The seven-foot tall doctor absorbed in programming a desk computer didn't even notice the white-coated lab technicians solemnly studding the chocolate-colored doll with silver pins, but each time a needle slid home, his body quivered sympathetically.
It was a typical day in the Humanidyne testing labs--maybe a little quieter than usual, actually. A man with a full bushy white beard and a sailor's cap was bent over an aquarium, teaching fish to breathe air. Two lab aides were labeling assorted test tubs and jars of weird pickled items better left to the imagination. Herb was presumably studying the diagram of the skeleton on the side wall, though since he was the Invisible Man, it was hard to tell. Since Dr. Billy Hayes, the mastermind of this organized chaos, wasn't in today, the basketball hoop wasn't being used.
One phone rang insistently. Miss Nance, their secretary, was busy filing her vivid purple nails, humming along with the Twisted Sister tape on her Sony Walkman, the earphones lost in the frizzy, overpermed blonde curls piled haphazardly on her head. After the tenth ring, sighing, Dr. Lincoln surrendered and grabbed the Mickey Mouse phone on Billy's desk.
"Who? No, sorry, Billy's picking up some friends to attend the magic show tonight. I'm Dr. Lincoln--can I help you?" With the receiver cradled between one shoulder and his cheek, he went back to the computer keyboard. "Sorry, Mr. Collins, we don't do night work; you'll have to come in during the day for testing." His deep baritone voice was apologetic, but firm. "No, we can't do housecalls to Maine."
He hung up and slapped absently at his neck as the lab techs slid a silver pin into the voodoo doll's tiny throat. Miss Nancy opened her Walkman to change tapes, and grimaced petulantly when the phone rang again. Sliding the wad of gum into one cheek, she announced, "Call for Miss Tabitha Stephens."
The pretty young blonde working with Tarot cards in a corner twitched her nose, and the phone floated obediently across the room, its receiver dancing to her ear.
The towering black scientist didn't even look up. He was on the verge of perfecting anti-static clothing for his coworker Johnny B. to prevent electrical build-up, and--after all--this was Humanidyne.
"If anyone had told me," Tatyana cried exuberantly, "that I would be speeding down the Los Angeles freeway in a red convertible like this, I would've laughed. Not even one KGB agent!"
Billy Hayes pouted. "Come on, I'm not speeding, Tatyana. Well, maybe a little, but in L.A. they'll give you a ticket if you don't speed, y'know?"
Laughing, her father put a loving arm around her shoulders and squeezed. "I know what you mean, Tanya. In America, they call it 'culture shock.' Twelve years ago, when I first escaped to America, I was paralyzed. There were so many choices available to make that I couldn't make any at all! You'll get used to it. You'll see."
"I like it very much," she assured him.
Even now, she missed the friends on her gymnastic team, and the familiar sounds and smells of home. Papa did, too, even after all this time; she could tell by the way he kept lapsing into Russian with her, and the way he delighted in serving her dumplings "just like your mother used to make." But there were compensations for what she'd given up, not the least of which was freedom.
Tatyana brushed stray wisps of blonde hair from her face and darted a sidelong glance at her father. He really was a handsome man, not as tall as she remembered but with broad shoulders encased in a familiar bulky blue sweater flecked with white. She had memorized her mother's few pictures of him, and he seemed unchanged even after all these years: the same strong features in a square face, the same thick dark hair, one forelock tumbling loose over his forehead, with only a hint of grey starting in his sideburns to suggest any time had passed. America had been good to him.
His warm eyes met hers, and they both grinned nervously. In the month since her defection, they kept catching each other staring.
Beside her, Billy glanced at his watch. "We're running right on time, guys. I just have to swing by Humanidyne and pick up my hot date."
"Hot date?" Tatyana made a face. "Your date has a fever?"
Nicolai Adreavich said something laconic in Russian, and she giggled, cheeks pinkening.
"Wait 'til you meet her, Nick. You're gonna love her. She's talented, she's pretty, she's blonde--I call her my 'Tabby-cat,' and she's--she's just bewitching, y'know?"
"Ah. She has you under her spell."
Hayes tugged uneasily at his grey jacket. "Well, yeah. Sort of."
Tatiana started to ask a question about Billy's latest interest, but broke off when a black limousine roared beside them, and then unexpectedly cut over into their lane. Billy had to swerve violently to the right and stand on the brakes. The convertible fishtailed, squealing, and ended up halfway off the road.
"I--I don't understand." Wide-eyed, Tatyana clutched at her father's arm as if she were a little girl again. "Is this what they call a mugging?"
"Car-jacking," her father muttered, but sounded uncertain.
"Nope. Muggers don't use black limos--it's just not done." As the driver emerged, Billy slapped his forehead. "I knew I should've paid those bills. They're bill collectors. Bill collectors in America are, like, really pushy."
But Tatyana felt her father's arm convulse around her, and looked up to find his face suddenly pale. Then the men from the limousine were all around the car, and a pudgy Nixon lookalike with greased-back, thinning black hair was leaning into the convertible with a smug little smile.
Just a trifle exasperated, Jaime Sommers followed her mentor through the bustling hallway of the Office of Scientific Information. "Why me, Oscar? The school play opens tonight, and two of my students have the leads. Couldn't this wait?"
"I'm sorry, Jaime, but one of our scientists is missing." Oscar Goldman, imperially slim and austere in the grey suit which his hair was gradually beginning to match, politely held the door for her.
"What about Steve? Couldn't he handle this?"
"Actually, no. Colonel Austin is helping Harry Broderick of Jettison Scrap & Salvage County with his rocket--some sort of navigational problem. Good morning, Rudy."
"Good morning, Oscar, Jaime." Dr. Wells slipped his calculator into a pocket of a lab coat that was already bristling with pens and stood up, giving one last absent-minded pat to the German Shepherd sitting patiently at his feet. "What brings you down here? That ear still acting up, Jaime?"
The tawny blonde smiled, looping her long hair behind one perfectly shaped ear. "It's fine. The new level modulator you installed is great. How's my favorite dog doing?"
He beamed at the German shephard like a proud father. "I really think he's got the routine down pat. Here, watch." He tossed a pistol at the startled Goldman. "Max!" The dog cocked its head, ears standing at attention. "Gun!"
Shifting into bionic mode, the dog effortlessly leaped into the air, with almost blinding speed, its jaws closed on the gun in Oscar's hand. It shook the gun loose, crunched it energetically, and dropped it at Wells' feet, tail wagging.
"Good dog, Max." Rudy lifted the pistol, now a mangled toothmarked chunk of useless metal. "His new jaws are stronger than ever."
Jaime whistled her pet over and rubbed his ears, praising him extravagantly. Oscar shook his hand gingerly, counting the fingers.
"Uh, great, Rudy. Listen, one of your people seems to have disappeared."
Wells frowned, his black-rimmed reading glasses slipping to the end of his nose. "Really? Who?" He swept the quiet lab with a glance, as if expecting to see someone missing...or rather, not see them.
"Nicolai Andreavich and his daughter Tatyana." Oscar turned to Jaime, explaining, "Nicolai defected from the Soviet Union in 1973, using a magic act to escape. He joined the O.S.I. two years later. Last month, when his daughter came to America on a cultural exchange tour as a member of a gymnastics team, he used the same trick to help her defect."
She rose, shaking her hair back. "I saw that on the news. The Soviets weren't exactly pleased, as I recall. Okay, when did he disappear? And how? Another magic trick?"
"As for when, it was this afternoon."
"Get serious, Oscar. That's not missing, that's a little bit late."
"He and Tatyana were to be made honorary magicians this afternoon--sort of a publicity stunt. They never arrived. The car they were in was found empty and forced off the road." He turned to Wells. "What can you tell me about him, Rudy?"
Wells removed his glasses and pocketed them. "He's a mid-level scientist--not especially exciting, but competent, and not working on any classified projects at the moment. Why would anyone kidnap Nicolai? Why not a math genius like Billy Cole, or a DNA expert like Henry Walding?"
"Why not our resident chief genius, for that matter?" Jaime teased him.
The bionics master grinned wryly. "Not with the security Oscar insists on. Every time I find myself apparently alone in the bathroom, I'm surprised not to find a bodyguard hiding behind the toilet bowl, gun in hand."
Oscar sighed. "Can we get back to Nicolai, people? Could he be a double agent? Maybe he's returning to the U.S.S.R. with some of our secrets."
Wells stared at him with frank disbelief. "Don't you know anything about Nick? He's more gung-ho American than John Wayne. He's the only man I know who quotes JFK as if it's the Scripture. He'd never leave willingly."
The director of the O.S.I. consulted his notes. "He was apparently with a Dr. William Hayes when he vanished. What do you know about him?"
Rudy's dark eyebrows raised quizzically. "Who?"
"He works for Humanidyne, one of the biggest defense contractors in--"
Wells began to laugh. "You mean Billy. I'll tell you frankly, Oscar, I've never known anyone to come up with such inane, off-the-wall comments. He interviewed with us when he was fresh out of college--showed up in a jogging suit, with a basketball under one arm." He shook his head, remembering. "Totally flaky, lousy at documentation and at setting up controlled test conditions, but he's also turned up some astounding successes. He never publishes--I understand he couldn't write a coherent scientific report if his life depended on it--but I've tried to keep tabs on him. After all, people thought the very idea of a bionic man was crazy until we actually made one."
"Maybe the clue to this disappearance is there," Goldman mused. "What's Dr. Hayes' field?"
"Telepathy, levitation, hypnosis, narcolepsy, human mutation, unknown biological life--if it's weird, Billy Hayes specializes in it."
"Fine." Goldman plopped his folder of notes into Jaime's unwilling arms. "Check it out, Jaime, and let us know what you find out."
Max barked hopefully. "Not you, Max," Wells said. The dog whined, ears falling. "Just a few more tests, boy."
"Afterwards, Rudy will take you hunting," Jaime promised. "That's one of your specialties--weirdness is my specialty." She flipped the folder open to gaze thoughtfully at a Polaroid snapshot of a smiling man in his early forties, hugging a delicately pretty blonde. "Nicolai Andreavich, where could you be?"
At the moment, Nicolai Andreavich was watching two KGB agents briskly bind his daughter's wrists behind her back and shove her into a windowless inner room.
"Listen, people in magic acts are supposed to disappear," Billy Hayes protested. Lupinski shoved him forward. "Everybody's a critic," Hayes muttered.
Yuri ignored him, snapping handcuffs around Nicolai's crossed wrists.
"Tighter," his superior said softly. He watched Andreavich wince. "Much tighter. Remember, he is a very slippery character."
Yuri tightened the cuffs again, and he nodded, apparently satisfied. Lupinski shut and locked the door, leaving Nicolai in the hall. Behind the door, Tatyana cried out in protest.
Fighting to keep his voice expressionless, Nicolai said, "I thought you were on your way to Siberia by now."
Comrade Galenkov took his left elbow firmly and steered him down the hallway, ignoring the angry yells from the windowless room. His jowls lifted in a falsely genial smile. "After your defection 12 years ago, and Tatyana's last month, I would be. We all would be. It was most...humiliating." Galenkov shoved him into what proved to be a small study, the walls lined with sterile grey file cabinets. "So we remained in America until we could find a way to regain our honor."
He caught his balance, glancing quickly around the room. No windows. No other doors. "Taking us back with you won't do it," he observed distantly.
"Perhaps not, but it will be most satisfying, no?" Galenkov slipped a photograph from his suit jacket. In the foreground was a beautiful blonde, unharnessed breasts swelling out of a tight, low-cut sweater. In the background was Billy, the back of his grey jacket proclaiming "Misfits of Science" in pink letters. "We will give our superiors this mysterious Dr. Hayes and his group."
"He's a friend, nothing more," his captive protested.
"He helped you and Tatyana escape."
His normally slight accent had thickened under stress, but he perversely refused to lapse into Russian. He stared at the picture, feeling terror ice his stomach, but he knew the value of illusion, so he repeated calmly, innocently, "He's my friend, yes, of course he helped me."
"And these 'Misfits'?"
"It's a basketball team. Americans, they like their sports. The scientists, the secretary, the janitor, they play it at lunch-time and after work."
Galenkov's poached egg eyes scrutinized him coldly. "And his friend--the one who shrinks to the size of a doll?"
Nicolai smiled. "It was a magic act, remember? It's all done with mirrors. David Copperfield helped them create the illusion, as a favor."
The KGB agent sat at the desk and steepled his hands. "Really? No such apparatus was found in the props you left behind."
He said firmly, "It was an illusion. A human being cannot shrink. You know yourself, this is quite impossible."
The problem was that he was an amateur magician, not a professional con-man. And not even Harry Houdini himself could come up with a way to mimic Elvin Lincoln's ability to shrink...certainly not standing here with his hands cuffed behind his back, while KGB agents interrogated him. Whatever lie he told he would be expected to demonstrate...and it couldn't be done. Nicolai could feel flop sweat already breaking out on his forehead.
Galenkov, resting his stubbled chin on steepled fingers, smiled.
Satisfied, El pushed his chair back. Assuming he had the statistics right, the no-static clothing would be a definite help. Johnny B. needed all the help he could get to prevent building up a dangerous electrical overload. El looked around for someone to share the moment with, and only then realized the phone was ringing. Miss Nance must be one of her innumerable coffeebreaks.
"Dr. Lincoln. Can I help you?"
"No, I believe I am the one who can help you. I offer you a trade."
"Huh?" he said blankly. The Slavic-accented voice sounded vaguely familiar.
"We have your Dr. Hayes," the voice said patiently.
His mouth fell open. If there'd been a fly in the lab, it could've flown right through the gap between his front teeth. "You what?"
"Nicolai Andreavich and Tatyana as well. It will be announced that she never really defected--she only wanted to find her father, and now they want to return joyously to the motherland."
"You think anybody's gonna believe that?" El scoffed.
As if he hadn't spoken, the Russian finished, "But you owe us for the embarrassment you have caused. For...say...fifty thousand of your dollars, we will give you Dr. Hayes."
"Look, you can't--"
"We have rented a house in the canyon, #22 Topega Road. Come alone, in two hours, with the money."
He sat quite still for a moment, listening to the dial tone. Jeez, Billy, what kind of mess did you get into this time? I told you before, Henry Kissinger you're not. Politics ain't science.
Pulling himself together, he glanced at his watch, then yanked open his desk drawer. Inside were a yellow jumpsuit that might fit a tall Ken doll, a sewing needle and thread, and a small half-filled test tube. Stuffing them into his lab coat, Elvin walked to the secretary's desk just as Miss Nancy teetered down the hall on orange spiked heels.
"Miss Nance, you wouldn't happen to have $50,000 I could borrow, would you?"
"No, but Bruce sent me front center tickets for his concert," she offered brightly.
Not even scalping them would raise the right sum. "Never mind. I'll check the petty cash fund."
"Okay." Shrugging, she sat down and turned her portable TV to General Hospital.
Leaving Rudy's high-tech, staid lab for the Humanidyne para-psychology lab was rather like stepping through Alice in Wonderland's looking glass, especially since Richard Stetmeyer, obviously distressed, reminded Jaime irresistibly of the White Rabbit. As he led her to the lab, she kept expecting him to mutter, "Oh, my fur and whiskers!"
"You do understand," he said apologetically, "it's late, so the labs will probably be empty. I really don't know how we can help you. Dr. Hayes is not--no, absolutely, he really wouldn't--I mean--" He paused, shooting nervous glances in both directions, then whispered, "He's not a radical. No matter what anyone says." He flung the doors open. "There, you see? Empty."
Despite the late hour, the lab looked like a hyperactive beehive. A woman was wearily fanning out Tarot cards. A brunette teenager in dangling earrings was repeatedly levitating a basketball and sinking it through a net mounted on one wall. Two Gypsies were shrieking Romany imprecations at each other, struggling for possession of a huge crystal ball. On a desk to one side, a brown-haired man in blue jeans and half-zipped black leather jacket was sitting cross-legged, strumming an acoustic guitar. Jaime blinked as a bewhiskered old man crossed in front of her toward a mummy leaning against the far wall; the man had a large pair of scissors in one hand.
Crestfallen, Stetmeyer rubbed his rather weak chin and muttered, "Not empty. Oh, boy."
The short-haired girl scored a rim shot, directing the ball with her clear blue eyes, and spun around. "Richard, what's going on around here? First Billy stands up Tabitha, and then El disappears."
"El? Elvin's gone?" Stetmyer cried. "Oh, no. Oh, dear."
If he pulled out a stopwatch, Jaime would be absolutely positive this was an ALICE IN WONDERLAND story. Since he was clearly too distraught to do anything about introductions, she held out her hand. "Hi. I'm Jaime Sommers, with the O.S.I. I'm investigating the disappearance of Dr. Hayes and Dr. Andreavich." She noted that the girl was wearing a 'Misfits of Science' jacket numbered '3,' and decided she was very happy that Rudy didn't require uniforms. But then, nobody would play basketball with a man whose team included bionically-enhanced players. "You say someone else is missing?"
"Miss Nancy says he got a phone call, tried to borrow fifty thousand dollars, and left." The guitar-player, his eyes hidden by extra-dark sunglasses, slid off the desk. "I'm Johnny B. Goode."
Jaime heard her voice crack. "The rock singer? I have one of your albums."
Stetmeyer ran a nervous hand over his high forehead and through wispy, receding mouse-brown hair. "This is terrible," he muttered. "Billy's the leader--and Elvin makes the best plans, he's really very logical--now who will take charge?"
Johnny grinned, clapping him on the back and half-choking him. "You, Dick, obviously."
"Me?" he squealed, shaking his head. "Oh, boy. Oh, no. You don't--I can't--I really have to work on the new budget, and there's this--"
"It sounds like someone is demanding a ransom," Jaime interrupted. "Are you working on a special project right now?"
The threesome looked blank. Gloria shrugged. "Nothing special."
Jaime gazed around the cluttered lab, bemused. "Nothing special. Right. Does Dr. Hayes have any special enemies?"
"Everyone likes Billy, pretty much."
"Not the Russians," Johnny B. objected. "He and Nicolai made that KGB team look like morons last month, remember? They wanted to hold Billy on trespassing charges. I mean, come on, there's a Cold War going on." He turned toward Jaime, although his eyes were invisible behind those glasses. "The head of the team was the same agent Nick escaped from in Berlin 12 years ago."
"Okay," she said briskly. "We have a likely suspect. Now the thing to do is locate our missing foursome." She could ask Oscar to start diplomatic requests, but that would take too long. With her bionic ear, she could eavesdrop at the Russian embassy, but the odds that Hayes would be kept there were--
"Excuse me." The quiet blonde in the corner rose, setting down her Tarot pack. "I'm Tabitha Stevens--I was going to the magic show with Billy? Maybe I can help."
Smiling serenely, Tabitha twitched her nose. The crystal ball leaped out of the Gypsies' reach and floated across the room into her waiting hands. Tabitha rubbed it gently, then chanted, "Eve of newt and bark of tree/Science misfits, missing three/Open now their minds to me."
The Gypsies crowded around Stetmyer, complaining. Johnny B. Goode and Gloria seemed blasé. Only Jaime gasped as the crystal ball turned milky, then, with the clarity of a TV screen, filled with the image of handsome, suntanned Billy Hayes, honey-brown hair tousled. She swallowed hard. "How--how did you do that?"
Tabitha shrugged, her eyes locked on her date's image. "It runs in the family. Actually, my mom and grandmother are a lot more powerful; I always had trouble with that nose twitch." A frown creased her forehead. "This is weird. His mind seems to be blank, except for basketball score..." She blushed. "...some, uh, risqué images...and a song." She sang a few bars, off-key: "I can feel it/Feel that science/Straight from the heart/Oh that science...."
"That's our theme song," Gloria nodded.
"You have a theme song? Oh, never mind." Jaime dug through her file folder. "Here's a picture of Nicolai and his daughter."
As Tabitha glanced at the picture, another image formed in the crystal: a side view of the Russian defector in some sort of office, futilely twisted puffy wrists in too-tight handcuffs. Tabitha scowled.
"He's thinking in Russian. Darn it, I knew I should've taken more languages in college...no, wait. I'm getting an image." She nodded firmly. "It's a house in the canyon. He passed a sign that said Topega Road."
In the heart of the ball, a tall man in a dark suit grabbed Nicolai's shoulder, and the image winked out. Tabitha tossed the ball back to the angry Gypsies. "I want to come with you, okay?"
Jaime smiled weakly. "Who can say no to help like that?"
"Can I drive?" Gloria asked eagerly. "I'm a good driver, honest. I've had my driver's license for a whole month now, and no tickets yet--"
With a soft bamf, two woman materialized in the center of the lab: an attractive older version of Tabitha, and a still-older, sharp-faced, overly-made-up biddy with an upswept brown coiffure and a sweeping silver lame gown. Everyone turned to look, and the bewhiskered man dropped his scissors. Wild-eyed, the blonde pounced on Tabitha.
"Come quick! Edgar Benedict's just exorcised your brother Adam!"
"Really, Tabitha, you can't expect Dr. Bombay to hold them off forever, and he does charge by the hour," the oldest woman drawled.
With simultaneous nose twitches, all three women vanished.
"Oh, boy," Stetmeyer sighed.
Jaime began to understand just why he seemed so beleaguered.
Parking a block away, Elvin checked his watch. An hour early. With luck, he could sneak in while they were still off-guard, and free Billy.
There was a cat's door carved into the side of the house. Perfect. Elvin touched the back of his neck, and instantly compacted in on himself, half-smothering in his suddenly-empty clothes. Grumbling, he crawled into the lab coat pocket and wriggled into the tiny yellow jumpsuit.
The sewing needle was his spear, to fend off rats, cockroaches, and other grungy horrors--not to mention whatever pet this door had been built for. At the moment, however, the test tube was the real problem. Even half-empty, it was both huge and heavy when he was in his current size, but he couldn't leave it behind. If Billy turned out to be in handcuffs, or locked up somewhere, the acid would free him. Sweating, El dragged it to the pet's entrance.
"You owe me for this, Billy," he grunted. "You owe me big-time."
Shoving the tube in front of him and using it for a lever, he shoved the swinging door open...and walked right into a wire cage.
I've performed in front of bad audiences before, Nicolai mused groggily, but never as bad as this one.
Comrade Galenkov wrenched his head up by a handful of thick dark hair. "We have your shrinking black friend, Nicolai. See?"
Lupinski hauled him to his feet, and he swayed unsteadily, focusing on the gesticulating manikin in the wire-trap. He closed his eyes against the sight. Forgive me, Elvin.
"You might show a little more interest," Galenkov chided. "Well, no matter. Time to go."
He opened his eyes. "Wait. You have me, Dr. Hayes, Dr. Lincoln--you don't need my daughter. There are plenty of gymnasts at home. Comrade Galenkov, please. Leave Tatyana here. Please."
The stocky Nixon lookalike raised thick black eyebrows. "After you and she made laughingstocks of us--of Russia?"
"That wasn't what we wanted! All we wanted was to be together."
Galenkov rubbed his lips with his steepled fingers, in complete control and relishing it. "And you will be. In Mother Russia. Perhaps Tatyana can still be re-educated. Once we've shown our superiors this magnificent shrinking power, I will ask to have her placed in my home, where I can personally see to her...training."
He lunged forward, roaring curses, and it took all three men to wrestle him back, even bound. Chuckling richly, Galenkov lifted the cage and started down the hall.
Sulking on the floor, Tatyana watched Billy pound the locked door with his bright red sneakers, like a naughty boy sent to bed early and resenting it.
"That won't do any good," she said wearily, blowing golden bangs from her eyes.
"If you've got a better idea, I'm open for suggestions."
Without warning, the door opened, and her father stumbled into the room. He backed and faced the door, standing very straight against the wall. Comrade Galenkov leaned in, displaying a wire box like it was an Olympic trophy, and Billy sighed.
"Oh, El. Hi. What are you doing here?"
Galenkov beamed affectionately at the people who were about to ensure his triumphant return home. "No need for impatience, my friends. In one half hour, we will be leaving. Dr. Hayes, you and Tatyana will travel in a specially adapted box in the cargo hold of the plane."
Hayes shifted his weight from one foot to the other. "Listen, I have this thing about cramped, closed-in places--"
"Not to worry, Dr. Hayes. We've made such deliveries before. It may be uncomfortable, but you won't notice. 'Doctor Lupinski' here will see to that."
The big-nosed smallest agent grinned, patting his hypodermic syringes affectionately.
"You, Nicolai Andreavich, have a habit of vanishing into thin air, so I'll keep you under my eye. You will be on a stretcher, a heart patient, drugged for the pain."
Billy cleared his throat. "Um, what about El?"
Galenkov hefted the box. "Him I will keep with me. I find him most amusing."
"You can't do that!" Elvin's voice boomed incongruously from the little body. He clung to the wire mesh. "Tell him, Billy--I'll be trapped!"
"He's right, man, you gotta let him out. He can only stay small for an hour, then poof!" He flung his shoulders upward. "Instant giant Masai warrior. If he's still in that box, he'll be crushed."
"It's a nice try, Dr. Hayes, but I am not fooled."
"No kidding, man, you'll have instant chocolate mush on your hands!"
"You tell stories no better than Nicolai does." The head KGB agent locked eyes with Nicolai and smiled. "We'll have a long talk, you and I, in Moscow," he promised. "Starting with the names of those who helped you escape Berlin. Yuri, come--get the car."
The box cradled against his chest, he left, and the closing door cut off Elvin's frantic protests.
"Nick, what stories did you tell them?"
"First I told them it was all a magic trick," he said wearily. "After awhile, I said yes, you used chemicals to change bodies, but the chemicals cause insanity."
"You told them I'm crazy?" Billy sounded insulted. "Nick, come on, is that nice?"
"You have to admit, Billy, even for Americans, you're not normal. But they didn't believe that, either." Her father closed his eyes and slid limply down the wall. "We're dead."
Billy angrily kicked the door again. "No way, Nick. I've got me a primo, numero-uno, can't-fail plan. Just--just give me a minute to think it up."
Nicolai murmured despairingly, "Siberia, here we come."
Tatyana sat beside him, putting her head on his chest, and he rested his already-bruising cheek on her hair. "I'm no sorry, Tatyanoshka. If I hadn't made you defect--"
She said fiercely, "It was worth it, Papa, every minute of it." She kissed him gently, then rose and arched her back.
He sat up, alarmed. "Tanya, what are you doing?"
She said grimly, "I'm a gymnast, remember?"
"Listen, you could dislocate your shoulders doing that," Billy pointed out.
Ignoring him, she crawled backward through her bound arms. With her wrists in front of her, where she could see what she was doing, she might be able to do something. "Did you bring your keys?"
"Keys? What keys?"
"Taped to my back." To Billy, he explained, "All handcuffs made by a manufacturer use the same key, and there are only so many manufacturers. To do handcuff escape tricks, you only need to carry the keys. I thought tonight, if the magicians--"
Tatyana wriggled her handcuffed hands up his sweater and fumbled with the tape. "Maybe we can disappear in a puff of smoke?"
"You've got cigarettes under that sweater, too?"
""No, after we accepted our reward--"
"Award," her father corrected.
She shrugged. "--Papa would wave his hands, and we would disappear. But that would be through a trapdoor on stage--I don't know if a puff of smoke is enough."
"No, this is great!" Billy enthused. "Now, when they come back for us, you make with the smoke, and I'll chop 'em down with karate. Hai-ya!"
The third key fit her father's cuffs but wouldn't turn. The fourth key opened them. Her father arched a sardonic eyebrow at Dr. Hayes.
"Do you know karate, then?"
Billy said vehemently, "Yes!" An instant later, just as firmly; "No." As Tatyana freed his hands, he shrugged. "But I figure, how hard can it be? I mean, I watched two Chuck Norris movies and part of a Bruce Lee film festival. It's a piece of cake."
"We're dead," her father told her sadly, and closed his eyes again.
The big white ice-cream truck boldly labeled "Funday Sunday" trundled down Toega Road in the darkness. Two blocks back, Gloria had at last figured out how to switch off the bells, so they finally quit accumulating a horde of hungry children that would greatly hinder any rescue attempt. Nevertheless, Richard Stetmeyer was sweating copiously.
"Listen, guys. Guys? Please," he begged nervously, "please don't do anything to, uh, create an international incident. All right? Let's--let's all work on maintaining a low profile."
"Kidnapping four American citizens--well, three and a half, since Tatyana isn't one yet--isn't an international incident?" Johnny B. asked skeptically.
"Well, that's--that's their problem. I want everyone to respond in a controlled, professional manner, is that understood?"
Tossing a fudge bar to Gloria, Jaime nodded. B-Man folded his arms.
"Listen, Richard, if those Russians shoot me, I'm damn sure gonna mention it to somebody."
Slurping on the ice cream, Gloria tapped Dick's slouched shoulders. "Richard, can I drive now? Please?"
"No," he said with unaccustomed firmness. She flounced back into her seat, muttering rude comments in a Valley Girl argot that he fortunately did not understand. He peered short-sightedly through the windshield. "This is the street. Now, how do we find the right house?"
Jaime put a finger to her lips. "Sshh." She tilted her head, feeling her bionic ear pulse, and sorted through the ordinary night noises--a bat flying overhead, a raccoon sorting through someone's garbage, TV shows, CD players, various conversations....She pointed down the street. "There. Number twenty-two. I hear men speaking Russian."
"You got to be kidding." Johnny B. raised his dark sunglasses to eye her with respect. "I don't hear anything. Your ears must be something else."
"I have a great doctor," she agreed, licking her fudgesicle. "On the other hand, I don't get to tool around in an ice cream truck like you guys."
"Kind of a trade-off, then," he agreed. "So tell me, what is it you do for the O.S.I. exactly?"
"Actually, I'm a teacher. My parents were college professors--I just followed in their footsteps. But I do odd freelance jobs for the O.S.I. when they need me." Sometimes, like now, very odd indeed. But who was she to talk? She'd been kidnapped by holographic UFO's and fought battles with female robots. She finished the fudgesicle in one big bite. "So tell me, Fearless Leader, what's our battle plan?"
Biting his nails, Richard blinked rapidly, gasping, "Oh, boy. Uh...well...look, John, why don't you slip behind the house and, oh, make a diversion. Do that electricity thing you do. And, uh, Gloria, maybe you could take their guns, and--uh--do you have a gun?" he asked Jaime hopefully.
She shook her head, but patted his hand reassuringly. "Don't worry about me, Richard. If Glo, here, can 'take their guns,' I can handle the strong-arm stuff."
"Really. You might say Rudy Wells gave me a few special advantages in that way."
His eyes glowed in the darkness. "Rudy Wells," he breathed, the way some men might say 'God.' "If we had him in our labs, the Board would--they'd
quadruple our budget, maybe more. The man's, well, practically a legend."
"And he's a nice guy, too," she agreed. "Shall we get started?"
"Yes. No. We should synchronize our watches. I have 7:30."
"I have 7:42."
"Mine says 7:26, but I think my watch stopped."
"I left my watch on the sink at home."
"Close enough," Stetmeyer ruled, apparently not willing to take on the task of synchronizing time any closer than that. He opened the car door, then closed it again, turning back to Jaime. "Listen, do you think maybe Dr. Wells--"
"Someone's coming out," Johnny hissed.
Jaime and Johnny slithered out of the car on the street-side, away from the house, and slid the doors shut again so the lights wouldn't alert the Russians. Looking alarmed, Stetmeyer and Gloria ducked below window-level. Jaime crawled to the front end of the car, hearing Johnny slither to the rear, and peered under the car's frame at the house.
Exchanging what sounded like wisecracks in Russian, the four KGB agents hustled their captives out, guns in hand. It was dark, so the neighbors probably wouldn't notice, and even if they did, this was America, the gun-loving nation. Everyone looked smoke-tinged, and Tatyana was coughing. Billy Hayes resentfully rubbed his sore hand.
"It should've worked. It always works in the movies. How was I supposed to know?" he griped.
Nicolai glanced back at him, and one of the men prodded his ribs with a gun.
Something like an earth-bound lightning bolt flickered past them, then the night became day as huge blue fireballs shot toward the sky. Everyone automatically looked upward. The doors to the car burst open, and Gloria leaped to the sidewalk, with Richard stumbling out behind her. She squinted, and the guns spun out of Soviet hands as if impelled by giant magnets. Galenkov swung around, dropping the cage he was carrying.
Crowing with delight, Billy bent over and butted the man nearest the car with his famously hard head. Tatyana did a backflip and snared an agent's hand, sweeping his arm back in a wrestling hold.
Stetmeyer rubbed his eyes. "Please, no--these are cultural visitors, for heaven's sake! What will I tell the Board? We're supposed to be discreet!"
In the darkness, half-blinded by B-Man's sputtering balls of electricity and concentrating on levitating Bully's captor to the top of the car, Gloria failed to notice Galenkov drawing another gun from beneath his coat. He whirled, infallibly seeking out the source of his defeat.
"No!" He leveled the gun. "You will not humiliate me again!"
El's wire cage exploded, and his slim dark form geysered upward, making one of the Russians scream. Tatyana released her captive, her scream merging with his.
Nicolai, having shoved Lupinski's omnipresent syringe into the kidnapper's own stomach, swayed uncertainly, confused. Jaime Sommers stood, ripped the passenger door from the car, and hurled it like a frisbee. It spun effortlessly across the lawn and into Galenkov, hurling him backwards, but a fraction of a second too late. The gun roared.
It was patently impossible--and he'd have known that if he'd stopped to think--but even as Galenkov fired, Johnny reacted instinctively, sending a ball of electricity flaring straight into the bullet's path. Nicolai staggered back, and collapsed.
Already sobbing, Tatyana darted past the naked seven-foot-tall black man to kneel by her father's body, sprawled in the dew-wet grass. As she touched his face, he stirred, then slowly sat up. "Papa, you're shot!"
"No," he said, dazed, fumbling with his smoking sweater. "I'm on fire."
It was true. She slapped at his chest with both hands, then looked up at Johnny with awe. "You--you melted the bullet!"
He shrugged, embarrassed but pleased. "Yeah, I guess I did."
Shaking his head in disbelief, Stetmeyer joined them with a surprised, daffy grin on his face. "It worked!" he murmured. "We did it. I led them, and we did it. We really did."
"Hey, Nick, you okay?"
Tatyana felt his chest carefully. "He is fine, but the sweater is ruined," she reported.
"Great. Hey, Richard, good job." Billy paused to feel Jaime's arm for muscles. "That was fa-antastic, lady! Say, listen, how would you like to join the team?"
She lifted the car door with one hand, and the unconscious KGB leader with the other. "I don't think I qualify, technically. Besides, Oscar would never agree. But thanks for the offer, Dr. Hayes."
"You're like the Incredible Hulk. Well, Hulkette. Not that you're big, or anything, but you're sure incredible." Billy grinned around the yard, admiring the chaos. "Hey, where's El? El!"
"Psst! Billy! Over here!"
"Oh, there you are. Why are you hiding in those bushes, man? The trouble's over."
Elvin whispered, "See if you can find my clothes, will you?"
"Sure thing. Listen, El, don't you feel a lot better now? All your worrying all this time was for nothing. You can expand in a limited space without getting crushed."
Dr. Lincoln snatched his wet pants from Hayes. "No way, Billy. My back is already killing me, and the only reason it's not broken is that every time that KGB creep put my box down, I crawled up the walls and weakened the top with acid. I nearly got killed, trying to rescue you."
"It's not my fault," Billy pointed out, miffed. "I didn't ask to be kidnapped, you know. It hasn't been a bed of roses on my end, either."
Stetmeyer wandered by, beaming proudly, carefully stepping over a limp KGB agent, drinking in his first success as team leader. He paused by Jaime Sommers, who had tucked Galenkov under one arm as though he were a Cabbage Patch doll.
"Uh, say," he said diffidently, clearing his throat. "Maybe you could put in a good word in with Dr. Wells. Do you think? I mean, you can't leave him--loyal to the company, it's totally understandable--but, you see, if I could get some part-time work from Dr. Wells, it--it would be the coup of a lifetime!" His eyes shone in the moonlight. "Strictly freelance, of course--but if he ever wants to leave the O.S.I.--"
Bemused, the bionic woman gazed around the starlit yard. Tatyana checked her father's puffy wrists, then kissed his charred sweater, crying and laughing simultaneously. Johnny B. Goode provided intermittent lighting by juggling hissing blue balls of electricity in his bare hands. Gloria, scowling, was using her powers to pin the three lesser Soviet agents against the side of the house; one of them was weeping, too. Billy was still arguing with a seven-foot-plus black man in a torn white lab coat. Standing there, she tried to picture Rudy's reaction to this bizarre scene, and to the vanishing Tabitha Stevens' crystal-ball act, and she laughed.
"I'll mention it, Richard," she promised, "but I'm afraid, with Humanidyne, we'd feel like the real misfits of science."
His face fell. Patting his shoulder once with her normal hand, Jaime carried Galenkov to the ice cream truck to put him on ice until the police could arrive, absent-mindedly whistling, "Feel that science, straight from the heart...."
Get an IQ as high as Rudy Wells' by learning HOW TO WRITE ALMOST READABLE FAN FICTION.
Qualify for a bionic hug--send feedback to the author.