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by Mack Reynolds
Category: Science Fiction
Description: His assignment was to get things done; he definitely did so. Not quite the things intended, perhaps, but definitely done. A classic SF tale, edited by John W. Campbell, Jr. for Analog Science Fact & Fiction, May 1963.
eBook Publisher: Wildside Press, 1963 Analog
eBookwise Release Date: January 2010
4 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [47 KB]
Reading time: 26-37 min.
The knock at the door came in the middle of the night, as Josip Pekic had always thought it would. He had been but four years of age when the knock had come that first time and the three large men had given his father a matter of only minutes to dress and accompany them. He could barely remember his father.
The days of the police state were over, so they told you. The cult of the personality was a thing of the past. The long series of five-year plans and seven-year plans were over and all the goals had been achieved. The new constitution guaranteed personal liberties. No longer were you subject to police brutality at the merest whim. So they told you.
But fears die hard, particularly when they are largely of the subconscious. And he had always, deep within, expected the knock.
He was not mistaken. The rap came again, abrupt, impatient. Josip Pekic allowed himself but one chill of apprehension, then rolled from his bed, squared slightly stooped shoulders, and made his way to the door. He flicked on the light and opened up, even as the burly, empty faced zombie there was preparing to pound still again.
There were two of them, not three as he had always dreamed. As three had come for his father, more than two decades before.
His father had been a rightist deviationist, so the papers had said, a follower of one of whom Josip had never heard in any other context other than his father's trial and later execution. But he had not cracked under whatever pressures had been exerted upon him, and of that his son was proud.
He had not cracked, and in later years, when the cult of personality was a thing of the past, his name had been cleared and returned to the history books. And now it was an honor, rather than a disgrace, to be the son of Ljubo Pekic, who had posthumously been awarded the title Hero of the People's Democratic Dictatorship.
But though his father was now a hero, Josip still expected that knock. However, he was rather bewildered at the timing, having no idea of why he was to be under arrest.
The first of the zombie twins said expressionlessly, "Comrade Josip Pekic?"
If tremor there was in his voice, it was negligible. He was the son of Ljubo Pekic. He said, "That is correct. Uh ... to what do I owe this intrusion upon my privacy?" That last in the way of bravado.
The other ignored the question. "Get dressed and come with us, Comrade," he said flatly.
At least they still called him comrade. That was some indication, he hoped, that the charges might not be too serious.
He chose his dark suit. Older than the brown one, but in it he felt he presented a more self-possessed demeanor. He could use the quality. Five foot seven, slightly underweight and with an air of unhappy self-deprecation, Josip Pekic's personality didn't exactly dominate in a group. He chose a conservative tie and a white shirt, although he knew that currently some frowned upon white shirts as a bourgeois affectation. It was all the thing, these days, to look proletarian, whatever that meant.
The zombies stood, watching him emptily as he dressed. He wondered what they would have said had he asked them to wait in the hallway until he was finished. Probably nothing. They hadn't bothered to answer when he asked what the charge against him was.
He put his basic papers, his identity card, his student cards, his work record and all the rest in an inner pocket, and faced them. "I am ready," he said as evenly as he could make it come.
They turned and led the way down to the street and to the black limousine there. And in it was the third one, sitting in the front seat, as empty of face as the other two. He hadn't bothered to turn off the vehicle's cushion jets and allow it to settle to the street. He had known how very quickly his colleagues would reappear with their prisoner.
Josip Pekic sat in the back between the two, wondering just where he was being taken, and, above all, why. For the life of him he couldn't think of what the charge might be. True enough, he read the usual number of proscribed books, but no more than was common among other intellectuals, among the students and the country's avant garde, if such you could call it. He had attended the usual parties and informal debates in the coffee shops where the more courageous attacked this facet or that of the People's Dictatorship. But he belonged to no active organizations which opposed the State, nor did his tendencies attract him in that direction. Politics were not his interest.
At this time of the night, there was little traffic on the streets of Zagurest, and few parked vehicles. Most of those which had been rented for the day had been returned to the car-pool garages. It was the one advantage Josip could think of that Zagurest had over the cities of the West which he had seen. The streets were not cluttered with vehicles. Few people owned a car outright. If you required one, you had the local car pool deliver it, and you kept it so long as you needed transportation.
He had expected to head for the Kalemegdan Prison where political prisoners were traditionally taken, but instead, they slid off to the right at Partisan Square, and up the Boulevard of the November Revolution. Josip Pekic, in surprise, opened his mouth to say something to the security policeman next to him, but then closed it again and his lips paled. He knew where they were going, now. Whatever the charge against him, it was not minor.
A short kilometer from the park, the government buildings began. The Skupstina, the old Parliament left over from the days when Transbalkania was a backward, feudo-capitalistic power of third class. The National Bank, the new buildings of the Borba and the Politica. And finally, set back a hundred feet from the boulevard, the sullen, squat Ministry of Internal Affairs.
It had been built in the old days, when the Russians had still dominated the country, and in slavish imitation of the architectural horror known as Stalin Gothic. Meant to be above all efficient and imposing and winding up simply--grim.
Yes. Josip Pekic knew where they were going now.
The limousine slid smoothly on its cushion of air, up the curved driveway, past the massive iron statue of the worker struggling against the forces of reaction, a rifle in one hand, a wrench in the other and stopped before, at last, the well-guarded doorway.
Without speaking, the two police who had come to his room opened the car door and climbed out. One made a motion with his head, and Josip followed. The limousine slid away immediately.
Between them, he mounted the marble stairs. It occurred to him that this was the route his father must have taken, two decades before.
He had never been in the building of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, before. Few Transbalkanians had, other than those who were employed in the MVD, or who came under the Ministry's scrutiny.
Doors opened before them, closed behind them. Somewhat to Josip Pekic's surprise the place was copiously adorned with a surplus of metal and marble statues, paintings and tapestries. It had similarities to one of Zagurest's heavy museums.
Through doors and down halls and through larger rooms, finally to a smaller one in which sat alone at a desk a lean, competent and assured type who jittered over a heavy sheaf of papers with an electro-marking computer pen. He was nattily and immaculately dressed and smoked his cigarette in one of the small pipelike holders once made de rigueur through the Balkans by Marshal Tito.
The three of them came to a halt before his desk and, at long last, expression came to the faces of the zombies. Respect, with possibly an edge of perturbation. Here, obviously, was authority.
He at the desk finished a paper, tore it from the sheaf, pushed it into the maw of the desk chute from whence it would be transported to the auto-punch for preparation for recording. He looked up in busy impatience.
Then, to Josip Pekic's astonishment, the other came to his feet quickly, smoothly and with a grin on his face. Josip hadn't considered the possibility of being grinned at in the Ministry of Internal Affairs.
"Aleksander Kardelj," he said in self-introduction, sticking out a lean hand to be shaken. "You're Pekic, eh? We've been waiting for you."