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
him.
     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
steamer.
     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
nostalgia.
     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
normality.
     "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
COMIC CITY...
     "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
bare.
     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
in action?
     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
moment.
     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
you."
     "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
another."
     Now  the  KGB man's  face  assumed  the  official  mask  of  bland  and
untroubled righteousness.
     "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
people."
     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
certain influence."
     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
it.''
     "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
pumpkins.
     "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
arguments.
     "Five are willing  to sign,"  Korolev  said, "out of a civilian crew of
twenty-four."
     "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
Plumber."
     "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
Kosmograd.
     "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
it is."
     "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
document "
     "You are guilty of  unauthorized use of  psychiatric  drugs!"  Grishkin
shouted.
     "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
ruins.
     "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
sleeplessness.
     "There  are always busts.  Academies need them." He smiled and took her
hand.
     "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
months."
     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
listen."
     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
central China."
     The  Plumber  winced,  shook  himself,  and  shivered.  "I  don't speak
Chinese."
     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
again.
     "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."
She giggled.
     "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
the world?"
     "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
disengage.
     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
room.
     "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
bulky suits.
     "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
chest.
     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
his head.
     The last thing  Korolev remembered  hearing was the hatch door slamming
shut.
     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
and sleep.
     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
Mars.
     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,"
he said.
     "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
midair."
     "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
wind it.
     "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
come?"
     "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
wonderful lunacy.
     "Well," said  Andy, rattling his toolbelt, "you  feel  like showing  us
around?"

Популярность: 46, Last-modified: Mon, 27 Aug 2001 18:23:26 GMT