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ISFDB.org Magazine Entry



ROCKET STORIES

JULY, 1953

BREATHES THERE A MAN

BY CHARLES E. FRITCH

Someone in the place where Dunlop worked was an
agent of the World Bureau Investigation. But how
could they suspect him at a time like this? His tracks
were covered and tangled until even Julie had
no knowledge of them. Then the robot came....

Arthur Dunlop busied himself over the blueprints as though he had a deep and sincere interest in them, unmindful of the scurry of sounds in the office. The incessant clicking of electronic typewriters, muffled though they were, combined to form a hum of angry bees. Papers shuffled that were important somehow to the welfare of the State, and men and women sat and looked at them, checking and rechecking, checking and rechecking, for it was important that nothing should go wrong, any place, in even the slightest aspect.

The small square of paper had been dropped on his desk unobtrusively, and for a brief moment he had stared at it in surprise. Then he covered it with a casual hand and glanced up in apparent thoughtfulness. A blonde girl was making her way down the space between rows of metalloid desks, a bundle of vital-appearing documents in her hands. Arthur studied the swaying body, as though that were the only thought on his mind, but the paper burned curiously at his palm.

He returned quickly to his work of cheeking blueprints, for idleness even in a trusted employee was looked upon with suspicion. He bent over the three-dimensional diagram, feigning interest, and slowly opened the folded square of paper. On it were written the words: "WBI. Careful." The words leaped up at him in a green ink that would fade in seconds, leaving no trace.

He crushed the paper in his hand, trying hard not to look around him. WBI. World Bureau of Investigation. Did they suspect? he wondered. He thrust the thought from his mind and made a conscious effort to study the drawing on his desk.

Drawing 2b, one-tenth of the plan for a respirator, newly-designed and improved, streamlined for the year 2108. Arthur could just imagine the advertising they'd do on this model. But the other thought crowded it aside: the underground knew there was a WBI man in the office.

And just why would there be a WBI man here? Routine? Possibly. Yet more likely, somebody smelled a rat. This was no time for plans to go awry.

He looked up, glancing with apparent disinterest at the faces near him hovering over their respective desks. They, too, were busy with blueprints. Part 3d of a new atomic engine. Part 14c of a three-dimensional television set designed to bring in bigger and better commercials. Et cetera. Et cetera. For security reasons, no two worked at the same project.

He scanned their faces, searching for something indefinable, something that might outwardly betray hidden thoughts. There was Hawkins, a middle-aged, eagle-faced person, been with the local office of State Enterprises for more than twenty years—unquestionably loyal to the government. Merker, a chubby person with shifting eyes behind thin-lensed glasses; he was okay, for shifting eyes or not, they had all been checked, even as he had been checked. And Austen, the newcomer, only twenty-five and fresh from college, a nervous; restless type of person; he was the most likely suspect for a WBI man, although some might think it would be too obvious—which might in turn tend to prove the point.

Arthur shrugged mentally and returned to his work. He stared at the design of coils and condensers and wires and felt a little sick, which was strange for he should have become used to it by now. This design, together with nine others, would form the complete pattern for printing a mechanism on a thin disc which would be inserted in the watch-like affair known as a respirator. It was somehow ironic, he thought that he should be working on it.

His intercom buzzed and he reached to flick on the switch. A business-like voice said: "Dunlop, this is Samson, can you come in for a minute?"

"Of course," Arthur said calmly, but he wondered what his superior wanted. First, the note about a WBI man; now this. The big door marked "Charles L. Samson, Mgr., Dept. 40" confronted him. As he neared it, electric eyes probed him, timed his approach, opened the door automatically.

Charles L. Samson, Mgr., Dept. 40, graying and cleanly mustached, was intently studying a sheet of paper on which were typewritten several paragraphs. Arthur drew to a halt before the man's desk, unconsciously fidgeting mentally and wondering if the item of interest on that paper concerned him.

The manager carefully put the paper down and raised his eyes. "Everything okay, Dunlop?"

"Simply great," he answered automatically.

The older man leaned back in his chair. "Dunlop," he said, "you've been here for some time now, I believe."

"Five years this month," Arthur supplied, trying to put pride in his voice.

"Precisely," Samson agreed. "And because you have been a loyal and dependable worker," he smiled blandly, "you'll find a little something extra in your pay envelope from now on." Arthur breathed a sudden sigh of relief. So that was it, the automatic pay increase. It meant no fin...

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