fyfe, striding forward.

The captain rolled his eyes heavenward in supplication before turning to
face the general. "Sir," he inquired acidly, "What _are_ dolliver

"Private Wims is the embodiment of the initiative and resourcefulness we
are trying to inculcate in all our soldiers. I observed the entire
operation and he has demonstrated a great potential for leadership."
Fyfe hesitated and for a moment a shadow of repugnance darkened his
features as if, for purposes of camouflage, he were about to perform the
necessary but distasteful task of smearing mud over his crisp, shining
uniform. "I am recommending Private Wims for a battlefield commission."

"A battlefield commission during a training exercise?" the captain
screeched incredulously.

Fyfe looked at him severely. "Captain, if you are unable to communicate
except in those high tones, I would suggest a visit to the base hospital
for some hormones." The general paused and looked around. "It seems,
captain, you've lost the hill." He glanced at his watch. "And in record
time, too."

"Sir," the captain said, "I won't accept that. This is a limited
training exercise conducted without benefit of full communications,
weapons or elaborate tactics. Blue company had no right to send a man
behind our lines to--"

"Captain," Fyfe said with annoyance, "you are the most argumentative
corpse I have ever encountered. I'm leaving now to get that
recommendation off to Washington. In the meantime, have someone tell
Captain Aronsen to see that Wims is not assassinated before we get him
his lieutenancy."

       *       *       *       *       *

Lieutenant Wims unfolded out of the jeep into the jungle mud. The driver
pointed to a cluster of tents sagging under the weight of the streaming
rain. "You'll find Major Hecker in there."

"Thanks fer the ride," Wims said as he wrestled his gear out of the
jeep. He located the headquarters tent and an orderly brought him in to
the major. "Lieutenant Dolliver Wims reportin' fer dooty, suh," the
saluting Wims said crisply.

Major Hecker's hand slid wearily to the vicinity of his fatigued and
unshaven face in return salute. "Welcome, lieutenant, to Hlangtan,
Burma's foremost nothing." Wims handed his orders to the major who said
as he accepted them, "You'll be taking the third platoon of A company.
They lost their lieutenant two days ago." The major glanced at the
orders and exploded. "What do they mean, 'attached to your command as an
observer'? I need a platoon leader! What are you supposed to observe?"

Wims shifted uneasily. "Ah cain't rightly say, suh." The truth of the
matter was that Wims didn't really know. His commission had been
virtually thrown at him. In Washington he had been vaguely briefed that
he was to be sent to the front in Burma on a mission of the utmost
importance and not to breathe a word to anyone. It was only when he
alighted from the plane in Rangoon that he fully realized that actually
no one had breathed a word to him about what exactly he was to do. His
orders merely stated that he was to get as close to the enemy as
possible and observe.

The major regarded him nastily. "What's that insignia you're wearing?
They look like question marks."

"Ah guess they do," Wims replied unhappily.

"Well are they?" the major inquired with a soft shout.

"Ah guess they are, suh."

"You guess!" The major now regarded him with open animosity. "And I
suppose you don't know what they stand for."

"Well, suh, Ah tried to find out but somehow Ah couldn't get a straight

"O.K., O.K., Lieutenant Cloak and Dagger, but if you don't want
questions why wear the things? If the Commies know you're a special and
catch you--"

"But Ah'm not no special nuthin'. Ah'm jus'--"

"Yeah, sure." The major poked a grimy finger at the paper before him and
grinned almost savagely. "It says here you're to operate with our most
forward units. That's just fine. I've got a patrol going out tonight.
They will take you close enough to sit in their ever-lovin' yellow

As Wims was leaving the major suddenly called after him. "Say,
lieutenant, since you're some kind of special agent you probably have an
'in' at the Pentagon. Will you pass the word that I need a looey
replacement? One that doesn't wear punctuation marks."

       *       *       *       *       *

The patrol had not been out twenty minutes before it fearfully decided
it had better ditch this boy lieutenant who, with each step, sounded as
if he were setting off a room full of mousetraps. At a whispered signal
from the sergeant in command, the patrol slid noiselessly off the trail
and dropped to the ground as the groping Wims went clattering by in the
darkness. Within the hour Wims tripped over a Chinese patrol that lay
cowering in the ferns as it listened apprehensively to what it thought
was an approaching enemy battalion.

The next several days were confusing ones for Wims. With little food or
sleep he was hustled from place to place and endlessly questioned by
officers of increasing rank. He was passed up to the divisional level
where he was briefly interrogated by a Russian officer-advisor to the
Chinese headquarters. There seemed to be some disagreement between the
Russian and Chinese officers concerning Wims and they were almost
shouting when he was pulled from the room and thrown back into his cell.

In the chill, early hours of the following morning he was yanked out of
an embarrassing nightmare where he dreamed he went to a hoedown in his
briefs. He was squeezed between two furtive men into a shade-drawn
limousine with unillumined headlamps and after a frenzied ride the
vehicle screeched to a halt. He heard a roaring and in the darkness he
was dimly aware that he was being shoved into an airplane. After that he
was certain of nothing as he plunged gratefully back into sleep.

Wims was back at the hoedown only this time without even his briefs. And
all the interrogators had stopped dancing and were circled around him,
glaring and demanding to know what he was hiding. As they closed in upon
him he was snatched from the dream by two guards who prodded him out of
his cell, down a bleak corridor and into a large room. The windows were
hidden by drawn, dark-green shades and two low-hanging, unshaded
electric-light bulbs provided a harsh illumination. The chamber was
sparsely furnished with a splintered desk, several battered chairs and
half a dozen Russian MVD officers.

A man, so thick and heavy in appearance and movement that he was
obviously a concrete abutment come to life, stepped up to Wims. The
man's stony visage cracked in a slow, cold smile as he rumbled in
English, "Welcome to Moscow, Lieutenant Dolliver Wims. I am Colonel
Sergei Bushmilov. I am your friend." The word "friend" sounded rather
squeaky as if it had not been used in years and needed oiling.

Wims glanced around the room. These people were like unshielded reactors
throwing off hard radiations of hostility. "Ah sure could use a friend,"
he said with utmost fervency.

"Good!" said Bushmilov. "There are some things I wish to know and you
are going to tell to me because we are friends."

"Ah kin only give you mah name, rank an' serial number, suh." Wims saw
the colonel's face harden and his fist clench. Just then a burst of
angry shouting and scuffling erupted in the corridor. Suddenly the door
was flung open and half a dozen Chinese stormed into the room trailing a
couple of protesting Russian guards. Two of the Chinese were civilian
attachés from the embassy and the remainder were uniformed, military
intelligence officers.

       *       *       *       *       *

Bushmilov whirled and immediately recognized the foremost man. "Colonel
Peng! What are you doing here?" he exclaimed in startled surprise.

Colonel Peng replied in an askew English, the only language he had in
common with Bushmilov. "Our American lieutenant, you kid-stolen." He
pointed at Wims.

Bushmilov unconsciously shifted his bulk to blot Wims from Peng's view.
"You are wrong Colonel Peng. Your intelligence was not getting nowhere
with him and we are having more experience in these matters. We think
you approve to take him to Moscow."

"Ah. Yes? Then why you sneak away like folding Arabian tent? Ah!"

Although Bushmilov did not comprehend what Arabian tents had to do with
this business he did understand the accusation. Before he could reply,
Peng continued. "Us Chinese not fool, Comrade Colonel. You Russian think
us not good like you, like smart. O.K. Us not b'long Russia like
sat'lite. Us b'long us. Us not let you take what you want and no asking.
You will give it back, the American officer. Us can make him say

Bushmilov stiffened and dropped all pretense at cordiality. "Us will--"
He shook his head in annoyance. "I will not do that without order from
my superior, Minister Modrilensky. Now you will be kind to leave. There
is business to finish."

"No go unless us take officer."

An angry Bushmilov strode to the door and snarled at the two guards in
Russian. One of them dashed away down the corridor. "We shall see,"
Bushmilov sneered at Peng.

"Yes us shall, ah!" said Peng, withdrawing his automatic pistol from its
holster. The other Chinese did the same and their movement was
duplicated immediately by the Russians.

No one moved or spoke further until five Russian security guards burst
into the room with submachine guns at the ready. The corporal in charge
looked to Bushmilov for instructions. The Russian colonel looked long
and thoughtfully at the primed Chinese. He had not expected them to go
to this extreme. Perhaps they were only bluffing but one sudden
misinterpreted movement or the wrong word and another ugly incident in
an already dangerously long chain might be created to accelerate the
deteriorating Sino-Soviet relations. Without specific instructions he
dared not take the responsibility for any untoward action. Bushmilov
ordered the guards to stand at ease and dispatched one of his henchmen
to notify his superior of the crisis.

"You being very wise, Comrade Colonel," Peng said.

"You are being very annoying," Bushmilov snapped.

"O.K., yes," Peng replied. "Chinese People's Republic ambassador now at
Kremlin demand give back American officer. Come soon now, us go. Take
lieutenant. You annoying finish. Ah!"

Bushmilov spoke sharply to his junior officers who still stood with
drawn pistols. One of them came over and stationed himself alongside
Bushmilov. He explained to Peng, "I go on with questioning. My men will
shoot anyone who interfere."

Colonel Peng knew his bounds. "O.K., yes. Us wait when order come you
give us lieutenant. Us stay. Listen."

Bushmilov turned to Wims. "You are captured six days before. Two weeks
from now at this month end you suppose to be exchange by Geneva
Concordat number seventeen. Now you tell to me why your government in
such a hurry they can not wait and why they make special request to
government of Chinese People's Republic for immediate return of you. And
why is it offered, twelve Chinese officers, all ranks, to get back only

"Ah don't know, suh," Wims said in honest surprise.

"I warn you. If you not co-operating, you not go home at month end. You
cannot pretend with us. We check and know much about you. You go in army
three month before now. No university education, no military experience
and now you are second lieutenant so quick. How so?"

"Oh, Ah kin tell y'all that," Wims said with relief. "That ain't no
mil't'ry secret. When we was havin' basic trainin' this here gen'ral
allowed as to how Ah did some right smart soldierin' durin' maneuvers
an' he up an' give me a battlefield commission."

Bushmilov's eyes were slits. "Ha. Ha. Ha," Bushmilov said without a
smile. "You Americans, always making joke. I enjoy that good laugh. Now
we are serious. It is true, yes, that you are intelligence officer sent
to Burma with special mission? We know everything," Bushmilov lied, "but
we want you say it with your words the few details."

"Cain't tell you nuthin' cause they ain't nuthin' to tell, Ah mean!"

       *       *       *       *       *

Bushmilov swung up his arm to strike Wims across the face. His hand
smacked against the pistol held by the Russian officer standing next to
him. The gun went off. The bullet zipped through the window, across the
courtyard, into another office and past the nose of Minister of Internal
Security, Modrilensky.

Modrilensky shouted for his guards while his aide pointed out the window
and yelled, "The shot came from Bushmilov's office. See! The glass is
broken in his window!"

Modrilensky paled. "Bushmilov? My truest comrade? Who is there to trust?
This I expect from that filthy plotter, Berjanian! Or that sneak,
Lemchovsky, or Kamashev. And Gorshkinets and that babyface, Konevets;
they do not fool me, I assure you! They would all like to denounce me
and steal my job! And the others! I know them all, every last one of
them and I'll deal with them, they'll see! But Bushmilov!"

Several guards with submachine guns burst into the room. "Those
windows!" Modrilensky screamed. "Shoot them! Kill the deviationist

The guards were uncertain which windows Modrilensky was indicating with
his wildly waving arms but they had no intention of risking the
displeasure of the top man of the MVD. They tentatively sprayed all the
windows around the courtyard with bullets and when they received no
censure from their chief they went at it with gusto. Modrilensky was too
busy shouting orders to other guards to give them any further attention.
The sound of the firing was assurance enough that his orders were being
obeyed. By the time he had dispatched men to get Bushmilov and
neutralize other potential plotters the occupants of most of the offices
overlooking the courtyard were crouched at the windows, shooting
indiscriminately at each other.

"I can't believe it about Bushmilov," Modrilensky shouted to his aide
over the din.

"You know he was at the Kremlin yesterday with Shaposnik," the aide
shouted back. "And you know how close Shaposnik is to the Premier. Maybe
they have discovered our plan and Bushmilov, as your successor, was
ordered to liquidate you!"

Modrilensky slapped his forehead. "Of course! We must act at once! Send
our man to Marshal Mazianko and tell him it is time. He must get his
trusted troops into the city before the others suspect what is
happening, especially that Kamashev."

Major Kamashev of the MVD put in a hasty call to the Minister of
Transport. "I am forced to phone because of a sudden emergency.
Modrilensky must have gotten wind of our plans. His men are besieging my
office. You must get General Kodorovich to move his men into the city at
once! And watch out for the Foreign Minister. I think he and Lemachovsky
are up to something."

Major Lemachovsky of the MVD was listening to the Foreign Minister. "The
Premier has ordered the arrest of the Minister of Heavy Industry for
plotting with General Plekoskaya to bring in troops to seize the
government. As soon as General Zenovlov arrives with his troops and we
are in control, I will teach these vile counterrevolutionaries that they
cannot plot against the party and the people with impunity! And be
careful! I think the Minister of Hydroelectric Power is involved with
your Colonel Berjanian."

Colonel Berjanian of the MVD was shouting into the phone. "Why can't I
get the Minister of Hydroelectric Power? If you don't want a vacation in
Siberia, you had better get my call through!"

"I'm sorry, Comrade Colonel," the harried operator whined, "but it isn't
my fault. Can I help it if all of Moscow decides to use the telephones
all at once? The lines are still tied up. I will keep trying, Com--"

Berjanian slammed down the phone just as an aide rushed in. "Colonel, I
have good news! Our men have gained control of most of the immediate
hallway and we have captured the lavatory from Captain Konevets!"

"Wonderful!" Berjanian beamed as he hastily left the room.

       *       *       *       *       *

General Kodorovich's command car rattled and bounced along the rough
shoulder of the highway past his stalled 71st Motorized Infantry
Division. He found the van of his column tangled with the rear of the
124th Armored Division under General Plekoskaya. Kodorovich sought out
Plekoskaya and found him at table under some trees having a fine lunch.

"Would you mind getting your army out of the way," General Kodorovich
said to General Plekoskaya. "I have emergency orders to proceed
immediately to Moscow."

"So have I," Plekoskaya replied, wiping his lips. "Won't you join me for

"I haven't time!" Kodorovich snapped, glaring accusingly at the roast
fowl and wine on the white linen.

"Oh but you have, my dear Kodorovich," Plekoskaya said pleasantly. "You
see, neither of us is going anywhere for the moment. There's a brigade
of the 48th blocking the road ahead."

"The 48th from Kiev?" Kodorovich exclaimed. "What is a brigade of the
48th doing up here?"

"Looking for its sister brigades from which it was separated when the
116th Mechanized, in its hurry to reach Moscow, cut through their

"The 116th Mechanized?" Kodorovich exclaimed again. He wanted to stop
talking in questions but all this was coming so fast and unexpectedly.

"Don't even inquire of me about them," Plekoskaya said, shuddering.
"They are so disorganized and tangled with two other armored divisions
whose designations I don't even know. It all happened because they were
trying to outrace each other to the trunk highway and they arrived at
the intersection almost simultaneously. You can't possibly imagine the
hideous clatter when you have two stubborn armored divisions and an
obstinate mechanized one all trying to occupy the same road at once. I
could hear it all the way back here." Plekoskaya belched delicately.
"General, do wash off the dust of the road and join me at table."


"No thank you. If that's all the delay is, it should be cleared soon and
we'll be moving again. I'll want to be with my division."

"General Kodorovich, you evidently don't understand what has happened.
The word that has been passed from the most forward units, which are in
the city itself, to the rear ones, indicates that Moscow is the hub of
one vast military traffic jam thirty to perhaps fifty miles deep and
growing worse all the time as new groups are moving in."

"But I must get to the city," Kodorovich insisted. "I have orders to
surround the Kremlin, seal off MVD headquarters and--"

"Ease your mind," Plekoskaya interrupted. "The Kremlin is well
surrounded. General Smolledin is deployed around the walls; General
Alexeiev is deployed around General Smolledin; General Paretsev is
deployed around Alexeiev and so on to the outskirts of the city. Those
of us out here, of course, cannot deploy off the roads, for, who knows,
tomorrow the Minister of Agriculture may be Premier and he may not take
it kindly if we trample the collectives."

"How can you just sit there and do nothing when the people's government
is in some kind of danger?" Kodorovich said with some heat.

"It is very simple," Plekoskaya said with mild irritation and sarcasm.
"I merely bend at the knees and hips and have a lunch of a weight
adequate enough to keep me from floating off my chair and rushing about
seeking trouble. Of course it takes years of experience to learn how to
do this and most important, _when_." In kindlier tones Plekoskaya
continued. "Whatever it is that is happening in the Kremlin and the
other hotbeds of intrigue will have to happen without us. There is no
telling who, if anyone, is in control. Conflicting orders have been
coming over the military radio depending upon which clique controls
which headquarters. Why do you know, my dear Kodorovich, already this
morning the 124th has alternately been ordered to march to Moscow and a
dozen other places including downtown Siberia."

Kodorovich did not smile at Plekoskaya's slight humor. He was squinting
anxiously through the bright sunlight at the immobile column of men and
vehicles jammed along the road into the far, blue distance.

       *       *       *       *       *

Plekoskaya took a sip of wine. "There is obviously some kind of
political readjustment going on within the government and the unpleasant
thing about these little disturbances is that one can never be certain
who will emerge to inform the people that he is their unanimous choice
for leader. So don't be in so much of a hurry to rush off to Moscow to
commit yourself. You might pick the wrong one."

Kodorovich shrugged and sat down at the table. "Perhaps you are right.
Do you have any idea who is involved this time?"

"Who isn't involved?" Plekoskaya snorted. "You and I know, as sensible
men must, that in our milieu there are at any given moment thousands of
intrigues and plots and counterplots simmering away in the Party halls,
the ministries, the barracks and anywhere else you care to look. Of
course it is treason, don't misunderstand, general, but most of it is
really quite harmless. It is the national pastime of the power elite; a
sort of political mah-jongg and most of these little bubbling kettles
cool and sour from inaction. However, this time, it is evident that
some drastic catalyst has caused a most violent reaction of these
subversive ingredients and the incredible, one in a million possibility
has occurred. All the pots are suddenly, all at once, boiling over ...
erupting into action!

"By the way," Plekoskaya continued with a smile, "you might be
interested to know that when I reach Moscow I am supposed to relieve you
of command of the 71st and place you under arrest for unsocialistic

Kodorovich, looking dazed, took a glass of wine. "Who signed your

"Major Lemchovsky of the MVD."

Kodorovich smiled for the first time since they had met under the trees.
"I have orders for your arrest also, to take effect when we reach
Moscow; signed by Major Kamashev, MVD."

"I'm sorry," Plekoskaya said, "but you will have to wait your turn. The
commanders of the 116th and the 48th are both ahead of you."

Kodorovich suddenly stood up frowning and stared around at the fields
where the peasants were working. "I don't like the way those people keep
glancing at the troops and snickering. I can hear some of their

"Don't trouble yourself about it. They've been doing it all morning.
It's only good-natured jesting."

"It breeds disrespect of the Army. And disrespect of authority is the
first step on the road to anarchy," Kodorovich said severely.

"Well at least that's a movement to somewhere," Plekoskaya said. "Can
you blame them for smiling? That's the 124th, the famous 'lightning'
division, that's been glued to the road in front of them for the past
six hours. In that time it has moved perhaps a hundred or so feet and I
suspect it is only because your 71st is very ill-manneredly pushing from

"I still don't like their smirking."

Plekoskaya became suddenly solemn. "It is when they begin to laugh
openly that we should become concerned."

       *       *       *       *       *

"How did you get the American lieutenant out of Moscow?" Colonel Peng's
superior was asking him.

"Bushmilov was conducting the interrogation," Colonel Peng replied,
"when suddenly somebody started shooting through the window from another
office across the way. I heard Bushmilov yell something about plotters
and counterrevolutionaries and he and his men started shooting back.
Within minutes the entire building was like a battlefield. In the
confusion we snatched the American and hustled him away. The corridors
were full of groups of MVD men running and shooting and I have no idea
what it was all about but whatever it was it didn't affect us for we
were allowed to pass unmolested. We managed to escape stray bullets and
get out of the building with whole skins to our embassy.

"Getting out of Moscow was the real problem. Within hours the city was
clogged with troops. Slowly, as supplies were choked off by the
congestion, offices and factories and shops closed down and the people
were on the streets strolling about as if on holiday, laughing and
joking about the tangle of tanks and vehicles and military equipment
that was effectively strangling the city.

"It appears that not even the highest officers and officials were making
any effort to clear up the mess. Each one seemed to be afraid to take
any responsibility beyond the last coherent orders that had brought
practically the entire army converging on Moscow.

"We tried to get out by air but that proved impossible. All civil
flights were canceled so that the fields could accommodate the armadas
of military aircraft that swarmed into the area. We couldn't even get a
wireless message out because of the spreading chaos. We had to proceed
out of the city on foot and by then affairs were beginning to take an
ugly turn. Food supplies were becoming exhausted and as long as the
military refused to budge nothing could be brought in, even their own
supplies. Once out of the city we took to the river. No one attempted to
stop us but neither did any official attempt to help their Chinese
comrades. The curious paralysis had spread. It was as if the entire
countryside was holding its breath, waiting for some positive sign of
authority. In Gorki, where there was less air-congestion, we managed to
steal a plane and flew it to Finland. The rest you know."

Peng's superior nodded. "Our Russian friends are losing their grip. That
is because they do not practice pure Communism. Upon China now falls the
mantle of leadership of the people's republics as we knew, long before,
it was destined to be." He rose from behind his desk. "Come, let us now
turn our attention to this strange American lieutenant and see how the
interrogation is proceeding."

As Peng and his chief stepped into the hallway, they heard a shattering
of glass and a cry of pain from a room at the far end of the hallway.

"It sounds like someone falling through a window!" Peng exclaimed.

His chief's face was shadowed with a momentary irritation. "If that is
another one of my men having a foolish accident--"

"What do you mean?" Peng inquired.

"Mean?" his chief repeated in exasperation. "I'll tell you what I mean.
Since this interrogation started four of my men have injured themselves
in silly, stupid accidents; like the captain who fell off his chair and
broke his leg. If I didn't know my men, I would swear that they had all
been drinking!"

There was a sudden, single shot. They hurried along the hall but before
they could reach the room at the end they had to drop to the floor to
escape the fusillade of bullets that whined down the corridor.

       *       *       *       *       *

In the great Operations Room of the Pentagon, the uppermost echelons of
the American General Staff glared at Dr. Titus whose civilian presence
was defiling this military "holy of holies."

An admiral, sitting next to General Fyfe, banged his fist on the table
and almost shouted at Titus. "So you're one of the idiots who's been
advising the President not to let us commit our forces in Afghanistan.
Do you realize the Russians will--"

Titus appealed to the Chairman of the General Staff. "Do I or do I not
have the floor? Hm-m-m?" Reluctantly, the chairman restored order and
motioned Titus to continue. "It is true that the President has been
persuaded to not commit the United States to any further military
adventures until we have given a plan of mine some little time to take
effect. Gentlemen, we have in operation a secret weapon that, if all
goes well, will make any future military undertakings unnecessary and
bring about the destruction of our enemies." At the mention of "secret
weapon," the entire General Staff, excepting Fyfe, creaked forward in
their seats with eager interest. "The secret weapon is an
eighteen-year-old boy named Dolliver Wims, recently commissioned a
lieutenant in the Army and now in Russian hands."

An avalanche of derisive remarks concerning his sanity roared down on
Titus but he ignored them and continued. "Wims came to work for us last
spring and nothing in his manner or appearance indicated that he was in
any way unusual. However, he had hardly been with us a month before
complaints from my staff started flooding my office. Our accident rate
soared skyward and all staff fingers pointed at Wims. I investigated and
discovered that in spite of the accusations Wims was never _directly_
involved in these mishaps. He was present when they occurred, yes, but
he never pushed or bumped anyone or dropped anything or even fingered
anything he wasn't supposed to and yet in the face of this fact, almost
everyone, including my most dispassionate researchers, invariably blamed
Wims. Finding this extremely odd, I kept the boy on and under various
subterfuges I probed, tested and observed him without his knowledge.

"Then one day I became annoyed with him; without just cause I must
admit, merely because I was not getting any positive results; and I
handled him rather roughly. Within seconds I sliced open a finger. My
irritation mounted and later I went to shove him rudely aside and down I
went, giving my head a nasty crack on the edge of a lab bench. I felt
wonderful as I sat in pain on the floor, sopping the blood out of my
eyes. With the blow an idea had come to me and I felt I at last knew
what Wims was and the factor that triggered his dangerous potential. For
weeks afterward, under carefully controlled conditions, I was as nasty
to him as I dared be. It took my most delicate judgment to avoid fatal
injury but I managed to document the world's first known _accident prone
inducer_. I call him Homo Causacadere, the fall causer, whose activator
is hostility.

"We have always had the accident prone, the person who has a
psychological proclivity for having more than his share of mishaps. Wims
is an individual who can make an accident prone of _anyone_ who
threatens his well being and survival. This boy, who, as indicated by
the tests, hasn't an unkind thought for any creature on this planet, has
an unconscious, reactive, invulnerable defense against persons who
exhibit even the slightest hostility toward him. The energies of their
own hostility are turned against them. The greater the hostility, the
more accidents they have and the more serious they become. And the
increase in accidents gives rise to an increase in hostility and so it
goes in an ever widening circle of dislocation and destruction.

"As a scientist I would have preferred to take the many months, perhaps
years, necessary to investigate this phenomenon thoroughly, however
these are critical times and I was possessed with an inspired idea on
how we might utilize this phenomenon against the enemies of the free
world. Through a colleague on the Scientific Advisory Council I got the
President's ear and he decided to let us try, on the basis, I'm certain,
that the best way to handle screwball scientists is to allow them one or
two harmless, inexpensive insanities in the hope that they will make an
error and discover something useful.

"Through the good offices of General Fyfe, who was apprised of our plan,
Wims was snatched into the Army, commissioned and sent to Burma to be
captured. Intelligence advises that he has been taken to Moscow which is
for him, an American officer ostensibly on a secret mission, the most
hostile environment extant." Titus shook his head. "I suppose I should
feel sorry for those poor Russians. They don't have a chance."

"Sorry for them!" Fyfe blustered. "Think what I've had to go through.
Those ridiculous orders; couldn't explain to anyone. All my people think
that I've lost my mind. Felt like a fool giving that idiot a battlefield
commission during a training exercise."

"It was necessary to give him some rank," Titus explained. "The
Communists wouldn't expect a private to be sent on a secret mission;
they just wouldn't bother to interrogate him. Now an officer, whose
return was specially requested the day following his capture would seize
their attention and surely they would apply their nasty pressures to
find out why. He hasn't been returned through the regular monthly
exchange and they even deny having captured him which seems to indicate
that the plan is working."

An admiral stirred and shifted under his crust of gold. "How long have
they had him?"

"Six weeks."

"And nothing's happened yet," the admiral commented. "My guess is that
we could sit here for six years and nothing would come of such a
barnacle-brained scheme."

An Air Force general spoke up in the breezy jargon of the youngest
service. "I'm with the old man from the sea on this one," he said as the
admiral winced. "I just don't see spending billions for alphabet bombs
and then warming our tails on them while these psycho-noseys move in and
try to fight these sand-lot wars with voodoo and all that jazz."

       *       *       *       *       *

An aide hurried in from the adjoining message center and handed the
chairman a paper. Everybody waited in silence while the chairman seemed
to take an unusually long time to read it. Finally he looked up and
said. "This is a special relay from the President's office and since it
concerns us all I'll read it aloud." He held the paper up and read,
"Apropos of your present conference with Dr. Titus, it may please the
General Staff to learn that the Russian Communist Party newspaper,
_Pravda_, has just denounced the newspaper of the Red Army, _Izvestia_,
as a tool of the decadent, warmongering, capitalist ruling circles of
the imperialist Western bloc. Other evidence of severe internal upheaval
of a nature favorable to the West is pouring in through news channels
and being confirmed by State and CIA sources. Congratulations, Dr.

Dr. Titus arose with unconcealed triumph. "Gentlemen, apparently my
hypothesis is correct. The disintegration that will crumble our enemies
has already begun. Our secret weapon is a stunning success!"

The crusted admiral looked sourly at Titus. "Of course you're only
assuming that this Wims person is responsible. We'll never really know."

"Why won't we?" Titus demanded. "You speak of him as if he were dead or
doomed and I tell you he is no such thing. Don't you understand? He
cannot be harmed! And when he gets back here, as he will, he'll tell us
himself exactly what and how it happened."

The aide rushed in with another message. "Again from the President," he
announced. "It has been confirmed by CIA," he began reading aloud, "that
two weeks ago a group of Chinese officials in a Russian aircraft landed
at a Finnish airfield. It is now known definitely that an ostensibly ill
member of their group who was put aboard their plane in a stretcher was
in reality a young American officer. Among other things, this explains
the eighteen contradictory Five Year Plans announced by Peiping this
week. CIA says they are going the way of the Russians. Again
congratulations, Dr. Titus."

"Well, General Fyfe," Titus said, smiling at him, "perhaps you now feel
somewhat differently about this Wims business, hm-m-m?"

Fyfe roared, unable to contain himself any longer: "Do you _really_
believe that rot you've been feeding us? You have the audacity to credit
yourself with the downfall of two powerful nations, even if it does
happen? You think your insane ditherings about an incompetent halfwit
has anything to do with anything? You may have bamboozled the President,
after all he's only a civilian, but you're not about to fool me! These
are perilous times and I have no use for you professors and your crazy,
useless theories. Now why don't you get out of here and let us do our
job, trying to keep this planet from blowing up in our faces!"

For the first time in his life Dr. Titus flew into an unreasoning fury.
How could this fat, uniformed mountain of stupidity still contrive to
deny the facts and dare speak to him the way he did? And after what he
had just accomplished! His rage boiled over and Titus rushed at Fyfe,
his fist already striking ahead. He never touched the general.
Unaccountably he got tangled in his own legs and fell heavily to the
floor. When he tried to rise hot pain burned in his ankle. He sat there
staring up in astonishment at Fyfe, hulking over him.

It had happened so swiftly no one had yet spoken or moved.

"YOU!" Titus screeched incredulously, pointing directly at Fyfe. "You of
all people!" And Titus sat there on the floor rubbing his injured ankle
and he laughed and laughed till the tears came.


Transcriber's Note:

    This etext was produced from _Astounding Science Fiction_ November
    1959. Extensive research did not uncover any evidence that the U.S.
    copyright on this publication was renewed. Minor spelling and
    typographical errors have been corrected without note.

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