Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 Next page
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 re-
tains 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
"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 view-
ports, 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 objec-
"The term military custody," said a biological
technician named Korovkin, "might be construed as im-
plying 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 bal-
loons, 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 view-
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 perman-
ently 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 laugh-
ing 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 deco-
rated 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 Yefre-
"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 shock-
ingly cynical. "Kosmograd is not the Potemkin, and
you are not revolutionaries. And you demand to com-
municate 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 at-
mosphere, 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, Yefre-
mov 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 degen-
erate trio of pornographers. The lights were dim; Kos-
mograd 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 beta-
carboline 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 Tchaikov-
sky'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