By all appearances, it soon seemed as if the biological danger was becoming more acute, and also the ever-present danger that we might be detected under the clear, cloudless, sunlit sky. The biological danger, though, appeared to be more acute. Our science and biology experts were no longer breathing just through thick filters mounted on their masks, as they had done earlier, but were breathing oxygen enriched air from pressurized tanks, like scuba divers. Later on, they also doubled up on their disposable, plastic body suits. They told us that they had detected some traces of a rare virus that they couldn't identify, that could be natural, but most likely wasn't. They also remained in the decontamination chamber twice as long as before.
At noon, almost exactly at twelve o'clock, Leslie, the expedition leader, announced that we had arrived. My companion, who drove the snow-cat that I had been assigned to, a tall man who called himself Ivan, explained that we had arrived at our destination according to the Global Positioning System. He rechecked his information sheet, and the GPS readout once more, to verify the location.. "Yes, we are on the mark," he said.
Except there was nothing to see. We took the binoculars and scanned the area. There was nothing there to be found. Ivan suggested that we should decide on a search pattern. Leslie suggested holding off. We had a long trek behind us, we were late. We had been hindered by fallen trees. Also, we hadn't dared to cross a large lake, that would have heightened our exposure to being detected. That, too, had cost us time. We had argued about it, before the decision was made to take the long and slow route. Leslie had suggested that we should dash across the lake at high speed and take our chances, rather than taking the chance that we would come too late in the day for executing a proper search to find our object. She was reluctant, therefore, to authorize wasting a lot more of our precious time on driving search patterns. "Let's see if we can figure this one out in a scientific manner," she said. "Let's look for clues. Let our capacity to reason, guide us," she added.
Nobody suggested that we had come for nothing, but driving a search pattern wasn't an acceptable option, I fully agreed. Ivan looked around. He turned to me, "according to the GPS we are within fifty meters, but I don't recognize anything out of the ordinary."
Leslie suggested that we go outside and look close up for clues.
I told Ivan that I was under the impression that the Global Positioning System is designed to be accurate within five meters, not fifty. "On the other hand, how accurate was the infrared sighting?" I asked "We might be looking for something that is miles away," I suggested.
"No, the infrared triangulators are accurate. They are designed to track incoming warheads. They have to be accurate," Ivan replied. "Everything tells us that whatever it is, that we are looking for, must be here, right where we are."
"I suppose we are looking for something like an impact crater?" I said.
"Or what used to be an impact crater," said Leslie over the short distance intercom that allowed us to talk to each other whenever we were close enough. The name Leslie appeared to be a short form short for something, but who knows what. She appeared not to be a native from this part of the world.
The impact crater was eventually found. It hadn't been recognized initially, because Ivan's cat had stopped right on top of it. I had noticed a faint line from our rear window, a minute ledge stood out that was more circular than straight. Luckily, the crater rim hadn't been fully covered over by the drifting snow, or the wind had blown some of the new snow away to reveal the edge of the crater.
Within half an hour the object was located and dug out for closer inspection. It appeared to be totally intact. Ivan and Leslie claimed it first. They quickly wiped several samples off the interior walls, sealed the samples into a bottle, and placed the object itself into a plastic bag, sealed with a double zip lock. Only then did they allow us to touch it.
Leslie, who gave the object to Anton, said that we must be extremely careful not to damage the plastic bag. We both examined the object. The thing was astonishingly small, slightly larger in size than a large pineapple. It was made of a ceramic material with an insulated ceramic container inside. It had a single opening that was once covered with a slanted hinged lid that was still attached. The lid had been sprung open by what looked like an air pressure activated release mechanism. The entire object was made of ceramic parts, except for one single steel spring. Apart from this, there wasn't a single piece of metal on it.
The lid was shaped in such a manner that once it was sprung open near ground level, the pod would likely begin to spin extremely rapidly and violently, by which its contents would be injected into the atmosphere, possibly low enough to get it into the ground hugging air turbulence that would then spread it across a city.
The pod was cleverly designed. The moment I saw it, the words "Perfidious Albion," came to my lips. Those words had been on my mind from the moment that Anton had revealed the nature of our mission, even while we danced at the tower restaurant in Moscow. The meaning of those words had overshadowed our journey. They also explained why we had to be cautious.
Our experience in Venice came to mind, and the bragging of the fondi's chief, that there was nothing that anybody could do to stop them from attaining their objective, especially not a bunch of amateurs like us. Perfidious Albion was alive and kicking, indeed. Fortunately those words hadn't come between Antonovna and me. She understood the meaning of them.
Perfidious meant treacherous, deceitful, like in playing one against the other. I had explained the meaning of the words to Anton, a long time ago, of the very words that the man of the fondi had used to identify his empire with. Anton understood what those words meant in real terms. She had studied the history of her nation and knew from this background how the British Empire's game had been played against it for the last two centuries. Only the specific term, Albion, was unfamiliar to her. I had explained to her that it was an old name for the British Isles, a native name perhaps.
"This might have been a test pod of a chemical or biological weapons test," Anton observed when she gave the pod to me, "or some kind of drop pod released from a high flying aircraft."
I was puzzled. "Does Nicolai know anything about such weapons tests?" I asked Antonovna.
"If he did, we wouldn't be here," she replied.
"Or maybe he isn't supposed to know," I suggested. "Maybe these are secret tests?"
She shook her head and took me aside from the others. "That was not made in Russia," she said. She showed me why. There was a tiny inscription on the side of it. She showed it to me. It wasn't easy to see through the goggles of the plastic bag suit that we wore. "This was made by Cobor Glassworks of Canada," she said. "Also, this container wasn't dropped from an aircraft. It came from space." She showed me the burn marks from the reentry fire. "This makes the thing altogether very scary," she added, "and it puts it right into the camp of the royals who alone have the needed resources to do this kind of thing."
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