Prelude: The Target
Habarovsk, Soviet Union
June 10, 1967
"Comrade General! It's a pleasure to see you again." The Russian's smile was obviously forced. I'm sure you are here to check up on me once again, he thought with a flash of fear.
The slender General strode into the small office like he owned it, his bearing one of a man who was familiar with command presence. His second and third in command trailed respectively behind.
"I’m sure it is," the General replied snidely, knowing exactly how the other man felt. He stopped to light a cigarette; the flare of the match illuminated his scarred face briefly in the dim room. He calmly shook out the match as he inhaled, then blew out the acrid smoke in the other man's direction.
The two men studied each other momentarily, each covering their true feelings with edgy politeness.
"You are here to observe?" the first man asked with failed lightness. Of course that's why you're here, he thought. Always looking for a way to rise in the ranks on other people's work.
"Yes," General Asikov replied shortly, his eyes taking in the room and the group of technicians sitting at their stations. Being the middle of the night, it was a skeleton crew; the best time to observe 'things'. "I hear you have a device that affects navigational equipment. Show me, Comrade Bratsk."
Wilhelm Bratsk fought hard to control his expression. He managed a sick smile. "Certainly," he said. Thrush security leaves much to be desired, he thought. They were supposed to keep this under wraps. It was my only way out of this freezing pit! "Over here, Comrade General."
Bratsk showed his visitor a panel of equipment not much different than those in the rest of the room. "Here. Shall I explain the workings to you?" He bridled inwardly at the suggestion.
General Asikov eyed the panel, keeping his suspicions to himself. He didn't trust this scientist for one second. "No, Comrade Bratsk, there is no need. I know full well how it is supposed to work." He walked up next to the nervous technician seated at the console. "I am here to see it work."
Bratsk sputtered, "Impossible! I have no such authorization!"
"You do now," the General said calmly, locking his steely grey eyes on the scientist. Without an outward order, his two minions stepped up behind Bratsk, leaving no doubt in the scientist's mind that the General expected action. "Show me."
Bratsk's mouth opened for further argument, but read the challenge in the General's eyes and felt a chill overtake him. If there was a face of evil, that was it. The chilling grey eyes and long scars running down sallow cheeks was the picture of the Devil himself. Wordlessly, Bratsk dropped his head and turned to an adjacent radar screen. "I need a target," he mumbled, trying to cover the fear and anger in his voice.
"I have one in mind already, Comrade Bratsk," the General said calmly, puffing again on the cigarette. Just then a glowing green dot showed up on the extreme outer edge of the radar screen. "There."