To Stanley’s surprise and delight, he could see Svetlana chatting with the attaché as they arrived at the cocktail party. They appeared to be engaged in a very animated conversation. She was wearing a chic designer gown that flattered her figure. Stanley noticed the she was a stunning woman who would easily appeal to a number of men.
“My goodness! I didn’t expect to see you here in Moscow,” Stanley blurted out.
Svetlana smiled warmly. “The embassy felt that you would be more comfortable with me as your interpreter.”
“You remember Oleg, don’t you?” Svetlana paused.
“Certainly do. We’ve met several times.” Stanley replied.
“Well, Oleg speaks very good English. Excuse me for a while. We’ll be seated together at dinner.”
Oleg nodded and then grinned as she walked away. “Be careful with her,” he warned. “She has a weakness for married men. It’s like a game. Nothing lasts very long.”
Stanley chuckled and said, “What happens in Moscow, stays in Moscow.”
Oleg seemed puzzled for a moment until Stanley explained the reference. “Unfortunately, Moscow is a huge sponge,” Oleg answered. What you do in Moscow is recorded somewhere.”
Stanley realized that he was now in a much different and more ominous environment. Every word and gesture would be carefully examined by a secret operative, whether human or digital.
The military officers had relaxed thanks to generous servings of Vodka. One of them approached Stanley and said in very broken English, “I visit New York last year. Good time have. Much fun.” Stanley was just figuring out how to reply when Oleg motioned everyone to move toward the table. Svetlana slipped into the seat next to Stanley and introduced him to his neighbors who began to chat away in Russian.
Feodor and Stanley quickly took note that no business would be discussed during the meal. Its purpose was to size up, Russian style, the two American physicists before working with them. A few drinks tended to loosen tongues…
After dinner, the guests moved to the bar for a liqueur or cognac. Svetlana sat next to Stanley, sipping a cognac, and occasionally translating comments from Russian dignitaries who were close by. At other times, she would lean forward to stir her drink and move closer to Stanley who could sense her physical presence. He could feel himself getting aroused; she was an intelligent and beautiful woman who gave the impression of finding him attractive. Yet, he remembered Oleg’s warning about married men being a target for her wiles.
Then again, maybe that could be a part of Svetlana’s “job:” to seduce him physically and monitor his actions, even in bed.
Things, according to Lewis Carroll’s Alice, were getting “curiouser and curiouser.” His resistance to her charm was at a low point. At 28 years of age, he missed his wife and their frequent sexual relations. “Moscow is a huge sponge,” Oleg had affirmed: one had to be careful at all times.
With a practiced touch, Svetlana casually put her hand on his thigh and gave it several pats. She then looked at him inquiringly. In an awkward and direct fashion, he asked her how long she would be “working” tonight. In a husky voice, she answered, “Just as long as you need my services.”
For a moment, Stanley hesitated and then asked, “Are you staying at the hotel?” Svetlana reached out and caressed his cheek very sensually. “The concierge, for a bribe, can let us use a spare room on the first floor.”
Stanley muttered, “I don’t have any rubles.” “Don’t worry,” she said. “He’ll take dollars. I can negotiate to around fifty or sixty, cash. He’ll take credit cards as well.” She took his hand and kissed his palm with her tongue. “Is that ok by you?” Stanley nodded, finding it difficult to swallow. He felt like he was drowning in a warm, erotic stream that clouded his judgment.
“They record everything,” Oleg had said. At this time, Stanley couldn’t really care. He wanted to drown, nude, in Svetlana’s erotic pool of ecstasy and feel her body pulsing under him.
They got up and headed for the concierge’s desk, holding hands. A nearby photographer had taken a series of shots of their encounter. These could be used for blackmail later when the time was ripe. Their room on the first floor would also be bugged.
Feodor had asked the attaché, Oleg, if there were any way to get in touch with his fiancée, Davrita, in Moscow. It was frustrating to be so close and not be able to give her a call.
Oleg reassured him and said his contact at the embassy would be working with the director of her school to arrange an informal meeting in a local café very soon. Feodor’s excuse for not getting in touch earlier would be that he was involved in a secretive business contract with the Russian government to fabricate domestic robots for home use. Hence, that was the secrecy that he had to comply with. Feodor didn’t know if Davrita would buy anything that flimsy but it was either the computer excuse or not get in touch at all.
After they had dressed and come down to the lobby, Svetlana said she had to go back to her apartment. Her mother was babysitting her daughter and she needed to get some sleep. Stanley moved in to give her a kiss, but Svetlana gently pushed him away. “These walls have eyes,” she joked. She then moved closer and whispered. “Wow! Three times! You need to save your strength for the meetings.” She smiled and walked toward the exit. Stanley knew he had made a serious mistake but she was like a drug. This would not be the only time they would make love. The Russians knew how to set a “honey trap.”
His body guards were waiting patiently at the entrance to the hotel with the car and driver. They were aware of what Svetlana was doing in the room on the first floor. Everything was going according to plan.
It had been a long day and Stanley took a shower, chatted briefly with Feodor, and immediately fell asleep. Tomorrow promised to be a continuous string of meetings about technical details and the construction of a laser plant. They both needed to be alert and convincing in their recommendations.
The negotiations and meetings went as planned. Svetlana remained at Stanley’s side as though nothing had happened the night before. She was very careful not to show any sign of affection; in her colleagues’ eyes, she was only a highly competent and attentive interpreter…a polished professional. Stanley had to keep his mind focused on the technical issues at hand. He felt a powerful attraction but also a sense of guilt concerning his dalliances.
Over the next few days, Feodor and Stanley had numerous meetings with Russian engineers who had produced in record time mock-ups of the production plant according to specifications.
There were also long and detailed discussions with military experts who made numerous suggestions to improve the delivery system of the laser emissions. It was mandatory to use the existing framework of their drones for modification; it would be too expensive and time-consuming to start from scratch. The production plant would be created with this flexibility. The Russian colonel who oversaw the construction schedule was very enthusiastic about the future demand for the “paralysis” lasers.
At the hotel Metropol, at the end of the work day, they intermingled with Russian technical experts who had a tendency to drink large quantities of Vodka. Feodor and Stanley noticed that their colleagues
could tolerate much more liquor than they could without losing their self-control.
One idea that was being put forth by the technicians was the possibility of retrofitting domestic robots for military use, something that Feodor was working on at his American company. He politely declined the offer to begin working on this concept until they had finished the “paralysis”-ray apparatus that would bring a much more humane end to the war in Ukraine.
In wartime, however, Feodor knew, from viewing documentaries and hearing second-hand accounts, that Russian soldiers had been feared for their barbaric treatment of enemy prisoners and civilian populations. Young women were considered as spoils of war and were often mistreated, raped, and sometimes executed. Feodor truly believed that if the enemy soldiers were rendered helpless for days on end, the Russian officers would be able to impose a certain degree of civility and restraint on their troops. The acquisition of trained, Russian-speaking labor would be an enormous incentive to preserving their lives.
In the back of his mind, Feodor was afraid that he and Stanley had set into motion a Leviathan of modern warfare. These projected experiments were designed to replace human soldiers with murderous and insensitive robots. Showing humanity or compassion during the ferocity of war was very unusual. He would have to tread slowly in this direction. They were on the verge of a science fiction scenario where A. I.-managed robots would become military personnel without a soul.
After a week of intense meetings and drafting engineering plans, Feodor asked for a day or so off to meet with his fiancée. The attaché was not pleased with his request but he relented. A meeting was scheduled for next Tuesday at a very chic café in Moscow near an upscale shopping center. He would be in touch with Davrita very soon by telephone. Finally, the Russians had taken his needs into account.
When Feodor unexpectedly returned to the hotel room after lunch to be ready for the telephone call, he stumbled across Stanley and Svetlana laughing and caressing each other in the shower. Her clothes were neatly placed on the bed; Stanley’s clothes were strewn across the room in disorder.
Feodor didn’t know what to do: it seemed that he was interrupting a tryst that had just begun…or possibly was ending. He needed to be ready for the phone call and he couldn’t have any love-making in the background. He also couldn’t just tap on the shower door…
“Feodor, what are you doing here?” Stanley called out, his body wrapped in a towel. Right behind him, Svetlana calmly displayed her nude body that she was drying off. Stanley handed her a robe that she draped around herself.
“Look,” Feodor murmured, “I know this is a bad moment, but the embassy has arranged a phone call from my fiancée. I just have to be present; otherwise I would miss the opportunity.”
Stanley put on his terry cloth robe and came out into the bedroom. “I’m sorry you saw this. We didn’t plan it today. It just happened after lunch.”
“If you two would like to continue your…playing around, I could go into my bedroom to answer the phone. If you close the door, everything should be fine.”
“Good idea,” Stanley replied. “But we just finished a few minutes ago. Let us get dressed and leave you alone, what say?”
Svetlana was putting on her blouse and drawing up her skirt. She seemed indifferent to his gaze. “I hope you’ll not mention this, for both our sakes.”
“Good God, no. I’ll be seeing Darvita today in the afternoon. Oleg gave me permission to miss the meetings for today. Maybe we can use my bedroom tonight.” Svetlana smiled and continued to fix her make-up.
Feodor nodded goodbye and went into his room while they were leaving. He knew they were intimate but not on a regular basis. She was obviously a Russian agent and would report the slightest slip of the tongue. He was excited about the phone call from his fiancée, but he was also afraid of Svetlana’s growing importance in their lives. She could, he knew, bend Stanley to her will. Her name came up more and more in their conversations. What was even more ominous, she and Oleg were spending a lot of time discussing the events of the day. “Moscow is a huge sponge,” the attaché had emphasized to Feodor.
Although construction was moving apace from a technical perspective and everything appeared normal, Feodor sensed they were pawns in the extended Russian network of wartime deception and plotting. He had an intuitive feeling that something was not quite right, that they were “oranges that would be squeezed and their rinds discarded when no longer needed.” The infamous quote from Frederick the Great about his relationship with the French author and philosopher, Voltaire, resonated in his head. What would happen when their usefulness had ended? Svetlana would be seducing another naïve foreign scientist and Feodor and Stanley would most likely be imprisoned in a Russian research facility, unable to return home to the United States.
The phone suddenly rang and Feodor picked up the receiver, his heart pounding with anticipation. Davrita’s voice came through with a warm tone that rendered him almost speechless. His fears were set aside as he said “Davrita…”
The small café was filled with well-dressed and sophisticated customers. Feodor found himself staring at Davrita’s chic hairdo and rounded cheeks covered with a pinkish blush. Her eyes were more inquisitive than possessive. At first, they exchanged kisses and awkward pauses as the reality of what was happening set in. It had been about a year since they had been together in Berlin. Davrita was holding his hand but there was very little passion in her reaction.
Both she and Feodor were experiencing the beginning of a new relationship. Feodor stroked her arms as he talked; however, Davrita was upset by the lack of any emotional response on her part. Something had to be done to rekindle the flames of a once powerful attraction. Feodor reached out and touched her cheek.
“It’s been so long. I missed you a great deal. I know it’s been hard for you as well,” Feodor said, looking into her eyes. There was a forced tone in his voice that Davrita noticed.
“Do you still care for me?” she inquired. “Maybe we need some time to get in touch again?”
They embraced each other tentatively. Davrita asked, almost shyly, “I know you haven’t been celibate all these months. Is there someone else?”
Feodor seized her hand again as he replied. He was a poor liar and Davrita would sense any attempt to be dishonest. “Yes, two or three women but nothing serious. We had a little too much to drink and then… They were very brief flings. I told them outright I was engaged.” Davrita remained silent for a short while. “It would be abnormal if you didn’t seek out someone. We all have our needs.”
“Well,” Feodor surmised. “I guess you must have been sleeping with someone. You were very passionate when we were together.” Feodor looked at Davrina almost reproachfully.
Davrita stared back in a defensive mode. “At first, I fended off a lot of advances. Then, I gave in. It was just physical. Something I couldn’t do without, as you know. I don’t feel guilty; being separated like this is hard on everyone.” Feodor indicated that he understood.
“Look, my love, let’s go back to the hotel and get to know each other again in a carnal sense. We have to find out where we stand.”
Davrita agreed and kissed Feodor with an increased fervor. He put his arm around her shoulders as they walked down the sidewalk. In the background the two body guards followed at a discreet distance.
At the hotel, two security agents checked her credentials and searched her handbag. There was a short pause until she was given permission to enter by the military gate keeper.
“Would you like something to drink?” Feodor asked. Davrina nodded and they spent a few minutes at the bar before heading to the room.
All of a sudden, Davrita quickened her pace and came up behind Svetlana who was also heading for the elevator. “Sheiss! Mein Gott, was machst du hier?”
Svetlana turned around surprised and answered in German:
“Davrita, meine Leherin! Ich bin auf der Suche nach der Ohrringer, die ich heute Nachmittag im Shlafzimmer gelassen habe. Ich brauche sie heute Abend.”
Feodor intervened and said, “Auf English, bitte. Ich kann kein Deutsch ferstehen.” In fact, Feodor could get the gist of what was being said; it would be wise not to reveal too much about what he understood to Svetlana.
Svetlana said with a smile, “I left my earrings in the bedroom. I’ll need them for tonight’s get-together. Davrita is one of my former German instructors. What a coincidence!”
“So you’re fluent in German as well,” Feodor asked Svetlana with admiration and curiosity.
“Oh, I wouldn’t say fluent. I’m studying it for a teaching certificate I’ll need in the future.”
“She was one of my best students,” Davrita added.
“You’re too kind. I know you two want to be together. Give me a few minutes to fetch my earrings and you’ll have the room to yourselves, ok?”
“Sure, no problem,” Feodor said. “Take your time.”
When Svetlana left, Davrita asked out of curiosity, “What on earth was she doing in your bedroom today?”
Feodor explained the situation in detail. At first Davrita was a little suspicious, but then, knowing how Russian operatives worked, she sympathized with her fiancé. “This reminds me of my roommate at Wellesley. We had a yellow handkerchief we draped on the door knob when we needed privacy.”
“Her earrings are just an excuse. She was on her way to bug the bedroom in some way. Be careful what you say up there.”
“God, I hope they aren’t going to videotape our…” Davrita put her hand to her mouth.
“Relax and enjoy yourself. This is Moscow, my love. Lot’s of intrigue.” Feodor squeezed her arm playfully.
“Okay, so I’m learning. You and your robots. Secrecy is everywhere.” Davrita gave him a complicit pat on his buttocks.
Shortly thereafter, Svetlana came out of the elevator and waved to them. Feodor wondered what she had left in their room. He kissed Davrita passionately in the elevator as they went upstairs. “It’s so good to see you again,” she murmured. Their old life was starting to come alive.
Continued next week.