The classic team role-playing game of conspiracy and strangeness


12.15pm, 8th July 1999

Katrina straightens her mini-skirt, puts on her best mind-melting smile and heads straight for Jeffrey. 'Mr Fanlight I presume?'

'Ah.. eh? … yes, that's me,' says the Reverend confusedly.

'My name's Katrina, but my friends call me Kat - you can call me Kat.' She turns to take in the rest of the square, raises her sunglasses slightly, winces and drops them again. 'Nice place, though perhaps a little cold for this outfit.'

Jeffery follows her gaze downwards to her mini-skirt, and rapidly returns his own upwards. His heart is not at all in the business of SITU, but he is too polite to dismiss the newcomer, particularly as she seems relatively well-mannered herself, certainly in comparison with the other operatives. 'Er, I suppose you must have been delayed?'

'Mmm,' agrees Katrina, her mind clearly elsewhere. 'Maybe you know somewhere a lady can go shopping for threads?'

'I really think you'd do better asking…'

Katrina leans close and adds, in a stage whisper that can probably be heard in the Ukraine, 'It might even help with our cover! Like this spy movie I saw on cable the other night.' She turns to Jeremiah, who is peering puzzledly at the flags on the Kremlin wall. 'And who might this attractive gentleman be?'

'This is Mr Jeremiah Fulk,' says Jeffrey.

For once Jeremiah seems to have been listening to what was going on, and he leans across to shake Katrina delicately by the hand. 'May the Lord's blessing be upon you, my dear Mistress Darken. Have you come to join us in adversity?'

'He was rather unwell on the plane,' explains Jeffrey.

Meanwhile, any faint hopes that the group of operatives might at last actually be united are dashed, as Vera continues to ignore the others and heads over to where Ulek and the Russian officer are conversing. Approaching quietly she taps Ulek on the shoulder before they realize she is there, which startles them as they pore over the blueprint. The woman relaxes before Ulek does and, to Vera's surprise, promptly offers a handshake and a smile.

'My friend Dr Ulek seems to have a weakness for young ladies. Am I correct in saying you are a new friend of his, British perhaps?' the officer asks.

For his part, Ulek turns bright red and attempts to stammer out an answer, but Vera smiles, liking the Russian woman's forthrightness. 'I am an American, although I have spent the last few months in the UK,' she says, shaking the Russian's hand. 'My name is Vera Goodchild. I am travelling with my uncle who has come to Russia to study and write about mystical goings on and… stuff… and here he comes now,' Vera says. 'To be fair to the Doctor, we had a chance and brief meeting a year ago.'

'And we were to have a not-so-chance meeting this afternoon, at half past two, were we not?' asks Ulek in a rather hurt tone. 'We are all busy here now.

Ned meanwhile is staring off in an almost trance-like state. Moscow sneaks up on you, right into your blood. Once bitten, it's hard to look at the world in the same way. A sense of wonder and amazement fills him, standing there in Red Square-the historic and spiritual heart of the former Soviet Union. Russia is a country where nothing is as it seems and, standing there gazing at St Basil's Cathedral at the far end of the square, he is overwhelmed with a sense that he is standing at a crossroads of sorts. The shadows of the past and the shades of the future are pressing in on him, his eyes lock on the primal colours of St Basil's. The reds, greens, yellows, whites, and blues, its geometric swirls and shapes seem to move in a pattern of chaotic beauty. The sounds of his companions' words fade from his senses as the patterns seem to begin to swirl. Ned has the distinct impression that if he concentrates, he would be able to discern some insight or message from dizzying images.

He gradually becomes aware that Grace is plucking at his sleeve. He turns slowly to her, the colours receding from his mind's eye, and says slowly 'This place is so expectant isn't it? Waiting for something. Like it's holding its breath.'

Grace nods politely. 'Why don't you go and talk to Dr Ulek, Ned? You could ask him what he's up to and what he's found, whether anyone apart from us - Russian or foreign - has been taking an interest in his work, and if we can get to see the other parts of the tomb - particularly the underground parts.'

'Ulek? - oh!' Ned takes in the scientist and his Army friend, and sees his own dear niece backing away slightly from the two of them.

'Not just yet, though,' puts in Stuart - he has managed to disengage himself from his Arab friends, who are rather disappointedly resigning themselves to having to buy their own lunch now - firmly, and he hands out a mobile phone to each operative, giving Ned an extra one for Vera. 'Now let's all write down each other's numbers.'

That business done, Ned fishes in his courier pack for a file folder from the Institute of Metahistory, and strides over towards the mausoleum. From across the square, Mahmoud stands quietly observing Ned and the others, several cigarette stubs at his feet.

Vera moves to cut Ned off as he approaches. They speak in Spanish, which is not a strength of Vera's but has the advantage of allowing them to argue somewhat discretely in front of others.

'?Por qué no vinisté encima y no dijo 'hola' o algo cuando nos vio todos junto. Estaba referida que su personalidad agradable nos abrumaría? Ned enjoys tweaking his splenetic niece, who responds with typical acerbity.

'El único miedo de la cosa yo tengo, tío, es el aerosol de su snacking constante,' Vera says through a forced grin. Ned decides now is not a good time to offer his niece a cookie. '?Tienes confianza en ellos?' she asks.

'Supongo que si,' Ned responds. There is a brief silence, and it is clear Ulek and the officer are ending their business for now. Vera asks, 'Digamé, tío, SITU esta empleando orangután ahora?'

A curious description for the tall, slim, elegant scion of the Ferrocco clan, thinks Ned, and he replies, 'No, ese se llama Gino. De veras, actúa como alguien de una película barata de la mafia.'

Ned watches Vera and the Russian officer walk away along the Kremlin wall behind the mausoleum, and turns to Ulek, who is also watching the two women walk away, with notably greater interest than Ned. 'Herr Doktor, as a professional courtesy to the Institute of Metahistory - perhaps you know Viatcheslav Kourdriavtsev, member of the Russian Geographical Society of the Russian Academy of Sciences, and the institute's director - you would permit me, as a fellow researcher, to accompany your team as it conducts its researches here at the mausoleum?' Ned begins to assume a pedantic tone of voice, edging toward the pompous, as he imagines most real PhDs are like. 'I would be most interested in observing your techniques - rhabdomancy is a personal interest of mine and I have, if you would permit me immodest and idle speculation, a few unique theories regarding Odic forces and aetheric permutations.'

Ulek raises his eyebrows. 'I know Director Kourdriavtsev, yes, of course. We have shared many panels. A fine scholar. Well, you will be interested in the work we are doing here. We have found what we believe is a very potent nexus of the third degree, which as you will know means…'

As Ulek speaks, his glasses glinting with enthusiasm, Ned is reminded of a quote, 'Man's capacity for self- delusion is infinite.' He hasn't much belief in the supernatural or in unobserved phenomena that are impenetrable to scientific investigation and yet, and yet, the Oxford debacle has made him less sure of his world and its rationalist foundations. Nevertheless, habits die hard, and Ned's old habit of scepticism surfaces quickly when speaking with the German researcher. 'And what can you tell me about your research goals for the current project, and the methods that you intend to employ to reach those goals?' Ned peers with curiosity at the blueprint, the computers and the various assorted other electronic equipment.

'This is just a simple mapping at first, to locate the nexi,' explains Ulek, pointing to the swirls of pattern on the blueprint. They look rather like magnetic field diagrams, or perhaps contour maps, overlaying the structural elements of the building. They cluster and bend about Lenin's body, like filings about a bar magnet. 'When the map is complete, we are seeking permission to conduct an internal investigation, but this has not yet been forthcoming. The local authorities are rather wary, you can imagine, and they want proof that the investigation will be worthwhile.'

'Are these measurements not proof enough?' asks Ned, trying to sound intelligent.

'I am hoping so. This is what I said to the Captain just now - she is reporting to her superiors.'

Ned nods wisely. 'The Institute may desire a joint-sponsorship with the Karl-Heim-Institut for this project. Can you tell me the source of the Institut's funding for your current investigations?'

'Oh, we are funded just by the German state of course. But I will say, if your Institute can pull strings for us in there,' he gestures towards the Kremlin itself, 'we will be glad to have you on board. I have a feeling that we can learn a great deal by getting inside Vladimir Ilyich, but they will be very reluctant to give us the permissions.'

Ned is relieved to hear that the Trismegistus Club do not seem to be involved. 'Tell me, doktor, I've heard reports of miraculous healings experienced by people as they stood before Lenin's body. Do you know of any people who profess to have shared this experience?'

Ulek smiles. 'There are such stories, yes. But this is not really science, my dear Dr Numenor, is it? Merely anecdote. We have not been seeking out such people. These are our witnesses!' He indicates the computers and measuring equipment gathered all around.

Ulek has indicated that Ned would be very welcome to take part in the investigations, and so he wanders around the site, poking about the place, brandishing his official sanction when requested. He finds that the mausoleum is rather like an iceberg, there is a good deal more o it underground. It seems to include offices, archives, and a number of small laboratories to do with maintenance of the embalming job. According to Ulek's diagrams, though, N-rays are only being emitted by the body itself, with nothing of any significance on the other levels - apart from the usual signals the German explains one would expect to see generated by water pipes and electrical ducting.

As he tours the complex Ned takes the opportunity to stick self-adhesive microphones in a number of interesting locations, but he is rather surprised to find when he returns to the surface that they have all been found, gathered up, and deposited in a heap on Ulek's table. The ruffled rhabdologist is poking through them annoyedly. 'Look at this! These Russian Army people, they are always planting these bugs on our experiment. Why they want to listen to us, I do not know. But they are fools, because of course we can detect their presence instantly, with our sensitive equipment. See!' He shows Ned a printout from slightly earlier, in which the N-ray pattern is distorted by first-degree nexi at each point Ned had left a bug.

Vera approaches the Army officer as she leaves Ulek to deal with Ned. 'Have you known Ulek very long, Major - I'm sorry, I don't know your name?'

The officer explains she is just a captain, and a university-trained engineer assigned to work with Ulek in his search for a theoretical source of 'radiation, or light ray.' Her name is slightly un-Russian, Hannah Dyson. She explains that her great-grandparents on her father's side came to Russia in the 1920s from England. Dyson looks to be in her mid-30s, with dark brown, wavy hair tied up off of her neck in military fashion. She wears glasses and has a cap folded through a shoulder strap but her uniform is otherwise unremarkable to Vera.

'We have been mapping the various electromagnetic fields and other energy sources we detect in the tomb and tracing them to their natural sources. It is one of many steps in finding something that can not be otherwise explained' Dyson says. 'Every now and then, usually after a tour, something shows up to throw off the patterns we have found. One of the tourists just here probably dropped a penknife or something highly magnetic inside the tomb, we have to run a metal detector around the place almost every day to find stray bits of metal.'

'My uncle intends to keep Dr. Ulek busy for quite some time, perhaps you would indulge me and have lunch,' Vera says to Dyson. 'My own interest in Lenin up until now has been historical, but your presence here makes me wonder if I am missing something.'

'Why do you care?' Dyson responds as she lights a cigarette and begins walking through Red Square.

Vera follows. 'I suppose I care only because my uncle is interested. He has been talking about things called 'N rays,' and I am assuming that is why you are here.'

The captain stops walking and looks Vera square in the eyes. 'Yes.'

'Yes, what?' Vera responds.

'I will have lunch with you,' Dyson says. She smiles again and leads Vera out of Red Square and in the direction of what the American hopes is a restaurant or cafe.

'Alexey, that Army officer, who just left - can you see which unit she's from?' asks Stuart curiously.

Maximov takes the binoculars and studies Captain Dyson as she leaves. He grows pale. 'Bogou miou! I know this woman - she is on our files. Colonel Valentina Gruzhkin. She is not Army at all, she is KGB.' He puts the binocs hastily away and moves to hide behind Stuart. 'A very dangerous person. She is in counter-intelligence.'

'What, you mean like SMERSH, that used to give James Bond so much trouble?' asks Stuart jokingly.

Alexey looks at him seriously. 'Not everything in those films was fiction, Stuart.'

As Vera and 'Captain Dyson' walk, the Russian's mood lightens, explaining she was able to visit England a few years ago when she took a short course at Cambridge University. She went to see Bradford where her great grandparents were born. That had not been very exciting. Dyson preferred the villages of Yorkshire, and the Cotswolds.

Eventually they settle at a rather nice cafe with outdoor seating, but which also had overhead cover. Vera orders soup and a baked potato, the Russian opts for what amounts to fish and chips.

'Why is the Russian Army interested in Ulek's work? What is your opinion of him?' Vera asks, as she gingerly sips her yellowish soup.

'He seems a very capable experimenter,' says Dyson slowly. 'He knows his field very well, too. We are involved just because it is we who administer the mausoleum. Of course, we cannot have anyone wandering around taking measurements from Vladimir Ilyich without one of us supervising them, you understand this.'

'When I met him before, it was during a conference on the spiritual world, although his interest seemed to be more extraterrestrial,' Vera says. 'Are these experiments or 'N-rays' connected with either of those issues?'

Dyson shrugs. 'If so, he has not said. We are just interested in science, not in mystical things.'

A waiter stops by, offering various small bottles of vodka with lunch, but the captain suggests a bottle of Hungarian wine known as 'Bull's Blood.' Vera pauses and says, 'I don't drink, but please be my guest. If I am going to ask so many question, then you may as well relax.'

'I am already relaxed,' Dyson says, her blazing eyes burning into Vera's own. Once the waiter returns with the wine, the captain quickly drinks half a glass, folds her arms in front of her and leans close to Vera. 'What do you think we will find, Ms Goodchild?'

Vera is taken aback by the question, but realizes Dyson is serious and that she had better tell her something. 'I can only tell you what my uncle has suggested to me. Much of his reporting, many of his stories, try to link together what appear to be unconnected and unexplained events.'

Dyson laughs briefly and asks, 'Is he a paranoid?'

'No,' Vera says, looking thoughtful. She smiles and adds, 'I used to think so, but I think most people dislike him. I do, so it's not all his imagination.' The Russian laughs again, and Vera continues her story. 'Uncle Ned believes many unexplained events are connected, but he does not fall into the 'nutters camp' of people who pretend the inability to prove something untrue, no matter how loony, somehow makes any incredible theory true. No, he's looking for evidence in the here and now. Evidence that can be tested.'

'What is that?' asks Dyson.

'My uncle thinks there may be alien powers at work on earth, powers that have taken sides or recruited followers among us. He thinks aliens may have been on earth for a long time and that they may even be at war with each other. He calls them 'watchers,' a word he says is used by some who know these aliens.'

'But you do not believe this?' Dyson asks.

'I think there are some people who do, and I think your curiosity is not by chance, Hannah,' Vera now speaks in a slow whisper. She returns the Russian's stare with her own icy glare. 'What can you tell me about these watchers, Hannah?'

Hannah does not answer this time. The two are just a few inches apart and except for the occasional blink, neither is moving. Finally, the Russian says, 'I must say, Vera, I thought you were interested in something quite different.'

Vera continues her icy glare. 'I hear that a lot. Just tell me what is going on at the tomb, Hannah, tell me why you need blueprints of what must be among the best-known buildings in Moscow, and explain to me why you care about these 'watchers'? Tell me because I want to protect my uncle.' She suddenly leans back and away from the captain. 'Tell me, Hannah, unless you trust Ulek enough to place your ass in his hands.'

The captain smiles. 'I am very careful whose hands I put my 'ass' in, Vera. In these days, we must all be careful. I would think that you would be a careful person, too. So I can tell you this, as one careful person to another, your uncle will dig his own grave if he digs around Vladimir Ilyich. There are people who can hurt him more than any of these 'watchers' can. He sounds like a man who is running downhill. How sure is he that he can stop?'

'I don't know, it all looks legit enough to me,' says Stuart, staring at the enlargements Alexey has made for him of the photographs he took of the scientists and their equipment. 'But what do I know?' He has faxed copies to SITU, in case they are any wiser.

Slipping into the Moscow-normal clothes Alexey had found for him, he returns to Red Square to watch the scientists packing away their belongings at the end of their working day. They leave in a large, chatty group, and head back to the Savoy, leaving the mausoleum to its stolid, unspeaking guards, and to the pigeons that seem to infest every city in Europe.

Returning to the hotel, Ned catches Jeffrey as he is about to take Jeremiah sight-seeing. 'Reverend, I've given something considerable thought, and there's a matter of grave importance that I think you can help me with.' Noticing Fulk, Ned to be polite includes him. 'And perhaps your friend as well.' Ned's face is a mixture of hope and uncertainty. He really wants to have as little contact as possible with these two, but believes that they're both best suited to helping him. 'It's about my niece, Vera. Her parents, who were murdered by a group called the Trismegistus Club…have you heard of them?'

Jeffrey looks blank, and Ned, feeling foolish begins speaking rapidly. 'Well, anyway, during her conception, her parents attempted certain occult rituals with the goal of producing an augmented human being. As a result of a Faustian bargain, an evil entity - demon I suppose you'd call it - named 'Celebrax, Prince of Blades' has captured her dead parents' souls and is tormenting them in a distant place of suffering. In an extraordinarily rash move, her parents' actions has - as I understand it - forfeited her soul to it as well. Even now the entity lusts after her soul, and I'm afraid that her life may be in danger.' Ned pauses: taking a breath, he pulls a cookie out of one of his pockets and begins eating it. 'The key, or perhaps one of the keys to the mystery and possibly a weapon or a shield that we can use is contained in two leather-bound tomes smelling of sulphur. We were told a holy man, perhaps someone such as yourself, Reverend, could help reveal the nature of this instrument of power. They're written in some language I cannot read. Would the two of you please look at the books with me?'

Jeffrey blinks owlishly, rather taken back by this outlandish request. Can the other man be quite sane? But if a human soul were truly in jeopardy, it would be a dreadful dereliction of his duty not to investigate further. 'Er, you might find that Dr Ndofir would be helpful, she is a linguist I understand. But I -'

He has barely started the sentence when Katrina, breezing though the lobby,. takes him by the arm 'Come on, Reverend - shopping time!'

She drags Jeffrey away, leaving Ned staring frustratedly after him. Jeremiah Fulk, his mouth open in alarm, makes to scuttle after his protector, but before doing so he says quietly to Ned 'Master Numenor, 'tis a surety that no remedy can have effect lest thy niece be of good faith herself. Our Lord came to save us from our own sins, and those of our fathers: but unless thou art like unto a little child, and welcometh him into thy heart, there will be no salvation for thee, so he said.'

Gino has received his gun and camera from the nervous-looking Boris Yefimovich. The automatic is far from the modern weapon he would have wished: it is a very 1970s-looking 9mm, with make and serial numbers filed off. He tucks it into his belt and admires himself in the mirror of his hotel room, slicking back his hair. 'You talkin' to me? I can't see anyone else here, so you must be talkin' to me!' Satisfied, he shoots his cuffs and departs.

Half an hour later he is talking politely and earnestly to the tour guide, complimenting her on the cleanliness of the monument, compared to filthy places like the Taj Mahal. 'Can I leave a note of appreciation for the cleaners?'

'But of course,' smiles the guide, Galina. She sips prettily at her coffee. 'I will make sure they receive it.'

'Say, are you free for dinner?' Gino asks, and as she agrees delightedly he puts his hand on his wallet again, just to make sure - it is still there. You can't be too careful: these people are all thieves and hookers, but at least he has made a connection.

Ned does not have to wait long before he can collar his next victim, Kris. 'So, er, how about lunch, Kris?'

The librarian frowns and sighs, pushing her hair back off her face. 'No, look, Grace and I were going to head back to Red Square and…'

'Me too! - maybe we could catch some food on the way?' Ned's eyes are large and appealing.

'Oh, all right then, I suppose.' Kris does not seem particularly thrilled by the prospect. She glances around irritably for Grace, to chaperone her.

Ned finds that Grace is rather more prepared to make conversation with him than Kris is. She talks calmly and assuredly about her work as an anthropologist, and fills him in a little on the group's recent investigation in Hatfield Peverel. Kris is rather short and snappy, but under the influence of extreme politeness and respectfulness from Ned she unbends enough to explain that she hates travel, and is suffering from jetlag.

Grace notices that Ned checks his portable N-ray detector from time to time, changing it when it becomes 'used up'. He does not seem to have found anything of particular interest yet.

Jeffrey has had enough by now of politely traipsing around GUM with Katrina, although he has to admit she looks much more acceptable in jeans, a jumper and sensible shoes. Even Jeremiah seems happy with the fur hat she has bought him. 'I was wondering if you could accompany me to visit a contact?' she asks. 'A Mr Botkin, he's a friend of a friend. I didn't want to be travelling about by myself.'

'No, that would never do,' agrees Jeffrey automatically, although inwardly he is seething. He wants nothing more than just to abandon the investigation, finish his parish business and get out, leaving the others to stew in their own juices.

'Mr Botkin? I think I have something that might interest you. I've been talking to my principal, Mr di Scarlatto, and he's very interested in acquiring some… pharmaceuticals… from your people, if you can put your hands on such a thing. In return, dollars, or arms if you'd prefer. Good money for both of us. We're particualrly interested in psychoactives.' Gino is a little puzzled about this - Uncle Sammy had sounded very enthusiastic at the prospect of getting hold of ex-KGB truth drugs and psychedelics - but his role was not to question his uncle's decisions.

'I think we can help you,' says Botkin's voice over the phone. 'Let me try and put together some samples.'

'Excellent, thank you. I'll swing by tomorrow, if that's agreeable?'

'Make it late. We're busy tonight.'

'Very well. And perhaps you can help me with a couple of other things - do you know a Father Zukhov, and an Alexey Maximov? Anything I should know about them?'

'Zukhov? That vodka priest! He's no holy man. Fancies himself as the new Rasputin, I think. But he is connected with the anarchists. Maximov… no, I don't think so. No-one important.'

Gino hangs up satisfied with himself. Unlike the crowd of yes-men and sponging relatives that surround Uncle Sammy, he is setting up connections to enhance the family's power. Uncle Sammy will appreciate that.

Vera finds a pay telephone and manages to place the call correctly. The other end of the line picks up and a familiar voice roars something in Russian. 'Hello Father Zukhov, or should I just call you 'daddy?'' Vera says in her best sugar-coated voice.

Zhukov roars with laughter. 'Miss Good-Child!, Father will do very well, thank you. You are calling to arrange dinner I hope? I will meet you in the Savoy's lobby at 6:30 p.m. Some place nice and very expensive is where you are taking me, so dress well.'

She hangs up and uses her umbrella to flag down a taxi to take her to the GUM stores. 'More clothes,' she sighs.

Jeffrey gives Katrina a ride on the back of his Harley, squeezing between himself and Jeremiah, to the backstreet address she has given him, noting absently that there seem to be a number of big men in dark suits stood about the place, then roars off to the nearest phone box. 'SITU? Hello, this is Jeffrey Fanlight. I'd like to be taken off this investigation, please.'

Geoff Blaize's voice at the other end is crackly and surprised. 'Well, of course, if you think so, Reverend. But I think that would be a great pity, if the others were to lose your spiritual guidance.'

'Pah!' exclaims Jeffrey involuntarily.

'I'm sorry, there seems to be some sort of interference on the line, it sounded like… yes, as I was saying, I think there's a big spiritual dimension to this investigation, and you're really the only man we have for that sort of work. The fate of humanity could be in your hands, Reverend, remember that.' Blaize's voice drops to a wheedle. 'We've been more than fair to you, we haven't said anything about you breaking Fulk out of the safehouse, have we? We're cutting you lots of slack, Reverend, can't you cut us a bit too?'

Jeffrey hangs up and, nothing daunted, calls the airport for information about flights back to London. He has only just got through when there is a peremptory tap on the glass of the box. He turns round to see two armed policemen standing there. Jeremiah Fulk, gazing vacantly about himself, is being led off by two more to a police van parked nearby. 'Papers, please!' says one of the men brusquely.

'I say!' protests Jeffrey, delving into his pocket with one hand to produce his passport and visa. 'What are you doing with that gentleman?'

'His papers were not in order,' explains the policeman, carefully checking Jeffrey's own.

'But you don't understand… he's not well… he's, erm, simple… in the head…' Jeffrey is starting to get frantic as Jeremiah is loaded into the back of the van.

'Your papers are also not in order,' says the policeman, pocketing Jeffrey's passport and visa. 'You can come with him and us to the police station.'

'What? I'm a man of the cloth!' protests Jeffrey outragedly, but to no avail.

'Pleasure doing business with you,' says Katrina, pushing the wad of notes across the table to Mikhail Botkin. The fat man riffles through it, not bothering to count it, as Katrina checks the action on the automatic. She drops the two grenades and the knife into her bag, and tucks the six-cell Maglite under her arm. 'I'll give your regards to Brian, hmm?'

'Yes, indeed,' says Botkin, dropping her money into a desk drawer. 'Be careful with those grenades. They are ex-Army, current issue, and the Army will want to know where they came from, if they see them.'

Katrina nods. 'Where did they come from? Some quartermaster doing a bit of private enterprise on the side?'

Botkin smiles. 'This is the land of opportunity, no?'

She emerges into the street to find no sign of Jeffrey. Hands on hips, she surveys the neighbourhood: it is not yet dark, but the streets are clear of people, except for the mafiya types lounging about the place.

Botkin comes out behind her and whistles to them, and they all start getting into cars.

'Hey, any chance of a lift back to town?' asks Katrina hopefully.

'Sorry - business,' says Botkin. He does not look particularly sorry, but then he probably rarely does. He and his men climb into cars and leave, together with an unmarked black van.

Alexey Maximov tells Kris and Grace that the soldiers are kept pretty much within barracks when they are stationed in the city, for fear that they will cause trouble if allowed to move freely outside when off duty. Their drinking-places and other haunts are mostly off-limits to civilians: the Russians have the idea that allowing soldiers and civilians to mix is a risky business. And he is horrified at the suggestion that either of the two women might seek to penetrate a soldier drinking-den. This would be extremely dangerous. He does, however, have a contact in the 23rd Infantry Regiment, who are in the city at the moment, and reckons that he can set up a meeting with an officer working on the mausoleum, or with a common soldier if you prefer, but it will inevitably be a rather artificial encounter - the soldier will be suspicious as to why he is being questioned in this way and may be rather cagey. There is no realistic way that an approach by two Western women speaking through a translator could be presented as a chance or casual encounter, or that you can readily win their trust. They will probably assume you to be journalists, at best.

'Tonight we take you to a special club, very good Arab music!' exclaims the pretty Soraya, to whom Stuart has taken rather a shine. The four of them pile into a taxi and Rakim babbles instructions to the driver. Stuart absently notes the chicken feathers and cookie crumbs all over the back seat, but he is mostly interested in observing the lit skyline of Moscow. The taxi buckets into the approach to Red Square, through which they must pass to reach their destination.

The driver hoots angrily as a little cavalcade, three cars and a van, swing into the road ahead of them, cutting him up, and accelerate off into the Square.

'This is interesting,' says Grace. 'Apparently this square used to be where the Cossacks camped when they came to Moscow. 'Red' doesn't mean red at all, it means 'beautiful'. And there's some speculation here that the Cossacks had a temple on the site - to the horse god they used to worship. Human sacrifices, that sort of thing.'

'Nothing much since then, though,' says Kris. 'All very civilized for the last seven hundred years or so.'

A bell rings, and the two realize that they are going to get thrown out of the museum shortly. It is a fascinating place, with a number of small rooms tucked away in unexpected places, and many exhibits unlabelled and rather unclear. It scarcely deals with the Communist era at all.

They emerge into the cold of the Square, and see that the scientists have all packed up and gone away. Only the still soldiers show any sign of life.

Then, just as Kris is about to suggest finding a cab, three large, black Mercedes sedans roar into the square, followed by a black unmarked van. They screech to a halt right in front of the mausoleum, and a fusillade of shots echoes from the Kremlin wall. One of the soldiers staggers and falls, and his comrade leaps behind cover before opening fire in response. The bullets ricochet harmlessly off the armoured Mercedes.

There are more soldiers stationed on top of the Kremlin wall, but they seem to be very slow at acting to help their fellows.

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