As the lady started to cry, I said good bye to her. She promised to do what I had asked. I was sure she would, but would she be more successful than Nicolai himself had been?
Steve shook his head. "That's unbelievable."
"She is still our best hope," I said quietly.
"That's why it is unbelievable," Steve complained.
"We've got to try Nicolai once more," Sylvia encouraged us.
I gave her the phone. "Here, you try your luck."
"He may not be in his office anymore."
"Try his home."
"He is not there either," Sylvia interrupted Ross five minutes later, "but I'm getting him paged to call us here."
"Right! I just hope that somebody in Russia will understand the serious nature of the problem." I said to Sylvia.
"Aquarius has awakened!" said Steve, and took his glasses of. He leaned deep into his chair and fell asleep. He had been working none-stop for over fifty hours.
I stood up and walked away.
"Get back, hurry!" Sylvia shouted, "Nicolai is on the phone."
Nicolai said he got the Strategic Rocket Forces mobilized, and that he is sure they will get the thing destroyed by fourteen hundred hours. "But there is a new development, that is now interfering," he added. "The Mexican government has been overthrown. Rebels, backed by the FARC narco-terrorists, and by factions from El Salvador, Nicaragua, Honduras, and Chile, have crossed the Rio Grande and have entered the U.S.A.. In response, the American NATO contingent has been recalled from Europe. This is going to explode into something big," said Nicolai, "to take the focus away from what is happening here."
"It's all irrelevant, Nicolai," I said to him in a forceful manner. "You merely delivered proof that we've got the perpetrator's attention. Whenever the royals are boxed in, they'll start a war, somewhere, somehow, as fast as possible to create a change in focus, to draw the attention away from the real thing. All this is irrelevant, Nicolai. There is only one thing that is big, and that's our thing. Everything else is trivial. The longer your people wait, the more people will die, and this decreases your chances that you will get the thing eliminated at all. If you hesitate, you aid the enemy's plan. This means, you can't afford not to nuke the thing out of the sky at the first opportunity you have. This opportunity exists now. You've got to do it."
Nicolai assured us he understood all this as well as we did. "I just wanted to let you know that I'm not finished mobilizing all my contacts in Moscow to prevent anyone from interfering. Should I fail," he added, "I'm out of here and contact you later. I don't want to die in Murmansk. If I have to die, I want to die in my own home city." Then he said quickly good bye.
The only reaction that I had any strength left for, was to cry. Also, it seems I was not alone in this predicament. "They are going to let Nicolai die," I said, with tears streaming down my face. "They are going to let the two people die without whose efforts and daring this death star would have never even been discovered. They deserve better than that." With my eyes half closed, my brain in sleep-mode, I called Fred again.
I asked Sylvia to call NORAD once more. Ross was still in contact with the Northern Command people and was evidently getting nowhere. He was getting more and more frustrated.
From what I could make out on the phone, Fred didn't fare any better.
Moments later Ross put the receiver down and covered his face with his hands. "I've just been informed that it is now past fourteen-thirty-five in Murmansk." He spoke quietly and burst into tears.
I just looked at him in disbelieve, but no tears came as if reality had somehow ceased to exist or its dimension had become too great to be compressed into emotions.
+ + +
There had been a time many years earlier, before 'Aquarius' had pored forth death, when Ross' surveillance station had been geared up to full alert status and every scanner had been manned day and night to warn of the slightest sign of an impending nuclear attack. There had also been other times when new scanners had been hastily installed to detect the faintest indication of the smallest advancing Soviet forces, by sea, by air, and from near space. This had been a time of fear and of an intense alertness and great optimism. There was none of this left. We had undeniable proof that the greatest wave of death in human history was about to be unleashed, and this within hours, and no one was interested at any level of government or military service throughout the whole of the USA, and Russia, and even China, to respond to the emergency.
We had also come through times at Ross' station when every dark cloud from the north had struck terror in our hearts as though it had death written on its face. In those times we had felt intensely alive, when the midnight oil burned in Ross' quarters. After this came was a time when our scanners where no longer attended to, which where later turned off, a time when the newspapers throughout the world were filled with reports of peace, and of diseases and epidemics. People were dying in ever-greater numbers from AIDS, TB, cholera, and even the common flue. It was like the Russian doctor had prophesied during the Moscow conference, except he had grossly understated the case. Still, we all knew then that this was not yet 'Aquarius.' The worst had not come to pass.
Now that the waters of Aquarius were being pored out and death was staring us into the face, my fears had strangely subsided. They had become overshadowed by the work we had assumed, of locating the satellite that had dropped the capsule that we saw in Siberia. Still, the work had not been as simple as I had thought. Progress had been slower, and the environment had been one of intense uncertainty. There was a moment during this time when a radio station beneath the satellite's path suddenly became silent and the telephones ceased to function in that area, which was later explained as a power failure. We felt terribly lucky on our rock by the sea, not to be near a major city or town that might be a target.
Then there was a time when we could no longer establish telephone contacts with Russia at all.
"Another power failure?" Tony had wondered.
All of these concerns were pushed into the background when the giant Typhoon submarine surfaced in front of our bay. Ross had never seen the latest model of the Typhoon class ship in real life. He had seen pictures of it. We had seen the smaller version Typhoon in New York harbor when Nicolai came to lecture. But seeing the larger model of it, and seeing it anchored in front of our bay, was different. This was the largest nuclear missile submarine ever built. The boat was the pride of Russia's northern fleet. But what was it doing here?
The new model of the Typhoon was recognized by Ross, who had recognized its characteristic bulge at the base of the tower. The sub had surfaced just outside of our by. Instantly, Ross had the video telescope set up and the signal routed to the nearest Naval Air Base, which promised to send two fighter aircraft our way.
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