Chapter 8 - Aquarius Rising
Steve put down the pawn that he took from me and smiled. We still had the most wonderful feeling for each other. Nothing was forced. Nothing was insecure. Nothing was unprotected. Still, this was different than the unhurried way of life I had found in Siberia. Nothing was ever casual about my association with Steve. Our unity rested in the respect we shared for the dignity of mankind. That's why he had come to Mexico, apart from the fact that our own lives now hung in the balance. We had to succeed! A saying from the early space program era came to mind: "Failure is not an option!" That's what brought Steve all the way from China.
The situation we were in would not give us a second chance. If we were to fail at this task before us, there would likely be no one left alive soon to pick up the pieces and tray again.
Ten minutes later Steve took my castle. Actually we shouldn't have been playing at all. Nor were we really. We were sitting on the sea wall playing a game of chess, but our thoughts were elsewhere. Nor was it for the game that we were there. The game was our calling card for the trapper who had seen "a rock fall out of the sky," as he had put it. We needed to get the impact time from him and verify the exact location and the object's authenticity. After that, we had to get back to Ross' place as fast as possible. It was impossible to tell how much time we had left.
Luckily, our friend the trapper, was on time. Fred had a helicopter standing by. It didn't take us long to cover the short distance to the wildlife refuge. The object was located with binoculars from the air, or rather, the fragments of it were located. The fragments matched what Anton and I had seen in Siberia. We weren't working in biologically sealed suits, this time. This meant we had to remain airborne and keep our distance. The exact spot was located from a distance by triangulation.
We paid the trapper the agreed to amount. The exact time had already been established and verified by other witnesses. All we needed to do now, was to get the chopper back across the border into the USA, and to the air base where Tony kept a transport waiting that took us back to the East Coast. With Tony's help we were home before midnight and infinitely richer with the vital data that we urgently required. We lacked nothing more from this point on, to determine the killer satellite's identity. By the time we arrived, Ross was already working on the problem with the data that we had relayed to him right from Mexico, right from the helicopter.
"With two confirmed drop sites, complete with timing, we have the thing nailed down before dawn tomorrow," said Steve to Ross.
Actually, it wasn't until midnight that a clear identity could be established, with a method for forecasting future orbits.
At this time it was mid morning in Russia. Time was running out. We alerted Nicolai immediately so that he could arrange to have the thing shot down the next time it appeared over the northern arctic, which would occur in two hours time. "Luckily, the orbital path brings the satellite right over your area of control, right over Novosibirsk," I said to Nicolai. "Steve is going to give you the exact time and location. Anyone of your northern missile sites, or your subs, should be able to take the thing out with a single shot."
"I can't get clearance to launch." Nicolai came back.
"You've got to do it, with or without clearance," Steve took over. "The next pass will bring the thing across six major cities, and yours is one of them. This may not be another idle orbit, Nicolai. This may be the beginning of its attack run. You can't let this happen."
"I can't pull it off," he said and began to cry.
"Then, get out of Leningrad fast," Steve urged. "Everything in that era between Murmansk and Istanbul is a likely target during the current time frame."
"Ok, I'll push our people once more," Nicolai came back. "Maybe now that the thing is confirmed they will do it. But I won't run away. I am in Murmansk right now, where I have full access to our communications facilities. I won't leave when million's of lives are at stake. I could never live with myself if I did that, but I'll send Antonovna to Moscow."
"No, don't do that, that's the wrong way. Send her to Kaliningrad, and you better do it fast," I said. "There's not much time left. And get out of there yourself, my friend."
I hung the phone up and buried my face in my hands. "None of this will happen," I said quietly. "Anton will never leave him, and he won't leave Murmansk for as long there is a chance that he can do something to prevent the disaster. But they won't accomplish a dam thing. The Russians are too stubborn. We have to do it," I said to Ross. Their lives depend on us now.
"We have to do it," I repeated loudly, "Ross, Steve, Sylvia, we must do something fast. We have two hours to save the life of Nicolai and Anton, and 30 million other people. Russia doesn't respond!"
Sylvia didn't get a better response from Washington, either. "There are 30 million lives at risk in the first pass," she told them. Nobody believed us. "We only have two hours," she almost shouted into the phone. The answer was, "Where is the proof?"
Fred didn't get a better response either. "Such a mission takes weeks to prepare," he was told, even if everything could be verified. "We can't just shoot another country's satellite out of the sky without provocation."
I tried to contact the President myself, to authorize some immediate intervention, but I was told he was unavailable during the morning hours, and the Vice President was not available, either.
Steve called Germany, but couldn't find the right contact. Most of his people had moved away, and the official contacts were of no use. "Nobody wants to accept responsibility for anything," he grunted.
"Call Moscow once more," said Steve, and speak to the secretary first.
"Strategic Rocket Forces, how may I direct you?"
"I am calling from a monitoring station in the United States of America. In one hour a satellite will begin dropping capsules of deadly viruses unto your cities, between Murmansk and Odessa. If you can manage to get someone interested to shoot this thing down, you can save the life of thirty million people. You still have time to do it, but you've got to be fast. It will be over Murmansk by two-thirty-five in the afternoon, at an altitude of forty-one-thousand kilometers. Here is what you must do. You must abandon your switchboard and find somebody who will act on this information immediately. No, call them out of their damn conference if need be. The satellite must be destroyed by no later than fourteen hundred hours, before it reaches the Barents Sea. By fifteen hundred hours it will destroy the people of Leningrad, and by fifteen-forty, the people of Minsk. I'm sure you will find someone who can prevent these deaths. No, it can't wait. By then, thirty million people will be dead. You must act now. Nicolai Vasily Berendeyev already has the targeting information in Murmansk. Did you write this down. No, you don't even have a minute to spare, because it takes an hour to get a missile set up. The thing must be vaporized in space with a nuclear warhead."
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