Part 3 - Alexei
The airport was crowded, like it had been years ago. He remembered fondly, how in those days, even when it was still early, it seemed that all of Russia was on the go - soldiers, farmers, party executives. There were few soldiers now and no farmers. In the new society the soldiers had become outnumbered by foreign visitors, and of course, also by the new-rich civilians.
In a corner of the departure hall a group of businessmen were gathered together, possibly for a trip to Moscow. Years ago these would have been farmers going to sell their products in the big city. They used to be organized into delegations, with a few individuals going as well. . .
At the center of the hall an official was organizing a group of tourists. In the early days, crowds like these would have been construction or factory workers, many of which, perhaps, had never traveled before and were proud of the opportunity they then had. The rest of the crowd, now as then, was ordinary folk with destinations to possibly any place in Russia or abroad. . .
Air travel had become popular in the Soviet Union after its cultural awareness focus had been implemented. It had been intended to draw the different regions closer together; to make people more appreciative of their national heritage, their identity, their land, and to give them a feeling for each other's strengths and ideals. . .
The cultural programs that came out of it had caught on instantly. They had become so popular that the original aim was soon superseded. They also brought economic benefits as people discovered not only each other's strengths, but also each other's problems. The sense of unity that resulted sparked a spirit of sharing, especially ideas. While the new freedom could have threatened the system, it didn't. It became no threat. The renewal of pride among the people had brought a genuine feeling that they lived in one of the best countries on earth. . .
Naturally, the emphasis on individual autonomy required corresponding investments in civil projects. The Kiev airport was a typical result of it. It became a monument to the Soviet way. Also, it ranked equally in style, comfort, and efficiency with any of the great airports of the world. In the deeper sense, though, nothing had really changed; not then; not now. Russia was still Russia, and the Cold War that had been an overbearing reality had prevented the victory that should have been felt in the country's struggle towards a new life that had even been achieved to some degree. . .
On the way to the gate Boris noticed an old woman, aimlessly moving through the crowd. "Babushka?" he inquired. . .
She was looking for the gate to Sverdlovsk. "...I am visiting my daughter's family there," she said with noticeable pride in her voice, and added, "My daughter has been promoted to an important position at the Hospital. She is a fine doctor, you know. I stay with them every year for the summer..." . .
"The flight to Sverdlovsk leaves over there," Boris explained, pointing to a sign in the distance that indicated gate 26. "I'll be on the flight myself," he said, and wished her a pleasant journey. . .
A long line of people had already queued up at the gate. Standing in line was not to Boris' liking, however, so he went on to the coffee shop to have a piece of hot apple pie, served with ice cream. He had learned this combination from an American businessman at this same coffee shop on a previous trip. He had come to love it. While eating his pie, he suddenly felt himself nudged from behind. . .
"Hey, comrade Mikheyev," a voice said. . .
He turned. . .
"Alexei, the king of the games! What a surprise! But isn't Kiev a bit out of your way? Aren't there more direct flights from Minsk? You're going to the base, aren't you?" . .
Alexei nodded. "I'm here because my flight out of Minsk was over-booked. I was in Moscow last week." . .
"In Moscow!" . .
"That's right! I was ordered to testify before the military security commission. That's Chernyakov's department!" . .
"My God! Not before Chernyakov himself?" . .
Alexei nodded and smiled. . .
"You mean you actually met the man?" . .
"He was interested to find out how closely the 'incident' had been kept secret. He never actually referred to it as an accident, or as a practice-launch, just like the commissar. He had referred to it as 'the incident.' Does that tell you anything?" . .
Boris shook his head. . .
"How long were you in Moscow?" . .
"My session had lasted for four days. I had come down with an Air Force cargo plane. You know, the commissar was also kind enough to give me four extra days for a visit home." . .
"Well, I'm certainly pleased to see you," Boris replied through a mouthful of pie. "If I hadn't been on leave myself, I would have missed playing games with you, or should I say, loosing games to you? How is Naya?" . .
"Oh, Naya is fine, she was happy to see me." . .
"By the way, did you tell Chernyakov what we thought about the new safety procedures. Did you tell them that they've got it all wrong?" . .
Alexei nodded again and grinned; "I did, Boris." . .
"Well...?" . .
"No! Not here, Boris. It's too crowded to talk..." . .
Boris pointed to the half-eaten pie. "...Want some?" . .
Alexei declined. Still he helped himself to Boris' coffee. . .
"Oh You! ...Ah, never mind," he mumbled to himself while Alexei burst out laughing. . .
"Mamushka, another coffee please for my friend," he shouted across the half-filled room. The older waitress smiled and obliged him. . .
"Did they like our idea?" Boris asked again. . .
"Yes, and No. That's all I can tell you here. I also met Sasha there, the fellow who always beats me playing the FT13 game over the Internet. I should have realized that he works for the security service. He's slick, and he's good. He destroyed thirteen of my civilizations in a single night's playing. I guess, this makes him a champion." . .
Boris took another bite in haste while Alexei spoke about the game, and then another one before he had fully finished the last. As soon as he had stuffed down the last bit of his pie, they left. Boris pointed to the clock. It was five minutes to eight. "We don't have long," he said to Alexei. . .
"Didn't they tell you, we've got one hour delay? The flight was late getting out of Odessa. As you can see," he grinned, "we are right up with the best in the world. We've got over-booked flights American style, delays like in London, and everything else the West has that goes with sophisticated air-travel. We are part of the West now." . .
Boris smiled. . .
Near the entrance of the main hall, a tall and well-dressed gentleman came towards them. The man had an air of distinction about him, a lean face, blue eyes that blended in tone with his gray hair. The blue eyes strengthened his stern look. . .
Boris recognized the man immediately. "That's my old mathematics professor from the University!" he nudged Alexei. "Remember I told you about him, Sashi Ivanov...." . .
"That's him?" Alexei chuckled. . .
"Hello there! You are Boris Mikheyev, am I correct?" the professor addressed him as he came near. . .
"Yes I am, Professor Ivanov...." . .
There was a slight gesture of satisfaction in the professor's looks as Boris greeted him with his proper title. At the university this kind of respect had been demanded, now it was by choice and most appreciated by him. One could see it on his face. . .
"Are you going to Moscow?" the professor asked. "If so, you may join me if you like." . .
"Unfortunately not. We're on the way to Lenin Base, via Sverdlovsk." . .
"I am sorry to hear that." The professor hesitated for a moment. "I would never have approved of this," he said, "this waste of your fine talent," he remarked acidly. "But I'm not angry at you," he added. "It's the system. It gets me down you know, to see all the fine scholars like you put into the army after I've spent years molding their minds, making them into keen analytical thinkers." . .
"I'm not in the Army," Boris protested. "I am a part of the Strategic Rocket Forces, stationed at Freedom Base One, the most modern installation of our country's nuclear defense system. It used to be called Lenin Base." . .
"You have intercontinental missiles, no doubt," the professor added. . .
"Indeed; and that's all we have. I'm a fully qualified Fuel Systems Specialist!" Boris boasted. . .
"Well, that's far from the academic career I had envisioned for you. You should have become an educator. You could have made a contribution to the development of our people and their potential. You would have ennobled society, enriched its culture, increased its potential. But now, all that seems irrelevant. It seems you've made your choice. Still, I must urge you to be careful, comrade Mikheyev, you're treading a dangerous ground by having chosen a mindless profession." . .
The Professor shook Boris' hand before he rushed on and disappeared into the crowd. . .
Boris was shaking. A mindless profession? How dare he! . .
Still, the Professor was one of the few men in his life that he instinctively looked up to. "You should have seen the 'prof' in the classroom," he said to Alexei. "That man was like a commander in battle. There was no fooling during his lectures. You'd let your attention slip one second, and you'd miss a vital point. And believe me, he would get you for it. He seemed to sense if someone wasn't right with him." . .
The two walked on silently. "You have no idea," he said later to Alexei, "how I wish I had followed his advice." . .
"Let's go across the street," Alexei suggested once they were outside the terminal building. . .
Facing the terminal was a newly created park that featured a large reflecting pool, which also doubled as heat sink for the terminal's air conditioning system. At the far side of the reflecting pool, a row of flags welcomed the arriving travelers on their way to the busses and the train station. The bright colors were mirrored in the surface of the water. Each republic that had remained in the Union was represented. There had been more flags before. . .
"We're alone now. We can talk freely here. Also, I won't be talking about computer games," said Alexei in a serious tone once they reached the pool. "I was in Moscow as you know." He said this as if it explained his caution. . .
He paused for a moment, looking back and across the pool as if to assure himself that no one was near. . .
"The first day in Moscow was uncomfortable," he continued. "I was asked a lot of tricky questions. I was never certain what exactly we were allowed to know at the base, and how much of it I was allowed to reveal, even to them. They wanted to know every detail of everything that has happened. I hope I didn't incriminate anyone. They wanted to know what our reactions would be in a real situation. They asked specifically if anyone was reluctant to do his job during the launch or immediately afterwards. They even wanted to know to what extent the guys talked about it afterwards, among themselves..." . .
"Speak softly, Alexei, there's someone by the flags," Boris interrupted him. . .
"You're right," Alexei said, looking towards the flags and back down the path they had come. He spoke on, quietly. "When I presented our plan, I told them what you had said about the likelihood of an accidental war, with all those missiles being fully targeted in their silos. You should have seen the big boss! He became white in the face. I didn't know at first what to make of it." . .
The two men stopped. Boris looked thoughtfully across the pool, observing the reflection of the flags while Alexei continued. "I explained that the situation would be a great deal safer if our missiles were pre-targeted to fall into the ocean, which would then be electronically re-targeted if an intended launch had been confirmed. A hot missile wouldn't harm anyone then without this post launch in-flight targetting." . .
"Well? Did they like the idea, Alexei?" . .
"Not at first. They made a lot of excuses, like it being impractical, and the cost being prohibitive. Ah, but I was ready for that. I told them that no new exotic hardware would be needed. One would simply use the existing equipment in a different way." . .
"I think we had better move on or talk softly until this group gets past the flags," cautioned Boris who pretended to study the flags and their reflection in the water. . .
Alexei spoke on, but more quietly, still. He said that he suggested to them that the existing data link could be used to transmit the target parameters. It wouldn't take much to make a few program changes in the on-board computer. In case of a false launch this procedure could save millions of lives, he had assured them. He said they just shook their heads. "'Capitalist lives!' Chernyakov corrected me." . .
"Capitalist lives? My God, Alexei what are you saying!" . .
"They said that an accident might be a good thing, that it would wake the capitalists up!" . .
"Didn't it ever occur to them that we are all taking the same risks, Alexei? If we hit the US, they'll hit us back, city for city. Don't they realize the immense risks we take every time we play those alertness games with live missiles?" . .
"Hush, someone's coming, Boris." . .
"Who cares, Alexei! Let them hear us. If our leaders can't see the security advantage of pre-targeting all missiles into the Arctic Ocean, what else can't they see?" . .
"Quieter Boris! Remember we're discussing national security information here. You know that even in the open, someone might be listening." . .
"I wish the whole world could hear us," replied Boris angrily, though somewhat toned down. "Far too few people know what's really going on. If people knew what games are being played with their life, things might be different. Maybe someone ought to tell them." . .
"You're right," said Alexei, "I agree with you. But not everyone would agree. In fact, hardly anyone would listen to you if you spoke up on these issues, unless, of course, you represented the government. The people at the committee simply wouldn't listen to the proposal I had made, with one exception, a fellow, named Zalygin. He approached me after the hearing and apologized for his colleagues. He explained a lot of things that really opened my eyes. Possibly the man had said more than he was allowed to. He confided to me that our proposal had already been implemented. It is reality, now! It has even been tested. It is fully operational. It works!" . .
Boris stopped Alexei and looked at him questioningly. . .
"Now, can you imagine what a bind I have put everyone in?" said Alexei. "They had to comment on something that was top secret, something that absolutely no one was supposed to know about. They weren't prepared for the bombshell I put in their lap." . .
"So the man felt he should say something to keep you quiet, and me, too?" said Boris. . .
Alexei nodded. "He gave me a quick overview of what they had built so that we would stop pushing our idea." . .
Alexei told Boris that the man, personally, felt that every officer at the base should know about what he is working with. . .
Alexei motioned Boris to sit down at a bench. There was a woman not far from where they stood. "Zalygin told me," he said in a hushed voice, "that not even the technicians who had modified the missiles during normal maintenance knew what their work had accomplished. They all follow procedures, and know nothing more. Not even the base commander knows as much about it as we do now. Only a very few select people in high places know that our 'incident' had been the final test to verify the practicality of the in-flight targeting process. He said that all of our missiles are now targeted at the Mojave Desert, somewhere south in the US. That's their default target." . .
Boris stood up and shook his head. "That's essentially what we had in mind, isn't it?" . .
"Except their way is cheaper. It required only minor changes in the guidance sequence. Defaulting to the Arctic Ocean, as we wanted, would have required greater inertial variances. These could not be achieved. The bottom line is, they've come up with a parallel invention to our own, and a more practical one. If a missile gets away, it simply blows a hole into the desert!" . .
Boris said that this was very good news. He could well imagine how shocked the people in Moscow must have been when Alexei presented the very plan to them that no one was to know about. . .
"Just think, if the Americans had found out," said Alexei, "what a great advantage they would have gained. They would know, that if they destroyed our communication system, they would render all of our missile forces harmless!" . .
"That's one aspect I never considered," said Boris. . .
"But they have, and they are doing something about it. In two or three months they will have several additional long-range transmitter stations in operation far away from the base. Anyone of them can do the re-targeting then, and this as far away as 700 KM beyond our borders. Once the stations are operational, nothing that we launch will reach a real target on the American continent that is not intended to do so." . .
"This gives us a great advantage," Boris observed. "This allows us to launch two minutes earlier than before. We won't need to be as cautious anymore." . .
"That makes a big difference, Boris, in a process where everything is counted in seconds. Under these new conditions everyone will be safe no matter what happens, and that's where the tragedy lies," said Alexei and paused for Boris' reaction. . .
"Tragedy?" Boris repeated. . .
Alexei nodded. "They want to use the advantage to make a point that might save humanity from a real nuclear war. They are hoping for an accidental launch. This would hurt no one, but it would scare the hell out of the world. It might scare the world to its senses. At least this is what the current perception is, in the Bureau. That is as crazy and frightening, Boris, as it is brilliant." . .
Boris shook his head and looked around. "This is not brilliant, this is insane," he almost shouted to Alexei. "It's absolute madness that the Bureau favors the idea of a nuclear accident, now that things are finally safe. How can anyone hope for an accident to occur? How can you, of all people...." . .
Alexei cut him off. "Isn't it obvious? With the new procedure in place no one will be hurt, while something that comes so close to being real would bring immense pressure to bear on the world's governments to agree to a real and meaningful solution. Nobody has ever talked about a real solution until now, Boris." . .
Boris took his time answering, and he did so with a smile as if he found the solution for preventing the whole madness. "They must realize," he said, "that this will not be possible when the long range stations are ready. These stations will then be able to transmit the self-destruct orders." . .
Alexei nodded, "They are aware of this." . .
Boris became more thoughtful now. "Tell me why did this fellow, Zalygin, reveal so many of these secrets to you?" asked Boris after a minute of silence. He didn't look up as he spoke, but started nervously checking his watch. "Could it be that the man is hoping for more than just keeping us quiet? Is he asking us to do this? Is this what the whole charade is all about? You didn't meet me here by accident. You were looking for me. This is why your flight was re-routed through Kiev, and why my flight was delayed. God, this is all crazy!" He shook his head and looked up. "That's insane, Alexei." . .
Alexei got up from the bench. "I didn't like Zalygin's attitude either," he said quietly, "at least no at first. I said to myself that even if it were possible to stage such an accident, how could anyone be certain that the other side would react in a rational manner? I asked myself how such an accident would have to be regarded from their perspective. They would see a missile coming towards them. Would they believe us that the launch is an accident and that the missile is technically secure, that it won't harm anyone? Or will they fire their own missiles long before we can demonstrate our case?" . .
Boris made up his mind on their way back to the terminal entrance. "I think the people at Bureau are responsible people," he said to Alexei, "they wouldn't contemplate taking such risks. This renders Zalygin a traitor." . .
Alexei walked quietly beside him, but then ended up telling Boris that he felt exactly like he now feels. . .
"Don't tell me you support the idea of staging a nuclear accident in order to shake the world to its senses?" said Boris. "That's lunacy! That's sheer madness, Alexei!" . .
"No Boris, that not lunacy. They refer to it as a calculated risk, a risk that they feel they must take in order to save the world," Alexei replied calmly. "You are as much a soldier as I am," he continued. "You know the rules of war. You know as I do that a military commander is expected to put his people at great risk if a vastly greater number of people are thereby protected. If you loose ten men to save a thousand, or even ten thousand, the result justifies the sacrifices. Zalygin talks about saving the life of not just a thousand, or a million, but five thousand million people." . .
Boris just shook his head. . .
Alexei turned to him again. "There are other factors involved, Boris, the scope of which is too big for a single person to grasp. They have teams working on the problem, think tanks, computer analysts, and scientists of every description. Just imagine the problem they face of having to cope with space weapons, chemical weapons, terrorism, cultural subversion, economic sabotage, not to mention the determination of the British to break up our country into tiny little pieces. They call us an empire. They stated publicly that they want to eradicate Russia from the face of the earth. Just try to correlate all this into one single, responsible policy. Then add to this mess the latest stealth technology. They got planes and missiles that radar can't see. On top of all that, NATO has now captured some of our previous allies. This enabled them to bring their missiles practically to the doorsteps of Moscow. Tell me, how would you defend the country against such a vast threat and the range of unforeseeable possibilities that goes with it, such as nuclear terrorism? Tell me, how would you deter a terrorist from using the bomb, or the religious fanatics who have shown to have no regard for human life? We have seen their own children being expended by the thousands to clear minefields in front of their advancing tanks? How do you formulate a rational policy in this chaos, and one that one can live with? The fact is, you can't! Nobody can! You've got to change the game in order to have any hope at all. You've got to change it into something reasonable, from the ground up. You need dramatic changes, dramatic actions. Believe me, Boris, Moscow is not alone in wanting this game stopped before it gets out of control. Yes, I want it too, and so do many others. We can't all be crazy, Boris. Hoping for an honest to goodness accident, something crude, something of the old tradition, and something that can be relied upon to be perfectly safe, that's a sane approach to the problem. An untargeted nuclear missile, like the ones we have at Lenin Base, would fit the bill just fine, provided that someone apart from the government sets it off." . .
Boris turned his face away, "Oh God, Alexei, what are you saying? What if it doesn't work? Who can dare take such great a risk?" . .
"No, no, Boris, you must ask yourself; can we afford not to take the risk? Can we afford to let even the faintest chance slip away in the face of infinitely greater risks that are mounting up with every passing day if the present situation is left unchallenged? Think about this." . .
Boris answered nothing. . .
"I know what you are thinking," Alexei replied. "You think the responsibility isn't ours. We are not responsible for the whole world. Humanity should have dealt with this issue. Humanity should have stopped the game long before now. Damn right, it should have. Except, most people are blind, or stupid, or too lazy, or have been made blind, stupid, and lazy, by those who intend to profit thereby. Most people simply don't care. We wouldn't be in this mess, Boris, if people did care. All too few people do, Boris. I think Zalygin does care. I think he cares very much, and he is scared. You should be scared, too, Boris, if for no one else than Tania." . .
Alexei turned around and looked back. He suspected there was a man behind them approaching at a fast pace. He could hear the footsteps on the gravel pathway! Had he overheard their conversation? Alexei nudged Boris. Boris just shook his head, but then nodded slightly. He pushed his coat sleeve back, exposing his watch and pointed to it. He suggested to Alexei that they should run. . .
Alexei nodded, and both started to jog. The two men stopped at the far end of the plaza in front of the main entrance, just briefly, long enough to look back. The man hadn't followed them. After hesitating for just a moment, Alexei whispered to Boris and laughed. "Far greater risks then these are being taken right now, today, and tomorrow again, by all of us together. You may not have heard about the new American super stealth bombers that are considered totally undetectable by radar. And I mean, not a trace! So how do you defend yourself against that? You can't. There is only one defense possible, and that is to inspire mankind by whatever means required, to stop playing with nuclear weapons. There are no physical defense measures possible against stealth bombers and stealth missiles." . .
Boris hushed him. "Alex, you're not supposed to know about these things!" . .
Alexei grinned; "Ah, but one never stops learning?" . .
Boris and Alexei started to jog again. Soon, the crowds slowed them. . .
Alexei was out of breath by then and tried to whisper, but had little success at it. "Can you imagine what this means for national security?" he said to Boris, still trying to catch his breath. "Imagine, the Americans are now able to invade our airspace undetected, anytime they please, from their strategic bases as close as three hundred miles away from Moscow. They've already done it three weeks ago during a test flight from Turkey to Norway, and they can do it again. They took a whole squadron right across our country, right over Moscow, totally undetected. Can you think of a more shocking demonstration that they now possess the capability to destroy our entire country before we know they have come?" . .
Alexei, finally, was beginning to whisper. He whispered into Boris' ear; "I'm certain Zalygin is hoping for something equally dramatic to head off the uncontrollable. Rumors have it that the Bureau is thinking the same way. Of course, their hands are bound. They can't do anything." . .
Alexei scanned the big departure hall for a quiet spot in the direction they had to go. He motioned Boris to follow him. "Zalygin confided in me that at least three top level people at the Bureau are at odds with the policies of our military strategists. The are frightened, Boris! And if they are frightened, we should be frightened, too. In military circles, there is talk about launching a coordinated nuclear-assisted strike against the entire West European complex in order to take the wind out of NATO. Our nuclear forces are strong enough to take Western Europe. It wouldn't take three days, if the world would last three days. Rumors have it, that in order to keep the Americans at bay during the operation, our strategists are calling for a synchronized nuclear barrage against the US mainland that will obliterate 98% of the population in a single blow. The term they use, is saturation coverage - fireball upon fireball, a sea of fire from which no one can escape. Unlike the US, which is of no use to them, our strategists want to keep Europe intact. They need it for a springboard into Africa. Rumors have it; they will go soft on Western Europe with precise surgical strikes, such as with RF weapons that will only stun. Preparations for such a thing may even be under way right now. Things are coming to a head, Boris, at least that's what I heard in Moscow!" . .
"If this ever happens I won't want to survive," answered Boris and urged Alexei to get going. Their flight had already been called. . .
"That's easily said," said Alexei and grinned. "The fact is, it's much easier to do some reasonably promising fighting to protect one's life." He started off into the crowd. Boris followed him. . .
Soon they were engulfed by a mob of people that wasn't easy to move through, very quickly. Still, they reached their plane in time to get on, but not in time for their seat selection to be still valid. That, though, didn't disturb Alexei. A few friendly words with the head stewardess gave them access to the seats the crew normally occupied. . .
"You have always been a charmer," remarked Boris. . .
"Heh, they don't have time to sit down," Alexei explained; "and what's that about me being a charmer? Didn't you see the girls smiling at you? It wasn't me, my friend. It was you and your sharp uniform that got us these seats. She gave them to us to please you," Alexei replied. "The girls love charming men in their fine uniforms!" . .
"No, no," Boris vigorously denied the suggestion, "the only lady I hope to charm is Tania! You of all people should know that, Alexei. If you had any idea of how afraid I was this morning that I might never see her again, you wouldn't say these things! The fact is, I'm still afraid." . .
"That's a healthy sign, Boris!" Alexei assured him. . .
"Not if you want live at the base and stay sane," Boris replied and began to laugh. . .
Alexei smiled, "I think you will learn that, too. That's the challenge that comes with being alive." . .
"Tell me about your friend Zalygin from the Bureau," Boris asked moments later. "Is he married, has he got a family as we have? If he is...." Boris stopped talking for a moment. He watched through the window an Air Force fighter taking off. He envied the pilot. There was such a sense of freedom in this being in control of one's own flight. "Well, is he?" . .
"He didn't say," Alexei replied. "I would guess that he is not a family man. I spent a lot of time with him, often for dinners at fancy restaurants. I never saw the man in female company, or heard him talk about a wife or family. His interests were taken up with more important things." . .
Boris turned the conversation onto a new subject. He mentioned that Zalygin had told him that the base had been granted its request for building a recreation center at the premise. He said that he had even seen the plans during one of the dinner meetings. . .
Alexei spoke of it in glowing term; a glass enclosed sports center, far bigger than anything they had dared to ask for. The crux, however, was that for security reasons they would have to do the construction work themselves, as much as they were able to do this. The base commander has already promised the availability of volunteer manpower. The promise was crucial in getting the funding allocated to Lenin Base, instead of to another base elsewhere. "And this, my friend, means that your assistance with the construction project will be appreciated." He gave Boris a gentle nudge and grinned. . .
"My assistance, Alexei?" . .
"Sure! Weren't you foreman, once, in a construction camp? You told me yourself that you had on the job experience with heavy equipment?" . .
"No, no, that was a long time ago," protested Boris. "That was in the olden days of the Soviet era when everyone was urged to prove their worth by applying their hands in heavy manual labor. This must have been ten, maybe twenty, years ago, if not more." . .
"Be honest, Boris, wouldn't you like to be driving a bulldozer again or the big concrete pumps, or maybe operate one of those tall cranes? Don't tell me you didn't love that work." . .
Boris nodded slowly. "I suppose it will come back to me. It was fun in those days, driving heavy machines. Did I tell you about those tall cranes and my first encounter with them...." . .
"So you will help with the project?" Alexei interrupted him. . .
"Of course I will, just as I helped the guys in Kiev. Did I tell you that I nearly tipped one of those cranes over?" . .
"No! You didn't." . .
The next hour was spent with Boris recounting to Alexei some of the more hair-raising moments of his days in the construction camps at Kiev. It was intentional. The time passed more quickly that way, but more importantly, it passed without having to come to terms with a nuclear-armed world. . .
Boris was happy now, about the way the day unfolded. Before they reached Sverdlovsk he remarked to Alexei that he was glad they had met at the airport, and that he had told him about the construction job. He said that he now had something nice to look forward to, apart from playing computer games with him. . .
Alexei smiled and added that he was glad, too. . .
"Except, I rarely ever win against you," added Boris. "Before I can think of a strategy to protect my civilizations you find a gap in my defenses and knock them out." . .