Quarters of the Chief Designer
February 17, 1961
Syrgy Pavylyvych awoke with a start in the darkness- the bear! the terrible bear!
To this day he had nightmares about that day in the gulag, back in the summer of '39. Worse than the gold mines, worse than the interrogations... the bear
. None could explain its presence, but it haunted the woods around the camp at Kylhima like the rumored Abominable Snowman of Tibet.
There were horrible rumors in that camp: that the bear had been signed on as a junior commissarial cadet, that the bear was intelligent and hated all prisoners, or indeed all men, that it was a man-eater, one that knew how to open doors and other things no bear should be able to do.
And one day, as part of a wood-cutting party, trying to bring in firewood for a labor barracks, Syrgy crossed the path of the bear.
The bear had rushed at him and started bludgeoning him with a massive beating-stick, bellowing in inexplicable rage: "BRAAAGH!" Stunned and thrown to the ground immediately, Syrgy could do little more than roll and clutch at his injuries as the bear delivered a ferocious stickbeating, then charged off into the woods. He'd been found by his fellow prisoners almost half an hour later and taken to the camp infirmary- but the wounds stayed with him to this day.
Syrgy took a moment to fight back to himself- there was something else, something almost as prominent in his mind as the memories of stickbeating. What was it... ah! He could never forget, on going home, if there was something wrong with a technique. Now he remembered what the matter had been.
After the colossal failures at the Derevnya Gadyukino Precision Alloy Tubing Plant- and Syrgy Pavylyvych would dearly love to know who was responsible for that
- a tremendous amount of effort had gone into testing assembly processes and whatnot. Yesterday he'd signed off on a set of welding jigs to be put together in Machine Shop Seven, but something was bothering him about it... and now he knew what.Baikonurek Cosmodrome
Machine Shop Seven
February 17, 1961
Grzegorz Brzęczyszczykiewicz was overjoyed! Observing his commitment to the task of proper sign-cleaning at ten degrees below zero, and his manifest yet touchingly simple loyalty to the Zenobian Onion, the security staff had cleared him to work inside
the fence, and at a job which sometimes involved being indoors: loading trucks!
So here he was, in Machine Shop Seven. This had been tacked onto the main production complexes as something of an afterthought, in a large building originally intended as part of the motor pool. Many of the building's timbers still smelled and looked fresh, save for the faint sheen of industrial lubricants and metal shavings begin to permeate all surfaces. Many of the machine tools had been shipped in from elsewhere, some of them relics that had to predate the Great Patriotic Salvation War, like the drill press in front of him. The haste with which the Baikonurek facilities were expanding also extended to the machinists; some of the metalworkers looked to be relics that predated the Great Patriotic Salvation War, too... especially their hats. That hat might even be as old as the Zenobian Uncivil War; it looked like the headgear warn by the early commienist troops in their battles against the imperialists, paleomonarchists, and other enemies of the state.
It was a nice hat.
A sheet-metal worker leaned over to Grzegorz. "Hey, I heard a couple of Youkrainian shepherds the other day. The first shepherd, had heard about Comrade Faaabio's launch a few months ago. So he got up on top of a hill, and shouted over to another Youkrainian on the next hill over to tell the news. He said "Mykola!""
Then the worker spoke in an mock-echo, as if his voice was shouted from a long way away. "Yes?"
"The Zenobians have flown into space!"
"What, all of them?"
"No, just one."
"So then the second Youkrainian says "So why are you bothering me then?""
Grzegorz smiled. "Good one, where did you hear it, comrade?"
"It just came to me... holy fuck.
" He pointed behind Grzegorz, who spun round; it was the Chief Designer! What was he doing in the shop all of a sudden? Wait, he was talking over something with the foreman. Pointing at a stack of papers, saying something Grzegorz couldn't quite make out over the sound of a lathe running behind him.
At first glance, the Chief Designer was a big, burly fellow who looked powerful and dynamic. But after watching him for a little while, Grzegorz was struck by just how slowly and stiffly the man moved. How his jaw bulged lopsidedly, as if it'd been broken and never quite set properly. When he turned to look someone in the eye, he swiveled his entire body and shuffled his feet slowly, rather than turning his neck.
The shop wasn't especially strongly heated, just enough to keep the machinists' fingers from getting stiff in the cold, but the rocket scientist was sweating slightly. He raised his fingers to his jaw and grimaced, then exchanged a few more words with the foreman, nodded, and went to sit down on a workbench. He slumped forward, bracing himself with his forearms.
Grzegorz checked the lathe crew who were working on the parts he was supposed to help deliver to the warehouse- not done yet, there'd been some kind of mixup and the foreman had told Grzegorz that he and the truck driver would have to wait. This could be a chance to speak to the great engineer! Or at least ask him if he was all right; he really
didn't look too good.
But as he approached, feeling a little awkward, a young man in a security guard's uniform, who had been waiting by the personnel entrance, darted to intercept him in four quick strides. He didn't look happy. "Do not trouble the Chief Designer, Comrade."
"Da, da, sorry, but... are you sure he's all right? Look at him!"
Then the Chief Designer waved an arm. "Nyet, is nothing, I just have a headache. And I'm tired. It'll pass, give me a few minutes..." His chest rose and fell very visibly as he took deep breaths.
Grzegorz whispered to the guard "I don't know, comrade; I remember when my grandpa Krzysztof looked like that. About four hours later he keeled over and died..."
"Shit! You don't think-"
"You'd better talk to him."
The guard took a few more quick steps to reach the Chief Designer, then whispered back and forth with him. Grzegorz couldn't follow what was said, but finally the Designer nodded slightly and started pushing up from the bench. At first he looked like he was starting to snap out of it, and the set in his eye looked fairly lively. He nodded again and said "Let us get back to the testing labs, Dmitry."
"Of course, Comrade Chief Designer."
The rocket scientist got about three steps before he blinked and staggered, grunting in confusion. The guard darted up to steady him, but with a strange glint in his eye, the Chief Designer stumbled over to a nearby sink. He leaned down... and threw up into the basin. Now Grzegorz knew
something was wrong, and he ran up to the sick man himself.
"Comrade Chief Designer! Comrade Chief Designer!"
"I don't feel so good..."
Grzegorz and the guard helped lower him to the chilly floor of the machine shop. Then the guard turned to Grzegorz. "You! Get on the telephone and call the infirmary!"
February 17, 1961
8:50 AM Moscow Time
*Onion of Soviet Commienist Republics
Comrade Shroomanski looked up from his breakfast of blyny
pancakes, made with experimental cornmeal flour, at the knock on the door. The guard showed in one of his aides.
"Your Excellency, Syrgy Pavylyvych is in the hospital at Baikonurek. They say his condition is stabilizing, but he's had a heart attack."