Colonel Korolev twisted slowly in his harness, dreaming of winter and
gravity. Young again, a cadet, he whipped his horse across the late November
steppes of Kazakhstan into dry red vistas of Martian sunset. That's wrong,
he thought And woke in the Museum of the Soviet Triumph in Space to the
sounds of Romanenko and the KGB man's wife. They were going at it again
behind the screen at the aft end of the Salyut, restraining straps and
padded hull creaking and thudding rhythmically. Hooves in the snow.
Freeing himself from the harness, Korolev executed a practiced kick
that propelled him into the toilet stall. Shrugging out of his threadbare
coverall, he clamped the commode around his loins and wiped condensed steam
from the steel mirror. His arthritic hand had swollen again during sleep;
the wrist was bird-bone thin from calcium loss. Twenty years had passed
since he'd last known gravity; he'd grown old in orbit.
He shaved with a suction razor. A patchwork of broken veins blotched
his left cheek and temple, another legacy from the blowout that had crippled
When he emerged, he found that the adulterers had finished. Romanenko
was adjusting his clothing. The political officer's wife, Valentina, had
ripped the sleeves from her brown coverall; her white arms were sheened with
the sweat of their exertion. Her ash-blond hair rippled in the breeze from a
ventilator. Her eyes were purest cornflower blue, set a little too closely
together, and they held a look half-apologetic, half-conspiratorial. "See
what we've brought you, Colonel
She handed him a tiny airline bottle of cognac. Stunned,
Korolev blinked at the Air France logo embossed on the plastic cap. "It
came in the last Soyuz. In a cucumber, my husband said." She giggled.
"He gave it to me." "We decided you should have it, Colonel," Romanenko
said, grinning broadly. "After all, we can be furloughed at any time."
Korolev ignored the sidelong, embarrassed glance at his shriveled legs and
pale, dangling feet.
He opened the bottle, and the ~rich aroma brought a sudden tingling
rush of blood to his cheeks. He raised it carefully and sucked out a few
milliliters of brandy. It burned like acid. "Christ," he gasped, "it's been
years. I'll get plastered!" he said, laughing, tears blurring his vision.
"My father tells me you drank like a hero, Colonel, in the old days."
"Yes," Korolev said, and sipped again, "I did." The cognac spread
through him like liquid gold. He disliked Romanenko. He'd never liked the
boy's father, either an easygoing Party man, long since settled into lecture
tours, a dacha on the Black Sea, American liquor, French suits, Italian
shoes. . . . The boy had the father's looks, the same clear gray eyes
utterly untroubled by doubt.
The alcohol surged through Korolev's thin blood. "You are too
generous," he said. He kicked once, gently, and arrived at his console. "You
must take some sam isdata, American cable broadcasts, freshly intercepted.
Racy stuff! Wasted on an old man like me." He slotted a blank cassette and
punched for the material.
"I'll give it to the gun crew," Romanenko said, grinning. "They can run
it on the tracking consoles in the gun room." The particle-beam station had
always been known as the gun room. The soldiers who manned it were
particularly hungry for this sort of tape.
Korolev ran off a second copy for Valentina.
"It's dirty?" She looked alarmed and intrigued. "May we come again,
Colonel? Thursday at 2400?"
Korolev smiled at her. She had been a factory worker before she'd been
singled out for space. Her beauty made her useful as a propaganda tool, a
role model for the proletariat. He pitied her now, with the cognac coursing
through his veins, and found it impossible to deny her a little happiness.
"A midnight rendezvous in the museum, Valentina? Romantic!"
She kissed his cheek, wobbling in free fall. "Thank you, my Colonel."
"You're a prince, Colonel," Romanenko said, slapping Korolev's
matchstick shoulder as gently as he could. After countless hours on an
exerciser, the boy's arms bulged like a blacksmith's.
Korolev watched the lovers carefully make their way out into the
central docking sphere, the junction of three aging Salyuts and two
corridors. Romanenko took the "north" corridor to the gun room; Valentina
went in the opposite direction to the next junction sphere and the Salyut
where her husband slept.
There were five docking spheres in Kosmograd, each with its three
linked Salyuts. At opposite ends of the complex were the military
installation ~nd the satellite launchers. Popping, humming, and wheezing,
the station had the feel of a subway and the dank metallic reek of a tramp
Korolev had another pull at the bottle. Now it was half-empty. He hid
it in one of the museum's exhibits, a NASA Hasselblad recovered from the
site of the Apollo landing. He hadn't had a drink since his last furlough,
before the blowout. His head swam in a pleasant, painful current of drunken
Drifting back to his console, he accessed a section of memory where the
collected speeches of Alexci Kosygin had been covertly erased and replaced
with his personal collection of samisdata, digitized pop music, his boyhood
favorites from the Eighties. He had British groups taped from West German
radio, Warsaw Pact heavy metal, American imports from the black market.
Putting on his headphones, he punched for the Czestochowa reggae of Brygada
Cryzis. After all the years, he no longer really heard the music, but images
came rushing back with an aching poignancy. In the Eighties he'd been a
long-haired child of the Soviet elite, his father's Position placing him
effectively beyond the reach of the Moscow police. He remembered feedback
howling through the speakers in the hot darkness of a cellar club, th'e
crowd a shadowy checkerboard of denim and bleached hair. He'd smoked
Marlboros laced with powdered Afghani hash. He remembered the mouth of an
American diplomat's daughter in the back seat of her father's black Lincoln.
Names and faces came flooding in on a warm haze of cognac. Nina, the East
German who'd shown him her mimeographed translations of dissident Polish
newssheets Until the night she didn't turn up at the coffee bar. Whispers of
parasitism, of anti-Soviet activity, of the waiting chemical horrors of the
psikuska Korolev started to tremble. He wiped his face and found it bathed
in sweat. He took off the headphones.
It had been fifty years, yet he was suddenly and very intensely afraid.
He couldn't remember ever having been this frightened, not even during the
blowout that had crushed his hip. He shook violently. The lights. The lights
in the Salyut were too bright, but he didn't want to go to the switches. A
simple action, one he performed regularly, yet. . . The switches and their
insulated cables were somehow threatening. He stared, confused. The little
clockwork model of a Lunokhod moon rover, its Velcro wheels gripping the
curved wall, seemed to crouch there like something sentient, poised,
waiting. The eyes of the Soviet space pioneers in the official portraits
were fixed on him with contempt.
The cognac. His years in free fall had warped his metabolism. He wasn't
the man he'd once been. But he would remain calm and try to ride it out. If
he threw up, everyone would laugh.
Someone knocked at the entrance to the museum, and Nikita the Plumber,
Kosmograd's premier handyman, executed a perfect slow-motion dive through
the open hatch. The young civilian engineer looked angry. Korolev felt
cowed. "You're up early, Plumber," he said, anxious for some facade of
"Pinhead leakage in Delta Three." He frowned. "Do you understand
Japanese?" The Plumber tugged a cassette from one of the dozen pockets that
bulged on his stained work vest and waved it in Korolev's face. He wore
carefully laundered Levi's and dilapidated Adidas running shoes. "We
accessed this last night." Korolev cowered as though the cassette were a
weapon. "No, no Japanese." The meekness of his own voice startled him. "Only
English and Polish." He felt himself blush. The Plumber was his friend; he
knew and trusted the Plumber, but "Are you well, Colonel?" The Plumber
loaded the tape and punched up a lexicon program with deft, callused
fingers. "You look as though you just ate a bug. I want you to hear this."
Korolev watched uneasily as the tape flickered into an ad for baseball
gloves. The lexicon's Cyrillic subtitles raced across the monitor as a
Japanese voice-over rattIed maniacally.
"The newscast's coming up," said the Plumber, gnawing at a cuticle.
Korolev squinted anxiously as the translation slid across the face of
the Japanese announcer:
AMERICAN DISARMAMENT GROUP CLAIMS PREPARATIONS AT BAIKONUR
COSMODROME... PROVE RUSSIANS AT LAST READY. . . TO SCRAP ARMED SPACE STATION
"Cosmic," the Plumber muttered. "Glitch in the lexicon."
BUILT AT TURN OF CENTURY AS BRIDGEHEAD TO SPACE... AMBITIOUS PROJECT
CRIPPLED BY FAILURE OF LUNAR MINING . . . EXPENSIVE STATION OUTPERFORMED BY
OUR UNMANNED ORBITAL FA~ORIES... CRYSTALS, SEMICONDUCTORS AND PURE DRUGS...
"Smug bastards." The Plumber snorted. "I tell you, it's that goddamned
KGB man Yefremov. He's had a hand in this!"
STAGGERING SOVIET TRADE DEFICITS. . . POPULAR DISCONTENT WITH SPACE
EFFORT... R~CENT DECISIONS BY POLITBURO AND CENTRAL COMMITTEE SECRETARIAT...
"They're shutting us down!" The Plumber's face contorted with rage.
Korolev twisted away from the screen, shaking uncontrollably. Sudden
tears peeled from his lashes in free-fall droplets. "Leave me alone! I can
do nothing!" "What's wrong, Colonel?" The Plumber grabbed his shoulders.
"Look me in the face. Someone's dosed you with the Fear!"
"Go away!" Korolev begged. "That little spook bastard! What has he
given you? Pills? An injection?" Korolev shuddered. "I had a drink " "He
gave you the Fear! You a sick old man! I'll break his face!" The Plumber
jerked his knees up, somersaulted backward, kicked off from a handhold
overhead, and catapulted out of the room.
"Wait! Plumber!" But the Plumber had zipped through the docking sphere
like a squirrel, vanishing down the corridor, and now Korolev felt that he
couldn't bear to be alone. In the distance he could hear metallic echoes of
distorted, angry shouts.
Trembling, he closed his eyes and waited for someone to help him.
He'd asked Psychiatric Officer Bychkov to help him dress in his old
uniform, the one with the Star of the Tsiolkovsky Order sewn above the left
breast pocket. The black dress boots of heavy quilted nylon, with their
Velcro soles, would no longer fit his twisted feet; so his feet remained
Bychkov's injection had straightened him out within an hour, leaving
him alternately depressed and furiously angry. Now he waited in the museum
for Yefremov to answer his summons.
They called his home the Museum of the Soviet Triumph in Space, and as
his rage subsided, to be replaced with an ancient bleakness, he felt very
much as if he were simply another one of the exhibits. He stared gloomily at
the gold-framed portraits of the great visionaries of space, at the faces of
Tsiolkovsky, Rynin, Tupolev. Below these, in slightly smaller frames, were
portraits of Verne, Goddard, and O'Neill.
In moments of extreme depression he had sometimes imagined that he
could detect a common strangeness in their eyes, particularly in the eyes of
the two Americans. Was it simply craziness, as he sometimes thought in his
most cynical moods? Or was he able to glimpse a subtle manifestation of some
weird, unbalanced force that he had often suspected of being human evolution
Once, and only once, Korolev had seen that look in his own eyes on the
day he'd stepped onto the soil of the Coprates Basin. The Martian sunlight,
glinting within his helmet visor, had shown him the reflection of two
steady, alien eyes fearless, yet driven and the quiet, secret shock of it,
he now realized, had been his life's most memorable, most transcendental
Above the portraits, oily and inert, was a painting that depicted the
landing in colors that reminded him of borscht and gravy, the Martian
landscape reduced to the idealistic kitsch of Soviet Socialist realism. The
artist had posed the suited figure beside the lander with all of the
official style's deeply sincere vulgarity.
Feeling tainted, he awaited the arrival of Yefremov, the KGB man,
Kosmograd's political officer.
When Yefremov finally entered the Salyut, Korolev noted the split lip
and the fresh bruises on the man's throat. He wore a blue Kansai jump suit
of Japanese silk and stylish Italian deck shoes. He coughed politely. "Good
morning, Comrade Colonel."
Korolev stared. He allowed the silence to lengthen. "Yefremov," he said
heavily, "I am not happy with you."
Yefremov reddened, but he held .his gaze. "Let us speak frankly to each
other, Colonel, as Russian to Russian. It was not, of course, intended for
"The Fear, Yefremov?" "The beta-carboline, yes. If you hadn't pandered
to their antisocial actions, if you hadn't accepted their bribe, it would
not have happened."
"So I am a pimp, Yefremov? A pimp and a drunkard? You are a cuckold, a
smuggler, and an informer. I say this," he added, "as one Russian to
Now the KGB man's face assumed the official mask of bland and
"But tell me, Yefremov, what it is that you are really about. What have
you been doing since you came to Kosmograd? We know that the complex will be
stripped. What is in store for the civilian crew when they return to
Baikonur? Corruption hearings?"
"There will be interrogation, certainly. In certain cases there may be
hospitalization. Would you care to suggest, Colonel Korolev, that the Soviet
Union is somehow at fault for Kosmograd's failures?"
Korolev was silent. "Kosmograd was a dream, Colonel. A dream that
failed. Like space. We have no need to be here. We have an entire world to
put in order. Moscow is the greatest power in history. We must not allow
ourselves to lose the global perspective."
"Do you think we can be brushed aside that easily? We are an elite, a
highly trained technical elite."
"A minority, Colonel, an obsolete minority. What do you contribute,
aside from reams of poisonous American trash? The crew here were intended to
be workers, not bloated black marketeers trafficking in jazz and
pornography." Yefremov's face was smooth and calm. "The crew will return to
Baikonur. The weapons are capable of being directed from the ground. You, of
course, will remain, and there will be guest cosmonauts: Africans, South
Americans. Space still retains a degree of its former prestige for these
Korolev gritted his teeth. "What have you done with the boy?"
"Your Plumber?" The political officer frowned. "He has assaulted an
officer of the Committee for State Security. He will remain under guard
until he can be taken to Baikonur."
Korolev attempted an unpleasant laugh. "Let him go. You'll be in too
much trouble yourself to press charges. I'll speak with Marshal Gubarev
personally. My rank may be entirely honorary, Yefremov, but I do retain a
The KGB man shrugged. "The gun crew are under orders from Baikonur to
keep the communications module under lock and key. Their careers depend on
"Martial law, then?" "This isn't Kabul, Colonel. These are difficult
times. You have the moral authority here; you should try to set an example."
"We shall see," Korolev said.
Kosmograd swung out of Earth's shadow into raw sunlight. The walls of
Korolev's Salyut popped and creaked like a nest of glass bottles. A Salyut's
viewports, Korolev thought absently, fingering the broken veins at his
temple, were always the first things to go.
Young Grishkin seemed to have the same thought. He drew a tube of caulk
from an ankle pocket and began to inspect the seal around the viewport. He
was the Plumber's assistant and closest friend.
"We must now vote," Korolev said wearily. Eleven of Kosmograd's
twenty-four civilian crew members had agreed to attend the meeting, twelve
if he counted himself. That left thirteen who were either unwilling to risk
involvement or else actively hostile to the idea of a strike. Yefremov and
the six-man gun crew brought the total number of those not present to
twenty. "We've discussed our demands. All those in favor of the list as it
stands " He raised his good hand. `three others raised theirs. Grishkin,
busy at the viewport stuck out his foot.
Korolev sighed. "There are few enough as it is. We'd best have
unanimity. Let us hear your objections."
"The term military custody," said a biological technician named
Korovkin, "might be construed as implying that the military, and not the
criminal Yefremov, is responsible for the situation." The man looked acutely
uncomfortable. "We are in sympathy otherwise but will not sign. We are Party
members." He seemed about to add something but fell silent. "My mother," his
wife said quietly, "was Jewish."
Korolev nodded, but he said nothing. "This is all criminal
foolishness," said Glushko, the botanist. Neither he nor his wife had voted.
"Madness. Kosmograd is finished, we all know it, and the sooner home the
better. What has this place ever been but a prison?" Free fall disagreed
with the man's metabolism; in the absence of gravity, blood tended to
congest in his face and neck, making him resemble one of his experimental
"You are a botanist, Vasili," his wife said stiffly, "while I, you will
recall, am a Soyuz pilot. Your career is not at stake."
"I will not support this idiocy!" Glushko gave the bulkhead a savage
kick that propelled him from the room. His wife followed, complaining
bitterly in the grating undertone crew members learned to employ for private
"Five are willing to sign," Korolev said, "out of a civilian crew of
"Six," said Tatiana, the other Soyuz pilot, her dark hair drawn back
and held with a braided band of green nylon webbing. "You forget the
"The sun balloons!" cried Grishkin, pointing toward the earth. "Look!"
Kosmograd was above the coast of California now, clean shorelines,
intensely green fields, vast decaying cities whose names rang with a strange
magic. High above a fleece of stratocumulus floated five solar balloons,
mirrored geodesic spheres tethered by power lines; they had been a cheaper
substitute for a grandiose American plan to build solar-powered satellites.
The things worked, Korolev supposed, because for the last decade he'd
watched them multiply.
"And they say that people live in those things?" Systems Officer Stoiko
had joined Grishkin at the viewport.
Korolev remembered the pathetic flurry of strange American energy
schemes in the wake of the Treaty of Vienna. With the Soviet Union firmly in
control of the world's oil flow, the Americans had seemed willing to try
anything. Then the Kansas meltdown had permanently soured them on reactors.
For more than three decades they'd been gradually sliding into isolationism
and industrial decline. Space, he thought ruefully, they should have gone
into space. He'd never understood the strange paralysis of will that had
seemed to grip their brilliant early efforts. Or perhaps it was simply a
failure of imagination, of vision. You see, Americans, he said silently, you
really should have tried to join us here in our glorious future, here in
"Who would want to live in something like that?" Stoiko asked, punching
Grishkin's shoulder and laughing with the quiet energy of desperation.
"You're joking," said Yefremov. "Surely we're all in enough trouble as
"We're not joking, Political Officer Yefremov, and these are our
demands." The five dissidents had crowded into the Salyut the man shared
with Valentina, backing him against the aft screen. The screen was decorated
with a meticulously airbrushed photograph of the premier, who was waving
from the back of a tractor. Valentina, Korolev knew, would be in the museum
now with Romanenko, making the straps. creak. The colonel wondered how
Romanenko so regularly managed to avoid his duty shifts in the gun room.
Yefremov shrugged. He glanced down the list of demands. "The Plumber
must remain in custody. I have direct orders. As for the rest of this
"You are guilty of unauthorized use of psychiatric drugs!" Grishkin
"That was entirely a private matter," said Yefremay calmly.
"A criminal act," said Tatiana. "Pilot Tatjana, we both know that
Grishkin here is the station's most active samisdata pirate! We are all
criminals, don't you see? That's the beauty of our system, isn't it?" His
sudden, twisted smile was shockingly cynical. "Kosmograd is not the
Potemkin, and you are not revolutionaries. And you demand to communicate
with Marshal Gubarev? He is in custody at Baikonur. And you demand to
communicate with the minister of technology? The minister is leading the
purge." With a decisive gesture he ripped the printout to pieces, scraps of
yellow flimsy scattering in free fall like slow-motion butterflies.
On the ninth day of the strike, Korolev met with Grishkin and Stoiko in
the Salyut that Grishkin would ordinarily have shared with the Plumber.
For forty years the inhabitants of Kosmograd had fought an antiseptic
war against mold and mildew. Dust, grease, and vapor wouldn't settle in free
fall, and spores lurked everywhere in padding, in clothing, in the
ventilation ducts. In the warm, moist petri-dish atmosphere, they spread
like oil slicks. Now there was a reek of dry rot in the air, overlaid with
ominous whiffs of burning insulation.
Korolev's sleep had been broken by the hollow thud of a departing Soyuz
lander. Glushko and his wife, he supposed. During the past forty-eight
hours, Yefremov had supervised the evacuation of the crew members who had
refused to join the strike. The gun crew kept to the gun room and their
barracks ring, where they still held Nikita the Plumber.
Grishkin's Salyut had become strike headquarters. None of the male
strikers had shaved, and Stoiko had contracted a staph infection that spread
across his forearms in angry welts. Surrounded by lurid pinups from American
television, they resembled some degenerate trio of pornographers. The lights
were dim; Kosmograd ran on half-power. "With the others gone," Stoiko said,
"our hand is strengthened."
Grishkin groaned. His nostrils were festooned with white streamers of
surgical cotton. He was convinced that Yefremov would try to break the
strike with betacarboline aerosols. The cotton plugs were just one symptom
of the general level of strain and paranoia. Before the evacuation order had
come from Baikonur, one of the technicians had taken to playing
Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture at shattering volume for hours on end. And
Glushko had chased his wife, naked, bruised, and screaming, up and down the
length of Kosmograd. Stoiko had accessed the KGB man's files and Bychkov's
psychiatric records; meters of yellow printout curled through the corridors
in flabby spirals, rippling in the current from the ventilators.
"Think what their testimony will be doing to us groundside," muttered
Grishkin. "We won't even get a trial. Straight to the psikuska." The
sinister nickname for the political hospitals seemed to galvanize the boy
with dread. Korolev picked apathetically at a viscous pudding of chiorella.
Stoiko snatched a drifting scroll of printout and read aloud. "Paranoia
with a tendency to overesteem ideas! Revisionist fantasies hostile to the
social system!" He crumpled the paper. "If we could seize the communications
module, we could tie into an American comsat and dump the whole thing in
their laps. Perhaps that would show Moscow something about our hostility!"
Korolev dug a stranded fruit fly from his algae pudding. Its two pairs
of wings and bifurcated thorax were mute testimony to Kosmograd's high
radiation levels. The insects had escaped from some forgotten experiment;
generations of them had infested the station for decades. "The Americans
have no interest in us," Korolev said. "Muscow can no longer be embarrassed
by such revelations."
"Except when the grain shipments are due," Grishkinsaid.
"America needs to sell as badly as we need to buy." Korolev grimly
spooned more chlorella into his mouth, chewed mechanically, and swallowed.
"The Americans couldn't reach us even if they desired to. Canaveral is in
"We're low on fuel," Stoiko said. "We can take it from the remaining
landers," Korolev said. "Then how in hell would we get back down?"
Grishkin's fists trembled. "Even in Siberia, there are trees, trees; the
sky! To hell with it! Let it fall to pieces! Let it fall and burn!"
Korolev's pudding spattered across the bulkhead. "Oh, Christ,"
Grishkin said, "I'm sorry, Colonel. I know you can't go back."
* * *
When he entered the museum, he found Pilot Tatjana suspended before
that hateful painting of the Mars landing, her cheeks slick with tears.
"Do you know, Colonel, they have a bust of you at Baikonur? In bronze.
I used to pass it on my way to lectures." Her eyes were red-rimmed with
"There are always busts. Academies need them." He smiled and took her
"What was it like that day?" She still stared at the painting.
"I hardly remember. I've seen the tapes so often, now I remember them
instead. My memories of Mars are any schoolchild's." He smiled for her
again. "But it was not like this bad painting. In spite of everything, I'm
still certain of that."
"Why has it all gone this way, Colonel? Why is it ending now? When I
was small I saw all this on televisian. Our future in space was forever "
"Perhaps the Americans were right. The Japanese sent machines instead,
robots to build their orbital factories. Lunar mining failed for us, but we
thought there would at least be a permanent research facility of some kind.
It all had to do with purse strings, I suppose. With men who sit at desks
and make decisions."
"Here is their final decision with regard to Kosmograd." She passed him
a folded scrap of flimsy. "I found this in the printout of Yefremov's orders
from Moscow. They'll allow the station's orbit to decay over the next three
He found that now he too was staring fixedly at the painting he
loathed. "It hardly matters anymore," he heard himself say.
And then she was weeping bitterly, her face pressed hard against
Korolev's crippled shoulder.
"But I have a plan, Tatjana," he said, stroking her hair. "You must
He glanced at his old Rolex. They were over eastern Siberia. He
remembered how the Swiss ambassador had presented him with the watch in an
enormous vaulted room in the Grand Kremlin Palace.
It was time to begin. He drifted out of his Salyut into the docking
sphere, batting at a length of printout that tried to coil around his head.
He could still work quickly and efficiently with his good hand. He was
smiling as he freed a large oxygen bottle from its webbing straps. Bracing
himself against a handhold, he flung the bottle across the sphere with all
his strength. It rebounded harmlessly with a harsh clang. He went after it,
caught it, and hurled it again.
Then he hit the decompression alarm. Dust spurted from speakers as a
Klaxon began to wail. Triggered by the alarm, the d~cking bays slammed shut
with a wheeze of hydraulics. Korolev's ears popped. He sneezed, then went
after the bottle again.
The lights flared to maximum brilliance, then flickered out. He smiled
in the darkness, groping for the steel bottle. Stoiko had provoked a general
systems crash. It hadn't been difficult. The memory banks were already
riddled to the point of collapse with bootlegged television broadcasts. "The
real bare-knuckle stuff," he muttered, banging the bottle against the wall.
The lights flickered on weakly as emergency cells came on line.
His shoulder began to ache. Stoically he continued pounding,
remembering the din a real blowout caused. It had to be good. It had to fool
Yefremov and the gun crew.
With a squeal, the manual wheel of one of the hatches began to rotate.
It thumped open, finally, and Tatjana looked in, grinning shyly.
"Is the Plumber free?" he asked, releasing the bottle.
"Stoiko and Umansky are reasoning with the guard." She drove a fist
into her open palm. "Grishkin is preparing the landers."
He followed her up to the next docking sphere. Stoiko was helping the
Plumber through the hatch that led from the barracks ring. The Plumber was
barefoot, his face greenish under a scraggly growth of beard. Meteorologist
Umansky followed them, dragging the limp body of a soldier.
"How are you, Plumber?" Korolev asked. "Shaky. They've kept me on the
Fear. Not big doses, but and I thought that that was a real blowout!"
Grishkin slid out of the Soyuz lander nearest Korolev, trailing a
bundle of tools and meters of a nylon lanyard. "They all check out. The
crash left them under their own automatics. I've been at their remotes with
a screwdriver so they can't be overridden by ground control. How are you
doing, my Nikita?" he asked the Plumber. "You'll be going in steep to
The Plumber winced, shook himself, and shivered. "I don't speak
Stoiko handed him a printout. "This is in phonetic Mandarin. I WISH TO
DEFECT. TAKE ME TO THE NEAREST JAPANESE EMBASSY."
The Plumber grinned and ran his fingers through his thatch of
sweat-stiffened hair. "What about the rest of you?" he asked.
"You think we're doing this for your benefit alone?" Tatjana made a
face at him. "Make sure the Chinese news services get the rest of that
scroll, Plumber. Each of us has a copy. We'll see that the world knows what
the Soviet Union intends to do to Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Korolev, first man
on Mars!" She blew the Plumber a kiss.
"How about Filipchenko here?" Umansky asked. A few dark spheres of
congealed blood swung crookedly past the unconscious soldier's cheek.
"Why don't you take the poor bastard with you," Korolev said.
"Come along then, shithead," the Plumber said, grabbing Filipchenko's
belt and towing him toward the Soyuz hatch. "I, Nikita the Plumber, will do
you the favor of your miserable lifetime."
Korolev watched as Stoiko and Grishkin sealed the hatch behind them.
"Where are Romanenko and Valentina?" Korolev asked, checking his watch
"Here, my colonel," Valentina said, her blond hair floating around her
face in the hatch of another Soyuz. "We have been checking this one out."
"Time enough for that in Tokyo," Korolev snapped. "They'll be
scrambling jets in Vladivostok and Hanoi within minutes."
Romanenko's bare, brawny arm emerged and yanked her back into the
lander. Stoiko and Grishkin sealed the hatch.
"Peasants in space." Tatjana made a spitting noise.
Kosmograd boomed hollowly as the Plumber, with the unconscious
Filipchenko, cast off. Another boom and the lovers were off as well.
"Come along, friend Umansky," said Stoiko. "And farewell, Colonel!" The
two men headed down the corridor.
"I'll go with you," Grishkin said to Tatiana. He grinned. "After all,
you're a pilot."
"No," she said. "Alone. We'll split the odds. You'll be fine with the
automatics. Just don't touch anything on the board."
Korolev watched her help him into the sphere's last Soyuz.
"I'll take you dancing, Tatjana," Grishkin said, "in Tokyo."
She sealed the hatch. Another boom, and Stoiko and Umansky had cast off
from the next docking sphere.
"Go now, Tatiana," Korolev said. "Hurry. I don't want them shooting you
down over international waters."
"That leaves you here alone, Colonel, alone with our enemies."
"When you've gone, they'll go as well," he said. "And I depend on your
publicity to embarrass the Kremlin into keeping me alive here."
"And what shall I tell them in Tokyo, Colonel? Have you a message for
"Tell them . . ." and every cliche came rushing to him with an absolute
rightness that made him want to laugh hysterically: One small step... We
came in peace
Workers of the world.... "You must tell them that I need it," he said,
pinching his shrunken wrist, "in my very bones."
She embraced him and slipped away.
He waited alone in the docking sphere. The silence scratched away at
his nerves; the systems crash had deactivated the ventilation system, whose
hum he'd lived with for twenty years. At last he heard Tatjana's Soyuz
Someone was coming down the corridor. It was Yefremov, moving clumsily
in a vacuum suit. Korolev smiled.
Yefremov wore his bland, official mask behind the Lexan faceplate, but
he avoided meeting Korolev's eyes as he passed. He was heading for the gun
"No!" Korolev shouted. The Klaxon blared the station's call to full
battle alert. The gun-room hatch was open when he reached it. Inside, the
soldiers were moving jerkily in the galvanized reflex of constant drill,
yanking the broad straps of their console seats across the chests of their
"Don't do it!" He clawed at the stiff accordion fabric of Yefremov's
suit. One of the accelerators powered up with a staccato whine. On a
tracking screen, green cross hairs closed in on a red dot.
Yefremov removed his helmet. Calmly, with no change in his expression,
he backhanded Korolev with the helmet.
"Make them stop!" Korolev sobbed. The walls shook as a beam cut loose
with the sound of a cracking whip. "Your wife, Yefremov! She's out there!"
"Outside, Colonel." Yefremov grabbed Korolev's arthritic hand and
squeezed. Korolev screamed. "Outside." A gloved fist struck him in the
Korolev pounded helplessly on the vacuum suit as he was shoved out into
the corridor. "Even I, Colonel, dare not come between the Red Army and its
orders." Yefremov looked sick now; the mask had crumbled. "Fine sport," he
said. "Wait here until it's over."
Then Tatjana's Soyuz struck the beam installation and the barracks
ring. In a split-second daguerreotype of raw sunlight, Korolev saw the gun
room wrinkle and collapse like a beer can crushed under a boot; he saw the
decapitated torso of a soldier spinning away from a console; he saw Yefremov
try to speak, his hair streaming upright as vacuum tore the air in his suit
out through his open helmet ring. Fine twin streams of blood arced from
Korolev's nostrils, the roar of escaping air replaced by a deeper roaring in
The last thing Korolev remembered hearing was the hatch door slamming
When he woke, he woke to darkness, to pulsing agony behind his eyes,
remembering old lectures. This was as great a danger as the blowout itself,
nitrogen bubbling through the blood to strike with white-hot, crippling
pain... But it was all so remote, so academic, really. He turned the wheels
of the hatches out of some strange sense of noblesse oblige, nothing more.
The labor was quite onerous, and he wished very much to return to the museum
He could repair the leaks with caulk, but the systems crash was beyond
him. He had Glushko's garden. With the vegetables and algae, he wouldn't
starve or smother. The communications module had gone with the gun room and
the barracks ring, sheared from the station by the impact of Tatjana's
suicidal Soyuz. He assumed that the collision had perturbed Kosmograd's
orbit, but he had no way of predicting the hour of the station's final
incandescent meeting with the upper atmosphere. He was often ill now, and he
often thought that he might die before burnout, which disturbed him.
He spent uncounted hours screening the museum's library of tapes. A
fitting pursuit for the Last Man in Space who had once been the First Man on
He became obsessed with the icon of Gagarin, endlessly rerunning the
grainy television images of the Sixties, the newsreels that led so
unalterably to the cosmonaut's death. The stale air of Kosmograd swam with
the spirits of martyrs. Gagarin, the first Salyut crew, the Americans
roasted alive in their squat Apollo...
Often he dreamed of Tatjana, the look in her eyes like the look he'd
imagined in the eyes of the museum's portraits. And once he woke, or dreamed
he woke, in the Salyut where she had slept, to find himself in his old
uniform, with a battery-powered work light strapped across his forehead.
From a great distance, as though he watched a newsreel on the museum's
monitor, he saw himself rip the Star of the Tsiolkovsky Order from his
pocket and staple it to her pilot's certificate.
When the knocking came, he knew that it must be a dream as well.
The hatch wheeled open. In the bluish, flickering light from the old
film, he saw that the woman was black. Long corkscrews of matted hair rose
like cobras around her head. She wore goggles, a silk aviator's scarf
twisting behind her in free fall. "Andy," she said in English, "you better
come see this!"
A small, muscular man, nearly bald, and wearing only a jockstrap and a
jangling toolbelt, floated up behind her and peered in. "Is he alive?"
"Of course I am alive," said Korolev in slightly accented English.
The man called Andy sailed in over her head. "You okay, Jack?" His
right bicep was tattooed with a geodesic balloon above crossed lightning
bolts and bore the legend SUNSPARK 15, UTAH. "We weren't expecting anybody."
"Neither was I," said Korolev, blinking. "We've come to live here,"
said the woman, drifting closer. "We're from the balloons. Squatters, I
guess you could say. Heard the place was empty. You know the orbit's
decaying on this thing?" The man executed a clumsy midair somersault, the
tools clattering on his belt. "This free fall's outrageous."
"God," said the woman, "I just can't get used to it! It's wonderful.
It's like skydiving, but there's no wind."
Korolev stared at the man, who had the blundering, careless look of
someone drunk on freedom since birth. "But you don't even have a launchpad,"
"Launchpad?" the man said, laughing. "What we do, we haul these surplus
booster engines up the cables to the balloons, drop `em, and fire `em in
"That's insane," Korolev said. "Got us here, didn't it?"
Korolev nodded. If this was all a dream, it was a very peculiar one. "I
am Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Koro1ev."
"Mars!" The woman clapped her hands. "Wait'll the kids hear that." She
plucked the little Lunokhod moon-rover model from the bulkhead and began to
"Hey," the man said, "I gotta work. We got a bunch of boosters outside.
We gotta lift this thing before it starts burning."
Something clanged against the hull. Kosmograd rang with the impact.
"That'll be Tulsa," Andy said, consulting a wristwatch. "Right on time."
"But why?" Korolev shook his head, deeply confused. "Why have you
"We told you. To live here. We can enlarge this thing, maybe build
more. They said we'd never make it living in the balloons, but we were the
only ones who could make them work. It was our one chance to get out here on
our own. Who'd want to live out here for the sake of some government, some
army brass, a bunch of pen pushers? You have to want a frontier want it in
your bones, right?"
Korolev smiled. Andy grinned back. "We grabbed those power cables and
just pulled ourselves straight up. And when you get to the top, well, man,
you either make that big jump or else you rot there." His voice rose. "And
you don't look back, no sir! We've made that jump, and we're here to stay!"
The woman placed the model's Velcro wheels against the curved wall and
released it. It went scooting along above their heads, whirring merrily.
"Isn't that cute? The kids are just going to love it."
Korolev stared into Andy's eyes. Kosmograd rang again, jarring the
little Lunokhod model onto a new course.
"East Los Angeles," the woman said. "That's the one with the kids in
it." She took off her goggles, and Korolev saw her eyes brimming over with a
"Well," said Andy, rattling his toolbelt, "you feel like showing us
Bruce Sterling, William Gibson. Red star, winter orbit
Популярность: 48, Last-modified: Mon, 27 Aug 2001 18:23:26 GMT