The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


9.30 pm, 8th July 1999

Somewhere in a seedy club in London, at seven am, a creature stirs.

'Oh God, my head hurts! Where am I? What the hell was I drinking last night? I'm getting too old for this. What time is it? Oh, it's only seven… hold on, what day is it? THURSDAY!!! Oh Christ, I'm supposed to be in Russia by now! Aaaggghhh!'

'On the subject of objects of veneration, Father Zukhov -' the bearded priest eyes the vodka and pickles quizzically as Jeffrey speaks '- what do you think of the interesting effect that Lenin's body is reputed to have on people?'

Zhukov grunts sharply, causing Jeremiah Fulk to break off his inspection of the gilt-alabaster Madonna in the apse. 'Lenin! The new Messiah, eh? More powerful in death than in life, as was Our Lord. His death redeemed his people. Yes! Alive, he could work miracles. The miracle of the Soviet Union's survival, through those difficult early years when the whole world was our enemy. Dead, others can work miracles in his name. The miracle of Stalin's Great Leap Forward. The miracle of Lysenko's theories of evolutionary biology. The miracles of Sputnik, of Gagarin. And now, we see people healed of sicknesses by his body, by standing in supplication in front of it. Much as the body of St Spiridion, in Corfu, and many other holy corpses.'

'You sound perhaps a trifle cynical,' says Jeffrey warily.

'Cynical? Who would not be, in our Russia today? We are surrounded by would-be Messiahs. Dear Boris Nikolayevich, our dear President, stumbling on still, his vision is that he is the strong man who can hold Russia together. Alexei Lebed, the General, the man from Siberia, he says he is an even stronger man. Gennady Zhyuganov says that Communism is the answer once more. Anatoly Chubais, the flame-haired, whey-faced reformer, he says that the market should be our new God. What is a simple priest to do?'

By now the vodka bottle is nearly empty, although Jeffrey has not yet made much of a dent in his pickled cucumber. Fulk looks rather disapproving. 'This land of Muscovy is a strange one,' he says, musingly. 'The holiness in the faces of the people is great, and in this strange church too. Yet methinks it is a land abandoned by God.'

'Ha! You have the right of it, my friend!' Zhukov downs another tot. 'Not abandoned, for we forced him out - like the Cromwell of whom you spoke, but we were more dedicated. Stalin bulldozed the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, in Red Square, to build a huge palace of reverence to Lenin, with a giant statue at the top - it was to have been twice as high as the Empire State Building in New York, the statue bigger than the Statue of Liberty. That would show those Americans! It was never built, of course. Now, these past few years, the cathedral has been rebuilt - but God is absent from it. He will not come back to Russia. What is a poor priest to do, but drink?' And he finishes off the bottle.

Ned jumps slightly at the sound of his late-night caller's voice. 'Just a minute, please. I've got to get dressed.' He walks quickly back into the bedroom of his apartment and hurriedly dons his Kevlar vest, hooks one of his N-Ray detectors onto his belt, and grabs one of his canisters of OC irritant spray. He hasn't used one of these canisters yet, but knows from Fr. Jake's instructions that the chemical incapacitant causes temporary blindness, upper body spasms and uncontrollable coughing. Nasty stuff, Ned thinks to himself as he hurries back to the door and peers through the peep hole. 'Yes, who is it?'

'Maxsimov!' comes the voice. The man is alone, and Ned hastily unchains the door. Maximov enters, a blast of cold air with him. He is a tall, bulky man in his forties, with wide, very pale blue eyes, and numerous broken veins on his cheeks and nose. His hair is wavy, blond, wild and receding. 'What are you doing here, Mister Numenor?' he demands, his voice strongly accented. He looks rather angry.

Ned keeps his hand on the canister, hidden in his pocket, as he admits his unexpected visitor. 'I might ask you the same question!' he asserts stoutly. 'I've set up a cover with the Institute of Metahistory, so as to infiltrate the Ulek team. But how did you find me here?'

'I saw you at the airport,' says Maximov, dropping uninvited into an armchair. He glances sharply up at Ned. 'There were not very many Numenors flying into Sheremetyevo today. Have you contacted the rest of the team?'

'Not yet - I am keen to do so, though, provided it can be kept secret.' Ned remains standing, poised, his paranoia about SITU bubbling to the surface. 'What's your status in the organization, Maximov? How much do you know?'

'Call me Alexey, or Alexey Ivanovich, please.' Maximov rubs at his forehead. 'I am just a facilitator here: I do what I am told. Go, fetch, carry. I can make your task here easy.'

'Just a facilitator, huh? What do you know about The Master? Krillikhesh? Atlantis?'

Maximov looks perturbed. 'Nothing at all! And I wish to know no more than I do. We are in a war, you are the front line, I am the support. The enemy are powerful and cunning. You take great risks. It is safer for me to know little.'

'OK, what about the Lenin Mausoleum, then?'

'I know its history, of course. But for this moment, this investigation, I know that the Germans are looking for strange rays. That is all - what you and the team are to do here, I do not know, only that I must do what I can to help you.'

Ned finally nods, releases his grip on the canister and sits down himself. He has thoroughly cowed the man. 'Fine, well… I guess we can work together, then. Can you set up a meeting between me and the others, for tomorrow morning, please? Until then I'll take care of myself.'

Once Maximov has gone, Ned bolts the door of the apartment once more, locks himself into his bedroom, and checks the N-ray detector. It is showing a marginal level of activity - presumably background. He climbs into bed, his hand on a spray canister under the pillow.

Vera considers strolling the streets of Moscow by night with the help of a guidebook as she is too wired from airline coffee to sleep, but the Savoy's doorman discourages her and hails a taxi to give her a tour. Before leaving she buys several packets of expensive looking cigarettes from the hotel shop.

Once inside the vehicle, Vera changes the doorman's instructions by handing the driver a note with a street address written in Russian, which the young driver promptly repeats in English. 'Twenty-three/139 Mineralniye Prospekt. My name is Marevich Ahrgabad Moudlyakov. My friends call me Mahmoud. Please keep your old friend Mahmoud in mind when you need to return to the airport,' he adds while handing her a business card.

Vera tries to clear a place to sit on the back seat among some stray feathers and what appear to be cookie crumbs. Mahmoud attempts to reassure her. 'You would be surprised at the kind of things I have carried in my taxi,' he says.

Vera hears a tapping from the trunk, but convinces herself it is just a tin can they have run over. 'I am more concerned with what you may still be carrying,' Vera responds through a poorly faked smile. She clutches her umbrella tightly. Mahmoud smiles back and continues talking while periodically looking out of the front of the car to check for obstructions.

Eventually they reach Vera's destination. The taxi has a meter but Vera cannot figure out what it says and Mahmoud merely points to some of the numbers. Vera hands him the equivalent of about $20 in roubles and asks him if he will wait about 30 minutes. She also hands him a packet of International 555 cigarettes for 'his trouble.'

As Vera approaches the building's entrance its door pops open, activated by some unseen mechanics. Inside there is only a narrow and dark hallway with a rather huge man sitting on a creaking stool at an empty table. He is illuminated by a bare light bulb hanging from the ceiling. Vera now sees that the dim light has not escaped through the front door because its windows are painted black. Vera approaches the man she assumes to be a guard. The guard says nothing. Vera says nothing. About 20 seconds go by before Vera changes her facial expression from blank to one with as large a smile as she can conjure. This startles the huge man, who nearly falls from his chair. Vera holds the paper with the address close to the man's eyes and tries to add questioning features to her clownish smile.

The man nods and points to the staircase opposite his seat, signalling with two fingers. Vera assumes this is not an obscene gesture and climbs two flights to a door with the number 23. She knocks and instantly hears a woman's voice yelling a response in Russian. Vera understands none of it. The Russian continues for about three sentences so Vera reasons the response did not mean 'come in.' Vera thinks for several seconds and knocks again, adding loudly 'I am not selling vacuum cleaners, Madame!'

The door swings open revealing a woman in her mid 40s, wearing an attractive but worn black, lace dress reminiscent of turn of the century party frock and holding a cigarette. The woman exhales smoke into Vera's face and asks, 'Are you an American?'

'Yes,' Vera responds. 'Are you the cleaning lady?' The older woman sneers and walks into the office leaving the door open for Vera to follow. The room has two desks pushed together, although the piles of paper, files and office equipment indicate just one desk has been used as more than a shelf recently. Smaller stacks of paper, an empty chair and two telephones indicate the functioning desk. It also features what appears to be a rather new PC. The woman does not sit at either of the desks but parks herself in an old, high backed chair next to the windows. The Russian woman gives the impression of someone who has fallen from a higher place in life and who wishes to somehow return through time to that place. All of the windows in the room are painted black, but the unnamed resident has swung one panel open to allow air in and to see what ever there is to see from her perch. She glances up at Vera and points to a couch half covered by stacks of foreign newspapers. The other half of the couch is mouldy, but there is room to sit.

'Thank you, but I sat… um… all the way over here in the taxi,' Vera says.

'Have it your own way. Alexander Ivanovich will be back in about one hour, perhaps two hours.' The Russian pauses then adds, sensing Vera's curiosity. 'He tells me that the paint protects this place, but he will not explain to me from what we need protecting.'

'May I leave him a note?'

'Tell me your note, and I will tell him, Miss America,' the woman snaps back.

'My name is Goodchild. I hoped to meet some colleagues of Mr Maximov this evening, but we appear to have missed each other. I plan to visit… Vladimir in the morning, and I can be reached at the Savoy.'

The Russian nods from her chair and then stands and points to the door. Vera opens it to leave, but turns around as she hears the other woman approach from behind. The Russian draws herself up to her full height and sneers again. 'I am not Madame Maximov, I hope you do not think so, American.'

'No, and you obviously are not the cleaning woman,' Vera says while scanning the room again. 'Do you make the tea?' The walls tremble and dust swirls in the hall as the door slams shut less than an inch from Vera.

Vera descends the stairs to find the guard asleep at his table. She drops another pack of cigarettes next to him and spots a button on the wall she assumes opens the front door. It clicks open, the guard snores and Vera is relieved to find Mahmoud's taxi outside. Vera gives Mahmoud a further $30 in roubles when he drops her at the Savoy. She orders dinner in her room, watches the English language news on MSNBC - more bad weather in Hawaii - and goes to bed.

'You can get anything, huh?' asks Gino of his new friend Boris Yefimovich, who is still propping up the bar. 'How about getting me a piece - a gun, savvy? And a miniature camera.'

Boris Yefimovich pales and swallows, and the barman, polishing glasses once more, chuckles sardonically. 'Ah… will be a few days, my friend.'

Gino, annoyed, gathers the front of the Russian's shirt in his right hand, and lifts. 'I'm a busy man, mister. Make it tomorrow… at the latest,' he says, mildly.

Outside the bar, he does not have to wander for long before he comes across a group of Mafiya, three young men in dark suits and dark glasses, lounging against a new Mercedes. As he approaches, they tense, and one reaches a hand into his jacket.

Gino, first showing his hands are empty and holding his jacket open to reveal his lack of gun, gives the signal with his right hand to indicate that he is a 'made man'.

The Mafiya do not relax. 'Americanski?' asks one of them, a slender, pock-marked youth with a surprisingly deep voice.

'That's right,' says Gino easily. 'Di Scarlatto family. You might have heard of us.' He glances from face to face. 'You guys care for a little drink? I've got some business I need to talk with your boss.'

The three men glance from one to the other, and the one with his hand in his jacket withdraws it, empty. 'Get in the car.'

Gino gracefully complies.

Passport, makeup, jeans, a couple of Jilly Coopers, credit cards, dollars, thermos full of hot sweet coffee, gun. On second thoughts, no gun. Back under the pillow it goes. Don't want trouble with Customs.

She reaches Brian on the fourth cup of coffee, strolling around the flat with the phone pressed between head and shoulder. 'Come on hon, wake up, it's Katrina. I know I only call when I want something, but this is important, I'm off to Russia… yes, Russia… stop laughing, you bastard! No, I can't tell youwhy I'm going, you'll just start laughing again. I need some stuff when I get there. No, nothing like a tank, no, no I don't need a MiG - will you stop pissing around? I know you've done a lot of business there since the collapse - can you give me the names of a couple of reliable contacts?' She scribbles on a Post-It note against her thigh. 'Slow down, slow down, two's enough - I'm ot trying to start a war… cheers, darling, see you when I get back. Yes, you can go back to Tiffany now.'

'Is good, yes?' Rakim gesticulates violently to the beat.

'Very good! Horosho!' Stuart shouts back at him, nodding vigorously. The young Libyan engineering student grins broadly and pours out two more drinks, as waves of sound cascade around the dingy basement club. Stuart is already feeling quite at home - indie kids are indie kids the world over, he reflects, and the good old Rough Guide has not let him down. The decor is pretty dismal, luminous Keith Haring-esque figures cavorting around the black walls, but no worse than a lot of British clubs, and the music is just like he would have expected to hear at home a couple of months back. Rakim and his friends have been very welcoming: foreign students here are not much cultivated by the Muscovites, and they have a nice little alternative community spirit.

'You come back with us? Smoke some?' Rakim mimes an enormous bong.

'Thanks, I'd better be getting back to the hotel tonight,' says Stuart with genuine regret. 'But how about meeting up tomorrow? If you're free around lunchtime…'

'Yes! We will show you Moscow, if you like. All the best parts. Not like tourist guide!'

Stuart waits until the whole group is ready to leave before exiting the club himself. He has no wish to stand out by walking the streets alone: Rakim has assured him that his precautions against muggers are sensible. 'I was mugged three times when I first came here, two years ago!'

In the Metro their paths diverge, as Stuart rides westwards, but the carriage is full so he feels relatively safe. At the foot of the escalator on the way out, he passes an old babushka, black cloth spread out before her and a pack of greasy, battered Tarot cards in her hands. Looking up at him, she mumbles 'Quand la roue se tourne à l'envers, un homme bleu vient de la mer. Cassées sont les tours de feu, tombées la en plein milieu.' Stuart pauses, puzzled, but her eyes have glazed over and she is nodding to herself.

I think expecting military precision when half of the team can't even keep the rendezvous is perhaps a little optimistic, Kris types. She encrypts it with SITU's public key and sends it via GSM modem to Geoff Blaize.

Grace meanwhile has arranged the purchase of some Russian-English machine translation software, including additional dictionaries for business, geology – feeling it might be useful after their Transylvanian adventures – and medicine. It will arrive in two days' time.

Jeffrey heads back to the Novotel with Father Zukhov's parting words ringing in his ears. Never walk alone - always in a crowd. On the Metro, stay to the middle carriages. Never show money or evidence of wealth. Pray a lot in public, so people will think you are mad. He is not sure about that last one: could the burly priest have been teasing him?

'This grey stone is passing dismal,' observes Jeremiah, glancing around him unhappily. 'And methinks it provides scant foothold for the mosses, lichens and other small evidence of The Lord's handiwork.'

'It's not stone, Jeremiah, it's concrete,' explains Jeffrey. There does seem to be rather a lot of it about, and it is rather grey. 'It's made of… limestone powder, and gravel, and… other things. A very versatile and useful building material. Did they not have it in your day? I had a vague notion it was known to the ancients…'

Jeremiah looks surprised. 'Much that was known to the ancients has been lost to us, Jeffrey, much of their wisdom, with the burning of the library at Alexandria: three whole books of the philosophies of Aristotle, never seen again. Unless copies have been uncovered since.'

'I don't believe so,' replies Jeffrey uncertainly.

'The second volume of the Poetics, wherein the philosopher treats on laughter, among other things. We have not even fragments of it.'

'… so you see Uncle Sammy's position. He doesn't want difficulties here. And I know you people don't want difficulties here either.'

'This is true,' says Mikhail Botkin, who seems to be the chief enforcer for this particular gang. He is an almost square man, wedged in behind a huge mahogany desk and looking as though he will be rather difficult to extract come the end of the discussion. The room, a basement garage adapted for its current purpose, is full of thick smoke, and the low ceiling is rather oppressive. The four hoods lining the walls say nothing, although one of them periodically fills Gino's and Botkin's glasses with brandy - a rather fine Napoléon, if Gino is any judge. 'We are glad our friends in America are showing such interest in our local business.' There is a hint of menace in his tone.

'Oh, don't get me wrong,' says Gino, relaxedly. 'We don't want to step on you guys' toes, or make out we know more about the situation than you do. It's just that Uncle Sammy got wind of trouble here, and he wanted to do anything he could to help. You know, we could do some good business together in the future, maybe.'

'Maybe. But you will have to tell us what you wish to do. The tomb of Lenin is very important here, Mister Ferrocco. We have respect for the di Scarlatto family, of course. But you must be very careful here, in our country, where we have things the way we like them. Any actions you take might cause us trouble. You will have to explain them to us very carefully if you want our help.'

'Sure, sure, I understand that. Really, it's the last thing I'd want to do, to queer your pitch for you. And Uncle Sammy'd say the same. But there's been some strange rumours that he wanted me to look into. Like the rumour that the body might not be Lenin's at all. And if so where is Lenin?'

The atmosphere in the room seems suddenly to drop several degrees in temperature. There are a couple of intakes of breath, and Gino feels a prickling on the back of his neck. He remains in as open and friendly a posture as he is able. 'A man must be careful speaking of such things,' says Botkin slowly. 'If it was not Lenin, that would be a very large lie at the heart of our country. Who would benefit from such a thing?'

He clicks his finger sharply, the noise breaking the silence as briskly as a gunshot. 'You know where to find us, Mister Ferrocco. And we know where to find you. Your uncle is a man we want to help. But this is Russia, and there is no other country like Russia. You must be very careful.'

The next morning, Kris, Grace, Gino and Stuart, breakfasting together at the Novotel, are surprised to be visited by Alexey Maximov, accompanied by Ned Numenor. Ned, seeming a little diffident, introduces himself to the two ladies and seniormost operatives first. He bows slightly to Grace and extends his hand. 'Dr. Ndofir, I am honoured to be working with you and I'm very pleased to meet you.'

Grace demonstrates her rare smile. 'How do you do, Mr Numenor?'

Ned turns to Kris and appears momentarily fazed. 'Hello, Ms. MacDowell, my name is Ned Numenor.' His handshake is warm and lingering. 'I'm very pleased to be working with you.' His smile is pleasant and hopeful. 'I would like very much to have coffee with you sometime today, to discuss… um, your plans for our current investigation and perhaps share notes on previous experiences.'

'Glad to see you've finally decided to meet up with us,' replies Kris briskly. Her manner is distinctly cool.

Stuart's dirty dreadlocks give Ned a moment's hesitation, but he gives the younger man a genuine smile and shakes his hand. 'Glad to meet you, Stuart.'

Finally he turns to Gino and looks at the lawyer intensely for a moment. 'I'm familiar with the Ferrocco name. Are you related to the New York crime family?'

Gino's easy manner hardens, and his jaw sets. 'Ferrocco's not an unusual name, Mr Numenor. I see you're a man who likes to ask questions.'

'I certainly don't want to pry into your private affairs,' apologises Ned.

'Good. We're here to investigate Lenin's tomb, after all, not each other,' says Gino, smiling at last.

Stuart, glancing from face to face, has the feeling that this meeting is not going as well as planned. 'Er, Mr Maximov, Alexey, good to meet you. Were you able to get hold of those items I asked for?'

Maximov grins. 'Here you are - all present and correct!' He passes a canvas holdall across to Stuart, and another to Grace.

'Still no sign of the other two: well, I suggest we sit down and share what we've found out so far, rather than wasting any more time,' says Kris. She glances across the restaurant at Jeffrey, who is sitting with Jeremiah Fulk and pointedly ignoring the rest of the operatives.

Ned follows her glance and sees the two men, but decides not to disrupt proceedings further at this point.

The clock radio wakes Vera at 6:30 a.m. with what she assumes is Russian folk music. She showers then dresses in sneakers, jeans, a T-shirt and throws a large Baltimore Ravens sweat shirt over her shoulders. She grabs her umbrella and goes down to the hotel's restaurant for breakfast, stopping to get a copy of the Wall Street Journal. The Dow Jones was down 78 points yesterday: and the dollar still falling against the euro.

While Vera is munching her fried eggs on toasted black bread, she hears a voice she thinks she recognizes, speaking in English to a table of mixed Germans and Russians. The speaker is a slim man of average height, with wire-rimmed glasses and light-coloured hair. He suddenly notices Vera looking at him, nods in a non-committal way and continues his conversation. Vera goes back to her breakfast. A few minutes later the German is suddenly standing next to Vera's chair, as his companions leave the restaurant.

'Pardon me, but I think you and I may have met,' he says. 'I am Dr. Gottfried Ulek and I remember your face from that terrible business at Oxford, almost a year it has been.'

'Yes, doctor. My name is Vera Goodchild. I remembered your voice just now but could not place where I had heard you. You are correct. I was at Oxford, an event that was much more exciting than anyone would have preferred.' Vera's mind is racing, trying to remember what SITU's briefing document had said about the man. 'I am here on vacation with my uncle who is doing some research of his own. This morning I expect to visit Lenin's tomb. How about you, is this visit to Moscow business or pleasure?'

'Mostly business, but this is quite a coincidence,' Ulek says. 'If you return to the tomb after lunch again you will see me! I am working on a little experiment and I have been labouring my assistants without respite. They have seen nothing of Moscow and they would not forgive me if I did not at least invite a young lady who shares some of our interests to visit. Although, I do not know your interests, what are they?'

'Oh, it's really my uncle's interests,' Vera answers. 'Some crazy publishing company actually pays him to write about these things, go figure! I have the freedom to travel so I often follow him. But he is not staying at this hotel.'

Ulek raises his eyebrows attentively, although it is clear that he has little idea what Vera intended by this last remark. 'You should come to the tomb at 2:30 pm, that is when we will be taking our break. I hope you will allow me to tell you about our work. You must agree, I have to go now.'

'… so Lenin was born in 1871, but by that time Blondlot was already 22 years old,' says Stuart.

'Well, I suppose it must be just a coincidence, then,' says Grace. 'I've arranged for us to take part in a tour of Red Square this morning, including the tomb: we should be setting off now.'

With ill grace, Jeffrey, trailing Fulk, comes to join the rest of the group as the tour party gathers in the hotel foyer. There are about twenty people in total. Ned shakes Jeffrey's hand, a little stiffly. 'Hello, Reverend. I'm surprised to see you working as a SITU team member.'

Jeffrey is a little taken aback by this brusque welcome. 'Ah - we all have our cross to bear, Mr Numenor.'

Still shaking Jeffrey's hand, Ned turns his face toward the gargoyle-like Jeremiah Fulk. 'Who's your friend?'

'This is Mr Fulk.' Jeffrey prises his hand free. 'Jeremiah Fulk, Ned Numenor - is that short for Edward, Mr Numenor?'

Fulk turns his unworldly gaze upon Ned. 'A gentleman from our colonies in Virginia, I hazard by your accents, sir. I met one such, by the name of Barth, Mr John Barth. He was a sot-weed factor by trade, despatching dried consignments of the deadly tobacco weed back to England. How right His late Majesty King James was to speak out against it! A most learned and righteous monarch, also eager to speak against witchcraft. You may perchance be familiar with his Malleus Maleficarum.'

Vera is neither surprised nor pleased to see her Uncle Ned schmoozing with the other SITU operatives as her hotel tour joins up with that of the Novotel. She ignores him, as usual, and Ned shrugs: no doubt she will introduce herself to the others in due course. For now, all follow the guide, dutifully and in silence, as she lays out the delights of Red Square. It is about twice as long as it is wide, and at one end is the great multi-coloured onion-domed heap that is St Basil's Cathedral - actually an eighteenth century reconstruction of the medieval orthodox style, it is the favoured site for weddings among Moscow's wealthy young.

Occupying most of one long side is GUM, the huge shopping complex, which takes the form of a vast variety of stalls, on three floors, around two long central arcadea, selling everything from furniture to hunting goods to jewellery to fast food. 'Rather like Oxford's covered market, on the grand scale,' mutters Ned, detouring to buy some of the tasty caraway biscuits Muscovites favour.

Next to GUM is the Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, a reconstruction of the fourteenth-century building, only completed in 1997: apart from looking rather new and shiny, it is accurate to the last detail. It is easy to imagine the great palace of Lenin that Stalin had planned on this site, though, white marble gazing down over the city.

At the other short side is the Moscow City Museum, housed in another former church. This is worth a day in itself, and is very strong on the medieval history of the city, and the various times it has been besieged.

Finally the entirety of the other long side is occupied by the Kremlin, the vast fortification that has been the home of Russian government for centuries. The whole complex is about half a mile by a mile, bounded by wall and river: the wall on Red Square is about forty feet high and is broken by one gate. There are three towers, each of which is topped by motionless sentries guarding a Russian flag, which flaps out strongly despite the near absence of wind.

Set into the wall are memorials to the greats of Soviet history; Stalin, Marshal Zhukov, Kruschev, Gromyko, Brezhnev. Only Lenin now has a separate mausoleum, though, a blocky structure of red and black granite that looms underneath the wall. There is no queue to enter, past the unsmiling guards (whom Grace notes do not look especially unhealthy), around the glass case filled with lilies among which Lenin's small, suit-clad body lies in peaceful repose. Two closed doors also lead out of the room: apparently there is a fair-sized complex below ground level.

'… Lenin's body was put on display after his death on January 21, 1924. Ever since there has been debate about whether his body should be moved for reburial with other members of his family in St Petersburg, formally Leningrad, or even moved inside the Kremlin wall with Stalin and other Soviet worthies…' and with that the party have been whisked around the exhibit, and the tour guide has moved on to other topics of more interest to nine out of ten tourists.

Vera is surprised by the lack of interest. She agrees with Zhukov: the corpse, assuming it was real, does have power. She feels it. Not supernatural power of course, she has absolutely no sensitivity when it came to that kind of thing. But that body was there and important at the centre of history. It gave the order for the execution of the Tsar's family, it gave the order that made Stalin party secretary (a job none of the other major revolutionary players wanted at the time), it…IT was there breathing the air, walking the earth. Without Lenin's genius and good luck, socialism might never have taken serious hold in Russia without the checks and balances of democracy; and that would have changed so much and… that's not why she is here.

The other tourists have already left the mausoleum, but Vera lingers to peer more closely at the corpse. The skin is yellowish and smooth, the expression tranquil. It looks rather as though it has been carved out of cheese. After a moment she thinks, 'it looks so bad… if it were a fake, surely it would look more real.'

Back in the open, the tour starts to break up, and the operatives note the small gaggle of scientists scattered around the tomb's back wall. Supervised by Ulek, they have various devices attached to the walls, and inside a smallish red-and-white striped tent can be seen two computers and various assorted other electronic equipment. The impression conveyed is not one of urgent industry. Talking to Ulek is a female officer in the Russian Army: they are both poring over a blueprint.

'Yes, getting access to the old issues of Pravda is easy enough,' says Alexey to Kris. 'But they are in Russian, of course. You will not be able to find which articles are of interest to you.'

'And I don't suppose the translation software will be that useful for searching with,' says Grace. 'We can hardly scan in ten years' worth of issues, translate them all, and then do the search in English. It needs someone who reads Russian to look through the archives and find the articles for us, then we can translate them.'

Kris looks inquiringly at Alexey, who blenches. 'That will take me a very long time,' he says anxiously. 'Perhaps several days, if I am to look for all of these things - the design competition will be easy to find, because we know when it was, but the incidence of cancer among the guards… that could have been published at any time. If it has been published at all. Which I doubt very much.' He looks apologetic. 'I am not a researcher, Miss Macdowell, I am, what do you say, a fixer.'

'Well, can you fix us a researcher, then?' requests Kris tersely.

'I will try to.'

Stuart meanwhile has wandered across the square to meet Rakim, Ali Hafiz and Soraya, his new acquaintances from last night. 'Good morning! We should eat at a café I know close by here,' suggests Rakim, guiding Stuart by the elbow. All three look rather hungry.

'I'll meet you this evening,' yells Stuart over his shoulder as he is dragged off, firmly clutching the camera with which he has been snapping away all morning.

Ned glances down at the monitor which is picking up the signal from the small microphone bug he placed against the inside wall of the tomb. Nothing yet. He wonders how it would be best to monitor it: connect it to a set of headphones? But that could be rather distracting.

He looks hopefully at Kris, to see whether she intends to take up his lunch offer.

Just at that point Katrina enters the square. Too wired to sleep, she has decided to stay awake on coffee today and to get into sync with local time the hard way. There is no point meeting Brian's contact, Mikhail Botkin - some sort of local hood - until tonight, so she may as well make something out of the day. She catches sight of the small huddle of operatives: vicar, serious old lady, overweight American with a baseball cap - must be them.

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