"Maybe nothing has happened."
Sergei shook his head. "If North Point station was seeing a ghost, Lenin Base should have immediately responded with a denial."
"It really looks like they're all asleep up there!" said Peter, and leaned back in his chair.
Sergei agreed. "You'd better call Lenin Base and find out what they know.... Unless they have been wiped out by a surprise attack."
Peter stared at him. The two men looked at each other in silence. "Stealth Cruise Missiles would not have been seen by North Point radar," said Peter.
"You're right. You'd better get me a line to NORAD first," said Sergei. "Get me Ralph Weissenberg if he is there. I met Ralph and his daughter at Disney World last year. We've talked a number of times since. We understand each other; he won't lie to me."
"Shouldn't you leave the diplomacy to Moscow?" Peter replied.
"No, Peter, don't argue, just do it. Moscow is talking to the generals, I want to hear the story from someone in the war room, someone with lesser rank, someone I can trust."
Peter complied with his wishes.
Sergei felt that if this were an accident, he would be partly responsible. It was his primary duty in the service of his country to keep the strategic planners in line so that there would be no accidents! Safety was regarded equally as important as strength. Only, could one man, working alone, do such a thing and do it in secret? An impossible task! If he failed, it wasn't his fault, he reasoned. He had done his best, had he not?
One of the most recognized facets of the old Soviet political system, under which his career begun, has always been its secrecy. In this regard, nothing had changed. The veil could still be so dense on occasion that several departments might try to control the same mission without any one knowing of the other. The Department of Strategic Planning was one of these.
The strategic planning office resided in a thirty-nine story concrete tower in the capital's university district. Were it not for a ten foot iron fence surrounding the grounds and military guard stations at its entrances, the complex could well be mistaken for an institution of learning or research. In a broad sense perhaps, it was an institution of research and learning. Behind its vast mosaic of double pane windows the country's strategic thrust was born. With mathematical precision, strategies of nuclear deterrence and war fighting capabilities were formulated, modeled, studied, evaluated, modified.... Unknown to all but a few, a second Strategic Planning office existed thousands of miles away, set up to keep the thrust of the first within reasonable limits. This was Sergei's domain.
His operation was based inside an old country estate in one of the finest ranching districts south of the Ural Mountains. Its location was ideal, on a high plain near a lake, surrounded by forests and open lands. The ranch once served as a summer escape for Moscow's nobility. Sergei called it his oasis. For his purposes the place and location was ideal. It provided the needed isolation that his job depended on. He needed to be distant from the influence-seeking mania that reigned within the strategic department in Moscow. He had selected the ranch himself. He needed a place to take the various policy makers to, when he felt they needed to get away from their desks in order that he might re-shape their ambitious plans by injecting some common sense, as it were. He felt this could be achieved in the solitude of a country-estate setting.
Usually, when his visitors arrived, they had a long journey behind them. Usually, he would have them arrive by train from Gurjev, which can be reached from Volgograd via a local air service with a twin engine turbo prop. Peter would pick them up at the train station, adding a two-hour bus ride to the end of their journey. This was all part of the plan. He could have arranged for air transportation right to the ranch. The ranch featured an airstrip long enough for a small bomber to land on. Except this fast access would have destroyed the feeling of isolation which he felt his visitors needed.
Officially, the ranch also served as Sergei's home. The top floor of the main mansion had been converted into a totally self- contained apartment, his inner sanctuary within the oasis. Often he spent his mornings there, having breakfast with is wife. The third floor features another balcony, also facing the lake. On clear winter days the railway station can be seen from the balcony, and on hot days it can serve as a place for having tea, combined with lengthy discussions. These things happened frequently.
Once Sergei lamented to Laara that he was facing great difficulties in keeping his veil of secrecy in place. "Most of our people at the center are kindly inclined and considerate in their private affairs." He had paused and reached for a piece of cake that day to have with the tea. "But as soon as they pass through the gate into the strategic center they become 'cool-headed' planners and suppress their human sensitivities. I find it harder and harder to persuade them to pull back and think as human beings with human feelings. The hardest part is, that it must be done without me directly ordering them to do so."
"Perhaps they may not be aware that they are losing touch with their own nature," Laara replied. "Many men have cut themselves off from humanity and encapsulated themselves in a dream world that is not in tune with the nature of a human being. I don't think your men at the center have the faintest notions of what monstrous games against themselves they have become involved in."
"They built mathematical models," Sergei replied, "to analyze the stress/terror balance and calculate a security index from which they determine a numeric representation of deterrence. The whole process is then subjected to critical path analysis to define the size and types of the required weapons to match the country's political aims."
"You would have done better to employ women," Laara grinned. "Woman are less torn by sexual urgencies than men, they would react from a different basis, we might never have had an arms race. Even if men would find it possible to be more true to their nature, which has made the human species such a successful survivor, we wouldn't be in this mess of threatening to blow each other off the face of the Earth!"
Sergei grinned back at her; "You are joking of course."
She just shook her head; "You don't even know what I am talking about, do you?"
"All that I know," said Sergei, "is, when the pressure mounts at the center, it is nearly impossible to maintain a level of sanity befitting a human being."
Laara just nodded.
"If I bring them to the ranch for a man to man talk," Sergei added, "the men become angry with me and restless. The back to nature perspective doesn't help anymore."
"You don't know what your nature is," Laara said sadly and turned away. "You insist on suppressing it. You simply don't know anymore!"
While waiting for his connection to NORAD, the feeling grew on Sergei that Laara might have been right. It was obvious that the ranch hadn't helped much, except to keep his position a mystery. Still he hated the feminist movement even more than his own bunch. The feminists hadn't done anything for their own ranks, but stir up trouble. Sergei was a practical man, interested in results. That's why the thought that he may have failed in his assessments, which now weighed so heavily on him, especially now that the world might be called upon to pay the price for his failing. This was the undeniable, practical reality that stared him in the face.
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