1985: January – August
“Halvorsen,” the burly man said, reciting the name on the hard hat of the petite young health physics technician at the entrance to the power block. A few locks of curled auburn hair framed her delicate face, with green eyes and a small mouth that seemed set in a permanent frown. “You related to Gary Halvorsen, the mechanic?” he asked.
“Just married to him,” Carol said. The laborer must be new. He certainly needed a shave. She passed a Geiger counter once more over the knee of the man’s blue jeans, and again the slow click. . . click. . . click increased to a static-filled roar. Shoot. “Still got some hot stuff on you. Where were you, anyway?”
“Down by the VEPI pumps. Can ya get it off? I'd like to get outta here.”
“We'll try again.” Carol reached for the duct tape. There were several possible explanations for the worker being contaminated. He might have followed all the rules and still gotten crapped up. It happened sometimes. An area that should be “clean” could have a bad spot. Or perhaps he had ignored one of the safety ropes, maybe just for a second, in order to get a job finished. That happened as well. People got in a hurry or just didn't care. Even
With a thin, gloved hand, Carol slapped gummy tape on the denim fabric and peeled it back, then checked again. The steady click. . . click. . . click did not increase. Whatever had been on the blue jeans had stuck to the tape. The worker was now decontaminated.
“I can go?” the man asked.
“Fine. Go home,” Carol said. And then I will. It looked to be a nice summer night, and she and
She might have been studying music at another school -- and never met
Carol cleared off the countertop. She thought again of the quiet evening ahead. Perhaps they might listen to some music. When they had first met, Gary’s taste had run to the kind of country and western she couldn’t stand, but it turned out he also had an affinity for classical, provided it sounded more like a cavalry charge than a springtime morning. His mother had often played symphony records when he was growing up. Or, perhaps tonight the two would just sit back on the deck at the rear of the trailer, hand in hand. Either way, it would be nice.
John Donner massaged the back of his neck. The class had been given the afternoon to tour the plant, and Vitaly was tracing the reactor building’s ventilation system, staring up at the main air shafts leaving the building. Sensors monitored the air for radiation, and if it was detected, dampers would shut and the building’s exhaust would be diverted through the Atmospheric Release Air Filtration System. ARAFS would clean the air of radioactive particles and some gasses before sending it up the tall smokestack outside. At the same time, huge fans would also be sucking air into the reactor building to keep the structure at a higher pressure than the outside world, ensuring nothing leaked out without first being filtered. A similar system protected the crew in the control room.
How could I break ARAFS? The question was in the back of Vitaly’s mind with every system he studied. Dmitri wanted a sabotage plan, and searching for weak spots in the plant’s design also helped him with his class work.
Vitaly did not want to believe the plant’s destruction would ever become necessary. His co-workers were his friends: he had been to their homes, played with their children. Growing up in
Still, Vitaly knew where his duty lay. He remembered his father telling him of a time during the war when he was guarding German prisoners. One of the captured soldiers spoke Russian, and Private Kruchinkin had talked with the man of families and home. “Few people are evil, Vitaly,” his father had explained. “But one doesn’t fight against people. It is ideologies that do battle. Soldiers are just tools, after all.” The prisoner had later escaped, the elder Kruchinkin also recalled. “And if I had met him again, on the battlefield, I would have killed him. Or he would have killed me. That is war.”
The debrief was nearly over, and Vitaly was anxious to start his vacation. Five precious spring days with Yelena.
“One more item and we're done,” Dmitri said, folding his hands atop the table. “How are you doing on the sabotage plans?”
“Well, I’ve given it some thought, but I haven't worked out the details. No time. The training class is a real challenge.”
“I'm sure it is,” Dmitri nodded. “Still, we'd like to get your thoughts. You'll be back in a few months, after your course is over. Perhaps you can forward an outline to the Center before you return. Then our experts can go over it.”
Vitaly sighed. Tough job. “I’ll try to work it in.”
“You'll do fine,” Dmitri smiled. “You're one of the best.”
Yelena unwrapped her arms from Vitaly's waist and reached up to his forehead, gently playing with a tawny lock. She examined it closely, then looked away.
“Something wrong, my love?” Vitaly asked. Around them, a birch grove trembled in the breeze.
Yelena smiled. “You have gray hairs, my husband. It just reminded me of how much time has passed.”
“I know, I know,” Vitaly whispered as he again took his wife in his arms. “And I can't say it's gone quickly.” He meant every word. For all the satisfaction of doing his duty, and the short moments of pleasure he occasionally found with American women, it was Yelena that he needed.
“Nine years. . .” Yelena gazed toward the treetops above the path, her ear resting against Vitaly's chest. “Sometimes I feel I'm growing old.”
“You're only thirty-two, my precious one,” Vitaly said, stroking his wife’s blond hair. “And a young and sexy thirty-two at that.”
“Thank you.” Together, the couple swayed back and forth. “How much longer?”
Vitaly felt the warm breeze drift across his face, carrying with it the scent of Yelena's perfume. He hated to think of the time they had yet to spend apart. He took a deep breath. “I don't know. They told me at the start it'd be ten to twelve years. I think they'll keep their word. . .”
“But it will probably be closer to twelve. I'm doing valuable work, and it's becoming more important all the time.”
Yelena sighed, and pressed tighter. Together, they stood in the forest, not speaking.
The office lights cast a harsh pallor as Anton worked on the dispatch, his white uniform shirt stretched across thin shoulders. His writing hand grew tired, and he paused to stroke his narrow black mustache and peer out with his sunken gray eyes at the dense forest that surrounded the KGB complex. Days in the S Directorate could grow tedious. Anton’s role in helping to manage the elite corps of Soviet illegals abroad often consisted of composing inspirational messages or editing chatty letters from family members. Occasionally there would be more -- making travel arrangements for a spy's trip home; or arranging a ‘dead drop’, where the agent would pick up or deliver a package without ever seeing his contact. But there was never any continuity, never any clue as to where the undercover operatives were located or what they were doing. Anton might not even know if he was writing to the same agent as he had the time before, since each illegal had both a code number, such as C393-111, and a code name, like “Six Tiger”. Messages were addressed to either designation to prevent subordinates from learning too much about a particular operation. Only Anton's section chief, the pug-nosed, near-sighted Colonel Dmitri Ivanovich Bykov, knew both the number and code name for the agents his office was handling.
Anton hated Dmitri Bykov, as he hated all those who did the KGB's dirty work. He knew firsthand how they could tear one's soul apart but leave the body behind, untouched. Only seventeen at the time, he was still growing, still learning about himself, when he had met the love of his life. Everything had clicked from the very first, and he was walking on air -- but also looking over his shoulder. They were to meet one night at the club, and Anton had been running late. He only saw the end of it -- the unmarked trucks, the nightsticks beating his friends as they were dragged out of the dingy basement. And then he saw Viktor, head bloodied, as the van doors slammed shut. Why hadn't he rushed in? Anton had asked himself that question a thousand times. Why hadn't he burst past the thugs to hold on to the only thing in the world that meant anything to him? Why? Was it cowardice? Shame? The will to survive? It did not matter once the truck had pulled away. Viktor was gone forever.
Someone was walking up the aisle, and Anton went back to work. In a few weeks, he would have enough for another “dead drop” himself, taking vengeance on the system he loathed. Six Tiger had been to White Sands, Blue Raven to the naval yards in
End Post 12
TEASER FROM NEXT POST:
“M.S.I.V. closure! Reactor scram!” the chief operator called out.