Guardians

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Chapter 18

Washington D.C.

Nick talked to Kevin, just as he’d promised his wife he would. Kevin agreed to all the things he was supposed to, about school, and his grades. Nick realized his son was just humoring him (he’d been reading people too long not to recognize adolescent manipulations), but he also figured that was as much as he could reasonably ask for from the kid, and they let the issue lie.

On Sunday they watched the Super Bowl together.

The day after the Washington Redskins won Nick got in his car and drove to Argus’s headquarters. He found a parking place near the address he’d first visited the week before, then walked up to the building and proceeded upstairs to a conference room.

Candito was there to greet him, as were two other people sitting around the conference table that he didn’t know. One was an attractive blond woman he guessed to be in her mid-twenties. The other was a large, balding middle-aged man he guessed to be a few years older than himself. They rose from their seats to meet him.

“Nicholas McNab, of the U.S. Army,” Candito said, introducing him, then turning to the two others. “Jan Vandergriff, formerly of the South African Defense Forces. Emma Rylance, the Secret Intelligence Service,” referring to the woman.

They all shook hands. From the introduction Nick guessed Jan had been from the Defense Forces’ Department of Military Intelligence. He might have been a special forces veteran, too.

Everyone settled into a chair afterward.

“Since everyone’s arrived, we can now begin,” Candito said. “Gentlemen and lady, you are all here today because you not only have experience in this area of concern, but because you have a prior familiarity with our primary area of concern; and also skills and experience relevant to an investigation of activity by Russian intelligence in that area.

“Your job will be to see what you can find out about the Soviet programs in this area, and in particular to see if we can get access to the country’s stock of UFO-related material.”

Candito presented them with copies of a spiral-bound report printed on heavy paper. “These contain the most current information we have on the program.”

The bulk of the report was devoted to the Thirteenth Directorate of the GRU. The section contained organizational flow charts, showing the place of the Thirteenth inside the GRU, and something of its internal structure. Biographies of key officials. There were tables regarding budgeting, personnel and facilities too.

Other tables listed incidents in which the Directorate was believed to have been active – responding to intensified UFO activity, or moving to recover artifacts from relevant sites – which were discussed at greater length in the appendix. Interestingly, the incidents seemed to cluster together chronologically, with the late eighties’ seeing an uptick in such activity. Still, Nick didn’t see anything listed that testified to the involvement of either the British or the South African governments with Directorate Thirteen operations – not overtly, anyway. He wondered how the other two people at the table with him and Candito came to be there.

That wasn’t really important, though, and he knew it. A lot of other things mattered more. One of them was how patchy the information all was, the flow charts having plenty of blank spaces, the claims the report made qualified very heavily in the text and in the footnotes, and precious little of it sourced. Still, there was nothing for him to do but take the report at face value and he tested the information against his memory, the names, the places, the incidents, looking for overlaps with anything he remembered.

Nick was sure he hadn’t heard of any of the people listed as the Directorate’s senior personnel. This Shadrin was a stranger to him. Still, it interested Nick that the nerdy-looking man in the photo had come from fairly humble origins (his dad was a welder in the great tank works in Chelyabinsk, where Shadrin was born during World War II), that he seemed to be more a scientist in uniform than a war-fighter, and that his specialty seemed to have been experiments with ESP, not aliens. That may have been a clue to the organization’s priorities, or perhaps, to the intellectual context surrounding their investigation of extraterrestrial activity.

But he didn’t see how they could make practical use of this.

Nick found one name he did recognize from his days in Bucharest, however – Vasily Kolpakov. While Nick’s job had been to help see what the West could do to make Ceausescu more of a thorn in the Warsaw Pact’s side, Kolpakov’s had been to try and contain him.

Nick hadn’t thought about the man in years.

“Your assignment will take you straight to the source, Moscow, Russia,” Candito continued. “You’ll go there as employees of the firm of Stonehill and Baker, charged with identifying investment opportunities in the Moscow area. Mr. McNab will be in overall charge of the operation.”

This was the first Nick had heard of such a role. He nodded simply, feeling the eyes of the others on him.

“Very well,” the South African asked, no resentment apparent in his thickly accented voice. “When do we leave?”

“Be ready to go by the end of the week,” Candito said. “And as we mean to do this job right, plan on being there for a while. Pack accordingly.”

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