Episode 20


The clock flipped to 9:30 a.m. and the radio came on. Vitaly sat up and ran a hand through his disheveled hair. His knee ached as he shuffled across the room. Rain. Slipping into a pair of jeans, he considered his plans for the day. John Donner needed to pick up groceries before his three to eleven shift. The radio had begun a news report, and when the Soviet Union was mentioned, Vitaly focused in:

“. . . up to forty times normal levels. The Russian authorities have not yet accepted responsibility for the radioactive cloud detected by the Scandinavians, but evidence is beginning to mount of a nuclear disaster somewhere in the Soviet Union. Based on prevailing weather patterns over the past few days, experts are speculating the source may be a nuclear power plant in the Ukraine. One unconfirmed report has stated U.S. Government satellite photos indicate an explosion may have occurred among a group of reactors at a site approximately one hundred miles north of Kiev.

In other news, . . .”

Vitaly continued getting dressed. So maybe it’s happened. After all, my homeland isn‘t as safety conscious as the Americans. But our economy must move forward, and there will be sacrifices. He pulled on a sweatshirt. They did it here, too, with their factories and pollution.

There was something else about the report, something that gnawed at the back of his mind as he began threading his belt. What was it? Something familiar. The soviet agent stopped one loop short. Yelena! She was going to Kiev. When? Vitaly concentrated, trying to recall. You got the message two weeks ago, and it said end of the month . . . the last week. What is it today, the 27th? 28th? The pieces all came together. She‘s in Kiev. Damn it, she‘s in Kiev!

His training back in Moscow had taught him how to avoid panic, and this, combined with his calm personality, had stood Vitaly well through the years. But now a wave of cold tension enveloped him. He could accept whatever his own fate might be. He was a soldier. He could accept a nuclear accident in his own country, if it were just a bump in the road to progress. But Yelena -- and the baby!

Calm down, calm down! Kiev is a hundred miles from the spot, that‘s what they said. That‘s a long way. But, shit, it’s showing up in Sweden! Vitaly raced through his memory. Where do her relatives live exactly? It‘s outside of Kiev somewhere. He couldn't pull up the name. I‘ll have to look at the map. I‘ve got to get more information! Vitaly pounded on the bed, and recalled what Dmitri had once told him: “Panic comes from not knowing.”

He spent the day switching between the TV and the radio, but only the most general news was reported. What exactly had the Swedes and Finns picked up? Milli-rems? Less? Vitaly had looked at a map, and felt sure Yelena was in Irpen, twenty miles northeast of Kiev. There were rumors the accident had taken place at a reactor in Chernobyl. Irpen was seventy miles from that site. His wife was in no danger, Vitaly reassured himself, as he climbed in the car and headed for work. She‘s okay. And the baby is too. Seventy miles. They have to be.


Sergei dipped his spade into the sand and then dumped the load in a bag held open by another volunteer. With a grunt, the man swung the bulging sack over his shoulder and trudged off toward one of the waiting trucks. Content to take a break, Sergei leaned on his shovel and wiped his brow. Even in the cool spring air it was easy to work up a sweat.

There was much idle talk about the cause of the event. Sabotage had even been mentioned, but Sergei knew the truth. The reactor had simply been pushed too far and it had suddenly slipped into overdrive. That rapid, vast production of extra heat had caused the cooling pipes running through the core to burst, which had damaged the reactor fuel. Chemical reactions had then generated enormous amounts of hydrogen and oxygen. Eventually, the explosive mixture had detonated, blowing fuel and graphite into the sky.

To both douse the ongoing fire and cover the horribly radioactive debris, sand was being dumped into the gaping reactor cavity by helicopter. Sergei had spoken briefly to one of the pilots. The man had felt the heat rising up from the core, and as the dumped sand sent dust and ash billowing upward, radiation levels around the helicopter had reached a million milli-rems per hour. The pilot had gotten sick even before pulling away.

Several kilometers distant, in Pripyat, conditions were not quite so intolerable, but the entire area was covered by an invisible layer of radioactive dust. Finally recognizing the danger, the authorities had evacuated the town more than a day after the accident. An enormous fleet of buses had converged on the city, and its 45,000 inhabitants, calm for the most part and clutching what few possessions they could carry, had climbed aboard. Sergei had remained behind. He would never run away again.


When Paul returned to his desk he saw Crutch and Langford looking over a document. “More on Chernobyl? I caught the end of the news at lunch. They said it was still burning.”

“INPO reports that as well,” Langford said. He handed the paper to Crutch.

“I guess they're worried about other reactors at the site,” Paul said. “Apparently, we've got satellite photos.”

“Says here the fire is probably the graphite in their core,” Crutch noted, studying the report. “They asked Sweden and West Germany for help. Sweden told ‘em to talk to England. Some kinda graphite fire there back in the fifties. ‘Windscale.’”

“I've heard of that event,” Langford said. “It occurred at a reactor up in Scotland. They contaminated some of the countryside.”

“Does it say how the thing works?” Paul asked, looking over Crutch’s shoulder. “The Russian reactor?”

“They provide an outline,” Langford said. “It is a much different machine than ours, you can determine that much.”

“Whatever they got,” Crutch said, “it’s really fucked up.”


Reactor building operator John Donner checked the charger for the emergency battery cells and logged the reading. He glanced at his watch and saw he was running behind on his rounds. Vitaly wasn't surprised. It had been hard for him to concentrate all week.

Was Yelena safe? He could not know for sure. He had sought out every bit of news about Chernobyl, but little was known thus far. The death toll was anywhere from two to two thousand, and some in Kiev were leaving due to fears about the water supply. If Yelena had indeed made the trip to Irpen, Vitaly kept telling himself, she would have little exposure to any fallout. But he also knew his unborn child was especially at risk. What was happening to his family? It was a heavy load to bear, but there was no choice. In an extreme emergency there were ways to get in touch with the Center, but that could jeopardize his whole mission, and his fellow countrymen probably couldn’t tell him anything more about the confused situation. His best hope was that something would be reported in the next regular message. That would be in four days.

Vitaly kept reminding himself what his father, and so many others, had gone through during the war. Far away from their homes, they could never be sure that their families weren't being bombed, or starved, or marched off into slavery. But as soldiers, they had done their duty. They had kept on fighting. And Vitaly would do the same. But right now, the battle wasn't with the enemy, it was within himself.


Liz returned to her desk with a mug of coffee. This first day of May she had a busy schedule, with three interviews, leaving only a few hours to finish some important paperwork. She also hoped to put in more time on the search for the illegal working at a nuclear plant. She had continued to collect data, both for her own investigation and for agents in other states, and responses to her own requests were now beginning to filter in. Methodically, she was comparing her findings with the backgrounds provided by the Hoosier Electric files, hoping to spot some clue that would put her on the right trail. It was a long shot, but there was no other way to go about it.


During the KGB's long years of service to the Soviet Union, the intelligence apparatus had developed an imposing bureaucracy to ensure secrecy. Information was carefully guarded so that few of the half-million employees of the Komitet Gosudarstvennoy Bezopasnosti could form a clear picture of any given activity. But within the massive organization there was also intrigue. Alliances were formed, and risks taken, by those with ambition and a yearning for power. A venture that was successful could provide many benefits for its supporters.

Anton picked up the folder, strolled past two of his fellow KGB officers and into Colonel Bykov’s unoccupied office. Tossing the report in the overflowing IN basket, he glanced at the cluttered desktop. A single sheet of paper, lying face down, caught his attention. On its back was a neat, hand-printed note: “File C393-492”. Anton recognized the number, and on this slow-paced morning he found the impulse to look too great to resist. After checking over his shoulder, he retrieved the report he had just delivered, then snatched up the overturned memo as well and slipped it inside. Then he quickly scanned it:

To: -------Bykov

From: -----------Sveshnikov

. . . recommendation reviewed. . . . . .in light of present circumstances. . . . . . .Pursuant to the plan drafted at meetings K3v... . . in August, 1985 and T3v ..000. . . . subsequent plan approval via 1CKxxx..x. , Blue Raven, plan . . . 3 . . . . . . ordered for implementation during the period between 10 May and 1 June, 1986. . . . . utmost caution . . . . cessation of the plan . . . if at any time detection . . . . . . . dead drop. . . . .”

Plan . . . ordered for implementation? Blue Raven? Anton was just beginning to grasp the content when a phone rang outside the door. He quickly returned the memo and exited the office. You shouldn‘t have looked, stupid! With relief, he saw no one could have seen his folly.

Back in his cubicle, Anton thought more about the document. He remembered arranging a meeting a few months before for C393-492. And Blue Raven -- something about the American Midwest. Then there were the instructions: “utmost caution,” “cessation if detected.” Anton had never seen anything like it. The dispatch was important -- something big was about to happen. He must pass it on to the Americans as soon as possible. If he was right, it would be more than just a token jab at the State. And that was what Anton wanted, most of all. For Viktor.


Vitaly stared at the brief message that had begun the transmission. It was unusual for the Center to begin with personal news, but this time they had made an exception -- a wonderful exception:

“Your wife has returned from her vacation in Kiev. She is in good health, and sends you her best.”

He wanted to hear more, of course, but for the moment it was enough. Vitaly let Yelena fill his thoughts. Everything was all right, after all.

A drop of sweat fell onto the paper as Vitaly gazed at his decoding handiwork. The remainder of the message had contained none of the usual exhortations for him to continue his great service to the State. There was no discussion of America as a land of capitalist evil, no reminders of the superiority of the communist doctrine. Vitaly tried to remain calm as he re-read the instructions:

“You are hereby advised to proceed with Operation Blue Raven Five, Plan Vector-Three, repeat, Operation Blue Raven Five, Plan Vector-Three, between the dates of 10 May and 1 June, 1986. All pre-requisites as stated in this plan must exist. Performance of the plan's requirements must be undertaken with the utmost caution, using all means to avoid suspicion, and cessation of the plan is to occur if at any time detection appears possible. The plan and associated equipment will be provided by dead drop, instructions to follow. . . ”

Vitaly's heart continued to pound. The message was clear.

It was time for John Donner to attack the enemy.


Paul set his cooler on the desk and headed back up the aisle to Mike Langford's office. “Did you see the Chernobyl pictures they released yesterday?”

Langford looked up. “It appears that they blew the top right off the building. That is a problem.”

“They're evacuating out to eighteen miles.” Paul took a seat.

“And there is quite a plume in the atmosphere,” Langford said. “The West Coast is even reporting a miniscule amount. Just micro-rems, so it means nothing with respect to health. But apparently there’s been a run on potassium iodide in California. I imagine they believe the tablets will protect them from radiation.”

“It would be a wonder drug if it did,” Paul said. He knew taking KI only ensured the thyroid gland was full of ‘normal’ iodine, which in theory would keep the user from absorbing iodine-131, a radioactive isotope released by a reactor in trouble. Settling on grass eaten by dairy cows, the substance could become dangerously concentrated in milk. But I-131 was just one potential source of radioactivity during an accident.

“It appears the farmers downwind in Europe are going to feel the economic effects for some time,” Langford said. “Iodine, at least, decays away in a few weeks. But if Chernobyl’s core is truly on fire, the plant is releasing other isotopes that will remain rather toxic and radioactive for a long time to come.”


Vitaly carried the heavy trash bag through the kitchen and down into the basement, where he already had spread newspapers across the floor. Crouching, he emptied out the sticky, odorous contents of the sack. After an assortment of filthy cans and soiled paper plates, he found the metal box, sealed in green plastic.

Since receiving his orders two days before, Vitaly had given a lot of thought to the reason for the mission. The Center had directed him to sabotage Fairview Station in a manner that could not be detected. Why? Chernobyl must be a big part of the equation. The Soviet government was being buffeted by a storm of international protests, both for the accident itself, and for its unwillingness to pass along details. Vitaly had concluded his task was to create a diversion so his country could recover. The United States would now have to contend with an accident on its own shores. Such an event would bring the American nuclear industry to a standstill. That would deal a painful blow to the economy.

It would also be a blow to his companions at work. When the idea of sabotage was just a theory, Vitaly could make allowances for his potential actions. But now it was for real. He was going to destroy the livelihood of his coworkers and perhaps endanger their lives. That it was his duty was a good justification, but not a comfort. For that, he was thankful the plan Moscow picked was the least brutal of the choices. And he was confident of the strength and resilience within the men and women of Fairview Station. They’ll get by. There will still be jobs, or other places to go. His own countrymen had survived far worse during the war.

The sealed aluminum container was the size of a briefcase. Inside, Vitaly found a copy of his plan and the special materials needed for the job. He held the small, clear vial up to the light, and peered at the thin strand within. It was a sublimation wire. Once exposed to air, it would carry current for a brief period and then disappear, the electric energy changing it directly from a solid to a gas.

Vitaly jerked, as a gust of wind rattled one of the ground-level windows of the basement. There was thunder in the distance. He tried to relax, thinking about the momentous achievement in which he could take pride the rest of his days. He understood the danger, but within him there was little fear. Vitaly Fedorovich Kruchinkin was fighting the war he wanted to fight. He looked down at the gadgetry spread out before him. And I have my choice of weapons.


Anton lifted his coat from the basket by the door and stuffed the sticky, tightly folded message into his pocket. The streets of the Moscow suburb were still damp from a spring rain as he strolled to the bus stop. After a walk in a nearby park to ensure he wasn’t being followed, Anton headed into the movie theater. Twenty minutes later he exited. His package remained behind.


End Post 20



There it is. Vitaly spotted the round white barn up ahead as he drove along the country lane a mile east of Fairview Station.


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