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Chapter 20

Argus Consulting

Washington D.C.

“Here’s the file you asked for, Mr. Wright,” Erin said.

“Thank you,” he said. “That’ll be all for now.”

Having things handed to him by subordinates was still novel to him.

Besides his personal assistant there was assistant section head Elisabeth Wilson, who’d done a stint over at the National Security Agency before coming over to Argus. There were also a half dozen researchers/analysts – Willard, Jared, Mara, David, Yulia and Ross – and a computer tech, Josh. (Except for Josh, who was fresh out of school, they all had government backgrounds too. Most of them were East Bloc specialists.)

Russell hadn’t been involved in the hiring process, all the other staff actually on board before he signed on the dotted line, though that didn’t trouble him. He was satisfied with them so far. A few promised to be more than satisfactory.

In his short time working with her, Mara seemed to be a better Russian-speaker than Russell was, or Yulia for that matter (and she’d actually been born in the Soviet Union, her family only coming over when she was a toddler). Ross, who’d started his government service as an infantryman before going on to G-2, had some “field stuff” under his belt; both perspectives, and sets of contacts, would be useful. Jared, who seemed to go even further back with Jorgenson than Russell did, had worked with foreign aircraft at Wright-Patterson and Nellis.

As a result of her previous work, Elisabeth seemed to have a particularly good eye (or was it ear?) for the nuances of signals intercepts, and at least as important to him, to get on well with the others. He appreciated any help he could get there. He’d grown accustomed to being a loner.

Still, there was continuity as well as rupture in his situation. Just as when he’d been at Langley, most of what Russell’s unit did was look at open-source material, which was all they really had until their people entered Russia and started producing for them.

Assuming the plan worked. Russell didn’t know what the odds of success were. During the whole course of the Cold War, American intelligence had never successfully penetrated the Soviet paranormal research programs, neither the one overseen by Directorate Thirteen, nor the program’s smaller KGB counterpart.

“It wasn’t due to any shortage of resources on our part,” Jorgenson had told him a long time ago, “or the legal constraints so many of the bureaucrats whine about, as if our hands are utterly tied by an endless siege of fellow travelers, fifth columnists and useful idiots; or sheer organizational stupidity, not that there isn’t plenty of that.

“Understanding people, understanding how they think and feel so we can get them to do what we want them to do, is just not one of our strengths. Never has been, probably never will be. I’d bet a Russian’s understanding of human beings against an American’s any day of the week.”

Russell didn’t disagree, though he wondered about Jorgenson’s more sanguine attitude, which he apparently had on account of the “unprecedented opportunities” the new moment afforded them.

There was no denying that there was more information coming out of Russia than before. It seemed there had been an explosion of interest in the paranormal in that country – psychic powers, fortune-telling, faith healing.

Not much of what was being written was really interesting, though. He took the output less as new revelations than as evidence of a cultural nervous breakdown, a flight from material reality and its frustrations and disappointments. The kind of thing that threw open the door to Hitler in Germany after the First World War, and which was creating opportunities for all the racists and fascists and other crazies looking to reshape Russia in line with their fantasies. There was probably a good deal of deliberate disinformation mixed in with all that talk as well, and no scarcity of hucksters looking to capitalize on the fascination. At this moment nothing seemed to him as Russian as outright fraud.

Nonetheless, the name of a person who’d really been involved in something, even if not the something they had talked about, the name of a project or program or facility – it may have been a lead worth following. Especially now with the firm funding grants for Western researchers interested in accessing newly opened Soviet archives regarding these issues, the applications for which also went before his people.

Still, what he would really have liked to see was more information on Soviet R & D. Not the newer aerospace, energy, electronics and other systems coming off Soviet assembly lines, interesting as some of that was, but the projects that were in their early stages, and being suspended for lack of funds – the basic research that corporations were too prone to neglect. Where the company’s core mission was concerned, those things seemed to be the most promising, and also the most relevant for the line of investigation assigned to him.

Not much about that was appearing in the press, in part, Russell supposed, because of that tendency to view the Soviets as technological losers who couldn’t possibly have been doing anything worthwhile. Russell supposed it was the arrogance of a bad winner, and he hoped people would get over it soon.

Russell opened the file Harper brought him and read through it, the report on names that had come up in their scans of the new literature. Many of them had been forwarded to their CIA liaison (the U.S. government was a significant client, after all), who was tasked with receiving specific requests for information. The agencies they worked with reserved the right to accept or refuse any request, but Jorgenson told him they would generally get cooperation, and so far he’d been right. Still, it wasn’t the same as having access to a constant stream of information.

Two of the names he’d run across seemed worth another look, and reaching for a sheet of paper on which to draft a memo he noticed his desk clock’s display, which told him his lunch appointment was coming up fast.

He clicked the intercom, speaking as he finished the draft. “Ms. Harper, I’m going out to lunch. I should be back by two.”

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