The Complete Stories (Page 118)
The seventeen Russian and Polish citizens named Zebatinsky were all descendants of people who, some half century earlier, had lived in or near Bialystok. Presumably, they could be relatives, but this was not explicitly stated in any particular case. (Vital statistics in East Europe during the aftermath of World War I were kept poorly, if at all.)
Brand passed through the individual life histories of the current Zebatinsky men and women (amazing how thoroughly intelligence did its work; probably the Russians’ was as thorough). He stopped at one and his smooth forehead sprouted lines as his eyebrows shot upward. He put that one to one side and went on. Eventually, he stacked everything but that one and returned it to its envelope.
Staring at that one, he tapped a neatly kept fingernail on the desk.
With a certain reluctance, he went to call on Dr. Paul Kristow of the Atomic Energy Commission.
Dr. Kristow listened to the matter with a stony expression. He lifted a little finger occasionally to dab at his bulbous nose and remove a nonexistent speck. His hair was iron gray, thinning and cut short. He might as well have been bald.
He said, "No, I never heard of any Russian Zebatinsky. But then, I never heard of the American one either."
"Well," Brand scratched at his hairline over one temple and said slowly, "I don’t think there’s anything to this, but I don’t like to drop it too soon. I have a young lieutenant on my tail and you know what they can be like. I don’t want to do anything that will drive him to a Congressional committee. Besides, the fact is that one of the Russian Zebatinsky fellows, Mikhail Andreyevich Zebatinsky, is a nuclear physicist. Are you sure you never heard of him?"
"Mikhail Andreyevich Zebatinsky? No- No, I never did. Not that that proves anything."
"I could say it was coincidence, but you know that would be piling it a trifle high. One Zebatinsky here and one Zebatinsky there, both nuclear physicists, and the one here suddenly changes his name to Sebatinsky, and goes around anxious about it, too. He won’t allow misspelling. He says,
emphatically, ‘Spell my name with an 5.’ It all just fits well enough to make my spy-conscious lieutenant begin to look a little too good. -And another peculiar thing is that the Russian Zebatinsky dropped out of sight just about a year ago."
Dr. Kristow said stolidly, "Executed!"
"He might have been. Ordinarily, I would even assume so, though the Russians are not more foolish than we are and don’t kill any nuclear physicist they can avoid killing. The thing is there’s another reason why a nuclear physicist, of all people, might suddenly disappear. I don’t have to tell you."
"Crash research; top secret. I take it that’s what you mean. Do you believe that’s it?"
"Put it together with everything else, add in the lieutenant’s intuition, and I just begin to wonder."
"Give me that biography." Dr. Kristow reached for the sheet of paper and read it over twice. He shook his head. Then he said, "I’ll check this in Nuclear Abstracts."
Nuclear Abstracts lined one wall of Dr. Kristow’s study in neat little boxes, each filled with its squares of microfilm.
The A.E.G. man used his projector on the indices while Brand watched with what patience he could muster.
Dr. Kristow muttered, "A Mikhail Zebatinsky authored or co-authored half a dozen papers in the Soviet journals in the last half dozen years. We’ll get out the abstracts and maybe we can make something out of it. I doubt it."
A selector flipped out the appropriate squares. Dr. Kristow lined them up, ran them through the projector, and by degrees an expression of odd intent-ness crossed his face. He said, "That’s odd."
Brand said, "What’s odd?"
Dr. Kristow sat back. "I’d rather not say just yet. Can you get me a list of other nuclear physicists who have dropped out of sight in the Soviet Union in the last year?"
"You mean you see something?"
"Not really. Not if I were just looking at any one of these papers. It’s just that looking at all of them and knowing that this man may be on a crash research program and, on top of that, having you putting suspicions in my head-" He shrugged. "It’s nothing."
Brand said earnestly, "I wish you’d say what’s on your mind. We may as well be foolish about this together."
"If you feel that way- It’s just possible this man may have been inching toward gamma-ray reflection."
"And the significance?"
"If a reflecting shield against gamma rays could be devised, individual shelters could be built to protect against fallout. It’s fallout that’s the real
danger, you know. A hydrogen bomb might destroy a city but the fallout could slow-kill the population over a strip thousands of miles long and hundreds wide."
Brand said quickly, "Are we doing any work on this?"
"And if they get it and we don’t, they can destroy the United States in tote at the cost of, say, ten cities, after they have their shelter program completed."
"That’s far in the future. -And, what are we getting in a hurrah about? All this is built on one man changing one letter in his name."
"All right, I’m insane," said Brand. "But I don’t leave the matter at this point. Not at this point. I’ll get you your list of disappearing nuclear physicists if I have to go to Moscow to get it."
He got the list. They went through all the research papers authored by any of them. They called a full meeting of the Commission, then of the nuclear brains of the nation. Dr. Kristow walked out of an all night session, finally, part of which the President himself had attended.
Brand met him. Both looked haggard and in need of sleep.