Cape Canaveral, August 12, 1958

Standing a hundred yards from the heart of the space program, L.G. Walker puffed a cigar alight and looked around at his world.

He could see the gantries for Thursday’s Shepard I launch beyond the oaks surrounding the parking lot. He inhaled deeply, reflecting how far he’d come from his roots, to be part of something as big as the first official moon landing.

“Mr. Walker!” Wiping sweat from his jowls, Harcourt Daniels rushed up toward him. “Mr. Walker, about my oxygen generator?”

“I told you, Mr. Daniels, the TSC will make sure every device on the rocket is ready for action. I will personally check the installation before Thursday’s launch, my word on it.”

There was no real need for Walker to check the generator, but keeping someone as influential as Daniels happy was a smart career move. After a few more minutes of reassurance, Daniels strutted away and Walker sauntered toward the Technology and Science Commission’s ten-story Cape Canaveral office building, checking out his image approvingly in the reflecting glass wall.

Gray flannel suit, dark blue tie, Hathaway shirt, blue waistcoat. Felt hat with a black band. Blond hair well cut, Brylcreamed into place. Handkerchief neatly jutting from his pocket. The best Cuban cigar he could afford, end clipped, never bitten off. Businesslike expression on his face. An image that said success. Professional. Gentleman. Nothing that said hillbilly, redneck, poor white.

“Elegy Walker, how the hell can you stand outdoors talking in this god-damned heat?” The tall, crisp form of Lt. Valentina Eisenstein strode past him, her salt and pepper hair plastered to her scalp. “Why did Khruschev base the space program where human beings are not meant to live?”

“I’ve told you, lieutenant, my name is not Elegy—”

“Then stop looking like you’re going to a goddamn funeral, boy.”

“When you stop complaining about the ‘goddamned heat.’” He caught up and opened the door for her; the air-conditioning puffed cold air outward. “You should have thought of that before you volunteered.”

“Where else should a Soviet patriot be?” She breathed with relief as the door closed behind them, then stepped up to the Identiscan, nodding to one of the guards as he prepared a brain-wave check. “The Martians, the Vodyanoi, the Growing Men—how many more spacemen will invade the motherland if we do not take the fight to the stars?” The guard glanced at the readout and waved her through. “Thank you, Anthony. Later, Elegy.”

One of the guards snickered at the nickname; Walker ignored him as the IdentiScan confirmed his EEG was human. The finance department had protested the cost, until an alien brain-creature had been found taking over some of the staff’s children.

“Walker!” Major Steve Smith beckoned Walker across the smooth-tiled floor to his office. After 18 months, Walker was able to smile politely despite Smith’s scar and missing ear, legacies of the Venusian robot attack in ‘56. The major dropped his voice as he glanced down the corridor after Eisenstein. “Does seeing that Commie bitch walk around here like she owned the place piss you off like it does me? And now we have the second-in-command Red, Brezhnev himself, attending the launch Thursday. Why the hell did Eisenhower ever agree to a joint space program?”

Because they had the rocket technology, and they offered it to us. “I’ve no idea, sir. Are we still on for 9:30?”

“Absolutely. I want to know every last device that the TSC has authorized for the Gagarin base.” The officer gave a low growl. “And can you explain the point of all these damn experiments? We’re going to the moon to set up a military base and make sure that civilian expedition really wiped out those alien catwomen. That doesn’t call for a lot of scientific claptrap.”

Walker made polite murmurs that sounded like agreement and headed to his own small office. Smith wasn’t anyone he wanted to offend, though any fool knew that Gagarin would be far more than a military camp. At first, sure, but once we’re sure there’s no threat, families are going up, a lunar city will be built ... Everyone had scoffed when the Russians put that in their five year plan, but it looked like it would happen.

Squeezing between the file cabinets and the edge of his desk, Walker set his cigar in the ashtray, took a seat and flipped open his leather-covered appointment book. Serving as liaison between the Technology and Science Commission and the military meant he had to put up with men like Smith, but the connections he was making would be a big help when he picked his next job. The lunar landing was a giant leap for mankind, but it was going to be a big step up in his career, too.

He ran his finger down the list of appointments: first Smith, then Baranski’s update on the meteor-shield tests, then lunch with a local reporter. In the afternoon, collating Future Technologies’ reports on the television cameras for the Gagarin base, then meeting with Senator Thomas Dorman’s representative on the risks of alien infiltration at Canaveral. Sure, I’m only one of a dozen staffers who’ll be there, but it’s a potentially invaluable contact—

“Hey, Elegy.” Sam Peabody knocked on the door with one liver-spotted, bony fist, swinging it open at the same time. “Got an errand I need you to run for me.”

“I don’t run your errands, Sam.”

“Piper needs it run.” Walker suppressed a sigh; as American head of Canaveral security, Piper was someone else Walker didn’t want to offend. “We were gonna send Todd, he’s out with food poisoning. Told him that potato salad smelled off. Everyone else has assignments—”

“So do I.”

“But it’s a TSC matter, so you’re gonna do it,” Peabody said. “You know Deb Sykes? TSC file clerk?”

“I don’t—wait, is she a young colored girl? Missing one arm from the giant leech attack?”

“Ever since which, she’s had a drinking problem.” Peabody put a cigarette between his lips and struck a match on Walker’s desk nameplate. “Nothing we couldn’t live with, but she hasn’t been in for three days. Hasn’t answered her phone.” He dropped a sheet of notebook paper on Walker’s desk with an address on it. “With Brezhnev and Dorman coming Thursday, we can’t afford anything that looks like a gap in security. Head out there this morning and see if she’s home.”

“I can’t go until evening.” I am not missing a meeting with Dorman’s representative to check up on a drunken colored tramp!

Peabody bitched about that, but conceded the point eventually. As a result, Walker was able to complete his appointments for the day, and even made a couple of comments to Dorman’s representative that seemed to impress the man. He celebrated with steak at one of Cocoa Beach’s better restaurants before finally heading out to Sykes’ place.

As the miles of highway unrolled, he reflected that he’d never have agreed if he’d realized Sykes’ address was in some pesthole of a backwater Florida town. Backwaters reminded him too much of home.

Driving into town, seeing the railroad dividing the white and colored neighborhoods, it felt even more familiar. As he drove across the tracks and began looking for Sykes’ street, he saw the dark skins along the streets and felt his insides churn. He’d learned to work with Negroes in the Army. He’d learned a few of them were worthy of respect. But he still didn’t like being around them, particularly not with the sun setting. But it was too late to back out, so he parked in Sykes’ small drive, locked the car and began pounding on her door, ignoring the looks from the neighbors.

No response. He considered breaking in—it was allowed under the TSC’s employment agreements—but instead, he climbed over the fence into the narrow back yard and checked the kitchen door.

Unlocked. He stepped inside, smelled rot, then saw the flies buzzing contentedly around a hamburger patty sitting out on the counter. Then he heard snoring; he stepped into the living room, found Sykes sprawled out on the moth-eaten couch, an almost-empty bottle of Johnnie Walker on its side next to her. Walker gave out a little laugh. Jesus. what a stupid waste of my time. I’ll call Peabody—

Behind him, he heard a hiss like an angry copperhead. As he started to turn, he breathed in the scent of honeysuckle. For a second, things seemed to blur—And then he heard a yell and someone flung him to the ground, rolled him over and began handcuffing him.

Walker protested as the man hauled him to his feet, realized there was another man in the room, a police deputy, yelling at him, and pointing at Sykes with his gun.

Only then did Walker register the blood-drenched couch, the knife thrust deep into Sykes’ chest—and the bloodstains on his own fingers.

9:30 a.m., Aug. 12

“I—I’m sorry ma’am.” A deputy who barely looked old enough to shave backed into the cellblock. Walker raised himself off the metal bunk and moth-eaten sheet as Lt. Eisenstein followed, puffing on a curved pipe with silver filigree around the bowl. The kid’s eyes seemed fixed on the pipe. “I can’t leave you alone with Walker, he’s a killer! It wouldn’t be safe to let you talk to him alone!”

“But I am also a killer, young man.” She had him backed against the rusting bars of the empty cell opposite Walker’s. “As a sniper during the Great Patriotic War. I shot and killed 17 filthy Germans. Once, a stinking bastard Hun tried to rape me; I strangled him with my mother’s scarf. If you wish to be afraid, be afraid for Mr. Walker—not me.”

“But, but—” He gulped, his Adam’s apple bobbing visibly. “Couldn’t you wait until the sheriff—he’ll be mad, ma’am—”


“How can you be a lieutenant, you’re a—” Eisenstein exhaled smoke into his face. The kid muttered something and retreated. “I’m going to have to file a report.”

“Well, that certainly puts me in my place.” She knocked the pipe out on the bars, then faced Walker. “Well, Elegy, now you have a reason to look somber.”

“They wouldn’t let me have a lawyer.” He walked to the bars, fighting the impulse to run, kneel down, clutch at her and beg for help. “I’m supposed to get a phone call, I—”

“You won’t find one locally, Elegy,” she said. “Nobody in this part of the world would want to be known for defending a—I think the young man called you a nigger-lover?”

“It’s a lie!” He slammed his fists against the bars, unable to stop himself. “I never laid a hand on Sykes! Not for sex, not for murder.”

“You were found holding the knife.”

“Someone drugged me, I swear to you. They put my hand on the knife before—”

“And the letter? The one found in your pocket in which she asks you to give her baby a name?”

“I didn’t!” Walker gasped. Dear god, if that reaches the papers—if my folks ever heard that I— “I’ve been framed, dammit!”

The kid came running at the sound of him shouting; Eisenstein gestured him away with the stem of her pipe. “Framed you, boy? How? And why? You think you’re that important?”

“I don’t know!” He stared at her as if he could force belief into her through his gaze alone. “I’ve been trying to think since I woke up, but I can’t! All I can think about—”

“Is what happens to your reputation if this affair is taken as fact,” Eisenstein said. “Being accused of miscegenation horrifies you even more than the murder charge, correct?” She ignored his stuttering protest. “You will have to sharpen your mind if you hope to clear your name.”

“Clear my—you believe me?”

“Even if Sykes was white, you would never want to display a woman on your arm with so little breeding, so little ‘class.’ It would not suit you. And a colored woman?” She shook her head. “You can work with them, and I know you respect Cosmonaut Donaldson, but I cannot imagine you sleeping with one.”

“Two unequal beasts can’t be yoked together.” The old phrase came out of his mouth without even thinking. “It’s in the Bible.”

“I told this to Piper. He pointed at the evidence, and offered another Bible reference—forbidden fruit. Opiate of the masses indeed.” She began stuffing her pipe; he remembered hearing around the office that it was her one souvenir of her father, who’d died at Stalingrad. “You are a proud man, Elegy Walker. You would never do anything to bring shame on yourself—and for you, this is shameful beyond measure.”

“Never do anything you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the New York Times. Heard that in a movie, it’s exactly how I feel.” She believed him. There was a chance.

“Then tell me, why would someone go to such lengths to put you in here? Why not just shoot you?”

“Because if they kill me, Piper starts looking for a murderer. This way, no-one’s looking for anyone.”

“Exactly.” She said it with a crisp, approving nod. “So, who hates you enough? Or who gains by putting you out of the way?”

“I’m not hated by anyone around here. Not loved, either, but not hated,” Walker said as Eisenstein puffed her pipe alight again. “I tried to make sense of it, but nobody at Canaveral gains by having me locked up. It’s the nature of a bureaucracy, there’s always someone you can recruit to fill in. Just like Peabody sent me to fill in for—” He paused. “Todd. He was supposed to go check on Sykes, maybe he was the one the trap was set for.”

“Todd? He is even more insignificant than you are.”

“Then maybe Peabody was lying about that. Maybe it was me all along. But—why would he do that?”

“You did assume responsibility for the final check on Daniels’ project,” she said softly.

“Purely to make him happy. There’s no way I’m going to spot something wrong that the previous half-dozen checks missed. And like I said, someone’ll make the check for me; jailing me won’t make a damn bit of difference.” The words sounded surprisingly bitter in his mouth.

Eisenstein muttered something about October, which Walker figured he’d misheard, then she went on: “I told you, boy, the space program is vital to Russia’s survival. I will not let it be stopped. If you think of anything, call me; I will make sure you are allowed your one call.” She gave him her number in the apartment building where all the Russian officers stayed. “My office number, you already know.”

“And if I don’t think of anything?”

“I will begin turning over rocks and see what squirms out.” She strode out, leaving a trail of thick smoke in her wake.

1:30 a.m., April 14

Every time Walker tried to sleep, thoughts of the newspapers, of what they’d be saying about him, kept him awake. In the lightless cell, there was nothing to do but cringe inwardly, try to think of an answer, and hear the occasional telephone ring coming through the half-open door to the sheriff’s office.

“Deputy?” The voice was so low, he could barely make it out. “Frank Ford, military intelligence. Here about Walker.” The deputy said something in response. “ID? Of course.”

Beyond the doorway, Walker heard an angry, serpentine hiss and froze. The hissing stopped, followed by a mocking laugh from Ford as he stepped into the unlit cellblock. Walker drew in a deep breath and stayed very still as Ford’s shadowy figure stopped by the bars of the cell. As he’d expected, there was another hiss; he hoped he could outlast whatever the gas was.

After maybe 30 seconds, Ford laughed again and jangled keys at the cell door. As he stepped into the cell, Walker let out his breath, inhaled again, and waited. Ford, humming softly, drew within arm’s reach; Walker jumped up, driving his fist into the man’s gut with all the fury of the past twenty-four hours behind it.

“What the hell?” Ford snarled as Walker slammed him into the bars. “Goddamn Mason!” Walker kept hitting, them something hard smashed into his skull and he staggered back. Ford hit Walker again, making his head spin, but Walker somehow blocked the next blow and swung a punch of his own. Ford cursed, but then he had Walker pinned against the wall, his arm crushing down on Walker’s throat. Walker clawed at the man’s face without effect, then remembered a trick from his past, thrust a finger into Ford’s nose and pulled. Ford screamed and jerked back as the side of his nose tore, then Walker was on him, pounding him into unconsciousness.

Walker ran out of the cell, into the office and saw the balding deputy sitting at the old, coffee-stained desk with a polite, glassy-eyed smile on his face. “Deputy? You okay?” No response.

Like me at Sykes’ house. And then Ford wakes him up and he finds me—dead? Gone?

But why?

He went back to his cell, turning on the lights as he did. Ford sprawled out on the floor, a military-issue automatic lying by the wall. Must have been what he slugged me with. Ford was a tall, unfamiliar brunette with crew-cut hair. Kneeling down, Walker searched his pockets, turning up a wallet confirming his ID, some kind of gas gun strapped to the man’s wrist. Nothing else.

Walker went back to the office to wake the deputy, then paused. Would the man listen to an accused murderer and nigger-lover long enough to understand the evidence?

What if Ford makes up another lie about me? Who’s this cop going to believe?

I’d better call Eisenstein first.

Except ...if Ford’s really military intelligence, how far does this go? Maybe that’s why she believed me against all the evidence: She’s in on it.

He stared at the deputy, wondering how long he had to figure it out before the man woke. And then, on the spike where they stuck phone messages, he saw a scribbled note with his name.

Walker yanked it off the spike, saw the call had come in during the afternoon, from Eisenstein. Guess nobody thought it worthwhile to tell me. The illegible scrawl was only a half-dozen words.

What do you know about Chernobog?

Forty minutes later, he plodded up a wide lane of mud-covered asphalt, praying to God that neither gators nor cottonmouths emerged from the nearby mangroves.

He’d tried calling Eisenstein, but she’d been out, and he couldn’t risk leaving his name, not when he didn’t know who else to trust. So he’d handcuffed and gagged Ford and left him on a bed in the cell before taking a police car off to Chernobog.

It had been Canaveral’s first launchpad, built in a rush along the edge of a marsh. It turned out it was too close to the edge, and the soil could barely support the concrete base of the site, never mind a rocket. The Russians had bought the land, so they’d named it Chernobog for some sort of bogeyman from the mother country.

Walker had parked the car far enough back nobody would hear him coming, and now he approached the half-submerged concrete platform. A part of him wondered if he hadn’t made a mistake. Maybe the deputy would have listened. But Jesus, if he didn’t, if I wound up back in that cell ... He climbed up onto the concrete, listening, looking—there! A sliver of light which proved to be the edge of a metal trap door.

Walker clutched the police automatic he held and moved closer, heard the sound of flesh striking flesh and a gasp of pain, but he hesitated.

Never saw combat when I was in the Army. And before tonight, I hadn’t been in a fight since Sheriff Colby told me no Walker in history ever amounted to shit.

But it’s too late to go back. If the deputy’s woken, it’ll look like I busted jail somehow…

Cursing mentally, Walker grabbed the edge of the trap door, lifted it and jumped down onto the stairs below.

“What?” A man he’d never seen, clad in mud-smeared overalls and leather gloves, looked up at him in surprise. Next to him, Eisenstein was shackled to a metal pole, stripped to the waist, and badly bruised; her nose looked broken. The rest of the room was occupied by a paper-piled table, a blackboard covered with chalk equations, a couple of machines and what looked like a miniature generator. “Walker? How the hell did you get here?”

“I have the gun, I get to ask the questions.” He wanted to just shoot and plug the bastard, but that would be stupid. “Are you Mason?” The man nodded. “What the hell is this about? Why did you frame me for a—”

“Because Todd ate the potato salad.” The man didn’t seem terribly concerned by Walker’s gun. “We’d planned to use him, but Peabody sent you instead. Fortunately, the letter just called Todd ‘honey-darling’ or whatever it was, so—”

“Jesus.” Walker’s finger tightened on the trigger as he descended the stairs. “Just because I had time that evening to—why would military intelligence do that?”

“Not your military,” Eisenstein’s voice sounded odd, probably because of her nose. “He is a traitor, a member of the October Guard—”

Mason spat something in Russian and gave Eisenstein a backhanded slap, then turned back to Walker. “Ford and the deputy were supposed to find you hanging in your cell by now,” he said. “I’m beginning to think that would have been a waste.”

“Meaning?” Walker glanced around, but there was no phone he could use. “And uncuff Eisenstein while you explain.”

“Hear my explanation first.” There was no way Walker could miss from six feet away, but the man still didn’t look worried. “Tomorrow morning, Brezhnev is going to die—”

“Bull!” Walker almost laughed. “Security is so tight, nobody could—”

We can. And clues will lead me here to Chernobog, where paperwork will show you were responsible.” Walker’s mouth moved, but surprised muted his speech. “Not alone, of course, you were working for a CIA faction behind the assassination. With you being a murderer and a suicide, we can easily divert suspicion from any of other agents.”

“Only I didn’t kill myself. “

“And you somehow found our base.” Mason nodded, almost approving. “Some of us were very displeased that we had to use you as a red herring—so to speak. We’ve had you in our sights for some time: You’re smart, ambitious—and we respect ambition.

The KGB—the real one, not the capitalist lapdogs Colonel Eisenstein works for—will need agents here more than ever after the World Defense Alliance collapses. L.G. Walker’s name may be mud, but we can give you a new name, a new face—and then the sky’s the limit. You want authority? Money? Respect? Sign on with us and you’ll have it all.”

“You’re insane,” Eisenstein said softly. “Russia cannot survive another invasion, you know this.”

“We survived Hitler,” Mason said. “We survived Napoleon. The West will collapse long before we do, and then this planet is ours.” He reached out his right hand toward Walker. “Well, ‘Elegy?’ Want to join the winning team?”

Without saying a word, Walker fired into Mason’s stomach.

Mason stood there, smiling, and raised his right hand. The bullet was stuck to his palm.

Something snapped in Walker and he hurled the gun away, leaping on Mason, and fitting two hands around his throat as the man’s back struck the stone floor.

A swing of Mason’s right arm sent him flying back into the table, toppling papers to the floor. Mason got to his feet, smiling. “You really should have taken the deal, Walker. Now I’ll just crush your skull and toss you in the swamp.”

He raced at Walker, who rolled away as the impossible hand came down, gouging concrete out of the floor. Walker scrambled to his feet, saw the glint of steel where the skin and leather had been scraped away and ducked behind the stairs as the next karate chop—Or is it a judo chop? I can’t remember. —dented the metal steps. “Won’t it be hard to explain all this damage, Mason?”

“After the tragedy this morning, people will be too shaken to worry about such details.” Walker backed away, up against the blackboard, searching for a weapon; all he could think of was to snatch up an eraser and hurl it at Mason’s face. “Pathetic. You’re like a Ukranian peasant, with muck permanently on your feet!”

“Been hearing that my whole life, Ivan!” He leapt away as the next punch caved in the blackboard. Could I get him to hit the generator, no, he’s not that dumb, but there’s got to be— “And you know what? Scarf! Your mother’s scarf!”

“Is that slang back in the Kentucky pigtown you come from?” Mason closed in, clenching his fist, as Walker backed against the pole holding Eisenstein. “Goodbye, Mr.—”

Walker swung up his leg, driving the toe of his mud-smeared leather shoe into Mason’s crotch with every ounce of strength, then lunging forward, grabbing the gasping man by his coat collar and swinging him around, up against the post.

Next second, Eisenstein looped the chain on her wrists around his throat and yanked back.

With a horrified croak, Mason’s robot arm thrust up, but Walker was on it, dragging it down. Mason swung him into the wall, but Walker hung on, hung on as he hit the wall again, and despite the impact, began to laugh. “Too bad, Ivan, you have gotten metal balls to go with the hand?”

Another, desperate slam made stars flicker in Walker’s vision—and then Mason went limp, his hand relaxed and Walker fell to the floor. Eisenstein didn’t let up. “You can—let go—”

“Are you crazy? Check his pulse, you goddamn idiot!”

“Oh ... right.” He reached for the right hand, realized that a metal arm wouldn’t have a pulse, and reached for the other. Catching sight of Mason’s face, he didn’t think there was much chance he was breathing, but… “No pulse. He’s good. Keys?”

“Coat pocket.”

“And his arm?” He began searching as Eisenstein let Mason slump to the floor. He suddenly realized he’d strapped the gas gun onto his wrist but he’d been too angry to think of it.

“Ripped off by the Vodyanoi. Replaced with a robot limb.” Eisenstein managed a smile. “You saved my life, Elegy Walker. Like a knight of the Round Table—” He froze with his fingers on the keys, knowing his face was turning scarlet. “Is Lancelot Galahad Walker so horrible a name?”

“Don’t know where my mother got the idea from, but where I grew up, she might as well have stamped ‘sissy’ on the birth certificate.” He fished the keys out and unlocked her. “How the hell did you know?”

“I turned up lots of information hunting the traitors.” Massaging her wrists, she went over to what he realized was her uniform jacket in the corner. “That is the real reason I am here in the goddamn heat.”

“And you’re a colonel? I didn’t think Russia had women colonels.”

“It was not easy, even for a war hero.” She buttoned up her shirt, pulled out her pipe, lighter and tobacco pouch and started for the stairs. “It’s why I like you, we both know what it takes to climb above our ‘station.’ You have a car?”

“It’s a ways to walk, but yes. And it’s a police car, we can call someone on the radio.”

“Good.” She walked over to the machines, turned them off and removed a couple of parts. “These will cause one of the experimental gravity generators to reverse itself at liftoff: Everything within a mile radius, including the deputy premier and the other watchers, will be hurled a thousand feet in the air, for a second or two then—”

“I get it.” Yeah, no problem getting through security that way. “What about Ford and—”

“One call and I can have most of them arrested.” She shook her head. “I delayed too long, hoping to take all their agents in one swoop, not knowing they were watching me, too. So, why didn’t you accept his offer?”

“Honest to God, I’m not sure.” He lifted up the trapdoor and let her out. “I guess…I never really thought about it before, but…he was wrong, I don’t want respect. I want to deserve respect. And it’s not the same.” And I ever see Sheriff Colby again, it ain’t gonna be with some goddamn fake face he won’t recognize. He’s gonna know he was wrong about me. They all are!

“Never do anything you wouldn’t want printed on the front page of the New York Times. ” She stroked her pipe but didn’t fill it. “You realize your work here may never be acknowledged? My government would prefer that the October Guard be dealt with quietly.”

“Doesn’t matter.” He looked up at the moon, brushing the tops of the mangroves. When Shepard I lands on the moon, it’s going to be because of me and Eisenstein. That’s a pretty fine thing to be able to say. Even if no-one ever knows.

As they walked away from Chernobog, L.G. Walker smiled.


# # #

Applied Science 8: Not In Our Stars, But In Ourselves by Fraser Sherman


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