Guardians

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Chapter 17

January 1992

Main Intelligence Administration (GRU) Headquarters

Moscow, R.F.

Colonel General Kirill Biriuzov set the report down on his desk and rubbed his eyes. In any conceivable scenario the Cosmic Intelligence Directorate’s ability to collect satellite data would be compromised well below the levels they had deemed minimally acceptable. Forget the surge capacity they depended on during periods of crisis; they might not be able to confirm American compliance with their arms reduction agreements, or even keep watch on their own, contracted borders.

There was only so much they could do about the problem on their own. The real issue was the fools and thieves in the Kremlin who had mismanaged things so badly that Baikonur Cosmodrome was in a whole other country, along with much else in their infrastructure, while running what remained of their already halved economy into the ground. He was fighting the good fight, but unless someone turned things around in a hurry, made this Commonwealth of Independent States into something more than a survivor’s club, or the price of oil started going up again, catastrophe was a near-certainty. Still, he was going to try to make the curves on the chart indicating the “least-worst” and “barely tolerable” cases approach one another more closely.

Biriuzov gave himself a moment of respite from these cares, letting himself really listen to the music coming from his cassette player, a collection of pieces by Mozart. Coarser stuff was what people craved now, and even if he didn’t share the taste (even where it revolted him, like the atonal, non-melodic “rap” his grandchildren listened to), Biriuzov thought that he understood it.

The Soviet peoples had never found their way to that paradise promised them, or even to the approximation that reality might have actually allowed. His son had already been cynical about the possibility in his teens, and he was hardly unusual in that. But even with all the disappointments and the repressions they saw in their daily existences, it had been possible for them to find that bit of peace of mind that let them appreciate higher culture, which the government took pains to make available to them.

Now those same people found themselves unable to think, to plan, to relax, everything a-whirl about them. The fears and uncertainties and deprivations they lived with now stripped the capacity to appreciate such fineness away from them, and flung them back on their basest instincts, instincts celebrated in a culture founded on cutthroat commercial relations. Music composed for an emperor to listen to in a moment of rest, music written with a sense of symmetry, order, harmony as those compositions called “Classical” were, even at their most exuberant and extravagant – it could hardly reach someone who felt themselves to be in such a different place, that seemingly simple pleasure really not so simple a thing after all. And to seek escape rather than peace and tranquility, to grasp after sensation and intensity and excess and power, was the most natural thing in the world then, especially for the younger and cruder ones who hadn’t known very much else. Culture-less, they wallowed in the ugliest forms of sex and violence, like the Americans had always done.

He’d been warned, not least by a longtime English acquaintance, a man he’d first met in London three decades earlier. Back then it was the Englishman who served a crumbling empire, while the might of Biriuzov’s was growing.

Still, it was worse for Russians, Biriuzov thought. They were losing not just a country, but an idea. And they were a more passionate people than the British, with a need and capacity for introspection and devotion that the Anglo-Saxons could hardly fathom. (What writer had they produced to match Dostoyevsky?) Their capacity for disillusionment was equally strong, and commensurately destructive.

Biriuzov supposed this loss was simply one more dimension of the tragedy of their historical moment. But he could still find pleasure and comfort in such music, and he took what it had to give before turning his attention to the next report on his desk. It concerned the death of Lieutenant General Viktor Shadrin. He’d never thought all that much of Shadrin, seeing him as merely an intellectual promoted beyond his competence because no one else plausibly in line for the job really wanted it – and who could blame them? Such silly things to devote a career to, so far removed from the true levers of power, and the ladders that could lead an ambitious man to the top. To be head of the GRU’s Thirteenth Directorate was to be that and never anything more.

The investigators of his plane’s crash had already ruled out a collision with another aircraft, an errant missile and bad weather as possible culprits given that specific combination of time and place, but anything and everything else remained a possibility. Further investigation was the purview of those practitioners of the dark art of forensics, which was virtually occult to Biriuzov.

The great worry was, of course, that the crash had not been an accident, but an assassination; and that the assassination was connected with the incident at the Dunba facility, which they were still trying to figure out. They had yet to determine who was behind it, and why, and what role if any Shadrin may have had in it.

Biriuzov knew that a great many men in uniform were enriching themselves. People weren’t perfect, and life was hard and confusing and getting harder and more confusing all the time amid the blunders of “reform,” so that even the most respectable goals had to be pursued through dubious means which afforded dubious temptations. Biriuzov hadn’t been above sanctioning such means. But there were things he could not permit, and unfortunately what may have been happening now was on that list.

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