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Показать все книги автора/авторов: Lord Jeffrey

«The Bronze Axe», Jeffrey Lord

Chapter One

Richard Blade, quite by coincidence, had been reading that very morning in The London Times of the scientific marvels to come. The writer in The Times had labeled his piece: "What's Ahead In Technology." He had been considerate enough to include a tentative time schedule for the miracles he was writing about.

Blade, folding his paper neatly at the place, and heartily enjoying his bacon and eggs, read through it with no look of skepticism on his handsome face. He was a skeptic, but not about science. It was what men did with science that was a cause for concern, and cynicism. Blade had been a top man in British espionage circles for nearly twenty years he had been recruited while still at Oxford and he held no delusions about the human animal.

Thinking of animals, he noted that the year 2000 was given as a probable date when intelligent animals might be used for low-grade labor. He poured himself more tea and pondered. Just what did it mean? A gorilla foreman directing a crew of dogs, mules and horses? While a graduate chimp kept the time and pay sheets? Mutants of some sort, bred especially for the job? Blade's mobile mouth quirked in a smile as he helped himself to more bacon. Cats might be very good at espionage work.

He ate contentedly and read more of the article. He was between jobs; spring had come to London and his chief, J, was leaving him alone as he had promised. Zoe Cornwall, the sloe-eyed beauty he eventually meant to marry, was waiting for him at the cottage in Dorset. When he finished breakfast and attended to some minor matters, he would drive the little MG down to the Channel coast and spend the weekend with Zoe.

For a moment the image of Zoe, her tawny and expectant body awaiting him on a crisp and fresh-smelling bed, interposed between Blade and the paper. He banished the image with resolution and read that as early as 1990 the scientists expected to establish direct electromechanical interaction between the human brain and a computer.

Direct electromechanical interaction. It had quite a ring to it! Blade, who had always had a vague distrust of computers, wondered just what it meant. Would they make the man into a computer, or the computer into a man?

The phone rang. Blade, a fork halfway to his mouth, stared at the offending instrument. He had two phones and the wrong one, the red phone, with connections directly into Copra House and J's desk, was ringing. It had to be J, then. Simple logic. That meant a job. Blade swallowed, cursed and considered not answering. J had promised him this little vacation. And Zoe was waiting.

Blade answered the phone. He was always on call. And duty was, quite simply, duty, and that was an end to it. "Hallo."

It was J, of course, an elderly tweedy type with a voice so mellifluous that it flowed around the omnipresent pipe without hindrance.

J said: "Good morning, my dear fellow. Lovely morning, eh? Or have you looked at it yet? No matter. Will you scramble, please?"

Blade pressed the button on the base of the phone. "Done, sir."

"I know," said J, "that I promised you a vacation, that there would be no jobs for a time. You will be happy to know, dear boy, that I am going to keep that promise."

"I am indeed," said Blade. "You are making me very happy, sir. Not that I was worried. I know that you never go back on your word."

"Quite," said J. "Quite, my boy. However "

Blade stared frowningly at the phone. "Yes, sir?"

"A little something has arisen," J said. "Nothing to do with your line of work, really, but they seem to want you. I really don't have much of the picture myself, except that it's all terribly top secret and urgent. I understand that it won't take very long say a few hours at the most. If you'll drop by the House, Richard, I'll tell you more about it. Which, as I say, isn't a great deal. I can expect you?"

Richard Blade had worked with J for a great many years. He knew an order when he heard it, no matter how tactfully it was couched.

He told J he would see him in an hour.

Copra House, a grimy Victorian structure in the City, was off Threadneedle Street where Bart Lane ran into Lothbury. A well burnished brass plaque announced that it was the headquarters of The New East India Copra and Processing Co., Ltd. There actually was such a company. In one of the offices, reached through a maze of dingy corridors, J ran the affairs of M16A, which was a very special branch of the Special Branch.

J met Blade at the door of the barren cubicle he used as an office. The old man was wearing his bowler and carrying a rolled umbrella; a light Burberry was thrown across his arm. He greeted Blade with an effusion of shiny false teeth. "Come, dear fellow. We'll catch a taxi. It appears that they want us at the Tower."

When they were headed for the Tower J gave Blade an appraising look as he set about filling his pipe. "You look in the pink, my boy. That's good. Fine. I gather that in this, er, experiment whatever it is they're looking for the best possible physical and mental specimen in all of England. That, Richard, would seem to be you. I gather they've been through some thousands of files trying to find their man. You were chosen. It's quite a compliment, I suppose."

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