© Author Leonid Kaganov, original russian text here, 2003
© Translated by Dmitri Fomin, 2007
Letter To Paula
The walls of the office were lined with various gadgets, vials and cages. The cages were filled with mice. From time to time, mice stood up on their hind legs and regarded the major with suspicion. In the corner, a huge industrial refrigerator purred and belched. Major knew that Pofessor mostly used it to keep his beer cold but couldn't do anything about that.
As usually, Pofessor was sitting at the monitor. He was leaning back, his hands held together above his head. He always shaved his head,and his fingers were clenched as if holding a football. "Young guy,but already such a jerk!" thought Major. Once again he politely knocked on the door frame but Professor didn't pay any attention. Major coughed quietly.
- Good day, professor. Hope I am not interrupting?
- Yes you are... - Proffesor said grudginly, without turning his head.
- Well, this is the job - Major said formally and stepped closer, looking at the screen with apprehension. - What are you doing now?
- I am working - Professor answered curtly. - Are your surveillance cameras out of order?
- How is that radiological skin defense project moving? - Major began, moving even closer.
- It's moving - Professor said, wincing.
- But you promised to finish it up by the end of the month?
- And you promised me a vacation! - Professor abruptly turned his chair and threw a quick glance at Major from beneath his raised eyebrows.
Major signed and straightened up.
- Professor, you are a smart man... - he began.
- You don't have to continue, I know what you are going to say - Professor nodded.
- Yes - Major said. - You messed this up yourself! Don't think we are all idiots and we don't know anything! We know everything! Why did you do it?
Professor stopped in surprise, his eyebrows went up and his forehead has become wrinkled. Finally he grinned maliciously:
- What exactly do you think you know?
- We know! Why did you send a letter to Paula again?
- Again... - Professor chuckled understandingly - Why did I send the letter again to Paula... I simply wrote to my wife.
- And why did you enclose scientific data there? - sullenly asked Major, stepping yet closer.
- I wrote a letter to my colleague. Why can you exchange materials with your American colleagues but not me? Weren't they your colleagues who found my letter on Paula's computer and then reported back to you?
- There is a small difference, professor - said Major squinting at him. - Our colleagues simply send us some operational data. You are sending over secrets!
- My secrets! - Professor raised his finger threateningly. - Make a note of that! Mine! To my wife!
- Me, I am not discussing office issues with my wife... - Major commented emphatically.
- But I do! I do discuss them with my wife.
- What wife? - Major exploded. - Who registered you? Where did you wed?
- Makes no difference to us!
- You have never even met each other!
- Also makes no difference to us!
- Aren't there enough girls for you in our country? Why go to the NATO lab?
- And this is none of your business - Professor cut him off, coldly.
- Yes it is! - Major stomped his boot. - Because you are passing her military secrets!!
- You know how much I care about your military secrets? - said Professor and sneezed loudly. - That's how much!
Grinding his teeth together, Major took out his handkerchief dyed in camouflage colors and slowly, deliberately wiped away tiny drops from his face. If it were up to him, he would throw this guy into the stockade for a week. But his orders were prohibiting him from even raising his voice to the professor. And, of course, a sincere discussion was yet again out of the question.
- Professor... - he began again.
- Let me get back to my work - Professor turned his chair around showing to Major the shining back of his head signifying that their conversation was over.
Oh, how Major wanted to hit this head. Just edge of the hand, quickly, no swing but with feeling.
- So professor, how did you manage to send her your last letter? - Major sullenly repeated, staring down at his shoes.
- Which one was the last? - Professor turned, again showing some interest.
- Well, the one where you called me a senile dick... then made some improper comments about the regime... the president... and forty pages of secret materials as well.
- A "senile dick"? That's not the last one, that's the one before that... - said Professor sadly, absentmindedly staring at Major. - In the last one I use all kinds of four-letter words about your outfit... so this means she didn't get the last one yet... and it only had fifteen pages...
Major clamped his teeth together and started to count to ten in his head.
- Professor! - he spat at him the sentences he had prepared in advance. - You are a Russian... you are so talented... you are advancing our military biology... for the Motherland, yours and mine! ... we wouldn't have any problems with you if it weren't for you sending those materials, those secrets to Paula. Why, why do you do that?
- Appch-hooo! That's why!
This time Professor went overboard. He didn't shy away, however, but took out his own handkerchief and cleared his sinuses with a roaring, struggling sound.
- We will have to take measures! - Major said menacingly.
- What measures? - Professor said, muffled by the handkerchief. - What the devil are these measures? You already have me in a closed building. The internet is shut down. A guard is posted round the clock... I am in prison here!
- Not a prison, but the lab! In your own fancy lab! The best in the country, by the way! Among your own students! What else could you want? Isolation is merely a way to prevent the leaks!
- Is it helping? - Professor squinted at him.
- No. - Major said in a flat voice. - So how do you do that? How do you manage to communicate across the ocean?
Professor was silent.
- And my bosses, because of you they are just... - Major snapped unexpectedly.
Professor was silent.
- It's going to get worse - Major said, promisingly.
He understood perfectly that this was hopeless. And he knew that Professor knew this as well.
Professor carefully folded his handkerchief and put it away into his pocket.
- What can you do to me? Fire me? Torture me? Who's going to advance your science then? I don't give a ....ah... ah... apcch-hooo!
Major turned away with disgust.
- I will find something! - he said. - You know me! Starting tomorrow, no walks outside!
- What do you need from me? - Professor asked wearily.
- I need to know how you managed to pass the last message.
- Same way as before.
- Very simple. Telepathy. Mind power.
- In what sense? - Major frowned.
- Literally. - Professor stared in his eyes. - I can send my thoughts over distance. I can impress anything on you! Would you like to get a headache? You just started to feel you are getting a he-e-adache!! - and he spread his arms theatrically, opened his eyes wider and hissed. - You feel as if your head is in a vise!!
- Stop fooling around!
- A-ha! It's working! - Professor hissed, continuing to wave his arms. - Your head is aching! Your nose is stuffed! Can't you feel it? Your temperature is rising! You are getting worse!
- Better look at yourself! All covered in snot! Bald midget!
Professor slowly turned back to the monitor and started hitting the keys. Major lingered for a few moments, then shrugged and rushed out of the lab. He marched down the stairs and exited the building. A guard closed the door behind him and made sure that both mechanical locks and an electronic one had been engaged.
* * *
General was walking around his office, with his red, small hands locked behind his back. Finally he stopped in front of major, brought his face closer to Major's and started to drill him with his eyes. Major sniffed and straightened up even more. Finally General turned away and went to the window, where he stayed for a while looking down at the vehicles struggling through the springtime slush.
- So? Where are the facts? - he exclaimed, turning abruptly - I meet with the president tomorrow. If he asks me about their communications again, what am I supposed to say?
- We are working on that, Comrade General... - Major spoke hoarsely.
- Where is the guarantee that the letters will stop?
- He said that he is sending them using his willpower... that...like... telepathy.
- Telepathy... Intercept it! Write it down! Decipher it! On my table! Get it? This is an order!
- No buts! Unless you want to serve as a corporal in Kamchatka.
- I beg your pardon, comrade general... - Major sniffed. - I am just a national security officer, not a clairvoyant. What means do I have to intercept telepathy?
- No restriction! Any means necessary! - General shouted. - Find and hire the experts! Intercept! Install the military guard in the internet around him! Do I have to do this myself?
Major blinked and realized he didn't know how to answer.
- What measures do we have in place currently? - General relented.
- First: I changed the guard again.... - Major sniffed hoarsely. His throat clicked and he started coughing.
General looked at him disgustedly as Major took out his camouflage-colored handkerchief, brought it up to his face and blew his nose.
- I apologize, Comrade General - Major said finally. - It's the spring. Just a head cold.
- Go! - General made a face and nodded in the direction of the door. - Take some aspirin.
* * *
Meeting with President went energetically and very constructively. This time President was mostly interested to hear about spring draft, and for some reason he asked about suppying the troops in Kamchatka. "That's a hint..." - General thought, depressingly - "Yes, that's a hint... Say goodbye to your stars". So when in the end President suddenly asked "Did you find out about the leaks at the science lab?", General got startled and began coughing.
- We are working on that... - he squeezed out hoarsely. - We changed the garrison guard, all the supporting personnel, even cooks. Installed radioscanners around the building. Expanded the external monitoring. Consulted with ESP experts...
- Well-well... - President said absentmindedly. - Right. That's good.
General sniffed, took out his white-blue-and-red handkerchief and blew his nose with relief.
* * *
- Purpose of travel? - the customs officer with moustache asked, turning the pages of the passport.
- Touriffm! - the woman said, trying to wrap her mink coat even tighter around her body.
- Been to Japan before? When?
- It's all there...in the end... - the woman replied, annoyed by the questions.
- In the end? - the officer turned to the last page but couldn't find any stamps there. - Are you carrying any kind of foreign currency?
- Yef! Caff! - she yelled loudly - Don't you ffink ffis is none offf your biffness?
The officer opened his mouth, amazed, but before he was able to say anything, somebody tapped him on the shoulder. His shift commander was standing behind him. He leaned and said in his ear, through his teeth but quiely and very distinctly:
- First cousin of the president's wife. Let her through.
* * *
Paula didn't even intend to stop at the gate. What for? She was simply driving past, going to the bar. The gate was left behind visible only in the rearview mirror, when she saw the bored figure of the sergeant on watch standing next to the roadblock. She wouldn't pay any attention to him but then at that exact moment she saw him raise his hands to his face, bend forward and jerk his body back up.
That was good - she was expecting that for a long time, for more than two months. Paula hit the brakes, switched to reverse, backed up to the gate and stepped out of the car.
- Good day, madam! -the sergeant smiled, his nose red and sniffing, and then he sneezed again, covering the face with his palms.
- I would really love to go to town for just half-hour. Internet-cafe... - she smiled back, charmingly.
- I am sorry, madam - the sergeant was taken aback. He waved his arms helplessly. - You know you are not allowed to leave the base... and you are definitely prohibited to use internet.
- What if I gave you a kiss? - Paula squinted at him coyly.
- Please don't, madam - he smiled embarassingly. - I am also a bit sick, too...
Smiling broadly, Paula approached him and planted one on the cheek.
- I am sorry, madam -the sergeant mumbled apologetically, his face all red. - I really cannot let you through. Orders, madam...
- I am sorry too. Bye! - Paula waved her hand and got back into the car.
Licking her lips with a devious smile, she pressed the accelerator and drove away deeper into the base territory, past the park, to the hi-rise of the institute of biology building.
* * *
In the morning Paula woke up with a headache. She didn't want to get up, her throat felt like it was brushed with sandpaper. However, it was sunny outside, and Paula walked to the lab leaving the car at home. She immediately regretted this - her headache only got worse, and her temples started throbbing with pain.
First thing in the lab she sent one of the assistants to get her a cup of tea with rum, the other one for the flu medicine. When they stepped out, Paula took a lab glass, spat on it with feeling and put it under the microscope.
She then sat down at her computer, connected to the microscope input and took hold of the manipulator. Soon she discovered what she was looking for - the entire screen was filled with throbbing curved blob, covered with needles which made it look like a cactus - a virus of regular seasonal flu.
One move and the laser beam cut the surface of the blob, went inside and started scanning the spiral of the genetic code. Her computer beeped informing her that the scan was successful. Paula launched the transcoder and immediately the screen was covered with the lines of illegible symbols. With her heart anxiously beating, Paula scrolled down to the end of the bulky genocode and finally she saw readable lines written in English: "My dear Paula! If you only knew how I love you and how I miss you. By the way, be very careful, your computer is being monitored all the time... News: I have strengthened the cells' radiation defense 90-fold but so far it works in mice only... here are the graphs and my computation formulas..."
Her mascara started running. Paula took out her handkerchief and pressed it to her eyes. There was no need to rush, the next flu season was about three months away. Still, she moved the keyboard closer and started typing:
"My dear Sasha!" - she wrote - "I love you! Still hoping to see you! They also stopped letting me off the base. My research is moving along just fine, here is the collection of documents, graphs and photos. You were right about mitochondrial RNA! Now to the most important - I definitely want to have a baby with you! Please send me your genocode. Archive it very carefully, number the parts and send them one by one, so I can start putting it together. Your Paula".
© Autor Leonid Kaganov, original russian text here
© Translated by Dmitri Fomin