Pulp Fiction | The Invisibility Affair by Thomas Stratton

The Invisibility Affair
By Thomas Stratton

An Invisible Dirigible?

A dirigible doesn't seem like a very deadly weapon—not even an invisible one. Dirigibles aren't fast, they lack maneuverability, and they're too big to use for spying in secret installations.

So why had THRUSH gone to so much trouble to develop an invisible dirigible?

As Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin followed the almost completely hidden trail of THRUSH'S new weapon, they learned more and more of the insidious scheme in which the invisibility machine was to play the key role—and they came to realize that the entire world was in mortal danger!

THE INVISIBILITY AFFAIR

The early spring mud that inevitably followed Wisconsin winters made the road as treacherous as the snow that had disappeared only last week. Deputy Sheriff Charlie Reed peered irritably at the curve that loomed ahead, dimly illuminated by is dirt-clouded headlights. He shook his head. On this kind of road you'd think people would have sense enough to slow down. They didn't though, and then there were phone calls to the police and deputy sheriffs dragged out on impossible back roads to make reports. Dammit, people should know better that to show off on this stuff, but he kid hadn't and so there had been two cars in opposite ditches a few miles down the road. That's what you get for passing out driver's licenses like stick candy, he thought righteously.

He shook his head again, sharply. Pay attention to the road, Charlie, or someone will be digging you out of the ditch. Do your wool-gathering on your own time.

Something flickered.

Charlie glanced up from the road, but could see nothing. A thick overcast hid the stars, the next house was out of sight around the curve, and his windshield was smeared. There was nothing in the headlights but the muddy road and the overgrown fencerows on each side.

It hadn't seemed like a flicker of light anyway. Just the opposite, maybe. But a flicker of darkness didn't make sense. He looked down at his dash lights to see if they were all on. They were.

Charlie slowed the car as he rounded the curve. A few hundred yards ahead of him he could now see lights, presumably from the old Adams place. Could some funny business be going on at the farmhouse? Not likely, but he didn't know much about this Morthley fellow who'd bought the place after old Bob Adams had died. That was silly, though. The flicker was probably something connected with his eyesight. If it happened again, he'd have a checkup. You can't work as a lawman with bad eyes.

Just the same, he kept part of his attention on the lights as he drew closer. Now he could make out one light on the first floor and a brighter one streaming form a basement window.

Everything flickered.

Charlie blinked violently and shook his head. Even though it was two in the morning, he wasn't tired, and he certainly couldn't get highway hypnosis on this rutted, curving back road. Must be the eyes. Better see about that checkup in the morning; this could be serious. He drove on, slowly, until he was almost abreast of the old two-story farmhouse.

Suddenly everything flickered and kept on flickering. His headlights, dash lights, the house, everything. It was as if the film in a movie projector had gotten out of sync.

Charlie slammed on the brakes, and the car skidded to a stop sidewise in the road, facing the house. The flickering was faster now; he could barely make out the house, and his dash lights seemed to be fading. His heart accelerated with the flickering, but he felt frozen to the wheel. Then, without warning, the flickering stopped and the house was gone.

And the yard was gone.

Charlie's headlights shined dully through empty air. A hundred yards away they fell on a dilapidated barn, and just in front of the barn the ground fell away like a cliff. Charlie lifted himself slowly in the seat and craned his neck to see over the hood of the car. As far as he could see, there was nothing there. He was either hanging in midair or at the edge of a cliff, like the barn. Very slowly he rolled down the side window and peered out. The road was as solid and muddy as ever, but the ditch he had been facing wasn't there any more. Emboldened, he opened the door and looked behind the car. Solid road, soggy ditch, brush-filled fencerow. He closed the door.

Cramping the wheels tightly, he backed, careful to avoid the ditch on the still solid side of the road. As he backed the headlights swept from the barn toward what had been an orchard. It was gone, too. All he could see was the edge of tremendous hole, nearly a hundred yards in diameter.

With the car straightened out, he drove a few yards down the road, stopped the car, and got out, leaving the engine running. Carrying the powerful flashlight that was standard equipment on county patrol cars, he walked back toward the edge of the pit. He felt a little foolish as he loosened his .357 magnum revolver in its holster; whatever this was, it wasn't anything which could be shot. But the action made him feel better.

At the edge of the pit he stopped and shined his flashlight into the depths. The hole seemed perfectly circular; the ground sloped away evenly to the bottom, about fifty yards below him. It looked like a perfect hemisphere. The fact that there
was
a bottom cheered him; he'd been halfway expecting a bottomless pit. The ground at the bottom and sides of the pit seemed to be ordinary: topsoil and clay, going down to shale at the bottom. Across the pit he could make out a boulder in the pit wall; apparently it had been sliced in two. Stepping back, he located a piece of gravel and tossed it into the pit. It disappeared. Blinking, he squatted down, extended his hand toward the edge of the pit, thought better of the action, and straightened up again. He shined the flashlight around the area. Nothing but road, ditches, barn, fields, and pit. Finally he walked back to the patrol car, got out a flare, lit it, stuck it in the road near the pit's edge and got back in the car. He sat drumming his fingers on the steering wheel. Once he reached for the microphone under the dash, but stopped before picking it up. Nobody was going to believe this! If only someone else would come along to back up his story—but it wasn't likely, on this road at this time of night.

After a few minutes of soul-searching, he shrugged and reached for the microphone. His duty was to report; if Shorey didn't believe him, he could damn well come out and look for himself. Switching on the mike, he glanced in the rear-view mirror. The flare cast its glow on a muddy road with a soggy ditch on each side. Lights form the first floor and basement of the old Adams place streamed out on a muddy but otherwise solid-looking yard.

Hastily he replaced the mike, shifted into low gear, and gunned the accelerator. Twin gouts of mud fountained from beneath the rear wheels as the patrol car roared down the road, skidded around the next curve, and continued accelerating as Charlie slammed the shift lever into "drive." Either he was going crazy or the rest of the world was, and he didn't much care for either possibility.

CONTENTS

Chapter 1
"I Had Hoped It Was a Real Revolution"

In U.N.C.L.E. field headquarters in Cerro Bueno, the capital city of the Republic of San Sebastian, Napoleon Solo was reporting to Mr. Waverly in New York.

"Your idea was correct," he said. "It's Thrush that is masterminding this revolution. The heroic and patriotic rebels are mostly a front; they're allowed to do some of the dying, but Thrush mercenaries are the backbone of the rebel forces, and the financing and leadership come form Thrush. The rebel leader, Ferdinand Pessina, seems to be a genuine patriot, but his staff is composed mostly of Thrush agents, and they make the decisions. Illya and I have discovered the method they're using to bring in arms, and we have their headquarters located. Once the U.N.C.L.E. group here stops the arms shipments, I think the local government can handle the rebels."

Mr. Waverly sighed. "A good job, Mr. Solo and Mr. Kuryakin," he said, "but in a way, I'm disappointed."

"Disappointed? In what way, sir?"

"I had almost hoped it was a real revolution. El Presidente is not precisely an enlightened ruler, you know, and he is extremely unpopular in the eyes of much of the world. Just about everyone would be better off if there were a legitimate revolution, but since the choice seems to be between a dictation and Thrush, we really have very little option in the matter."

Waverly paused before he continued. "I hope you won't require too much rest after your recent adventures, Mr. Solo..."

"From the tone of your voice, I suspect we won't," Napoleon said. "What did you have in mind, and can we take a bath and purchase some new clothes first?"

"Another new suit, Mr. Solo? We've already overdrawn our clothing budget for the year."

"Yes sir. I'm afraid I wasn't exactly dressed for jungle travel when we spotted that Thrush courier and followed him to their headquarters. Besides, we both need baths. After several days in the jungle, out ability to operate secretly in confined quarters has been greatly impaired."

"Well, if you must, you must," Waverly paused thoughtfully. "You do seem to be caught in inappropriate garb rather often, however."

"Perhaps you could speak to Thrush about not being so unpredictable," Illya commented. "It would save a lot of wear and tear on out nerves as well as our clothes."

"I suppose you're right, Mr. Kuryakin. I just want to make sure that my agents know that being part of a great international peacekeeping organization does not absolve them from paying attention to details. Quite the contrary. However, there should be no difficulty about appropriate attire for your next assignment. Something conservative and mid-western, I would suggest."

"Midwestern, sir?"

"Yes, southern Wisconsin to be precise, Mr. Solo. Some weeks ago, one of our part-time agents there sent in a rather strange report. One night he saw-or thought he saw-an entire house disappear, leaving only a hole in the ground. It reappeared later and has not disappeared again to his knowledge.

"Then this morning, we received word that a Dr. Willard Morthley has vanished. Our computer came up with an interesting correlation: the disappearing house has been Dr. Morthley's residence for the past six months. Dr. Morthley is a physicist of some repute. We have no idea what, if anything, he has been working on, but the coincidence is too much to ignore. The computer recommended sending you and Mr. Kuryakin to look into matters."

"But why us? Why not someone in your Milwaukee or Chicago offices?"

"The computer indicated the possibility of Thrush activity, and you are our most experience agents in the field of Thrush and unusual inventions. That's why I have made arrangements for you and Mr. Kuryakin to take a chartered flight from Cerro Bueno to New Orleans this afternoon. After a good night's rest, you can catch the six-thirty to Chicago. A full report of our knowledge of the situation to date will be waiting for you in New Orleans. I've arranged for a member of our Chicago headquarters to meet you at one of the oases on the Tri-State Tollway. He'll have the Wisconsin agent with him.'

"But how could you have made those arrangements already, sir?" Napoleon asked. "You hadn't heard from us for four days when you made them."

"I'm afraid it's one of my weaknesses, Mr. Solo," Waverly replied. "Optimism. Over the years I have come to develop a certain, perhaps childlike, faith in your ability to come through when the chips are down. Don't spend too much time-or money-shopping for that suit."

* * *

Twenty-four hours later, Napoleon and Illya stood waiting at the auto rental desk in O'Hare International Airport near Chicago. Napoleon was eyeing the pert brunette bustling about behind the counter, getting the forms sorted and filled out. As she slid the final one across for Napoleon to sign, he smiled and asked, "In case we bring the car back after hours, could you suggest an appropriate spot for turning it over to you? Some quiet spot nearby, perhaps?"

"I'm sorry, but our airport offices never close, Mr. Solo." She managed a regretful smile as she took the form from his hand and moved back quickly. Napoleon winced as Illya jabbed him sharply in the ribs with his elbow and started walking toward the door through which their rented car was waiting. Napoleon followed more leisurely, and Illya had the motor running and was drumming his fingers on the steering wheel of the car when he arrived.

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