Russia was still cold this time of year and the three could feel it as they walked from the jet to yet another black Acura MDX. Anne had known where they were going and it didn’t take Kathy long to figure it out. Only John looked around in surprise.
“Where are we?”
‘Andrea’ looked over at him and smiled. “Russia, I think.”
Anne nodded. “Magnitogorsk, to be precise.”
John frowned. “I don’t have a passport for Russia.”
Kathy arched her eyebrows. “You went to China but not Russia.”
He shrugged. “I did a piece on business connections between Iowa and China.”
Anne grinned. “When you travel with me you don’t need a passport.”
They got in the SUV and raced off down the road. Sitting in the back with John, Kathy looked out at the neighborhoods of old Soviet factory housing they were tearing through. Kathy looked at Anne in the front passenger‘s seat and was pleased to find herself not quite as suspicious as before. “So how did we get to the Urals in an hour?”
Anne smiled. “The driver must have known a few short cuts.”
Their convoy of three Acuras rolled through the gates of a huge old Soviet factory. They kept going until they reach an inner courtyard where they pulled through a garage door into one of the cavernous buildings. From nineteen fifty through nineteen eighty one this factory had turned out tractors, trucks and tanks. Since it had never been modernized it hadn’t survived perestroika.
As the huge door slid shut and lights came on Kathy thought that for abandoned industrial real estate it was in very good condition. Leaving their luggage in the SUV, they filed out across from several Russian army trucks and a black limousine that had already been there. Armed Russian soldiers patrolled the catwalks above them and armored vehicles sat in the corners. Kathy was pretty sure she recognized both Spetsnaz and State Security Services.
A booming voice interrupted her thoughts. She turned and smiled at the bear of a man crossing to them. He walked straight to her, speaking in Russian.
“My little American poet, we finally meet again.”
The two hugged and kissed each on both cheeks, then Kathy replied in flawless Russian.
“Sergei Ivanovich, I am so glad to meet you again. It has been too long.”
He smiled and turned to Anne, taking her hand and kissing it. Then he wrapped one arm around either woman’s shoulder and led them toward the far end of the factory. John followed closely behind. Even though he didn’t speak Russian, he tried to catch what was being said.
“Ahhh, my little American spy how is your teacher doing? Is he well?”
“Yes, Sergei Ivanovich, he is well and misses your long chess matches. I’m sure he would come to visit but he is teaching at the University.” Katherine gave the huge man a half hug, then went on. “Of course you already knew that.”
He frowned. “Sadly no, like him my days are full of teaching also. And like me, while you may not have known that, you could have found out.”
John strode hard to keep up with the three of them. The Russian was bare headed, revealing a thick shock of white hair that matched his thick white moustache underneath old style black framed glasses. But his suit and his coat were expensive European tailored and John thought those looked like Italian shoes. The man glanced back at the journalist and went on talking in Russian.
“Please tell me your new friend is your lover. You are growing more beautiful but no younger. Get married and have little American spies for my grandchildren to work with.”
Kathy grinned unabashedly and Anne answered. “That’s John Parker. He’s the reason we’ve come so far. His story started all this.”
They had reach the small steel door and now the man turned to face John. He spoke in flawless English. “Is he now? Well, I hope he likes what he finds in there.” He bowed to Anne, then turned to Kathy. “Take all the time you like. And hurry back. Sergei Ivanovich has so many tales to tell you.”
Kathy promised she would then a soldier opened the door and they stepped through. Then it closed behind them with a clang and lights began to come on high overhead. The three stood and stared.
Originally this had been a huge plant floor, with as many as five assembly lines running through it. But they were long gone and in their place were tens of thousands of square feet of everything. Lumber, trees, piles of dirt, crates—lots of crates— and at the far end of the huge room five floors of file cabinets and storage. ‘Andrea’ spoke first.
“I’ve heard rumors of rooms like this. What’s this one about?”
Anne looked around once more, then back at her. “Tunguska. Originally the Tsars began collected all the information they could about it. After the Revolution the Soviets continued the work. When World War II came Stalin collected literally everything and brought it here for safe keeping. Today the Russians maintain the collection.” She gestured officiously. “Technically, none of this exists.”
She led the way along the edge of the factory floor. “These are physical samples they took. The authorities knew that future science would allow more detailed analysis. This is an incredibly detailed survey of the entire blast site—thousands of acres of it. Dirt, trees, debris, water, air samples, even corpses of animals and humans.”
John and ‘Andrea’ glanced at each other but kept walking as Anne went on. “Our interest lies in the files up ahead. Both the Tsars and the Communists conducted very detailed investigations. They drew up detailed maps, photographed every acre and interviewed literally everyone.”
John shook his head. “Why?”
‘Andrea’ answered him. “Power. Both regimes were interested in something that powerful. If they could understand what happened maybe they could replicate whatever did it.”
Anne nodded. “Absolutely. Someday all of this will be analyzed in depth— some of it already is. That information will be used for something. But for now its here.”
It took over ten minutes to reach the stacks, completely surrounded by a five story chain link wall. The first floor of the archives even had concertina wire around it. Several empty tables sat below the block of files and a gate was at the foot of the stairs. Whoever had set this up expected it would be an active research site someday. A thick coat of dust showed that time had not yet come.
All three were impressed to see a row of modern desktop computers lined up parallel to the chain link wall that encased the files. Signs in Russian announced these were the catalog for the collection. Anne booted one up and John was disappointed to learn the whole system was in Cyrillic. He glanced around.
“So… what are we looking for?”
Anne looked up from the terminal. “Sadly, you aren’t. I’m afraid all of this is in Russian. If I remember you took French and Spanish.”
Kathy nodded. “I’m sorry John.”
He shrugged resignedly. “Oh well. You two go find what I need while I see what I’ve already got.”
Leaving him sitting at one of the tables both women sat at the computers going through the filing system. Occasionally they stopped to jot down a note. Finally after about fifteen minutes Kathy shut down her computer and climbed the stairs to the second level of files. The entire first level of floor to ceiling file cabinets was the paper card catalog. A complete lack of dust showed it was still scrupulously maintained.
Five minutes later Anne joined her as they went through the drawers. The files were in an amazingly well kept state. Obviously someone still thought these were worth preserving. Now it became clear why it had taken both Anne and Kathy’s connections to get in.
When they moved to the third level up the women found themselves working across from each other. ‘Andrea’ spoke in a low voice.
“So, John took classes from the Professor at Bailey.”
“He seems to like the two of you.”
“He was always a good student.”
‘Andrea’ stopped her searching and turned to the other woman. “And how long have you been at Bailey University.”
Anne stopped her searching but didn’t turn around. After a moment she said. “You know everyone’s always asking me that and I’m always telling them the same thing.”
A moment went by and finally the younger woman said. “Which is?”
Anne let another moment go by then said. “Well, some days it seems like I’ve been there forever and will be there forever.” After another moment she began riffling through the papers again. “Does that answer your question?”
‘Andrea’ considered a moment then shrugged. “Not really, but I’m guessing it’ll have to do.” She turned back to her drawer, stopping to read through a passage.
On the next aisle it was Anne who spoke first. “So is this the first time you’ve worked with John?”
‘Andrea’ pulled out a thick file and nodded. “Yep. I had to shadow him. Sort of a ‘take the perfect stranger to work’ day at his job.”
Anne smiled. “I’ll let you in on a secret. He likes having you around.”
Kathy hesitated a moment then asked. “Do you think so?”
Anne nodded as she went through some farmer’s testimony. “Absolutely. I’ve seen him interact with lots of girls and I’ve got a pretty good read on him.”
“But that would have been in college. What, fifteen years ago?”
“Fifteen years ago. And the time has flown, but he hasn’t changed that much. But,” she paused at a page. “I’m guessing the two of you aren’t as comfortable with each other as you’d like.”
Kathy stopped where she was reading and looked up at the next drawer up. “And what exactly makes you think that?”
Anne was still going through the testimony. “Just between me and you, you’re a lot more than you seem to be at first.”
“I could say the same.”
“Right. Well, I’m guessing that John has guessed you may have several names you go by.”
“Hmmm. Really. Did you come to that conclusion while we were flying from Tibet to the Urals in under an hour?”
Anne turned. “No, but we did make a phone call when you and he showed up at the lab.”
Kathy turned and faced Anne. Both women held the files to their breasts, arms crossed. There was a moment of silence. Finally ‘Andrea’ said. “And what did you find out?”
“That you are an employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and are on a classified assignment.”
“Hmm. You didn’t happen to come across my name while you were at it?”
“No. Once we learned what you were doing we didn’t try to find out.”
Kathy nodded. That was something. Anne went on. “And to answer your other burning question, no.”
“No, there’s nothing going on between John Parker and I.”
“That’s the burning question?”
“Of course. It did take me a while to figure out your concern, but the answer is no. As for the other burning question its none of your business.” She turned back to the files.
Now Kathy was confused. “What other burning question?”
“About me and the Professor. You’re not the first person to wonder about that.”
They reach the next level and continued to dig through files. Suddenly Anne took a deep breath. “Andrea, take a look at this.”
‘Andrea’ turned and read the testimony. She nodded, pulled out her cell phone and began taking pictures.