Though lengthy, the debriefing was the very gentlest affair, nothing nearly so cold and clinical as Simmons had imagined this sort of interrogation would be. Of course, in his case it had to be gentle, for he'd been close to death when his friends had smuggled him out of the USSR. That had been several weeks ago - or so they told him -and it seemed he was a bit of a mess even now.
Gentle, yes, but on occasion irritating, too. Especially the way his Debriefing Officer had insisted on calling him 'Mike', when he must surely have known that Simmons had only ever answered to Michael or Jazz - and in Russia, of course, to Mikhail. But that was a very small grievance compared to his freedom and the fact that he was still alive.
Of his time as a prisoner he'd remembered very little, virtually nothing. Security suspected he'd been brainwashed, told to forget, but in any case they hadn't wasted too much time on that side of it; the important thing had been his work, what he'd achieved. Perhaps at one time the Reds had intended to keep him, maybe even try to re-programme him as a double agent. But then they'd changed their minds, ditched him, tossed his drugged, battered body into the outlet basin under the dam. He'd been picked up five miles down-river from Perchorsk, floating on his back in calm waters but gradually drifting toward falls which must surely have killed him. If that had happened... nothing remarkable about it: a logger and spare-time prospector, one Mikhail Simonov, falls in a river, is exhausted by the cold and drowns. An accident which could happen to anyone; he wasn't the first and wouldn't be the last. The West could make up its own mind about the truth of it, if they ever found out about it at all.
But Simmons hadn't drowned; 'sympathetic' people had been out looking for him ever since his failure to return to the logging camp; they'd found him, cared for him, given him into the hands of agents who'd got him out through an escape route tried and true. And Jazz himself remembering only the scantiest details of it, brief, blurry snatches from the few occasions when he'd been conscious. A lucky man. Indeed, a very lucky man...
His days were uncomplicated during that long period of recuperation. Uncomfortable but uncomplicated. He would wake up to slowly increasing pain, a pain which seemed to stem from his very veins as much as from any identifiable limb or organ. Immobile, his lower half encased and (he suspected) in some sort of traction, his left arm splinted and swathed and his head similarly wrapped, waking up was like moving from some darkly surreal land to an equally weird world of grey shadows and soft external movements.
Light came in through his bandages, but it was like trying to see through inches of snow or a heavily frosted window. His entire face had been very badly bruised, apparently, but the doctors had managed to save his eyes. Now he must rest them, and the rest of his body, too. Simmons had never been vain; he didn't ask about his face. But he did wonder about it. That was only natural.
His dreams disturbed him most, those dreams he could never quite remember, except that they were deeply troubled and full of anxiety and accusation. He would worry about them and puzzle over them in the period between waking and the pain starting, but after that his only concern would be the pain. At least they'd given him a button he could press to let them know he was awake. 'Them': the angels of this peculiar hell on earth, his doctor and his Debriefing Officer.
They would come, shadows through the snow of his bandages; the doctor would feel his pulse (never more than that) and cluck like a worried hen; the Debriefing Officer would say: 'Easy now, Mike, easy!' And in would go the needle. It didn't put him out, just took away the pain and made it easy to talk. He talked not only because the DO wanted him to and because he knew he must, but also out of sheer gratitude. That's how bad the pain could get.
He'd been told this much: that while he was badly banged about he wasn't beyond repair. There'd been some surgery and more to come, but the worst of it was over. The pain-killer they'd used had been highly addictive and now they had to wean him off it, but his dosage was coming down and soon he'd be on pills alone, by which time the pain wouldn't be nearly so bad. Meanwhile the DO had to get everything he knew - every last iota of information - out of him, and he had to be sure he was getting the truth. The 'damned Johnnie-Red' might have inserted stuff in there that wasn't real, 'don'tcha know.' With the methods they used these days they could alter a man's memory, his entire perception of things, 'the damned boundahs!' Jazz hadn't known there were people who still talked like that.
And so, to ensure they were digging out the 'gen stuff, they'd started right back at the beginning before Simmons had ever been recruited by the Secret Service, indeed before he'd been born...
Simonov hadn't been such a hard name to adopt, for it was his father's name. Back in the mid-1950s Sergei Simonov had defected to the West in Canada. He had been a trainer with a team of up-and-coming young Soviet skaters. A disciplinarian and cool head on the ice, off it he'd been quick-tempered and given to hasty and ill-considered decisions. Afterwards, in calmer mood, he'd often enough change his mind, but there are some things you can't easily undo. Defection is one of them.
Sergei's love affair with a Canadian ice-star fizzled out and he found himself stranded. There had been offers of work in America, however, and total freedom was still something of a heady experience. Coaching an ice-troupe in New York, he met Elizabeth Fallen, a British journalist in the USA on assignment, and they fell in love. They had a whirlwind engagement and got married; she arranged work for him in London; Michael J. Simmons had been born in Hampstead nine months to the day after the first meeting of his parents in a wild Serbian restaurant in Greenwich Village.
Seven years later on the 29th October 1962, a day or so after Khruschev had backed out of Cuba, Sergei walked into the Russian embassy and didn't come back out. At least, not when anyone was watching. His elderly parents had been writing to him from a village just outside Moscow, where they'd been having less than a grand time of it; Sergei had been in a mood of depression over his marriage, which had been coming apart for some time; his belated double-defection was another typically hasty decision to go home and see what could be recovered from the wreckage. Elizabeth Simmons (she had always insisted on the English version of the name) said, 'Good riddance, and I hope they send him where there's plenty of ice!' And it later turned out that 'they' did just that. In the autumn of 1964, the week before Jazz's ninth birthday, his mother got word from the governmental department responsible that Sergei Simonov had been shot dead after killing a guard during an attempted escape from a prison labour camp near Tura on the Siberian Tunguska.
She cried a few tears, for the good times, and then got on with it. Jazz, on the other hand...
Jazz had loved his father very much. That dark, handsome man who used to speak to him alternately in two languages, who taught him to skate and ski even as a small child, and spoke so vividly of his vast homeland as to seed in him a deep-rooted and abiding interest in all things Russian - an interest which had lasted even to this day. He had spoken bitterly of the injustices of the system, too, but that had been in the main beyond Jazz's youthful understanding. Now, however, at the age of only nine years, his father's words had come back to him, had assumed real importance and significance in his mind, conflicting with his thirst for knowledge. The father Jazz had loved and always known would return was dead, and the Russia Sergei Simonov had loved was his murderer. From that time forward Jazz's interest became centered not so much in the sweeping grandeur and the peoples of his father's homeland as in its oppressions.
Jazz had attended a private school since before he was five and his special subject, requiring private tuition as well as his father's constant guidance, was of course Russian. By the time he was twelve it was obvious that he had a linguist's grasp of the language, which proved to be the case when he obtained almost 100 per cent marks in a specially set examination. He attended university and at seventeen held a first in Russian; by the time he was twenty he'd added to this a second in Mathematics, a subject towards which his brilliantly clear mind had always leaned. Only a year later his mother died from leukaemia; uninterested in an academic career, he took a job as an industrial interpreter! translator. After that all of his spare time was spent in winter sports, which he would pursue world-wide wherever the climate and whenever the financial situation permitted. There were several girlfriends, none of them serious affairs.
Then, holidaying in the Harz when he was twenty-three. Jazz had met a British Army Major on a Winter Warfare course. This new friend was a member of the Intelligence Corps serving in BAOR and the meeting proved to be a big turning point. A year later Jazz was in Berlin as an NCO of that same low-profile corps. But Berlin and BRIXMIS hadn't suited him, and by then the Secret Service had its eye on him anyway and didn't want him over-exposed; he was field agent material and should now start to learn the real tricks of the trade. His demobilization was arranged, as would be the next six years of his life, all greatly to Michael J. Simmons's satisfaction.
From then on it had been training, and training, and more training. He trained in surveillance, close protection, escape and evasion, winter warfare, survival, weapons handling (up to marksman), demolition and unarmed combat. The only thing they couldn't give him was experience...
Jazz had been all set to fly to Moscow as a 'diplomatic interpreter' when Pill came up, or 'went down' as the CIA had it. His original task was reassigned (it had in any case been little more than a training exercise) and he was given Operation Pill. The Service had been setting it up ever since the Soviets got the Perchorsk Projekt underway, and 'local services' were all well established and in full working order. Jazz was briefed from head to heels, went out to Moscow 2nd Class as Henry Parsons, an ordinary tourist, got issued with his Russian ID within an hour of de-planing. An intelligence agent already in the USSR would assume his Parsons identity (along with his passport, etc.) and use his return flight back to London. 'One in, one out, and shake it all about!' as Jazz's Chief Briefing Officer had explained. 'Like the hokey-cokey except there are no left feet, only right ones.'
Jazz hadn't known much about the Moscow end of the network; he'd been deliberately kept in the dark on that, just in case. Ditto for the Magnitogorsk set-up, which had a line on shipments by rail destined for the Perchorsk Projekt. He hadn't quite been able to figure out why his DO should feel peeved that he didn't know more about these things. That was definitely the impression that came over: that even though he'd given as much detail as he could, still the DO would have liked him to have known more. But the simple fact was that all of that stuff had been on a need-to-know basis, and Jazz hadn't needed to know.
As for 'local services': he'd known all about them! And during the many debriefing sessions, Jazz had told everything.
Back in the 1950s Khrushchev had broken up a politically suspect pocket of Ukrainian Jewish peasants and 'resettled' them from an area near Kiev to the eastern slopes and valleys of the upper Urals. Maybe he'd hoped the cold would kill them off. There they'd been allocated land and a work quota. The business: logging, and in winter trapping, all generally to be carried out under the supervision and guidance of old-guard 'Komsomol' officials from the West Siberian oil and natural gas fields. It wasn't quite a forced labour camp, but in the beginning it wasn't a hell of a lot better.
But the Ukrainian dissidents were a funny lot; they stuck it out, filled their quotas, made a going concern of it and actually settled the district. Their success, coupled with the rapid expansion of the far more important oil and natural gas industries in the east, made strict control of the Jewish settlements unwieldy, even unnecessary. Their overseers had better things to do. It could plainly be seen how a previously untamed region was now productive of timber and skins, making good use of natural assets and giving work to the people; Khrushchev's ploy had apparently worked, making good conscientious Russian citizens from what had been an idle pack of troublesome political pariahs. He should have been so lucky in other fields! Anyway, visits from controlling officialdom fell off in direct proportion to the scheme's success.
In fact, all the Jews had wanted was a little peace to follow their own whims and ways of life. The climate might change but they never would. There in their logging camps at the foot of the mountains they were now more or less content. At least they were not pestered and there was always more than enough left over to make the living good. Hard but good. They had all the timber they needed to build with in the summers and burn through the winters, meat aplenty, all the vegetables they could grow for themselves, even a growing fund of roubles from forbidden trading in furs. There was a little gold in the streams, for which they prospected and panned, occasionally with some success; the hunting and fishing were good, flexible work rosters ensured a fair distribution of labour, and everyone had a share in what was available of 'prosperity' and the good things of life. Even the cold worked in their favour: it kept busybodies out and interference to a minimum.
Several of the settlers were of Romanian stock with strong family ties in the Old Country. Their political views were not in accord with Mother Russia's. Nor would they ever be - not until all oppression was removed and people could work and worship in their own way, and restrictions lifted so that they might emigrate at will. They were Jews and they were Ukrainians who thought of themselves as Romanians, and given freedom of choice they might also have been Russians. But mainly they were people of the world and belonged to no one but themselves. Their children were brought up with the same beliefs and aspirations.
In short, while many of the resettled families were simple peasants of no distinct political persuasion, there were a good many in the new villages and camps who were anti-Communist and budding, even active fifth-columnists. They clung to their Romanian links and contacts, and similar groups in Romania had well-established links with the West.
Mikhail Simonov - fully documented as a city-bred hothead and troublemaker, who'd been given the choice of becoming a pioneering Komsomol, or else - had gone to just such a family, the Kirescus of Yelizinka village, for employment as a lumberjack. Only old man Kazimir Kirescu himself, and his oldest son, Yuri, knew Jazz's real purpose there at the foot of the Urals, and they covered for him to give him as much free time as possible. He was 'prospecting' or 'hunting' or 'fishing' - but Kazimir and Yuri had known that in actual fact he was spying. And they'd also known what he was after, his mission: to discover the secret of the experimental military base down in the heart of the Perchorsk ravine.
'You're not only risking your neck, you're wasting your time,' the old man had told Jazz gruffly one night shortly after he took up lodgings with the Kirescus. Jazz remembered that night well; Anna Kirescu and her daughter Tassi had gone off to a women's meeting in the village, and Yuri's younger brother Kaspar was in bed asleep. It had been a good time for their first important talk.
'You don't have to go there to know what's going on in that place,' Kazimir had continued. 'Yuri and I can tell you that, all right, as could most of the people in these parts if they'd a mind to.'
'A weapon!' his great, lumbering, giant-hearted son, Yuri, had put in, winking and nodding his massive shaggy head. 'A weapon like no one ever saw before, or ever could imagine, to make the Soviets strong over all other people. They built it down there in the ravine, and they tested it - and it went wrong!'
Old Kazimir had grunted his agreement, spitting in the fire for good measure and for emphasis. 'Just a little over two years ago - ' he said, gazing into the heart of the flames where they roared up the sprawling cabin's stone chimney, ' - but we'd known something was in the offing for weeks before that. We'd heard the machinery running, do you see? The big engines that power the thing.'
'That's right,' Yuri had taken up the story again. 'The big turbines under the dam. I remember them being installed more than four years ago, before they put that lead roof on the thing. Even then they'd restricted all hunting and fishing in the area of the old pass, but I used to go there anyway. When they built that dam - why, the fish swarmed in that artificial lake! It was worth a clout and a telling-off if you got caught there. But about the turbines: hah! I was stupid enough then to think maybe they were going to give us the electricity. We still don't have it ... but what did they need all that power for, eh?' And he'd tapped the side of his nose.
'Anyway,' his father continued, 'it's so still on certain nights in these parts that a shout or the bark of a dog will carry for miles. So did the sound of those turbines when they first started to use them. Despite the fact that they were down in the ravine, you could hear their whining and droning right here in the village. As for the power they produced, that's easy: they used it for all of their mining and tunnelling, for their electric drills and rock-cutting tools, their lights and their blasting devices. Oh, and for their heating and their comfort, too, no doubt, while here in Yelizinka we burned logs. But they must have taken thousands of tons of rock out of that ravine, so that God only knows - you'll forgive me - what sort of warrens they've burrowed under the mountain!'
Then it had been Yuri's turn again: 'And that's where they built the weapon - under the mountain! Then came the time when they tested it. My father and me, we'd been setting a few traps and were late getting home that night. I remember it clearly: it was a night much like tonight, bright and clear. Where it was darkest in the woods, we could look through the treetops and see aurora borealis shimmering like a strange pale curtain in the northern sky...
The humming of the turbines was the loudest it had ever been, so that the air seemed to throb with it. But it was a distant throbbing, you understand, for of course the Projekt is about ten kilometres from here. My father and me, we were somewhere in the middle, maybe four or five kilometres from the source. Anyway, that should give you some sort of idea of the raw power they were drawing from the river.'
'At the top of Grigor's Crest,' Kazimir took up the thread, 'we stopped and looked back. A wash of light, like the aurora, was playing all along the rim of the Perchorsk ravine. Now, I was one of the first men to settle this place - one of the first victims of Khrushchev's scheme, you might say - and in all those years I'd seen nothing like this. It wasn't nature, no, it was the machine, the weapon! Then - ' he shook his head, momentarily lost for words, ' - what happened next was awesome!'
At this point Yuri had grown excited and once again took over. The turbines had wound themselves up to a high pitch of whining,' he said. 'Suddenly ... it seemed there was a great gasp or a sigh! A beam of light - no, a tube of light, like a great brilliant cylinder - shot up from the ravine, lit up the peaks bright as day, went bounding into the sky. But fast? - lightning is slow by comparison!
That's how it seemed, anyway. It was a pulse of light; you didn't actually see it, just its after-image burning on your eyeballs. And in the next moment it was gone, fired like a rocket into space. Lightning in reverse. A laser? A giant searchlight? No, nothing like that - it had been more nearly solid.'
At that Jazz had smiled, but not old Kazimir. 'Yuri is right!' he'd declared. 'It was a clear night when this happened, but within the hour clouds boiled up out of nowhere and it rained warm rain. Then there blew a hot wind, like the breath of some beast, outwards from the mountains. And in the morning birds came down out of the peaks and high passes to die. Thousands of them! Animals, too! No beam of simple light, no matter how powerful, can do all that. And that's not all, for right after they'd tested it - after the bar of light shot up into the sky - then there came that smell of burning. Of electrical burning, you know? Ozone, maybe? And after that we heard their sirens.'
'Sirens?' Jazz had been especially interested. 'From the Projekt?'
'Of course, where else?' Kazimir had answered. Their alert sirens, their alarms! There'd been an accident, a big one. Oh, we heard rumours. And during the next two or three weeks... helicopters flying in and out, ambulances on the new road, men in radiation suits decontaminating the walls of the ravine. And the word was this: blow-back! The weapon had discharged itself into the sky, all right - but it had also backfired into the cavern that housed it. It was like an incinerator; it melted rock, brought the roof down, nearly took the lid off the whole place! They took a lot of dead out of there over the next week or so, since when it hasn't been tried again.'
'Now?' Yuri had had to have the last word. He shrugged his massive shoulders. They run the turbines now and then, if only to keep 'em in trim; but as my father says, the weapon's been quiet. No more testing. Maybe they learned something from that first trial, and maybe it was something they'd rather not know. Myself, I reckon they know they can't control it. I reckon they're finished with it. Except that doesn't explain why they're still there, why they haven't dismantled everything and cleared off.'
At which Jazz had nodded, saying: 'Well, that's one of the things I'm here to find out. See, a lot of very important, very intelligent men in the West are worried about the Perchorsk Projekt. And the more I learn about it, the more I believe they have good reason to be...'