Authors: Endgame Enigma
Below the terrace, a ribbonlike miniworld curved away and upward between enclosing walls a little under a sixth of a mile apart. The nearer buildings were higher, merging into a monolith of tiered plazas, ramps, pedestrian ways, and bridges around the tower to form the town’s center. Architectural styles were varied and followed light, airy, clean designs incorporating plenty of color and glass, intermixed with screens of natural greenery. The strangest thing was the geometry, or lack of it – for everywhere and on all levels, walls met at odd, asymmetrical angles, passages branched between buildings, roadways curved beneath underpasses to emerge in a different direction, and nothing seemed to run square to anything else, anywhere. Presumably the intention was to break up the underlying continuity and dissolve the sense of living inside a tube. If so, it worked.
“The architect who designed this must have had a fetish about rhomboids,” Paula remarked as they looked out from the terrace.
There were many figures moving about; below, a vehicle emerged from behind a building, moving along some kind of track. Farther away, the townscape gave way to a more open composition of public buildings and residential units, trees, and parks, with glints of water in several places. The terrain climbed on either side to form a roughly U-shaped valley about a central strip, with buildings giving way to terraces of crops and pasture strips for animals farther away in the agricultural zone. Due to unanticipated difficulties with maintaining the ecological balance, which the Russians freely admitted, the general scene was not as idyllic as their public-relations releases had enthusiastically promised when construction commenced. In some places the metal shoring walls stood bare between tiers of barren, grayish-looking soil formed from processed moondust, and in others the vegetation was yellowy and limp. Their official line now was that this was only the first phase, and aesthetics would be attended to later; and most reactions were to concede that that was what experimentation was all about. This was a prototype colony, after all.
“Conventional enclosed dwellings are not functionally necessary, of course, since the climate can be controlled at all times,” the Russian guide was saying. “As you can see, however, familiar styles and arrangements into neighborhood groupings are used, to give a feeling of normality as far as is practicable. The designers of
took the view that the forms of houses which people have evolved on Earth over long periods of time best reflect the kinds of surroundings they prefer to live in. There seemed no reason to change it – at least, until much more is known about how people adapt to living in space.”
“What materials are used for construction?” somebody asked.
“Of the buildings? Mainly aluminum, titanium, and other light metals processed from lunar ores. Currently the ore is catapulted magnetically up from the lunar surface, but we are constructing an experimental facility on Mare Cognitum to test high-power lasers as a launch mechanism. The Moon is not rich in hydrogen or carbon. You will find many things fabricated from ceramics and metals here, but few plastics. That will change, of course, when technologies for transmutation of elements are developed on an industrial scale.”
“What’s outside the town?” someone else wanted to know.
“A recreation area that includes sports fields and a lake. Beyond that is the region called Ukraine: one of the agricultural sectors where we raise food and livestock to feed the colony. We will be taking a look at it when we leave Turgenev. Past Ukraine, at the bottom of the next major spoke, is the town of Landausk,
’s scientific and industrial center. We will have dinner in Landausk, and accommodation will be provided there tonight before we tour the town in the morning. Now let me point out some of the more interesting things that are visible from where we are now…”
Paula tried to take her mind off the mission that had brought her here. She found herself envying the other people around her, wishing that she, like them, could enjoy the experience without apprehension. She went through the mission plan once again in her mind, mentally rehearsing every step as she had a hundred times, like a nervous, first-time actress muttering her lines while waiting backstage for her entry cue. She thought of the crew back in the lab in Massachusetts, secure in their familiar day-to-day routine. Her third mistake, she decided, had been rationalizing to herself that she could use a little more excitement in her life. If she ever got out of this, an occasional dabble in sin with the likes of Ed Sutton would be just about all the excitement she’d need.
“The six-sided building behind, with the glass frontage, is the university gymnasium, with courts for squash, tennis, and volleyball, a swimming pool, a weight-training room, and a general arena with seating for fifteen hundred people. The students come from…” The guide’s voice droned on interminably. Wouldn’t they ever get on with it?
She glanced at Earnshaw, who at that moment was doing a convincing job of panning slowly sideways to record the view with his camera. He lowered the instrument from his face to let the shoulder strap take the weight, and looked around casually, if anything seeming slightly bored, like someone passing a slow Sunday afternoon at the city museum. But as always, his eyes were constantly mobile, missing nothing, checking everything. She tried to tell herself that if there had been anything unsound about this mission, someone like him would never have let himself be talked into coming on it.
“… transportation around the ring, as we shall see later. Good. Well, if there are no further questions for the time being, we will board the elevators again and complete our descent to the central concourse, and from there come out into the central square of Turgenev. Actually it’s not square really, but an irregular polygon, as you’ll see. I suppose we call it that through convention. So, if you would follow the stewards at the back, ladies and gentlemen…”
And then they were all moving back inside the tower. One of the voices around her commented that the place was artistic as well as functional, showing spontaneity and individualism. Surprising. Not at all the staid, crushing conformity you came to expect from Russian bureaucracies. Another voice explained it was because the Russians had copied it from a Japanese design.
Despite her resolve, Paula found her chest thumping. Now it would be only a matter of minutes.
Russians had been mistrusting and spying on each other for centuries, long before the abdication of the czar in March 1917 and the subsequent seizure of power by Lenin in November. Largely as a result of this kind of tradition, their officials worried about anything they couldn’t predict. They worried especially about behavior by their subordinates that they couldn’t explain to their superiors. Hence, all the way down the lines of command, the overriding formula for survival came to be: follow orders, don’t ask questions, never volunteer, and always behave predictably. One consequence was the stifling of innovation and creativity. Another was that they never – well, hardly ever – deviated from precedent. The operations analysts in Bernard Foleda’s covert section of the UDIA had established from records of previous tours of
that the schedule, the route, and the procedures followed were always the same. This fact had been of great help in drawing up the mission plan.
As the party of a hundred or so visitors assembled from the elevators in the main central concourse at ground level, the guides divided it into a number of special-interest groups according to preferences which had been indicated in advance. Thus, all the visitors would be able to see what they wanted to without being wearied by overload and without taxing any one location unduly. Furthermore, in a way that was uncharacteristically flexible for Russians, people were allowed to change their minds and switch groups at the last moment. Invariably some did. On this particular tour it was certain that quite a few would, because they had been asked to. They didn’t have to know why.
Hence, for a while the compositions and sizes of the various groups would be uncertain. The Russians could have kept track precisely if they wanted to, of course, but not without subjecting the visitors to a lot of cattle-like herding and head-counting, which on previous occasions they had refrained from doing. It was certain, however, that the total would be verified when the whole party came together again for lunch two hours later. Thus, Paula and Earnshaw would have somewhere in the region of an hour and three quarters to complete their task and reappear by the time the groups reassembled in the central concourse before proceeding through to the restaurant.
The plan required them to leave the zone that visitors were free to move in, and the first problem was with the badges they had been given on arrival. As anyone conversant with security practices would have assumed – and checking with various intelligence sources had confirmed – the badges contained electronic microchips, which when triggered by a particular infrared transmission would transmit back a code uniquely allocated to the wearer. When sensors detected somebody about to pass through a doorway, say, the badge would be interrogated and its response forwarded to a computer that knew who was authorized to go where, and which would raise an alarm if it detected a violation.
Earnshaw and Paula drifted to the side of the central concourse. For the moment conditions were disorderly, with people milling around between the various groups, some splitting away into the short corridor nearby that led to the rest rooms, and others coming back out. Earnshaw looked around, saw nothing to arouse suspicion, and nodded. They moved on into the corridor. It was fairly broad, with the entrance to the men’s facilities lying to the right, the women’s to the left, and some doors to storage closets on both sides. Facing them at the far end was a second exit, which they knew from their briefings led to a foyer interconnecting various machinery rooms, technical workshops, and offices. A large sign above the far exit announced in several languages, no visitors past this point. There were no physical guards – shipping people from Earth was too expensive a business for them to stand around all day doing nothing – but it was clear that anyone setting off the alarm wouldn’t get very much farther before being apprehended. That was the way Earnshaw and Paula needed to go.
Earnshaw entered the men’s room and unslung his camera and satchel of accessories. A half dozen or so other men were inside, and some of the cubicles were occupied. To one side of the entrance was the white, louvered door of a janitor and maintenance technician’s closet. He looked around and overhead but could detect no sign of surveillance. According to a CIA report that he’d seen, the Soviets resorted to such extremes of snooping as concealing lenses in rest rooms only in top-security locations. This was hardly a top-security part of
– indeed, according to the Soviet claims, the whole place was just a civilian experiment in space colonization. But on the other hand, if it really was a disguised battle platform… But there had to be some risks.
“Long way to come to see Disneyland, huh?” the ruddy-faced man wiping his hands by the mirror said.
“I guess this has to be the real Space Mountain,” Earnshaw answered. The ruddy-faced man laughed and left.
Earnshaw locked himself in one of the cubicles and commenced his transformation. A touch of facial cream to dull his skin, some shadow to enhance wrinkles, a graying, ragged, Stalinesque mustache, and a modest application of hair whitener added a dozen years to his age. His vest, turned back-to-front, became a worn crewneck sweater; his suit reversed into a dark green, grease-stained work uniform; and a pair of false uppers changed his shoes into crumpled boots. The satchel that he was carrying wasn’t as rigid as it appeared. With its stiffening frame removed it could be turned inside out, and when the frame was put back again it became a toolbox of the kind issued to mechanics all over the colony, large enough to hold the dismantled “camera.” Finally, he rubbed a trace of grime into the creases of his hands and under his nails, added a streak to his forehead, and pulled on a cap.
When the Russian steward stuck his head in the door of the rest room to check, all the visitors had left. “No stray sheep left in here?” he said to the maintenance engineer in the green uniform, who was rummaging in the closet near the door.
“They’re all gone,” Earnshaw mumbled in Russian without looking round.
“It’s chaos out there this time. You know, I swear our schoolchildren make less fuss than some of those people.”
“No discipline. That’s what it is.”
“You’re right. Although, mind you, I wouldn’t say no to some of those American women out there. How do they afford such clothes?”
“Well, if they don’t do anything that’s worth enough to pay for them, then somebody else must pay for them. That’s capitalism.”
“Give me a break. You sound like a Party hack.”
Earnshaw finished putting tools into his box and turned from the closet, holding a reel of electrical wire. He had hidden his red-framed visitor’s badge in the closet and had exchanged it for an imitation blue-framed one, as worn by general workers and inhabitants of the colony. “I don’t know you,” he said to the steward. “You might be KGB.”
“Do me a favor! I transferred here from Landausk a few days ago.”
“I see. Landausk, eh?” Earnshaw lifted a stepladder out from the closet. “I suppose we’ll be seeing more of you around here, then.”
“Yes, I suppose so. Well, I’d better be getting back. See you around.”
The steward disappeared. Earnshaw waited for a few seconds, and then carried the ladder out into the corridor. He positioned it in the center of the floor underneath the translucent panel covering the light, climbed up, and had just begun undoing the fastenings when Paula emerged from the ladies’ room. She was wearing a maintenance engineer’s uniform, too, now. Her face had shed its makeup, and she had acquired dark hair.
When a tubby man in a blue shirt came through from the off-limits direction a minute or so later they were hard at work, with several of the lighting tubes removed and wires trailing down from the opened panel in the ceiling. They said nothing, and the tubby man went through into the rest room. Earnshaw reached into his toolbox and handed down one of the subassemblies that the camera had come apart into. Superficially it looked like an electrician’s test meter. Recessed into it at one end, however, was a tiny lens sensitive to infrared. When the tubby man came out again and went back through the doorway, Paula aimed the unit to read the interrogation signal emitted by the transmitter above the door. It also read the response code from the tubby man’s badge, which reflected invisibly off the surrounding wall. A moment later, a sign appeared in the unit’s readout, confirming that the computer inside was set to mimic the tubby man’s code. Paula glanced up at Earnshaw and nodded.