"That's what Nicolai is sensing," said Ushi. "He is convinced that something tremendously big is in the making, because it is protected by an intense blanket of secrecy. Many people seem to suspect that something's really big is in the process of being set up, but nobody dares to even blink, much less poke their nose in it. This terror in the dark that nobody can see has turned the whole country into cowards. That's what we are facing."
"If we can, we'll stop that," I said bravely. "The secrecy has a weak flank. It hides from the terrorists the potential size of the opposition. It forces us to act with the same secrecy by which their plan may yet be foiled without them being away of us, and able to do anything to stop us."
The major nodded her agreement. "So here is the plan," she said and took the binoculars back after Anton had her turn. "Tomorrow, I will fly you both to our far-eastern satellite station, together with two of my most trustworthy scientists," she explained. "The station is approximately one and half day's journey from the impact site. The station is equipped with everything that you may need, including fuel, snow cats, food, laboratory equipment, and so forth. We will leave at eight, right after breakfast. Still, you mustn't hurry. You must never hurry. You are tourists, remember, with plenty of time on your hand."
She told us that after our return to the main base she would invite us to visit everyone at work. "We have an unhurried pace here. It may take some time getting used to it, especially when time is running against us. You will have to learn to fit in and become an actor that Shakespeare would love."
By the time we started to walk back to the airplane, the sky had become completely dark except for the thousands of stars that had become a bright profusion of lights. The great band of the Milky Way stretched clear and distinct across the deep black of the sky.
The plane's engines were still running. I could see the propellers turning when we came near, though I could hardly hear the whine of the engines over the sound of the wind and the squeaking sounds of our footsteps in the snow. The squeaking snow, we were told, is typical at extremely low temperatures.
I would have loved to ask what secret installation was connected to the lone runway in the middle of nowhere. No buildings could be seen nearby, or trails in the snow leading off into the distance. The question that would resolve my puzzle, however, didn't seem appropriate at the time. There was evidently far more going on in this frozen wilderness than reindeer research. I was certain of it. This also meant that the major had most likely violated every security protocol in the book of state secrecy by bringing us there. This meant we could trust her completely and save the puzzling questions for later.
Upon our return we visited the people of the station in their labs and offices as she had requested. The people, there, told us their own cover story, just as we told them ours. Later, we all had reindeer for supper, which, as I was told, was a rare treat. To me, it tasted not much different than deer meat, a bit stronger perhaps, nor did I really care. All my thoughts were focused now on the dangers we would soon face. I couldn't think of anything more dangerous to deal with than advanced types of biological warfare agents. I had already read too much about them. On the other hand there was the promise of the richly human interchange between Anton and me, and Nicolai's implied promise that we would be safe. This would have to carry us through for the next ten days, until the milk-run would come by and take us back to Yaktusk and home again.
When the reindeer feast was completed, that was evidently prepared in our honor, most people settled down by the fireplace where we joined them, as though we were genuinely interested in the northern world and its wild reindeer herds. Most of what we told them was built more on dreams from the past than real knowledge of the land. I had always hoped to visit the far north some day. We talked about what we wished to observe: how the wild herds lived, and how they were being monitored and protected. We said that we had brought lots of film, and....
In this manner, the telling of our cover story continued.
We traded glorious lies that night, they like us, for the sake of security, and we all did it with a smile. These trivia that we debated, of course, were as unimportant to the situation that we faced as debating whether the street cars of a city should be painted green, red, blue, or yellow. Only Anton was not unimportant to me. She was my link to reality; my love; my life; all that was important; and to the mission that we had to complete. For this, whether we liked it or not, the ugly game of lying to one another had to be played in the way it was designed to be played.
We remained at the community center and played our game that night for as long as it appeared to be expected, until most people had left. Only then, we excused ourselves and strolled off towards our own cabin, unhurried, as if this slow pace was the pace of the world.
In reality, this was our second honeymoon night, to celebrate the marriage that Anton had proposed in Novosibirsk. We both knew that's what it was. We knew that the ceremony that Nicolai had planned for later would only confirm once again what had already been established. It wouldn't create anything, but merely celebrate what already was. I saw no reason, therefore, why we shouldn't celebrate again and again, what we had discovered about ourselves. Indeed, it seemed more logical to engage in such celebrations often, as a renewal of our discoveries, even on a day by day basis.
Our cabin wasn't fancy, but it was clean and warm, and the remainder of the night was all our own. For these moments together nothing else mattered, really. Maybe it was right for us to absorb some of the slow pace that had become customary at the station. The pace was reflected in our private feelings towards one another that had become secure, which seemed to be echoed in the unhurried atmosphere of this land. Nothing was hurried anymore, or needed to be hurried.
Or was the slower pace merely a reflection of our fears, as if the slower pace could somehow hold back the march of time? I put this thought out of my mind as if it were not true. But in a sense it was true. The reality of our situation kept reasserting itself. I realized, that from the next morning on we would be facing great dangers. None of us knew what kind of a biological holocaust we would be marching into. If a new super-weapon had been unleashed, no defenses may yet exist against it. Indeed, if this were a new super-weapon that we were determined to investigate, what security dangers would we face? People are being killed all over the world in order to protect much lesser secrets. What high profile operation was this that Nicolai couldn't even risk to talk about? If the area was monitored by space based surveillance, any detected intruders would surely be swiftly eliminated. We were both fully aware of this, even if we didn't talk about it.
We also knew that we had no choice but to risk facing that danger. Nicolai had to know what kind of doomsday weapon had been dispensed from space, if that's what it was. We cold no longer rule out that a weapon had been created that could threaten the whole of humanity. The depopulation utopians were still free and active in the halls of power, pursuing their despicable projects for massively depopulating the earth. We were both fully aware that my own government was spending more than thirty billion a year on covert operations that were carried out above the law, and protected from the law under the cover of National Security. No one ever knew how much of that apparatus served the utopians' wild eyed schemes for forcing depopulation, deindustrialization, and religious and ethnic wars, destabilizing nations and continents. Fred was sure that not even the government knew exactly what was being cooked up behind the scene. AIDS was rumored to have come out of this mill, without any proof ever having been found, as one would expect in such a case. Maybe the fondi were indeed as unstoppable as the man from the fondi had arrogantly boasted years ago in Venice, to both Steve and me.
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