After the meeting in the country mansion, events began to fall into place with astonishing speed. Feodor was told that he would continue to work for his American company; however, any lab work relating to the lasers would have to be transferred by code to a Russian specialist at the embassy for safekeeping.
Their presentation had created quite a stir in Moscow’s intimate political circles and the Minister of the Treasury was ready to discuss costs and logistical matters concerning the fabrication of a production plant. For that, both Stanley and Feodor needed to ask for time off…a vacation of sorts…to oversee the operation on site. They would be lodged at an upscale hotel in one of the better districts of Moscow during their stay. As usual, there would be security guards following them “discreetly” wherever they went.
Feodor could hardly believe his good luck. Once again, until he had received authorization, he couldn’t contact his fiancée about his trip to Moscow. He got in touch with Stanley and they agreed that this was a major step in the realization of their project.
Two days later the attaché met them at the park and informed them of what to expect over the next few weeks. First, they should make all necessary preparations for their so-called “vacation.” Unfortunately, no partners or wives could accompany them to Moscow.
As a security precaution, they would fly initially to Prague where they would change planes and body guards before continuing to Moscow. At the airport in Moscow, a car would be waiting to take them to their hotel. All tickets and boarding passes would be taken care of; they needed of course to update their passports. The embassy had a way to expedite passport certification if necessary.
Departure for Europe was scheduled in a few weeks. The embassy would be in touch on a continuous basis to keep them up to date. All relevant documentation should be put on a thumbnail drive and given to him, the attaché, for transportation in a diplomatic pouch. They should keep a backup thumbnail drive, well hidden in a secure place at home or work. None of this, of course, was to be discussed with colleagues or family members.
Feodor asked the attaché if he could let his fiancée know about his trip to Moscow; he explained that she was working at a private school and teaching German to Russian students. The attaché was hesitant at first and said that he needed to check with his superior. He would be in touch as soon as he got confirmation.
Everything, Feodor speculated, was falling into place, but in bits and dribbles, “through a glass darkly;” that is, in due time and according to the Russian agenda. Nonetheless, he had the feeling that, like the characters in Alice in Wonderland, nothing was quite real. He was living vicariously in an alternative universe and something horrible would happen and implode his predictable world.
Stanley had a difficult time explaining to his boss why he needed to take weeks off in the midst of the busiest schedule of the year. With some help from the Russian embassy, he was given an extended speaking engagement invitation in Prague and other surrounding university cities. Unbenown to his colleagues, the speeches would be done on Zoom, approved by the Russian authorities, and given on the assigned dates. Stanley would be available at the end of each presentation for questions. These would be scheduled in the late morning for convenience sake. In this manner, Stanley could remain at his work site and not expose himself when traveling from city to city.
At his age, this was quite a feather in his cap to be recognized by his colleagues in this manner. A number of universities were eager to develop their own A. I. and robotics program and they viewed Stanley as one of the most prestigious experts in the field. For convenience sake, the presentations would be pre-recorded and rebroadcast to a highly selective audience in Europe under very secure conditions.
Stanley’s wife was less enthusiastic about his absence; however, she understood how important this was for his career. It would be difficult but she would manage on her own. Stanley was reluctant to say more than he would be occupied with professional work that had to do with A. I. and robotics. Stanley felt a little guilty that he was so unforthcoming with his wife, but the slightest misstatement on her part could be deadly for both of them.
Both Stanley and Feodor were impressed by the well-lighted, wide corridors of Prague’s International Airport. Everything seemed ultra-modern and crafted to suit a global traveling public. A large number of very young travelers walked briskly down what appeared to be endless walkways. Restaurants and snack bars lined the way and beckoned to the tourists.
Just as soon as Feodor and Stanley deplaned, two Russian body guards introduced themselves and led them toward customs. Neither of them had slept well on the flight but nervous tension kept them very alert as they moved through the airport.
According to plan, they crossed the spacious airport and came to the Russian Aeroflot gate where they would board their flight to Moscow. Stanley looked around at the flat expansive landscape as they took off; it reminded him a little of the Middle West terrain in America.
Contrary to the modernistic design of the airport in Prague, Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport seemed more American in style, with long, poorly lit corridors, bordered by numerous shops, waiting rooms, and large windows that looked out on the runways and long lines of planes.
After customs, Feodor and Stanley were led to a waiting car outside the airport with two military guards standing at the ready.
Similar to New York, there were multi-laned highways leading to the centrum or central part of the city where their hotel was located.
The Hotel Metropol Moscow was a massive structure with an old-fashioned lobby and large, comfortable furniture from another era. It reminded Feodor of the Waldorf Astoria in New York City. Prior to entering the hotel, the two physicists were given sun glasses and hats that were to be worn inside as a form of disguise. Feodor explained to Stanley that these items were to be worn no matter where they went outside the hotel room. The American intelligence services were photographing the guests that entered the major hotels in Moscow. This would prevent any artificial intelligence identity systems from working efficiently.
Stanley felt very uncomfortable wearing a disguise, even as unobtrusive as these. Feodor accepted these items as part of the Russian plan to hide their identity from foreign agents.
The rooms were spacious and very comfortable with all the modern amenities. There was an essence of old-world luxury that impressed the two Americans. Feodor would occupy one bedroom in the suite and Stanley would be next door in his own. In the hotel lobby, a representative of the government welcomed them and accompanied them to their quarters. He explained in some detail the security procedures they should follow while staying at the hotel.
Feodor indicated that he would inform Stanley later what protocol to observe since the representative’s English was not fluent and he often lapsed into Russian. After a few hours rest period, they would be taken to a five-star restaurant for dinner. A small cocktail party would precede the gathering, with a mixture of political and scientific dignitaries on hand to greet them.
Both Stanley and Feodor collapsed on their beds, struggling with jet lag. A knock on the door jolted them awake at around six o’clock p.m. local time. A young officer reminded them of the evening’s festivities. He would be awaiting them downstairs in the lobby. They should wear the sunglasses and new hats he was giving them whenever they left the hotel room. Their briefcases would be given to a security officer during the evening. They should adhere to the dress code that was business attire.
Even in disguise, Stanley felt exposed to the scrutiny of foreign agents. At any moment, he expected to be taken into custody by armed personnel and spirited away by the CIA in a black, paddy wagon-style van.
On the other hand, Feodor knew they would be protected by Russian security guards. The risk of being kidnapped by foreign thugs was very low. In fact, he was looking forward to seeing the laser “protective” device begin to take shape.
Continued next week.