Continued from Part One, Part Two, Part Three, and Part Four.
For Feodor it was both terrifying and puzzling to be seated on the back seat of a diplomatic car, wearing a blindfold. By his side, a blindfolded Stanley was noticeably intimidated, if not shaking. They were silent during the long ride from the downtown park to a country home where they were scheduled to meet high-ranking military personnel and Russian diplomats. Vladimir had mentioned that a very close acquaintance of Putin himself would be present.
The aide-de-camp was at the wheel, Svetlana was sitting on the front seat and the attaché was sitting in the rear with Stanley and Feodor. The reason for the blindfolds, he explained, was the need to keep the location of the meeting place completely secret. There would be high-ranking officials present and their security was paramount. Very little was said during the trip other than a few remarks about what to expect at the meeting. The attaché assured them that, at this stage of development, every precaution had to be taken. They would be completely safe and protected by Russian security guards.
Out of nowhere, Stanley mentioned the passage from Alice in Wonderland when she went down the rabbit hole to enter wonderland itself; however, in a petulant mood, she complained about how long the passage took. Svetlana translated his comments, but no one had read Lewis Carroll’s book. She confirmed in English that she had found it fascinating as a young girl in its Russian translation.
It was obvious that the meeting site would not be filled with eccentric characters and the Mad Hatter. It would not be a British tea party. In some intuitive way, Stanley had the feeling that their lives were at stake if the Russian elite didn’t accept their proposal.
After some thirty minutes, the car turned off the main highway and ventured down a country road that was half-paved. Feodor could hear the sound of birds singing and the gravel under the tires as they slowed and then came to a stop. The attaché reached around and carefully removed the blindfolds.
Both Stanley and Feodor blinked their eyes and looked around, taking in their surroundings. Svetlana was dressed in an elegant gown and had stepped out of the car. The aide-de-camp opened the door for the two physicists and the Russian attaché. In the distance, a few hundred yards away, was a stately mansion that was surrounded by armed guards and security dogs. There were golf carts waiting to take their group to the house.
As they drove along, Feodor noticed that behind the mansion there was a large clearing with a Russian-style helicopter on its pad. Svetlana whispered to Stanley that the helicopter was for one of the cabinet members from Moscow and his security detail. Feodor took a deep breath as he realized that they had now attained one of the highest levels of governmental interest in the paralysis weapon. Stanley also had a concerned look on his face–a mixture of fear and anticipation. He was fully aware of how important this meeting was.
At the door, an armed guard searched their briefcases and patted them down for arms. The attaché told them this was standard procedure for military events of any nature.
Once again, there were refreshments and people were milling around, some dressed in uniform and others in civilian clothes. At a glance, Feodor estimated about 35 people were in attendance. Svetlana was chatting in a friendly manner with another attractive woman, older than she. Later, Svetlana would explain that Olga was Ukrainian, very pro-Russian, and would be the translator for the Ukrainian scientific contingent.
Stanley seemed to be unusually nervous; Feodor tried to calm him down by saying that he would do the presentation as before. Stanley could intervene whenever appropriate or when asked questions by the attendees. Otherwise, he would handle the speaking role. “Just let Svetlana help you out. She’s really professional.”
There were caterers circulating through the crowd with finger food and wine glasses. The Russians were downing Vodka as well. Feodor ate very little and limited himself to one glass of wine. He needed a very clear head tonight.
At approximately nine o’clock p.m., a military officer tapped on a glass and announced that everyone should take their drinks and food and convene in the large, arena-style room downstairs. There would be additional food and drink at that site as well.
Feodor was impressed by the large and well-equipped auditorium that would seat over 50 people in cushioned seats. Stanley and he would be sitting on the stage where nine chairs were lined up. One chair in particular was set aside. Svetlana explained–when Feodor asked–that this would be for the Minister of Defense who was attending at the express request of President Putin. His background was of course military but he had majored in artificial intelligence and physics at the university; he had a special interest in tonight’s discussion and presentation.
Feodor was surprised to learn that the talk would be broadcast to Moscow via Zoom on a coded connection. He felt himself getting tense; these were butterflies that would soon pass.
Once everyone was in place, General Diajelev approached the microphone and called the meeting to order. He had prepared an official introduction that he read with aplomb and a certain theatrical touch. Feodor and Stanley’s biographies were reviewed in some detail, stressing their academic and educational backgrounds. He also read several evaluations of the project from consulting experts, including comments from Professor Stranovitch. He indicated that a great deal of work was yet to be done, but there was a scientific consensus that this would be a turning point in the Ukraine war and in future military operations. As he finished, the audience applauded loudly and Feodor walked to the microphone.
Feodor’s presentation went well and the attendees seemed fascinated by the technical detail and artistic representations of the drone and its laser emissions. The Russian art director had even prepared an animated version of a jet and drone spraying the enemy with the paralyzing rays. Afterwards, as Feodor and Stanley had predicted, they would be disarmed and rendered unable to resist capture. There was no representation or mention of their being taken captive or the possibility of rehabilitation. This deliberate omission planted a seed of apprehension in Feodor’s thoughts.
At the end of the presentation, there was a moment of silence and then an explosion of applause, a spontaneous accolade to Russia’s becoming the world’s dominant military power. Questions for both Stanley and Feodor seemed to come in droves as many people came down near the stage to engage in conversation. The Minister of Defense was talking on his cell phone, possibly to Putin himself who had watched the presentation on Zoom. Several high ranking officers were talking excitedly off to one side. They smiled and waved at Feodor and Stanley as they were leaving the auditorium. Svetlana was looking at Stanley with great admiration as though being in the service of a world-famous scientist.
Even in blindfolds, the trip back to the city seemed much faster; Stanley made no mention of the rabbit hole escapade.
At the park, the attaché informed them that their presentation had impressed even the Minister of Defense. For now on, Russian plain-clothed security guards would be assigned to them. Not to worry: their presence would be discreet. The military high command could not risk any unanticipated action on the part of American or foreign intelligence operatives.
Feodor had an almost uncontrollable urge to call Davrita and tell her what had happened. That would be suicidal and he suppressed that urge with every fiber of his body. His life had changed forever and he would have to follow orders now from the Russian embassy concerning his movements and acquaintances.
Continued next week.
Tags: fiction, jonathan sawyer, sci-fi, ukraine