The tour group of four men and three women, hardhats resting awkwardly atop their heads, stepped through a gap in the partially constructed wall and emerged into bright sunshine. Behind them came their guide, a large man in dusty jeans, well-used work boots and a denim jacket. He pointed and led the assembly past a bulldozer and cement mixer to a spot of relative calm amid the rumble of the construction site. The air smelled of burning metal, diesel fuel, and dust.
“So, that was the reactor building,” the guide said. White sideburns framed his reddish cheeks. “In case you didn't hear me inside, that tall steel capsule is the reactor vessel. It's where the nuclear fission will take place.” A piercing screech of metal upon metal from behind them caused several in the party to flinch. The guide only grinned. “Any questions so far?” he asked after the noise had faded. For a moment the small group offered no response, standing silent amid the hectic activity. To their left, welders were at work on a huge pipe which lay on the barren soil, and in the other direction a wall of concrete was rising to engulf a web of iron struts. Meanwhile, far overhead, a steel beam had just been lowered into place beside a half-finished dome.
“How big is this plant going to be?” an older man in a brown suit finally asked.
“Well, Mr. Mayor,” the guide said, “at full power Fairview Station will generate about five hundred and seventy million watts. That should light up
“And what will it cost?” a young woman said. The breeze ruffled her sweater and skirt.
“They're figuring around three hundred million. It's more than a fossil plant, but since our fuel's a lot cheaper than coal, we'll catch up once we're on line. Then Fairview Station will be the bargain producer for Hoosier Electric. That’ll mean lower rates for everyone.”
“Well, I'm all for that,” the mayor said, his face lighting up in a politician's smile. “I like it already. Lots of jobs. Lots of visitors to the community. It's a real boost for Brixton.”
“How many people will work here once it's finished?” the young woman asked. She was taking notes.
“They used to think about sixty full-time,” the guide said, “but the estimate now is one hundred.” He stopped and looked past the group toward a tall, slender worker in blue jeans and a flannel shirt who was making his way between buildings. “Now here's someone you might like to meet,” the guide said. He waved. “Hey Steve! Come here a minute, will ya?” The man saw the gesture and approached.
“This is Steve Borden,” the guide said. “He'll be one of the people running the plant.” The young man smiled at the description. A few strands of gray tinted the chestnut hair that extended beneath his hard hat. “What ya doin’ out here, Steve? They move the classes?”
“No, we’re on self-study,” Steve said in his soft, tenor voice. “I thought I'd see things firsthand.”
“Steve's going to be a shift supervisor,” the guide said. “They're the men responsible for operating Fairview Station day to day. He'll spend most of his time in the control room.”
“How long have you been with Hoosier Electric?” the mayor asked.
“About three years,” Steve said. “Since I graduated. I started the training program a few months ago.”
“Well, learn your lessons well, young man,” the mayor said. “Keep this place running right.”
“Yes, sir. I intend to.”
Vitaly Kruchinkin had been in the reception area over an hour, and he had long since given up his study of the three aging chairs propped against the far wall. He shifted his taut, six-foot frame and flexed his knee. It was sore today. There would be rain. His eyes drifted along the faded wallpaper until they again fixed on the framed picture of a May Day parade. Grim soldiers marching past a podium of leaders. Soldiers . . .
When Vitaly Fedorovich Kruchinkin was ten years old, his father had asked what he wanted to be. The skinny boy, his tawny hair an uncombed jumble, had replied: “A soldier, just like you were, Papa!”
He could not remember a time when that hadn’t been his dream. His father had spoken often of the Great Patriotic War and the fierce battles that drove out the Germans. To defend the Rodina, the Motherland, was the highest honor. The military academy had followed a strict regimen, and Vitaly had applied himself with vigor. In the evenings came his greatest pleasure, when he practiced gymnastics. The end had come so quickly. It was his last run-through on the high bar. He remembered letting go a little early on the dismount and instinctively twisting to compensate. But he went too far and one leg bore the brunt of an awkward landing. The rest was all pain.
There was a shuffling behind the door and then a prim matron in a gray dress appeared. “They will be ready for you in a few minutes, Comrade Kruchinkin,” she said. The door shut again.
Vitaly smiled to himself, the expression only faintly visible on his sharp, intense face, with its aquiline nose, steel blue eyes, and cleft chin. In a few minutes . . . The woman had said the same thing when he had first arrived. But even the KGB could be inefficient at times, Vitaly had come to learn.
He had never given the Committee for State Security much thought until he was approached during his final year of trade school. The KGB wanted recruits with electronic skills, and they needed them badly enough to waive the
“We would see that she stays in
Since graduation, his few months in the KGB had been uneventful; his days spent testing miniature circuits. But on this morning, his supervisor had smiled and told him to report to an office across town. He was not to worry, his boss said. It would be a good thing.
There was movement again beyond the door, and then it was time. Ushered into a windowless room, Vitaly took the lone empty chair, a few feet away from three dour men seated behind a long table, each in a pale blue KGB officer’s uniform. What was this about? Had he done something wrong? The somber questions began: on his education, his marriage, and then his background.
“You spent time overseas as a child, correct?” asked a small, intense man with greasy hair. “Yes, in
“And how long were you there?”
“My father was transferred to the
“How old were you then?” The question came from the officer in the middle, a bald man whose wide face was dominated by the bottle lenses perched across his pug nose.
“I was fourteen when I came home.” Vitaly tried to maintain eye contact with the panel. He still did not understand what the meeting was all about, and the emotionless return gazes provided no clue.
“Did you have much contact with Americans?” The question again was from the bald officer.
“Some. I went to school at the Soviet Embassy, but I played in the park with American children, especially after my mother died.”
“And you speak English?”
“Yes. I picked it up in
After the interview had continued for some time, to his relief, Vitaly began to sense that it was not about some past transgression. The panel seemed interested in his daily life in
“And after ten years they'd give you a good job here in
“That's what they said,” Vitaly replied. “In the meantime, they'll triple my salary.”
“But ten years . . .” Yelena looked down into her tea.
Vitaly gazed across the tiny, uneven kitchen table. His wife was beautiful – a tall, willowy blonde with brown eyes -- and she was so much more. Yelena was his partner, and she had been there through the long hours of study, the death of his father, and his knee's rehabilitation. He wanted to ensure they had a happy life together, and the KGB's offer could be his path toward success. But she was right -- ten years!
“It's a long time, I know,” Vitaly finally said. He had been assured that Yelena would be looked after. She could leave the cramped apartment they shared with another couple, with its peeling paint and cracked, moldy floor tile, and move with her parents into better accommodations. “I’ll still be able to see you on occasion -- a week, maybe two weeks a year. Maybe more. And in ten years you'll only be thirty-two. We can have a family and live in comfort.”
“It's important to you, isn't it?”
“Yes,” Vitaly said. As his father had gone to war, so must he.
John Donner climbed out of the car and crossed the damp driveway to the back entrance of his small, rented home. Once inside, Vitaly Fedorovich Kruchinkin set his bagged supper on the kitchen table and then checked the mailbox on the front porch. There was nothing for John Donner today.
“So you're going to train me to pass as an American?” Vitaly had asked his instructor.
“If we can,” Dmitri had said. The bald, compact KGB officer had been at Vitaly’s first interview. “The process will take two or three years. Once you're there, living as an American, you'll be what's known as an “illegal”. After a time, headquarters -- we call it “the Center” -- will give you assignments to watch troop movements or gather other bits of data. Nothing too exotic. If we're very fortunate, perhaps your day job might lead to something.” Dmitri had then tipped his thick glasses forward, and peering over them, had stared at the young recruit with cold, malevolent eyes. “Individuals like you, deep and unnoticed in enemy territory, are one of our nation's greatest assets.”
Vitaly had nodded. Then, thinking of life overseas, he suddenly felt very lonely.
“How long until I see you again?” Yelena had asked, as they strolled through the Moscow Zoo a few days before Vitaly was to leave for
“Yes.” Vitaly stared at the ground. He could tell his wife nothing of his mission, except its importance. “I'll be back at least once a year. You can keep writing, but you probably won't get letters from me very often.”
“Oh . . .” Yelena stopped. Her brown eyes were fighting back tears. “I know it's something we agreed on,” she said in a choked voice, “but sometimes it just hits me. I love you so much, and I see so little of you now. How can I stand to see less?” She looked away.
Vitaly stared at his wife's profile: the delicate face with its high cheekbones, the blonde hair streaming past. It was a beautiful image he wanted to carry with him, deep inside. “We'll make it, my love,” he finally said, trying to sound hopeful. “Just think of what life will be like when it's over. I'll have so many benefits -- you've seen what they've given us already -- and we can live in comfort. It won't be a struggle for us, like it is for everyone else.”
“I know,” Yelena said. “It's just that all that doesn't help much right now.”
Upon reaching the
Finished with his fast-food meal, Vitaly settled into a worn easy chair with a magazine and began an article about life in
It was a slushy winter day, and Vitaly’s father had pointed out the ragged figures trying to sleep on heating grates. “When we return home, you will not see this,” the elder Kruchinkin had said to his lone child. “Our government cares for its citizens. It gives them food, shelter, and a job.” Large drops of sleet hit the windows as they drove on. “Remember this, Vitaly Fedorovich. You may hear
It was as true today as back then, Vitaly knew. Since his return he had seen enough to convince him of that. There was only one way -- Socialism -- and it must prevail. It must.
End Post 2
TEASER FROM NEXT POST:
Alarms suddenly began blaring and most of the overhead lighting disappeared. Steve jumped up……