CHAPTER 2

Two weeks ago — Senate building, Moscow Kremlin Complex

President Vladimir Volkov shook his head and laughed deep in the back of his throat. The pictures laid out before him were astounding, and if their content was real, it would be the greatest find in his country’s history.

He fanned out the photographs on the table. They all showed a silver metallic object that had been uncovered in the Yamalo-Nenetsk region by local villagers looking for mammoth tusks. The refrigerator-sized metallic object was said to cause a tingling sensation in the hands when touched — perhaps a device, then.

Originally he had thought it might be fallen space debris — their own, or maybe a spy satellite that had at last dropped from its decaying orbit. But then he read the detail that had made his scientists so excited — the rock-like, frozen soil around the object was nearly 100,000 years old. A working device from that age — what was its power source? Unless this was some sort of elaborate American trick, he may have uncovered something that could revolutionize his country… and cost nothing.

Like many non-Western countries, they were very adept at analyzing and improving foreign technology. Whether it was the latest German super-mainframe, American spy drone, or sophisticated software system… all could be deconstructed and the most sensitive and secret inner workings drawn out and improved for their own production. If the thing was real, they could do it again.

Volkov narrowed his eyes at the image of the shining object. If it truly proved to be some sort of otherworldly technology, what secrets had it brought? What military advantage?

He pushed back his chair. The object was on its way to the laboratory in Dubna. He’d see it for himself. If it was a hoax, someone’s head would roll — literally. He disliked traveling in the cold.

* * *

Dr. Gennady Millinov stood next to Volkov behind the thick, lead-impregnated glass. Volkov growled in his throat and turned to face the scientist, who, despite standing half a head taller, shrank from his gaze.

Like a hungry wolf, Millinov thought. The president was known to possess a ferocious temperament and his pale, unblinking stare fitted the name his friends and enemies alike had bestowed on him — Little Wolf. Millinov swallowed — the ex-KGB enforcer only reached his chin, but he seemed to tower over him. Millinov steeled himself before responding. ‘It’s cold… maintaining a constant internal temperature of about minus two hundred degrees Fahrenheit; perhaps to protect some sensitive electronics. We. . we think it is a probe, and… still functioning, or at least still active.’

Volkov stared intently into the scientist’s eyes, making the taller man lick his lips and smile weakly. Eventually, he turned back to the window. The metallic object was a simple silver tube devoid of screw holes or weld marks. Like the scientists, he surmised that whoever — or whatever — had sealed it had used a technology beyond anything known to man.

Using a combination of an industrial laser and diamond drill, Millinov’s team had managed to put a hole in its casing and peel back a four-inch segment of the still-shining material. A dull, green glow radiated from the hole.

Volkov turned his head to look once again at the lumps of clothing that now contained little more than piles of dust on the floor. There were a few metallic-looking fragments scattered amongst the grains. His mouth turned down as he spoke. ‘Still functioning, you say, Comrade Millinov? Sending data… A transmitter, or perhaps instead some type of weapon?’

The scientist flinched at the use of the old communist term. The word was used like a curse, and was probably to remind him of the president’s shadowy KGB background. He knew his next answer had better be a good one.

‘We don’t think it’s a weapon… and no identifiable signal pulse is being emitted. It seems fairly benign…’ He stopped and looked briefly at the empty clothing, swallowed, and continued. ‘The team… We thought… They thought they were protected. It seemed to be a low-level radiation released when the probe was opened, but —’

Volkov interrupted him. ‘But it wasn’t.’

Millinov spoke softly. ‘No, it wasn’t. To begin with, they seemed to work better, faster, smarter. Then we noticed the lesions, and then, in an instant, they just seemed to fall in on themselves. One minute they’re working brilliantly, then some of them looked surprised, as if they had received a slight shock, and then…’ He motioned to the grayish dust on the floor of the isolation chamber.

‘They just melted? Is that it? They rubbed the lamp and a genie came out and turned them all to powder?’

‘I’m sorry, Mr. President …’

Volkov waved away his apology.

Millinov gathered his thoughts. ‘It is. . like severe radiation exposure. One minute it is destroying the epidermal layer of the skin, the next it desiccates the body’s cellular composition. It was as if the integrity of the human biological system just… decided to disassemble itself. It left nothing but their mercury fillings — it seemed to only target the flesh, and…’

The scientist stopped speaking as Volkov turned his cold eyes on him. His teeth were grinding behind his cheeks. ‘So, other than killing our entire team, what advances have you made?’

Millinov dreaded this moment. He needed more time. The analysis could take months… Years. But saying that to Volkov now could be a death sentence. His mouth opened and closed a few times before the words stumbled out.

‘The probe’s outer structure is mostly iridium. But it is bonded with some sort of alloy, which we believe gives it greater strength and density without losing its heat and corrosion resistance. .’

Think faster, he thought as he wiped his forehead. ‘. . If pressed, I would have to say the object was designed more as a protective casing.’ Millinov felt a bead of perspiration run down his cheek. ‘The emissions are not microorganic, and not radioactive, at least not as we understand it.’

‘Casing? For what?’ Volkov leaned closer, waiting.

Millinov knew he was guessing now. ‘The… fuel, or power source… I think.’

‘Power source.’ Volkov said the words deliberately, as though savoring each syllable. His eyes narrowed as he looked back to the glowing hole in the silver tube.

‘Yes, but it is more than that… it is my glorious future. Get the best people, whatever you need, doctor. But I warn you — I will not hear any more maybe it is, I think it might be, or, as we understand it. You have one month to really understand it.’ He paused and half turned as he approached the door. He motioned to the sealed chamber and the remains of Millinov’s team. ‘And drop that mess down a mineshaft somewhere.’

Millinov nodded on every word. A month? It’d take him a week just to get a new team assembled, and he needed better shielding. He looked at the piles of clothing in the isolation chamber and the powdery remains scattered underneath them.

Better than ending up down a mineshaft, comrade. He headed for the phone.

* * *

Denichen Khamid reread the urgent letter in his hand. By the authority of the president he had been invited — or rather, summoned — to attend a month-long science project at Russia’s prestigious Research Center for Applied Nuclear Physics in Dubna. By Dr. Gennady Millinov himself.

Assholes! He screwed up the letter in his fist and cursed again. I’d rather see them all dead. He raised his fist, meaning to throw the balled paper toward the bin — but stopped. His eyes traveled across the room to the cabinet where a few poorly focused photographs stood in wooden frames. Amiina smiled back at him from one, and in the others Timur grew from a baby to a toddler, his beautiful Laila looking eternally serene. Her eyes haunted him — they killed us, she whispered. Burnt us down to ashes in our home, Deni.

He missed her every day, and was racked by guilt because he hadn’t been there, or hadn’t done more to bring them to him when he had the chance. He had waited, to save money, but instead had failed to save them. He crushed his eyes shut and his jaw clenched so hard it ached.

Alone, and now based in London, close to the National Physical Laboratory where he worked, he was already regarded by his peers as one of the most creative physicists in Britain. His skill made him sought-after globally and he could have his pick of any university, research facility or corporate laboratory on the globe.

His fist tightened; but he didn’t want their recognition. There was something he wanted much more.

Revenge.

Everyone involved in his family’s death had been silenced, transferred away or even promoted… and no one ever asked the president a single question. Justice? Not for his mother, his wife or his son — not for all of Katyr-Yurt.

By the authority of the president. Denichen smiled without a trace of humor. But sometimes fate intervenes. He smoothed out the letter and reread it. Sometimes fate creates opportunities.

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