By Richard Wilson
Illustrated by Paul Orban
Paul Asher, 27, men's furnishings buyer, leaned back and let the cloth band be fastened across his chest, just under his armpits. He adjusted his heavy spectacles, closed his eyes for a moment, breathed deeply, and was off.
The semi-darkness was dispelled as he shot out of a tunnel into dazzling sunlight. The high-powered vehicle he was driving purred smoothly as it took the long, rising curve. The road climbed steadily toward the mountaintop city ahead. He looked around to satisfy himself that he was alone in the car.
The girl was a pretty one. He'd seen her somewhere before, he thought. She was looking insolently at him, her wide red mouth in a half smile. Her dark hair stirred in the breeze coming through the window, next to her, which was open just a slit.
She said: "Just keep going, Sweetheart, as fast as you can." And she patted the oversized pocketbook that lay in her lap.
He pressed down on the accelerator and the car responded with a flow of power. The countryside fell away from the road on either side. Far below he could see a river, winding broadly to the far-off sea. The summer day sent its heat-shimmers across the miniature landscape.
The road curved again. Theirs was the only car he had seen since he'd come out of the tunnel. But now, far ahead, he saw another. It was standing at the side of the road, next to a gate that came down in the manner of one at a railroad crossing. But he knew by its black and white diagonals and by the little sentry hut half hidden behind the other car that it marked the frontier. A man with a rifle on his shoulder stood there. They drew up to it fast, but his foot automatically eased up on the floorboard pedal until the girl spoke sharply.
"Right through it, Sweetheart."
In the rear-view mirror he saw her leaning forward, her face tense.
In a moment it would be time to stop, if he were going to.
Paul Asher hesitated a moment. Then he too leaned forward, the band pressing into his chest. He was breathing heavily. There was an almost inaudible click.
He trod on the accelerator. He had a glimpse of the guard unslinging his rifle from his shoulder and of another man running toward the parked car as his vehicle smashed into the flimsy gate and sent it, cracked and splintered, to the side of the road. He fought the slight wrench of the wheel and sped on. He thought he heard a shot.
"Nice work," the girl said. She seemed to be appraising him as she looked at him. "My name, incidentally, is Naomi."
"Hello," he heard himself saying as he whipped the car around a curve that hid the frontier behind a hill. "You seem to know who I am."
"That I do," she said.
"Then why don't you call me by my name, instead of 'Sweetheart'?"
"That's because I like you, Sweetheart." She was looking out the rear window. "Now just step on the gas, because we've got company."
The car that had been parked near the sentry hut was whipping into view around the curve. It was lighter than his, but it was fast, too. He stepped on it.
Now the road had become narrow and twisting. The grade was steep but the surface was good. Abruptly, it entered a forest.
The girl said: "Two more curves. Then you'll see a field and a barn. Off the road and into the barn, fast."
He took the curves with rubber screaming and almost without braking sent the car bumping across the field and into the barn. It was bigger than it had seemed from the outside. As he brought the car to a lurching halt the barn door closed.
Where he had expected to see stalls and milking machines and hay he saw an expanse of metal floor and monstrous machinery. The barn door which had been a rickety wooden slab from the outside was a gleaming sheet of metal from the