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.Just like an old-time jet jockey, he thought to himself, and then—well, we really blew it this time.That’s gotta be the Russkies… that commander of theirs sounds like one tough chick!Through his speakers came the hard voice.“You’re doing fine so far.”“Das vidanya,” Buck replied bitterly.“I beg your pardon?” the woman’s voice sounded puzzled.“Just being friendly.”“I didn’t understand those last words.But let me assure you, whoever you are, pilot, that violating our planetary air space is not an act of friendship.It’s an act of war!”Buck shook his head and concentrated on following the sleek interceptor down to land.“Wait’U the guys at the Cape hear this one,” he mumbled to himself.“Buck Rogers sets down right in the middle of Bed Square.No question about it, they’ll torture me for everything I know.”Minutes later he found himself seated inside a streamlined monorail car as it streaked along its track.It was surrounded by a city of incredible beauty, graceful towers and glistening spires thrusting upward nearly to touch the metallic and glassite dome that covered the entire metropolis.Guards stood alertly at the front and rear of the monorail car.The only passengers between the watchful guardians were Buck Rogers and Wilma Deering.The car’s windows were darkened, but he could peer through them and see the golden, glittering city outside.“What is it?” Buck exclaimed.“This sure isn’t the Moscow they told us about back in Chi Town!”“This is the Inner City, of course,” Wilma answered coldly.“Inner City okay, but not just of course,” Buck commented.“I’ve never seen anything like this.What kind of place is it?”“Come away from the window, please,” Wilma said.Although her words were couched as a request, their tone made it clear that she spoke a command.She pointed peremptorily to a button beneath the clear panel and Buck obediently pressed it.The window went dark.“Look,” he said, returning to his seat beside Wilma.“I think I deserve some kind of explanation.Where are we, really? I don’t even know what planet I’m on!”“What you undoubtedly deserve is a firing squad,” Wilma answered sharply.“But we don’t have those anymore.We have a better fate awaiting you after your interrogation is completed.”“And I thought Princess Ardala was all a nightmare,” Buck muttered bitterly.“Princess Ardala!” Wilma jerked at the name.“I’m sure you’d like me to believe that she sent you.Well, it may interest you to know that whoever really did send you here planted a bomb on your ship.It was to be triggered by the earth’s atmosphere entering your ship when you opened the hatch after you landed.”“A bomb?”“Had we not moved your ship directly into a decontamination chamber to remove alien microbes, we would not have discovered the charge.And you, pilot, would be dead!”Buck took a minute to assimilate this latest blockbuster.Not only was he no nearer to an understanding of what was taking place around him—each new revelation only seemed to move him farther away from one! He shook his head and stared introspectively into the darkened window-panel.“If this is all a nightmare… then I can only say that it’s a beaut!”THREEA sterile room, gleaming white from floor to ceiling, from wall to wall.Light glared down from every direction.The room was furnished with the most spartan of implements.Two hard chairs.One small table.A single panel barely distinguishable from the sterile glaring walls that surrounded it.And one living occupant.William Rogers, Captain, United States Air Force.Buck sat in one of the two chairs, gazing morosely at the white panel, wondering, wondering who or what might come through it—and when!He stood up, moved away from his chair, strode nervously around the room chewing his lower lip, smacking the fist of one hand into the palm of the other.Finally he went to the white panel and tried to press it open.It did not respond.Instead, an even more inconspicuous panel slid aside, at the opposite end of the room, and a man passed through it to stand staring at Buck from the rear.The newcomer was built along the delicate lines of a person who has lived long and grown far from the fleshly existence of youth or even middle age.His hair was a gray that was heavily salted with white.His features were thin, ascetic, almost spiritual in appearance.Yet a keenness of intellect so marked his features that no one would ever have mistaken him for less than the genius he was!“Doctor Huer is my name,” the newcomer announced.“I am very pleased to meet you, Captain Rogers.”Buck spun on one heel, faced the other in readiness to make any move necessary.“What in hell is going on here? Where am I and what are you doing to me?”“We’re studying you,” Huer announced as calmly and matter-of-factly as if he were an adult answering the simple question of a small child.Buck swung around, glaring at the walls and the ceiling of the sterile chamber.“It’s all electronic and quite painless,” the old man told him.His voice was thin, his tone a strange combination of gentleness and abrasiveness, as if he had seen all that the world had to show, and had reached a point of tolerance toward human foibles, yielding only occasionally to impatience with the foolishness of the mortal beings.“So far,” Huer continued, “we’re quite as astonished as you are, Captain, by what has happened.Your testing has provided the most phenomenal data!”“All right, get to it,” Buck snapped impatiently.“What’s happened to me? If I’m dead, I obviously didn’t make it to heaven.So just what planet is this?”“What planet?” Huer laughed.“Why, Earth, of course! You returned yesterday morning, just as your mission required and on almost the precise landing area originally programmed into your ship’s computer.”Buck shook his head despairingly.“Doctor, I may have been through a lot but there’s no way you’re going to tell me that city out there is anything like Chicago.”“No, it isn’t,” Huer conceded.“There’s nothing like Chicago left on Earth.At least, nothing like the Chicago you knew in the twentieth century.”Buck stared speechlessly at the doctor.“Captain,” Huer resumed, “we’re trying to find a way to ease you into what’s happened [ Pobierz całość w formacie PDF ]