Fantastic Voyage II Destination Brain - By Isaac Asimov

Chapter 1. Needed
He who is needed must learn to endure flattery.


"Pardon me. Do you speak Russian?" said the low voice, definitely contralto, in his ear.

Albert Jonas Morrison stiffened in his seat. The room was darkened and the computer screen on the platform was displaying its graphics with an insistence that had been lost on him.

He must have been more than half-asleep. There had definitely been a man on his right when he sat down. When had that man changed into a woman? Or risen and been replaced?

Morrison cleared his throat and said, "Did you say something, ma'am?" He couldn't make her out clearly in the dim room and the flashing light from the computer screen obscured rather than revealed. He made out dark hair, straight, hugging the skull, covering the ears - no artifice.

She said, "I asked if you spoke Russian."

"Yes, I do. Why do you want to know?"

"Because that would make it easier. My English sometimes fails me. Are you Dr. Morrison? A. J. Morrison? I'm not certain in this darkness. Forgive me if I have made a mistake."

"I am A. J. Morrison. Do I know you?"

"No, but I know you." Her hand reached out, touching the sleeve of his jacket lightly. "I need you badly. Are you listening to this talk? You did not seem to be."

They were both whispering, of course.

Morrison looked about involuntarily. The room was sparsely filled and no one was sitting very close. His whisper grew lower just the same. "And if I'm not? What then?" (He was curious - if only out of boredom. The talk had put him to sleep.)

She said, "Will you come with me now? I am Natalya Boranova."

"Come with you where, Ms. Boranova?"

"To the coffee shop - so that we may talk. It is terribly important."

That was the way it began. It didn't matter, Morrison decided afterward, that he had been in that particular room - that he had not been alert - that he had been intrigued enough, flattered enough to be willing to go with a woman who said she needed him.

She would, after all, have found him wherever he had been and would have seized upon him and would have made him listen. It might not have been quite so easy under other circumstances, but it would all have gone as it did. He was certain.

There would have been no escape.


He was looking at her in normal light now, and she was less young than he had thought. Thirty-six? Forty, perhaps?

Dark hair. No gray. Pronounced features. Heavy eyebrows. Strong jaws. Pleasant nose. Sturdy body, but not fat. Almost as tall as he was, even though she was wearing flat heels. On the whole, a woman who was attractive without being beautiful. The kind of woman, he decided, one could get used to.

He sighed, for he was facing the mirror and he saw himself there. Sandy hair, thinning. Blue eyes, faded. Thin face, thin body, stringy. Beaky nose, nice smile. He hoped it was a nice smile. But no, not a face you would want to get used to. Brenda had gotten entirely unused to it in a little over ten years, and his fortieth birthday would be five days past the fifth anniversary of the day his divorce had been made final and official.

The waitress brought the coffee. They had been sitting there, not talking but appraising each other. Morrison finally felt he had to say something.

"No vodka?" he said in an attempt at lightness.

She smiled and looked somehow even more Russian when she did so. "No Coca-Cola?"

"If that's an American habit, Coca-Cola is at least cheaper."

"For good reason."

Morrison laughed. "Are you this quick in Russian?"

"Let us see if I am. Let's talk Russian."

"We'll sound like a couple of spies."

Her last sentence had been in Russian. So had Morrison's reply. The change of language made no difference to him. He could speak and understand it as easily as English. That had to be so. If an American wished to be a scientist and keep up with the literature, he had to be able to handle Russian, almost as much as a Russian scientist had to be able to handle English.

This woman, Natalya Boranova, for instance, despite her pretence that she was not at home in English, spoke it readily and with only a faint accent, Morrison noticed.

She said, "Why will we sound like spies? There are hundreds of thousands of Americans speaking English in the Soviet Union and hundreds of thousands of