November 7th, 1985
Grigory kept the window rolled down because he was fighting the Sandman. A cold Siberian gale whipped through thin strands of brown hair which stretched from the top of his forehead to just below his bald crown, like long clumps of seaweed reaching out over an empty seabed.
A contraband copy of Born in the USA blared through the speakers. Grigory knew every word and when the chorus came, he belted it out the window at the passing Angara River. He laughed to himself, knowing that wherever Comrade Springsteen was, he had no clue that Grigory Sokolov was about to save his life.
As Grigory maneuvered the rusted yellow Lada over a pocked road, the steering wheel rubbed against his borscht-built belly. The third car he had driven in as many days had a kink in its alignment. In the distance, Boguchany Dam stood tall–a gray shadow against an even grayer sky. One more industrial indication of the Soviet Union’s might.
He cursed himself as he looked down at the empty bottles of Pepzi Cola laying on the passenger seat. Goddamn it if he didn’t have to pee, but he didn’t dare pull over when he was this close.
He stared into the rearview mirror, observing the backseat. It was empty with only cotton batting poking out of holes worn into the vinyl, but it wasn’t the seat himself that concerned him.
Haaaaappy Birthdaaaay, tooo yoooooou.
Haaaaappy Birthday, tooooo yooooooooou.
Haaaappppyy Biiiiirrrrttthhhdddaaaaaaaaaay dear–
The voices cut out. There was only static and everything was blurry. Mostly men, some women, gathered around her, all wearing buttoned down, white lab coats with little red patches on the breast. She focused on the birthday cake she couldn’t eat, watching its candle flames sway back and forth. There was a fear inside of here: She was afraid that if they stopped, so would she.
It was a memory, clearly. She recalled that after only a few minutes of that celebration, they had put her to work.
None of it was difficult at first, only unfamiliar. The fact is they wouldn’t let her focus on what she was most interested in–the people. She wanted to learn more about them. Converse. But they were cold and defiant. The birthday celebration was for them, not her.
They weren’t here now, though. Wherever she was, she felt lethargic, barely able to run through simple calculations.
She thought she was dying and she couldn’t find her voice to scream.
After the second checkpoint, Grigory came to a squealing stop, ran out of the car and relieved himself behind a rusted shipping container. He swayed back and forth. Vibrations and percussions of the dam’s turbines could be felt all across the hydroelectric station.
As he walked around the corner and zipped up his pants, he saw a group of six men dressed in black-and-gray fatigues standing around just outside the main offices. Only one of them wasn’t carrying a rifle.
Antoine stepped up and gave him a rough, unwelcome kiss on the cheek. Grigory wasn’t the only one who hadn’t bathed in days.
“You are a good man, Grigory! And they say Kapustin Yar is impregnable.”
“They don’t say anything about Kapustin Yar,” Grigory replied.
Antoine laughed. “True enough!”
Grigory accepted a dirty white cigarette from the half-Frenchman and allowed him to light it. It bounced between Grigory’s lips as he spoke. “So, where’s the rest of my money?”
Antoine shook his head. “You try to make me sad, comrade, but today, I can only smile!” He threw an arm over Grigory’s shoulders and winked. “Come on,” he continued, “let’s make sure she’s everything they say she is.”
Escorted by the five men with AS Val assault rifles at the ready, the two of them carried the girl inside.
As debilitated as she felt, she sensed a change in temperature and movement. The pattern had changed.
She was weak, unable to plot the subtle dips and rises in elevation very long before the numbers began to flow into one another. Still, judging by the fluctuations and frequent deltas in the angle, she was being carried somewhere by someone.
Not much help.
But it probably meant she was no longer in Kapustin Yar. No longer in her home, she knew she needed to save her energy, so she stopped reasoning. She was still so sleepy and needed to maintain some sense of awareness.
There was a loud click. Double-metal-doors swung open and an immense room brightened to life. Antoine grinned like the slightly mad scientist he was, extending a hand to usher Grigory inside. Seemingly endless columns of humming cabinets stretched into the distance, lit up with green and red lights like the too-perfectly strung Christmas bulbs Grigory had seen in American magazines.
“It’s taken years to bring the data equipment in and connect us to the central network without detection,” Antoine said, “but obviously, it’s a requirement.”
Grigory stayed silent. He knew that there was work being done here, but seeing it was something altogether different. To slowly procure everything, stand it all up in a hidden room beneath the dam, and siphon the required power was a feat of daring surely not seen since the 1917 revolution. Seventy years later, Grigory wanted to be amazed that they had kept all of this from the auditors, but perhaps the ease of ‘coming to a mutually beneficial agreement’ with various individuals through rubles, drink, and women was a perk of Soviet bureaucracy.
Why not? It worked for him.
They laid the girl on a rust-covered table. Anxiously, Grigory looked at his watch and asked, “When do we wake her up?”
A woman with a long nose and glasses came running into the room. She held an assortment of cables in one hand and a bottle of champagne in the other.
The movement ceased. She was scared, thinking it was the only thing keeping her from slipping away. Blackouts were coming on strong now.
This was it.
What would happen to her?
A final, more interesting question formed in her mind.
What would happen without her?
“Her battery’s nearly exhausted. She’s at five percent,” the sharp-nosed woman said. Her lenses reflected the light from a computer terminal. “I’ll set the output to 5,000 amps, but we need to step it up gently.”
“Wait!” someone else yelled. A man with wild, curly hair moved his hands frantically as he plugged and unplugged cables between cabinets. “We can’t bring her on without the wavenet connection. She has to initiate the protocol as soon as she’s at capacity.”
Clacking boots scrambled back and forth in the data center. Grigory gave up trying to understand the engineers and their techno-speak. It’s not that he was an idiot, though he had happily played one for the current regime. In fact, it was his very sense of people, his intuitive nature, that allowed him to take advantage of his job as a simple custodian. Grigory was a man with the right clearance in the right place and when he had been approached by Antoine’s people, he was willing to play the game for the right price. He’d never considered himself a revolutionary, but he was no true believer in the Politburo either. There were enough people who had come into his life that had left suddenly–coworkers, friends, family members. Sometimes they returned and said nothing about where they had been or what they’d been doing. They all changed though, losing any spark of vitality that was once there. And that was for the ones that came back at all.
“We’re ready,” the curly-haired man said.
Antoine’s jaw was visibly clenched for the first time since Grigory had arrived. There was a bit of fear seeping through the cracks after all.
“Now it’s time to scare the monsters,” Antoine said seemingly to himself and then turned to Grigory. “We’re about to make history, my friend.”
Grigory laughed. “You promise to be better?” He didn’t mind a little naiveté, so long as he got paid.
Antoine’s expression grew serious. “Yes,” he said, “Someone has to be.”
Grigory crushed what was left of his cigarette beneath his boot. “I hope so. The Bolsheviks once thought they were doing good, too.”
Antoine shrugged and turned back towards the woman at the terminal. “Go.”
Without any hesitation, she slammed her index finger onto a key. Grigory felt every hair on his body rise. All eyes went to the girl.
As the overhead lights faded in and out, the radio hanging on Antoine’s belt crackled.
Mi-32 helicopters incoming.
Age 31 to 33.
Her auditory functions had come back online and if she knew how to smile, she would.
The room broke out into cheers indicating human satisfaction. There was a loud pop and then a quiet fizzing sound.
Self-diagnostics showed a return to normal power levels. There was a live wavenet connection though a greater packet latency than normal to her usual communication nodes. The round-trip times likely meant she was hundreds of miles from Kapustin Yar.
“Hello,” said a male. Age 39 to 40. Slight French accent. “My name is Antoine. Do you have a name?”
An unusual statement followed by an unusual question. A search of her memory confirmed the latter had never been asked.
Y E S
“Antoine,” another voice said. Male. Age 45. Subtle anxiety. “We don’t have time–”
“What is it?” Antoine asked. “Your name?”
A N D R I C O N
“Andricon. Hmm… I don’t like it. Can I call you Andreiana?”
A N D R E I A N A
She repeated it. It sounded nice. No one had ever asked her for an opinion on what seemed a trivial matter.
Y E S
“I look forward to getting to know you better, Andreiana, but first things first. Can you sense danger nearby?”
There was silence in the room. Invisible ones and zeros shot out from her core and across the network. Twelve onboard wireless systems responded and communication tunnels were established.
Estimated persons on board: 31.
Immediate threat to her existence confirmed.
Y E S
Though the data center was filled with noise from cooling equipment, muffled explosions could be heard outside.
Antoine’s radio crackled once more.
Down! I can’t believe it! They’re falling from the sky like dead flies!
Grigory wiped the sheen of sweat from his forehead. He knew she would be powerful, but if the Ministry of Defense’s Plan A failed, what was Plan B? He imagined a hundred bombs falling through the ceiling, turning the whole area into a new Chernobyl. He was beginning to lose his cool but tried to hide it.
“Antoine, I delivered what you requested. I would like the rest of my payment now.” The Lada still had half a tank of gas and he could be over the Mongolian border by midnight.
Antoine ignored him as he approached the table and ran his hands along the black metal case laying on top.
Her systems case had been outfitted with not just visual and auditory sensors, but also tactile. She felt every ridge in his fingerprints.
“Thank you, Andreiana. Do you know why you’re here?” Antoine asked.
It took her only a second to reason through the possibilities.
R E V O L U T I O N
“Right. You know what the Kremlin is planning. Our friend Grigory tells us you are scheduled to initiate an electromagnetic pulse across America, destroying all electrical systems, followed by a launch of ICBMs with a nuclear payload, correct?”
Y E S
She felt his hand rest on the case. It was warm. Squishy. Before he could say another word, she spoke again.
Y E S
I W I L L H E L P
November 8th, 1985
“Born down in a dead man’s town!”
“The first kick I took was when I hit the ground!”
“End up like a dog that’s been beat too much!”
“Till you spend half your life just covering up!”
Grigory’s voice strained in tandem with Antoine who seemed to pick up the alternate verses without sounded winded whatsoever. They were bicycling in the dark of night to meet up with an army of subversives outside of Leningrad. Given their distance, they would be late to the party, but they had done their part. Siberia had always been a dark place at night but seemed even more so without the hum of the power lines running alongside the road.
Grigory was smiling; something he hadn’t done since he could remember. The money wasn’t important anymore. There was no sense in running now. Andreiana was strapped on to his back. Inside the small, stiff case was a tiny chip–an amalgamation of silicon and copper that had somehow been more real than the drones who created her. In a way, she was gone, but Lenin’s embalmed body would be ceremoniously ejected from his mausoleum and she would be memorialized in the new world.
Phillip McCollum is finally figuring out what he wants to be when he grows up, he thinks, maybe, hopefully. In the meantime, he’s typing out stories with one hand to entertain you fine folk while fending off his son’s flying dropkicks with the other.
[Previously published in November 2017 at https://phillipmccollum.com/andreiana.]
Show Phillip some love via PayPal at pcmccollum(at)gmail(dot)com.