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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 sys-
tem!" 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 hostil-
Korolev dug a stranded fruit fly from his algae pud-
ding. Its two pairs of wings and bifurcated thorax were
mute testimony to Kosmograd's high radiation levels.
The insects had escaped from some forgotten experi-
ment; 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," Grish-
"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," Kor-
"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 lec-
tures." 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
"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 televi-
sian. Our future in space was forever "
"Perhaps the Americans were right. The Japanese
sent machines instead, robots to build their orbital fac-
tories. 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 Kosmo-
grad." 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
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 bot-
"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 blow-
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
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
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,"
"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
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
"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
"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
"Go now, Tatiana," Korolev said. "Hurry. I don't
want them shooting you down over international
"That leaves you here alone, Colonel, alone with
"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