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TWENTY-SIX

Early the next day, John called a travel agency and received some surprising news. It turned out that as long as he was in France, the cost for obtaining a Russian visa was only about two hundred euros. At first he thought he had simply misheard. But he quickly realized that that was not the case. The woman on the phone didn’t offer any explanation. She simply stated that that was the way it was. Thanking her, still amazed, he hung up and stared into space.

Relieved, he suddenly rubbed his hair vigorously, sending it shooting in different directions. It was two hundred euros, but it was far less than it would be in the United States, and he was maybe prepared to pay that. This and a plane ticket would impose severe limits on his future spending though. No more takeout sushi.

The morning of the following day they received more information from their source through a dead drop.

“Two hours south of Krasnoyarsk?” Josh said. “Where the hell is that?”

“South-western Siberia,” Viktor replied, laying the printout on the table. “Judging from the Google Map, in a valley between two mountains.”

“How did he find it?”

“It’s more of a guess,” Viktor said. “He’s going by what he’s been able to glean from press releases and news reports. He considers it the best candidate from known Novell facilities because it has one important attribute.”

“Which is” Erika asked, pausing from gnawing on a pretzel.

“It’s used for extracting beryllium from bertrandite. Our contact thinks that that would be an ideal cover for a facility designed to emit perfluorocarbons because the large quantities of fluorine that would need to be produced there could be justified as necessary for the synthesis of beryllium metal from beryllium hydroxide, the byproduct of bertrandite processing.”

“That’s all well and good,” Brian said, “but I’m guessing he’s never been there. So we have no way of knowing what kind of security to expect.”

“Good point,” Cory said. “What we really need is on the ground intelligence.” She glanced at Katie. Katie was pacing in the back of the room and whether she realized it or not, she was putting everyone else on edge.

“We’re ignoring a bigger question,” Josh said. “How did he get access to the location? Obviously, he’s in France. So he must have a man on the inside in Russia. But who is that?”

A moment of silence. “Good question,” Erika said.

“Who is this source?” John asked.

“We don’t know,” Viktor said.

John rubbed his chin. “But I remember you saying you’ve worked with him before.

“No, we have. We just don’t know who he is.”

“How does that work?”

“He gives us tips, we give him proof, he shops it to newspapers. But he refuses to identify himself.”

“I see… How many times have you worked with him?”

“Counting this, three times.”

“Okay, well not to get off topic,” John said, “but who he is is an important question, don’t you think? If this person isn’t a journalist, then what is he? Who does he work for? How did he get access to such sensitive information? I mean… this is almost starting to sound like this guy is your handler. Our handler. Doesn’t that worry you guys just a little bit?”

“No,” Katie said.

“No?”

“No. And I’ll tell you why. Suppose you’re right. Suppose he is just feeding us information, which also happens to be extremely accurate, all the time, for his own nefarious purposes. Why would he do that? Really. What would be the point?”

John didn’t know. Maybe it didn’t even matter. He threw up his hands. It was quiet for a few moments.

“Does he know the exact location?” Cory asked.

“He does.”

“Convenient.,” Brian said.

“Too convenient,” John said.

“We could get Greenpeace to get more intel,” André said. “They’re already there. All they have to do is drive up.”

“If they can drive up,” Cory said. “For all we know, the roads leading to this thing could be behind a gate. They might need to hike. Is there anything useful on Google Earth?”

“No,” Viktor said. “I don’t see anything. You’re welcome to try. But I think the images are too old. And not to rain on your parade, André, but I don’t think Greenpeace Russia is going to help us.” André looked at him.

“Why not?”

“Because they’ll be afraid,” Viktor said. “In all likelihood, FSB has infiltrated them. It would endanger them, and so, frankly, I don’t think they’ll want anything to do with this.” That drew a look from Katie, which John couldn’t quite decipher.

“So… we’re going to do it alone then?” Cory asked incredulously.

“So… we’re actually going?” John asked. He saw uncertainty on their faces and felt a glimmer of hope.

Katie didn’t seem to have as much hesitation. “Well, there’s nothing precluding it right now,” she started cautiously, totally sidestepping Cory’s question. “John’s visa’s cost would put a limitation on how soon we can do it. But I’m willing to wait for him to get a three day visa. There’s just enough time to get it before the consulate closes on the weekend. If there is something we can do to bring attention to this though, I’d like to do it. If it’s possible. How do you guys feel about it?” A bunch of people nodded. John frowned. He felt pressured to raise his hand.

The same thing had happened the day before when Katie had brought up the subject of hacking Rudenko’s e-mail again. She had asked for a final discussion on whether they should make contact with Anonymous and request their help. Unlike their previous discussion, this one was brief. Before giving the others a chance to speak, she announced that in the event they found a facility like that which was eluded to in Rudenko’s PDFs and they wound up travelling to it, she wanted to use the e-mail hack as a backup plan. If the Russia excursion didn’t bear fruit, she wanted to rapidly move forward with a hack. Otherwise, as a trip of that nature would no doubt cause intense waves, she decided they shouldn’t further tempt fate. In the end, the same people who had voted to delay sharing their findings with the press voted to contact Anonymous. Nodding with satisfaction, Katie had instructed André to make contact. They were awaiting a response.

Thankfully, Josh was keeping his hand down. It drew attention and gave him time to think. He was also glad to not see Cory’s hand. He wondered how his dissent would look on a future court document. The vote came to him. Here goes. He gulped in some air but kept his hand down. No dirty looks. Nice. And the final tally was five to three. Shit.

Eyes looked at each other from across the wooden table. So. The group was going to Russia. Himself included.

Over the last few days, John had had more time to mull this potential trip over and untangle his feelings, and even before the present meeting, he had been forced to come to a single conclusion. That this was a goddamned stupid idea. For someone as indecisive as himself to make that conclusion, it had to be pretty obvious, he felt. The rest of them seemed to have a clarity he often lacked, so why couldn’t they see it too? Perhaps clarity wasn’t the right word. Certainty. Yes, that seemed more apt. Certainty and blindness often went hand in hand.

Once again, for the fiftieth time, his gut told him to stay at the hostel. Let them get themselves killed. Or arrested. Once again, he tried to muster up the will to tell them he wasn’t coming. But then, as before he just couldn’t. For as he had discovered through his recent introspection, his social anxiety was just too great. The certain awkwardness of being left out of the preparation. The suspicion that they would view his refusal as cowardice. It was just too much.

People around him began to rise to their feet, because it was just too exciting to internalize while sitting down. He too stood up. And folded his arms, regarding the table that would likely soon be covered with maps. His stomach tightened. Four days and counting.

The next day they received an update from their contact. He had been in contact with members of the upper echelon of Greenpeace Russia through secure means -the exact details of which, he did not specify- and they were going to provide logistical support, as well as on-the-ground reconnaissance. An extremely small group of hand-picked people in the organization knew about it and the plan was to keep it this way. Hearing this, Brian exhaled broadly. Far better than going in blind, he said. Far wiser. Still dangerous as fuck. But slightly less so. It was funny. John hadn’t realized Brian had had that kind of tension built up inside him. He obviously couldn’t read him well. He looked at him for a few moments to see if he could learn anything else from him. But he couldn’t. Viktor warned them not to get complacent. FSB could have agents all the way at the top, he said.

The preparation for the trip would take several days, and in the meantime, Katie suggested that they take the time to work on another lead, one that had just come to their attention. John didn’t know what the new lead was but he took a trace amount of comfort from the knowledge that it would probably be less worrisome than the upcoming trip to Russia. He was wrong.

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