Today's Reading

Ignatius set her glass, still mostly full, on the launch console. The Chief Designer moved it to the communications console, something cheaper to replace should the vodka spill.

"Mars seems sad," said Ignatius.

"He's a melancholy sort."

"Only after a launch, which one might consider strange."

"Are you here to write about us or psychoanalyze us?"

"I'm here to write about the successes of the Soviet system. As such, I have a vested interest in the continuation of those successes."

"Are you implying something?"

"Your time in the gulag has made you suspicious."

"Your presence makes me suspicious." The Chief Designer turned and faced the wall as if looking through it to the launchpad.

"Chief Designer," said Ignatius, "we want the same thing. We both want glory."

"I don't want glory."

"You want the moon. What's more glorious than that?"

"Silence, perhaps."

Ignatius snatched her glass, splashing some of the vodka though not enough to do damage, and drank the rest in a single gulp. She held the glass up to the Chief Designer's face. She spun and hurled the glass at the wall, exploding it into a starfield of shards. The pop of the impact was followed by the delicate percussion of the fall.

"Glory is a fragile thing, Chief Designer. You may fool the Presidium, the military, even Khrushchev himself, but you don't fool me. What would I find, for instance, if I visited the bunker up the road?"

"A broom, perhaps, to clean this up."

"When I come to clean, it will be with more than just a broom."

"A threat?"

"I want only what you want, except I don't care who accomplishes it. The General Designer, perhaps."

"The General Designer is an a ss."

"If we were to catalog offenses, I think yours would be more numerous." She held up her hand, fingers spread. "I count five. Four and a half, at least."

The Chief Designer stared at her. Only a few knew the truth. The twins. Mishin and Bushuyev. Tsiolkovski, of course, though he had vanished years ago. The scar on the Chief Designer's head throbbed.

"Don't get me wrong, Chief Designer. I have no desire to expose you. In fact, I'm the only person really on your side."

"I didn't ask for an ally."

She inspected her palm, her fingers still splayed. "So many of us don't ask for the things we receive. Someone more spiritual might call it fate."

Ignatius brushed bits of the broken glass into the corner with the toe of her boot. She opened the steel door. Its massive hinges groaned. Daylight peeked through, and a gust of wind carried in a cloud of yellow dust.

She said, "Hurry, or you'll miss your flight. See you in Moscow."

The plane would wait, though. That was one thing, at least, over which the Chief Designer retained a modicum of control.

• • •

THE LATCH CLICKED, and the door creeped open.

Leonid had been watching through the window as the motorcade approached from the control bunker and drove past. A fine grit of dirt plumed behind the cars. The service vehicles came next, technicians returning from the pad. A few people strolled alongside the road to personal vehicles parked at the edge of the launch complex. Within a few hours, no one would be near Leonid for kilometers around. He reminded himself that his brother was even more remote.

When the door opened just wide enough, Nadya slipped sideways into the bunker. She wore the gray suit all cosmonauts were forced to wear on launch day, flat and featureless except for the black trim along the mandarin collar, designed to look futuristic but accomplishing monastic instead. Her hair was pulled back in a bun, something she only did for public appearances, and only then when told to do so.

This excerpt ends on page 12 of the hardcover edition.

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