by Barry William Metcalf
It was cold on the planet Zargon, far too cold to be endured by a human being without special, highly-sophisticated, heavy duty thermo-gear: but then it was no colder than Janus had known it would be long before he had set foot on this strange, icy world.
He cursed himself for a fool. He was crazy for insisting on this assignment; and he was even crazier for not wearing the necessary heavy duty thermo-gear. But that was what happened when you barged into an assignment without carrying out the proper planning, when you leapt at a slim chance to save the human race from extinction. He cursed aloud. But this only made him feel worse--every time he spoke, his breath froze instantly on contact with the icy chill of the atmosphere surrounding him, and it hung in little clouds in the totally windless air. The only redeeming feature about Zargon was that the air was breathable by humans: at least Janus did not need to wear clumsy masks nor carry awkward oxygen supplies. He wondered how long it would be before the experts back home developed a more user-friendly form of breathing apparatus.
He trudged on, resigned, his feet slowly losing the last traces of their sense of feeling.
He willed himself not to feel the cold, but for some reason he did not fully understand his extraordinary powers of concentration did not fully function on this frigid planet.
Janus cursed the cold again and concentrated harder, trying to remember the last time he had felt so cold. He could not; but there, tucked away in a little used corner of his mind was a memory of snow and ice and...and all of a sudden the memory had slipped away, receded out of reach, yet remained
tantalizingly close nonetheless. He shut his eyes, focused
his inner mind on recalling the scene from his past; but it continued to elude him, continued to float just out of reach on the periphery of his consciousness.
Janus cursed. He had an excellent memory, a photographic memory, so why did it seem to fail him today?
He opened his eyes again and squinted against the harsh glare of light refracting from the whiteness and the ice crystals of the landscape.
A vague memory hovered like a butterfly (when had he last seen a butterfly on his home planet?) on the very edge of his mind, trailing a thin thread of memory. His mind clutched at the thread in desperation and commenced to haul it in. He glimpsed a quick image of something white and fluffy, like snow, piled high in a bowl, and streaked with a rich redness that ran in rivulets down its slopes. Then the image slipped away to be replaced by faces: faces that smiled; faces that showed fear; faces that threatened--a passing cavalcade of visages, each hauntingly familiar, each strangely without a name.
Janus irritably flicked the thermo-control on the side of his uniform to dispense more heat to the foot segments of his light-weight battle costume; the control was now fully on and would not be able to cope with the sub-arctic conditions much longer. Besides, the wafer-thin solar batteries in his boot-heels would soon be drained of their stored energy. He was a long way from Sol and, once this power source ran down, he had no way of recharging it.
As the bitter cold bit deeper and deeper into his very being, Janus' mind began to relive past adventures, past experiences, past loves.
He seemed to be flying, but it was not with the wings he had stolen from a dead Hoojan. He was inside some sort of winged craft that scudded across the sky like a dirty cloud, the wind whistling through his hair and tugging at his face and clothes. Then he was fleeing down a dark street, the enormity of some foul deed driving him recklessly, frantically away from a pursuing mob. All of a sudden he was having breakfast, the faces of his wife and children smiling and happy across the table from him. He smiled at the memory, which abruptly changed to one of horror and tragedy as he witnessed again the blood and carnage taking place before him. He cried out in pain that
traveled across three hundred years as these and countless other images flashed across the screen of his mind in a kaleidoscope of memories that seemed to know no end.
And in that moment he remembered: he remembered who he was, what he had done and how he had come to be in this time and this place. But more importantly, he recalled who was responsible for what had happened to his wife and family.
He cursed yet again, promising to exact an overdue yet fitting revenge.
However, the boots were already becoming warmer--Janus gave thanks to The Virgin for this small respite from the freezing coffin known as Zargon--and he had a most important mission to complete. Once that mission was completed, once the threat to Earth was eliminated, he knew what he must do.
He allowed thoughts of Earth and the warming Sol to obtrude themselves over his senses, momentarily obscuring the cold and his memories: he dreamed of thermal swimming pools, solar-heated homes and picnics by the beach on hot summer days. The sound of tinkling reached his ears and his thoughts flashed to home and the glass chimes that decorated the doorway to his dwelling. Their chiming in the late afternoon sea breeze always lulled his restless spirit, always relaxed him when nothing else would.
But this was Zargon, not Earth! Here there were no sea breezes, no stirrings of the air! What he was hearing was not the innocent sound of some ancient ornament!
His right hand dropped instinctively to his side, his fingers nestling to form a perfect fit with the handle of his las-sword as he drew that implement from its short scabbard. His thumb nudged the control button even as the weapon was clearing its restraining sheath, and the deadly shaft of light leapt into place in the flickering of an eye.
Quick as was the Earth agent, however, his attacker was quicker still.
The tinkling sound came again, from his rear, and, before he could do no more than steel himself against the sudden and surprising attack, Janus was knocked sprawling by the awesome power of his attacker.
The crystal-creature, for such it was that had attacked him, took full advantage of its surprise. Even as it knocked Janus to the icy turf, the creature had sunk long, white fangs into his left arm and was even now attempting to dislodge this section from the man's body. Its blazing eyes burned with an inner wild light, a light that eloquently mirrored this creature's lust for blood and death.
Utilizing the total force of his unique power of concentration, Janus willed himself not to feel the pain of the creature's teeth; but rather to focus his inner strength in an effort to defeat this menace. He had lost his grip on the las-sword as he had fallen; now he strove to retrieve it, for it was the only effective weapon he possessed to use against the crystal-creature.
The animal, for its part, continued to gnaw upon the man's arm, meanwhile attempting to hold him a prisoner upon the icy turf with one of its huge paws. Its cold, fetid breath assailed Janus' nostrils; but its talons had not penetrated the light, yet incredibly protective covering afforded by his silver, bio-metallic outfit.
Inch by inch Janus edged his hand towards the hilt of the las-sword. The icy ground afforded the means to do this for, despite the crystal-creature's weight upon him, the slippery surface of the planet made minimal movement possible. At length his straining fingers encountered and clutched the haft of the fallen sword, and Janus felt whole again as the strength of the weapon seemed to flow up his arm and into his body.
He rolled beneath his attacker, swinging the las-sword at the creature's head; but, owing to his cramped position, the blow was only effective in striking the fore-part of the attacker, shattering its right front leg and severing that member from its body. Instantly, the enraged monstrosity desisted in its attempt to maul Janus' arm, and turned to attack his head. He parried the lunging teeth and snapping jaws with the blade of his weapon, the indestructible beam enraging the crystal-creature even more. It gnashed its teeth upon the blade, effectively trapping it between its mighty jaws. Janus cursed and pressed the release button, shutting down the weapon's power source: the beam died, leaving emptiness between the animal's foaming jaws. The man reactivated the beam and brought the sword slashing down across the creature's cranium. There was a crack, like a glass chandelier splintering, and the crystal-creature fell back from him, its head shattered, its life-force extinguished.
Janus wearily picked himself up from the frozen ground and moved to examine the creature. His blow had literally shattered its skull which had spilled its contents, thus terminating the animal's existence.
Satisfied, Janus deactivated his las-sword. He sheathed it and resumed his journey.
For the moment, he no longer felt cold.
Medico 5 sighed deeply as he switched off the computer bank lining the brightly-lit op room. He angrily snatched the self-adhering cotton mask from about his nose and mouth and aimed it forcefully at the opening to the waste-disposal unit. Predictably, it missed. It was symptomatic of the way the whole week had unfolded. It had been a case of one problem after another; and, almost without exception, each problem had ended as a fatality. Medico 5 sighed again, a sure sign of frustration, and he mentally cursed his very recent promotion. Had he still held the rank of 7, he would have been at home right now instead of futilely watching the latest victim die a slow, horrible, agonizing death. The many years of training, the finest equipment in the solar system, the most sophisticated medical computer available to mankind--none of these things seemed to count for anything in the face of this latest, uncontrollable disease.
An alarm sounded, its red light flashing urgently on the far side of the room. Medica 5 cursed and wondered what new emergency had occurred to detain him even longer from his bed.
Nonetheless, he strode briskly to the console and the screen that had come to life at the sounding of the alarm. He saw immediately that it was the monitor displaying the systems relating to Agent Philk. He frowned as he quickly scanned the display for some malfunction in the agent's body--the last thing he needed right now was for Earth's most experienced operative to be incapable of fulfilling his current, most urgent mission.
The frown gave way to a look of relief. The chip inserted beneath the skin at the base of agent Philk's brain was merely registering a wearing off of the conditioning process that was a part of each agent's programming. The sensors located inside the chip seemed to indicate the conditioning was wearing off because of the intense cold of Zargon.
Medico 5 knew it was nothing that should interfere with the operative's present mission; but he knew that, should Agent Philk be able to remember too much from his past, he might need to be ultimately disposed of.
The question nagging at the medico right now was whether to inform the Director or not.
Medico 5 angrily thumbed the communicator into life. Whatever his decision, it was time to report again to his superior.
The Director of Earth Security had been eagerly awaiting the communication. Since the plague had begun, he had not slept, had demanded, in fact, that he be kept constantly in touch with proceedings whatever the time of day or night. The fact that he was surviving on pepto-tabs showed clearly on his face. Thus, when the communicator winked its urgent demand, the Director quickly responded by activating his desk monitor.
"Yes?" he said curtly. "What have you to report, Medico?"
Medico 5 sighed again. The Director would not be pleased by this latest death. “I'm sorry…” he began, not sure how to phrase the latest news of failure.
“Sorry!” The Director's voice was sarcastic, cutting. "Sorry! You have the most sophisticated hospital in the solar system, a hospital that had not lost a patient in over one hundred years. Now, after losing twenty-nine patients in five weeks, you have the audacity to try to explain your incompetence by saying 'sorry'!"
Medico 5 shrugged his shoulders, his trained eyes noting the pallid skin of the Director's face as the man lashed out at him verbally from the video screen. He took stock, too, of the dark circles under his superior's eyes and the streaks of red that lined the high-ranking official's organs of sight. The latter told him just how close this three-hundred-year-old man was to total shut-down. "What else can I say?" he asked resignedly. Usually argumentative, tiredness had drained the last vestige or argument from his being.
"You could inform me as to exactly what steps you took to try to prevent this latest victim from dying."
Medico 5 sighed once more. All he wanted to do was to grab a few hour's rest before the next patient arrived demanding his attention. "I tried all the drugs we tested before…"
"Is that all?"
"…plus a dozen more that the computers indicated might be effective in defeating this virus. I was still trying new drugs when the patient expired."
"I see!” The acceptance was reluctant, grudging. The effects of this new disease were not just physical. The Director, like many of his over-worked subordinates, was suffering from mental frustration. "Is there nothing else to be done?"
"Not until another plague victim arrives. Then we can begin a whole new batch of experiments."
"What about Agent Philk? Has there been any news from him yet?” The Director had a knack of abruptly darting off on tangents: in this way he often confused those beneath him into unconsciously making admissions of guilt.
Medico 5 was too exhausted, however, to even notice the shift in verbal directions. "No," he answered despondently, deciding not to inform the Director about the malfunction in the indoctrination mechanism. In the Director's present frame of mind, he would probably hold Medico 5 responsible for the system failure. "I'm afraid there's no news, yet; but then he's only been gone several hours."
"Yes.” Grudging again. "Yes, I suppose he'll report when he has something for us."
"He's our top agent. He hasn't failed us on an assignment yet."
"I'm aware of that!" snapped the Director, irritability again entering his voice. "Is that all?"
"Good night, then!" and the screen in the op room went suddenly blank.
Janus' teeth were chattering.
The body-heat generated by his fight with the crystal-creature had already worn off; and he had covered no more than five
kilometers from the scene of that battle. His solar batteries had long since expired, and the cold of the
sub arctic atmosphere had begun to seep deeply into his body.
And the colder he became, the more he remembered of his past.
He turned his mind to ignoring the biting chill, to putting his revenge on hold and concentrating on his mission and on reaching the first objective to its successful
fulfillment. This current mission was probably the second most important assignment of his life and, if the present trend on Earth continued, it could become more important even than the time he had rescued the last remaining female on Earth from her kidnappers, the Hoojans.
A strange, seemingly new virus had suddenly attacked the people of his home planet, and, owing to a disturbing lack of resistance on the part of the humans, was bent upon wiping out what few remained of the entire human race. So far, all known drugs had failed to control the new disease. People who showed symptoms of the plague were immediately isolated; but each one died within a matter of hours of contracting it, and the virus continued to spread.
So far, the most important person on Earth had not contracted the deadly disease.
Princess Freya, the last female on the planet, had as yet been spared contact with the virus. Fortunately, she had been pregnant at the time that the plague had begun and her breeding activities had been curtailed. Therefore she had not been in contact with anyone who could have transmitted the disease. Nevertheless, the chance remained that Princess Freya might, unaccountably, come down with the disease and die: and with her would die Earth's future.
This was why Janus' mission to Zargon was so important. That was why he had leapt at the chance to undertake this mission with so little preparation. That was why he must sublimate his own desire for revenge to the back-burners of his consciousness.
One of Earth's agents had heard, while on a trifling mission to the frozen planet, that because of the cold nature of their world, the Zargonians had developed a natural immunity to this virulent disease; but he had died before he could explain the message further, or before a team of medicos could travel to Zargon on a mission of mercy. Janus had thus been hastily detailed to discover the truth of the report, and to arrange for a friendly reception for the Earth medicos.
So far, however, his search had been fruitless.
He had no clues as to the location of the Zargonian community, for his fellow agent had died (or had been killed) before he could transmit any such information. Little was known about either the planet Zargon or its inhabitants--its very frigid atmosphere had made it undesirable as a place for Earthmen to visit.
The thought of Princess Freya, however, and the threat to her welfare, spurred him on.
Ahead he could discern a strange pattern to the landscape that suggested it might be a Zargonian dwelling, for its features were angular and regular. As he drew closer to the structure, he altered his speedy progress and moved on with caution. He did not know what sort of reception he could expect from these people, so he was determined to prepare himself for any sort of welcoming, friendly or hostile.
A sudden shifting of light and shade warned him that something was afoot.
Janus dived headlong behind a jutting projection of ice just as there was a sudden disturbance at the spot where he had been standing. He had not heard anything, nor had he really seen anything, yet suddenly he was under attack. An eruption beside his head on the edge of the ice cover he was using informed him that his attackers had noticed his abrupt change of location. He peered cautiously around the edge of the jutting ice, searching for his enemies. At first he could see nothing apart from the blank whiteness of the landscape.
And then he saw them.
There were at least six of them, advancing slowly towards him, their weapons spitting projectiles towards his hiding place. He noted immediately the reason why he had not seen these Zargonians when they had first launched their attack on him--they were formed from living crystals! Like the crystal creature he had fought previously, the Zargonians blended perfectly with their background.
More projectiles splattered against the ice cover Janus was using. He ducked instinctively, splinters of ice showering him in a fine dust of crystals. He peered again from his cover, studying this time the weapon used by these strange people. It did not take him long to discover that they were firing ice darts at him: the projectiles were made of short, sharp, pointed arrows of ice, probably fired by compressed air; but they were deadly nonetheless.
Unsheathing his las-sword, Janus activated the beam blade and cautiously edged around the far side of the icy outcrop. Positive that the Zargonians had not yet noticed his move, Janus launched himself straight at his attackers, his sword forming a circle of protection in front of him.
Although momentarily taken aback by this seemingly brash
maneuver, the Zargonians were, nevertheless, quick to resume firing. They aimed their weapons once more and launched their deadly missiles at Janus; but not before he had covered half the distance that separated them.
Janus whirled his sword, its blade of light describing a perfect circle in front of him, thus forming a shield that the ice missiles could not penetrate. Each time one of these projectiles reached the Earthman, the las-sword struck it, smashing the crystal dart into thousands of tiny shards. Thus protected, he dashed towards the Zargonians.
And then he was among them.
His sword ended its whirling circle and darted from left to right with the speed and accuracy of a rattlesnake. One by one its light-beam blade struck his attackers, shattering their delicate crystalline formation; and strewing the decimated Zargonians upon the icy ground. In less time than it takes to tell, Janus had accounted for five of his attackers, and was about to
dispatch the sixth and final adversary, when a voice rang out through the chill planet's air.
"Desist!" came the authoritative command. "Let this killing cease!"
Janus halted in his self-appointed task, his weapon ready lest there be treachery in the frigid air. The last Zargonian lowered his air-pistol. Both adversaries looked to where several newcomers stood.
"Who are you?" asked the Earth agent.
"I am Zardoza, leader of this band of people."
"How can I be sure that you do not plan treachery?” Janus had still not lowered his weapon or his guard.
"We mean you no harm," came the reply.
"Then why was I attacked by your followers?"
"It was a mistake. I know why you are here and I have vital information for you."
Janus quickly weighed up the situation. He had nothing to lose by co-operating with this Zargonian. Besides, he had already noted that these newcomers were unarmed. He lowered his sword, but did not sheathe it.
The Zargonian leader approached, right hand extended in friendship. Janus clasped the icy fingers, his own chilled by the contact. His eyes studied the newcomer carefully.
The figure before him was about five feet tall and composed entirely of crystalline structure, each crystal perfectly balanced and aligned with the one next to it. The body was of basic humanoid shape, although it did not appear to have a neck or such intricate extremities as ears and toes. Like the crystal creature that had attacked him earlier, the eyes of the Zargonian burned with an inner lust that Janus found quietly disturbing. There was much about this figure that caused the earth agent to believe that it was basically controlled by primitive, basic desires. Yet, it appeared friendly enough.
"How do you know of my mission?" asked Janus at length.
"We have our means," replied Zardoza, mysteriously.
"What do you know of my mission, then?"
"Ah!" answered the Zargonian. "You are here to learn of our apparent resistance to a new and deadly disease that is ravaging your world."
"Correct," agreed Janus; "but what do you mean by 'apparent' resistance? Do you mean to tell me that your people do not have a natural immunity to the virus?"
"That is what I mean."
"But our agent reported that you did indeed, have such a natural resistance."
"Alas!" replied the Zargonian, shaking his head. "How I wish that your agent had been correct in his assessment of our powers. You see, the fact is that my people are plagued by exactly the same disease. We, and your unfortunate agent, believed that we were immune, because the disease was not present on our planet."
"But how do you know…"
Zardoza did not allow Janus to conclude his question. "It would appear that your fellow agent carried your plague with him. While here he transmitted the virus to my people with whom he freely mingled. When he expired, his body disappeared, but after his departure, many of our people contracted the disease, fell ill and, they too, expired."
"And that was why your people attacked me just now?" queried Janus, the picture becoming clearer in his mind. He had been informed before leaving Earth that the Zargonians were friendly.
"Then you cannot help us?"
"I am afraid not. We are as helpless as are you."
Janus shook his head in frustration. Finally he looked intently at Zardoza, saying: "I am sorry that I was forced to kill five of your people."
The Zargonian chief held up his hand. "It is of no consequence," he said. "They attacked you--they struck the first blow--and you did only what anyone would have done. Besides, each of these men was
"Yes," explained Zardoza. "Each of them had already contracted the deadly disease: within hours they would have expired anyway."
Seconds after his meeting with the Zargonians, Janus materialized in the Reception Room where stood the bio-aluminum statue of mother and child, the symbolic emblem of mankind's striving for perfection, The Virgin. He had returned home empty-handed, his vital mission a failure. Never before in his long career had Janus failed to successfully complete an assignment. On top of this, he had returned to Earth with the knowledge that he had been used by those whom he had once counted amongst his friends, colleagues and associates. And it was time for an accounting.
So it was that as the earth agent strode across the empty chamber to report to his superiors, he did so not only with a heavy heart, but with vengeance on his mind.
They came busting into the chamber to meet him--the alarm had illuminated in the op room where the medicos always conducted a twenty-four hour vigil. Each face anxiously awaited Janus' good news: he hated to disappoint them.
"Well?" asked Medico 5. "Did you find a cure?"
Janus shook his head, unable to utter the dreaded words.
"What happened?” A second medico in white grabbed desperately at Janus' arm. The number self-adhering to the upper right-hand side of his uniform was 302. He was long overdue for promotion, but now even that grave disappointment was driven from his thoughts. "What happened on Zargon?"
"Nothing!" Janus shook off the hand grasping at his uniform. He was unsure whom to trust, unsure who his friends might be.
"What do you mean 'nothing!'?” Medico 302 was not about to be fobbed off with petty excuses.
"It seems that Agent Starko had contracted the disease before he
traveled to Zargon. He transmitted the virus to the people of that planet, who are impotent to counter its ultimate effect--death!"
"Then," suggested Medico 5; "what you are suggesting is that the Zargonians do not possess natural immunity to the plague that is killing the population of this planet and therefore cannot help us!"
"Right! That's exactly what I am saying."
"Then we are doomed!" exclaimed 302, his face beginning to show signs of the fear he felt inside. "We are all doomed to die at the hands of a killer we cannot see!"
"Stop ranting, man," addressed Medico 5. "It is exactly that type of thinking on your part that has held up your promotion. Stop letting your fears run riot and put that analytical brain of yours to work trying to solve our problem."
Stung by his superiors' words, Medico 302 willed himself to become calmer. "What shall we do first?" he asked.
"Notify the Director," answered Medico 5. He turned towards the communicator.
At the mention of the title of the man who had once been his colleague, Janus saw red. He clenched his teeth and dropped his hand to the hilt of his sword, half drawing it from its scabbard. "Where is Rodrigo?" he spat. "Take me to him at once."
The two medicos paused in their actions and turned to stare at the top Earth agent. Medico 302 gaped with open mouth--no one demanded an audience with the Director of Earth Security, the most powerful man on the planet. And certainly no one addressed him by his given name, even in the privacy of their own chambers.
"Why do you wish to see the Director?" asked Medico 5 calmly as if the directive had been nothing more than a request. He was acutely aware of what was happening inside Janus' mind.
Janus' eyes blazed hatred. "He stole my wife and children!" he blurted, the pain showing on his face as if this crime had been committed recently rather than one-hundred-and-fifty years before. "For that he shall die!" Janus drew his las-sword and activated the blade. It burst forth, the beam tinged with a reddish hue, fuelled by its owner's hatred.
Medico 302 gasped. This was treason!
Medico 5 smiled. "Of course," he said. "And then we should check the health of Princess Freya: in her delicate state she requires constant monitoring, even without the worry of this new disease."
"Princess Freya! That's it!" suddenly shouted Janus, momentarily forgetting his anger, the mention of Freya's name forcing his revenge into the background of his mind. His face lightened with renewed hope.
"What do you mean, Agent Philk? What is wrong with Princess Freya?" Medico 5 was both pleased and perplexed by Janus' strange outburst. He had counted on the mention of the princess' name to have a calming effect on the man, for he knew of his devotion to her; but he had not expected the direction it had taken. Nor could he explain it.
"That's it!” shouted Janus again, his voice more excited than before. "There's nothing wrong with her!"
"Nothing wrong?" echoed Medico 302. "Are you mad, man?"
Despite himself, Janus laughed his denial. "Don't you two see? Princess Freya is alive and well: she's not affected by the disease."
"But," interrupted Medico 5; "she's been in complete isolation since we first contracted the virus. She has not been in contact with anyone who has had the disease." He was monitoring carefully the gradual change in the operative's manner.
"That's where you're wrong," asserted Janus. "Can't you see it yet? Princess Freya was in contact with one male just prior to the outbreak of the plague. She has been subject to the virus and she is alive and well!"
"Are you saying…" began Medico 5.
"I am saying that Princess Freya's last breeding partner was Agent Starko. He already carried the virus in his system, contracted somewhere on his previous mission. Later he transmitted the disease to other humans before being sent to Zargon, where he died."
"Are you sure that he already had the virus when he was with Princess Freya?" asked the senior medico, already beginning to see the logic of Janus' reasoning.
"As sure as one can be about a thing like this."
"You know the consequences if you're wrong, of course?" asserted Medico 5. "I mean, if the Princess isn’t immune and she contracts the disease."
"I know," answered Janus. "I am ready to lay my life on the line--I know I'm right!"
"I think there's something to his logic," commented Medico 302, hopefully. "What shall we do first?"
"Contact the Director at once!" announced Janus.
Medico 5 smiled. He had good reason to feel pleased. Just as he had predicted would happen, the return to the warmer temperatures of Earth and the medical
center had re-activated the conditioning of agent Philk's mind, repressing his memories and returning him to a state of well-being once more. The com-servo which controlled the agent's programming would need further adjustment so that the situation could not arise again, but that could be dealt with as soon as the present crisis was under control. And, more importantly, the threat facing Earth may well have been solved.
Medico 5 had every reason to smile broadly as he thumbed the communicator into life.
For reasons of personal safety the Director of Earth Security never permitted anyone to enter his sanctum, the suite where he lived, worked and slept. His was such an important and sort-after job that he could not afford to take the risk of being betrayed by even his closest employee. Even Janus Philk, his most loyal subordinate, was not permitted a personal interview.
The face that stared out at Janus from the video screen was lined and tired, but there was a look of triumph there that had not been present for many weeks. Word had just reached the Director that the serum made from the Princess' blood had finally neutralized the virus and that there had been no more deaths in the past week. Several batches of the serum were also on their way to Zargon.
"You have done well, Agent Philk, extremely well," pronounced the Director's voice through the video speaker. "You have done your people a truly life-saving service."
"Thank you, Director.” Janus was somewhat embarrassed by the Director's remarks. "But I was only doing my job--I did nothing that was not in the line of duty."
"That may be true; but you persevered where others gave up. For that we owe you a debt of great magnitude."
"Sir," replied Janus; "much credit must go to the medicos who developed the serum and worked without rest until everyone could be inoculated against the disease. What I did was so little."
"I have not forgotten the good work done by Medicos 5 and 302. Both will be rewarded with promotion as soon as they are rested. Nevertheless, I feel that if there is one boon in my power to grant, you have but to name it and it is yours."
Janus thought for several seconds, the video cameras picking up his every movement and expression and relaying them to the Director. Finally, rather sheepishly, he said: "Well, Sir, there is one request I might ask."
"What is it?"
"As you know, the next matings with Princess Freya were recently arranged by ballot."
"Yes. I, myself, drew out the names."
"Well, would it…ah…would it be too much to request that my name be put at the head of the list after the baby is born--you know, for the next breeding session?"
"I see," smiled the Director. "That is your request?"
"Yes. That is my request."
"Then it shall be done. After all, it is so little to do for the man who saved mankind from extinction at the hands of a virus that had been dormant and unknown for over two hundred years--the common cold!"
"Thank you, Sir."
The screen in Janus' dwelling went blank. He turned away smiling, his eyes not seeing the sea vista before him, nor his ears hearing the tinkling notes of the chimes that sang in the late afternoon breeze.