Bruce STERLIING and William GIBSON
Red Star, Winter Orbit

Colonel Korolev twisted slowly in his harness,  dreaming of winter and
gravity.  Young again,  a cadet,  he whipped his horse across the late
November  steppes of Kazakhstan into dry red vistas of Martian sunset.
That's wrong,  he thought And woke in the Museum of the Soviet Triumph
in Space to the sounds of Romanenko and the KGB man's wife.  They were
going at it again behind the screen at the  aft  end  of  the  Salyut,
restraining straps and padded hull creaking and thudding rhythmically.
Hooves in the snow.

Freeing himself from the harness,  Korolev executed a  practiced  kick
that  propelled  him  into  the  toilet  stall.  Shrugging  out of his
threadbare coverall, he clamped the commode around his loins and wiped
condensed steam from the steel mirror.  His arthritic hand had swollen
again during sleep;  the wrist was bird-bone thin from  calcium  loss.
Twenty years had passed since he'd last known gravity;  he'd grown old
in orbit.

He shaved with a suction razor.  A patchwork of broken veins  blotched
his  left  cheek and temple,  another legacy from the blowout that had
crippled him.

When he emerged,  he found that the adulterers had finished. Romanenko
was adjusting his clothing.  The political officer's wife,  Valentina,
had ripped the sleeves from her brown coverall;  her white  arms  were
sheened  with the sweat of their exertion.  Her ash-blond hair rippled
in the breeze from a ventilator. Her eyes were purest cornflower blue,
set   a   little   too   closely   together,  and  they  held  a  look
half-apologetic,  half-conspiratorial.  "See what we've  brought  you,

She handed him a tiny airline bottle of cognac. Stunned,

Korolev blinked  at  the  Air France logo embossed on the plastic cap.
"It came in the last Soyuz.  In a  cucumber,  my  husband  said."  She

"He gave  it  to  me."  "We  decided  you  should  have it,  Colonel,"
Romanenko said,  grinning broadly. "After all, we can be furloughed at
any  time."  Korolev  ignored the sidelong,  embarrassed glance at his
shriveled legs and pale, dangling feet.

He opened the bottle,  and the ~rich aroma brought a  sudden  tingling
rush  of blood to his cheeks.  He raised it carefully and sucked out a
few milliliters of brandy.  It burned like acid.  "Christ," he gasped,
"it's  been  years.  I'll  get  plastered!" he said,  laughing,  tears
blurring his vision.

"My father tells me you drank like a hero, Colonel, in the old days."

"Yes," Korolev said,  and sipped again,  "I did."  The  cognac  spread
through him like liquid gold.  He disliked Romanenko. He'd never liked
the boy's father,  either an easygoing Party man,  long since  settled
into lecture tours,  a dacha on the Black Sea, American liquor, French
suits,  Italian shoes.  . . . The boy had the father's looks, the same
clear gray eyes utterly untroubled by doubt.

The alcohol   surged  through  Korolev's  thin  blood.  "You  are  too
generous," he said.  He  kicked  once,  gently,  and  arrived  at  his
console.  "You  must take some sam isdata,  American cable broadcasts,
freshly intercepted.  Racy stuff!  Wasted on an old man like  me."  He
slotted a blank cassette and punched for the material.

"I'll give  it to the gun crew," Romanenko said,  grinning.  "They can
run it on the tracking consoles in the gun  room."  The  particle-beam
station had always been known as the gun room. The soldiers who manned
it were particularly hungry for this sort of tape.

Korolev ran off a second copy for Valentina.

"It's dirty?" She looked alarmed and intrigued.  "May we  come  again,
Colonel? Thursday at 2400?"

Korolev smiled at her. She had been a factory worker before she'd been
singled out for space.  Her beauty made her  useful  as  a  propaganda
tool,  a role model for the proletariat.  He pitied her now,  with the
cognac coursing through his veins, and found it impossible to deny her
a little happiness.  "A midnight rendezvous in the museum,  Valentina?

She kissed his cheek, wobbling in free fall. "Thank you, my Colonel."

"You're a  prince,  Colonel,"  Romanenko  said,   slapping   Korolev's
matchstick shoulder as gently as he could. After countless hours on an
exerciser, the boy's arms bulged like a blacksmith's.

Korolev watched the lovers carefully  make  their  way  out  into  the
central  docking  sphere,  the junction of three aging Salyuts and two
corridors.  Romanenko took the  "north"  corridor  to  the  gun  room;
Valentina  went  in the opposite direction to the next junction sphere
and the Salyut where her husband slept.

There were five docking spheres in  Kosmograd,  each  with  its  three
linked  Salyuts.  At  opposite  ends  of the complex were the military
installation  ~nd  the  satellite  launchers.  Popping,  humming,  and
wheezing,  the  station had the feel of a subway and the dank metallic
reek of a tramp steamer.

Korolev had another pull at the bottle.  Now it was half-empty. He hid
it  in one of the museum's exhibits,  a NASA Hasselblad recovered from
the site of the Apollo landing.  He hadn't had a drink since his  last
furlough,  before  the blowout.  His head swam in a pleasant,  painful
current of drunken nostalgia.

Drifting back to his console,  he accessed a section of  memory  where
the  collected speeches of Alexci Kosygin had been covertly erased and
replaced with his personal  collection  of  samisdata,  digitized  pop
music,  his boyhood favorites from the Eighties. He had British groups
taped from West  German  radio,  Warsaw  Pact  heavy  metal,  American
imports from the black market.  Putting on his headphones,  he punched
for the Czestochowa reggae of Brygada Cryzis.  After all the years, he
no longer really heard the music, but images came rushing back with an
aching poignancy. In the Eighties he'd been a long-haired child of the
Soviet elite, his father's Position placing him effectively beyond the
reach of the Moscow police. He remembered feedback howling through the
speakers  in  the hot darkness of a cellar club,  th'e crowd a shadowy
checkerboard of denim and bleached hair.  He'd smoked Marlboros  laced
with  powdered  Afghani  hash.  He remembered the mouth of an American
diplomat's daughter in the back seat of her  father's  black  Lincoln.
Names and faces came flooding in on a warm haze of cognac.  Nina,  the
East German who'd shown him her mimeographed translations of dissident
Polish  newssheets  Until  the  night she didn't turn up at the coffee
bar.  Whispers of parasitism,  of anti-Soviet activity, of the waiting
chemical horrors of the psikuska Korolev started to tremble.  He wiped
his face and found it bathed in sweat. He took off the headphones.

It had been fifty years,  yet  he  was  suddenly  and  very  intensely
afraid.  He  couldn't  remember ever having been this frightened,  not
even during the blowout that had crushed his hip.  He shook violently.
The  lights.  The lights in the Salyut were too bright,  but he didn't
want to go  to  the  switches.  A  simple  action,  one  he  performed
regularly,  yet.  .  .  The  switches  and their insulated cables were
somehow threatening.  He stared,  confused. The little clockwork model
of a Lunokhod moon rover,  its Velcro wheels gripping the curved wall,
seemed to crouch there like something sentient,  poised,  waiting. The
eyes of the Soviet space pioneers in the official portraits were fixed
on him with contempt.

The cognac.  His years in free fall  had  warped  his  metabolism.  He
wasn't  the  man  he'd once been.  But he would remain calm and try to
ride it out. If he threw up, everyone would laugh.

Someone knocked at the entrance to the museum, and Nikita the Plumber,
Kosmograd's  premier  handyman,  executed  a  perfect slow-motion dive
through the open hatch.  The young  civilian  engineer  looked  angry.
Korolev felt cowed.  "You're up early,  Plumber," he said, anxious for
some facade of normality.

"Pinhead leakage in Delta  Three."  He  frowned.  "Do  you  understand
Japanese?" The Plumber tugged a cassette from one of the dozen pockets
that bulged on his stained work vest and waved it in  Korolev's  face.
He  wore  carefully  laundered  Levi's  and dilapidated Adidas running
shoes.  "We accessed this last night." Korolev cowered as  though  the
cassette  were  a weapon.  "No,  no Japanese." The meekness of his own
voice startled him.  "Only English and Polish." He felt himself blush.
The Plumber was his friend;  he knew and trusted the Plumber, but "Are
you well,  Colonel?" The Plumber loaded the  tape  and  punched  up  a
lexicon program with deft,  callused fingers.  "You look as though you
just ate a bug. I want you to hear this."

Korolev watched uneasily as the tape flickered into an ad for baseball
gloves. The lexicon's Cyrillic subtitles raced across the monitor as a
Japanese voice-over rattIed maniacally.

"The newscast's coming up," said the Plumber, gnawing at a cuticle.

Korolev squinted anxiously as the translation slid across the face  of
the Japanese announcer:


"Cosmic," the Plumber muttered. "Glitch in the lexicon."


"Smug bastards." The Plumber snorted. "I tell you, it's that goddamned
KGB man Yefremov. He's had a hand in this!"


"They're shutting us down!" The Plumber's face contorted with rage.

Korolev twisted away from the screen,  shaking uncontrollably.  Sudden
tears peeled from his lashes in free-fall droplets. "Leave me alone! I
can  do  nothing!"  "What's  wrong,  Colonel?" The Plumber grabbed his
shoulders. "Look me in the face. Someone's dosed you with the Fear!"

"Go away!" Korolev begged.  "That little spook bastard!  What  has  he
given you?  Pills?  An injection?" Korolev shuddered. "I had a drink "
"He gave you the Fear!  You a sick old man!  I'll break his face!" The
Plumber jerked his knees up,  somersaulted backward, kicked off from a
handhold overhead, and catapulted out of the room.

"Wait! Plumber!" But the Plumber had zipped through the docking sphere
like  a  squirrel,  vanishing down the corridor,  and now Korolev felt
that he couldn't bear to be alone.  In  the  distance  he  could  hear
metallic echoes of distorted, angry shouts.

Trembling, he closed his eyes and waited for someone to help him.

He'd asked  Psychiatric  Officer  Bychkov to help him dress in his old
uniform, the one with the Star of the Tsiolkovsky Order sewn above the
left breast pocket. The black dress boots of heavy quilted nylon, with
their Velcro soles,  would no longer fit his twisted feet; so his feet
remained bare.

Bychkov's injection  had straightened him out within an hour,  leaving
him alternately depressed and furiously angry.  Now he waited  in  the
museum for Yefremov to answer his summons.

They called his home the Museum of the Soviet Triumph in Space, and as
his rage subsided,  to be replaced with an ancient bleakness,  he felt
very much as if he were simply another one of the exhibits.  He stared
gloomily at the gold-framed portraits  of  the  great  visionaries  of
space,  at the faces of Tsiolkovsky,  Rynin,  Tupolev. Below these, in
slightly  smaller  frames,  were  portraits  of  Verne,  Goddard,  and

In moments  of  extreme  depression  he had sometimes imagined that he
could detect a common strangeness in their eyes,  particularly in  the
eyes  of the two Americans.  Was it simply craziness,  as he sometimes
thought in his most cynical moods?  Or was he able to glimpse a subtle
manifestation  of  some  weird,  unbalanced  force  that  he had often
suspected of being human evolution in action?

Once, and only once, Korolev had seen that look in his own eyes on the
day  he'd  stepped  onto  the soil of the Coprates Basin.  The Martian
sunlight,  glinting  within  his  helmet  visor,  had  shown  him  the
reflection  of  two  steady,  alien eyes fearless,  yet driven and the
quiet,  secret shock of it,  he now realized, had been his life's most
memorable, most transcendental moment.

Above the portraits,  oily and inert, was a painting that depicted the
landing in colors that reminded him of borscht and gravy,  the Martian
landscape  reduced  to  the  idealistic  kitsch  of  Soviet  Socialist
realism. The artist had posed the suited figure beside the lander with
all of the official style's deeply sincere vulgarity.

Feeling tainted,  he  awaited  the  arrival of Yefremov,  the KGB man,
Kosmograd's political officer.

When Yefremov finally entered the Salyut,  Korolev noted the split lip
and the fresh bruises on the man's throat.  He wore a blue Kansai jump
suit of Japanese silk and  stylish  Italian  deck  shoes.  He  coughed
politely. "Good morning, Comrade Colonel."

Korolev stared.  He  allowed  the silence to lengthen.  "Yefremov," he
said heavily, "I am not happy with you."

Yefremov reddened,  but he held .his gaze.  "Let us speak  frankly  to
each other,  Colonel,  as Russian to Russian.  It was not,  of course,
intended for you."

"The Fear, Yefremov?" "The beta-carboline, yes. If you hadn't pandered
to  their antisocial actions,  if you hadn't accepted their bribe,  it
would not have happened."

"So I am a pimp, Yefremov? A pimp and a drunkard? You are a cuckold, a
smuggler,  and an informer.  I say this," he added, "as one Russian to

Now the KGB  man's  face  assumed  the  official  mask  of  bland  and
untroubled righteousness.

"But tell  me,  Yefremov,  what it is that you are really about.  What
have you been doing since you came to  Kosmograd?  We  know  that  the
complex will be stripped.  What is in store for the civilian crew when
they return to Baikonur? Corruption hearings?"

"There will be interrogation, certainly. In certain cases there may be
hospitalization.  Would you care to suggest, Colonel Korolev, that the
Soviet Union is somehow at fault for Kosmograd's failures?"

Korolev was silent.  "Kosmograd was a dream,  Colonel.  A  dream  that
failed.  Like  space.  We  have no need to be here.  We have an entire
world to put in order.  Moscow is the greatest power  in  history.  We
must not allow ourselves to lose the global perspective."

"Do you think we can be brushed aside that easily?  We are an elite, a
highly trained technical elite."

"A minority,  Colonel,  an obsolete minority.  What do you contribute,
aside  from  reams  of  poisonous  American trash?  The crew here were
intended to be workers,  not bloated black marketeers  trafficking  in
jazz and pornography." Yefremov's face was smooth and calm.  "The crew
will return to Baikonur.  The weapons are capable  of  being  directed
from the ground.  You, of course, will remain, and there will be guest
cosmonauts: Africans, South Americans. Space still retains a degree of
its former prestige for these people."

Korolev gritted his teeth. "What have you done with the boy?"

"Your Plumber?"  The  political officer frowned.  "He has assaulted an
officer of the Committee for State  Security.  He  will  remain  under
guard until he can be taken to Baikonur."

Korolev attempted an unpleasant laugh.  "Let him go.  You'll be in too
much trouble yourself  to  press  charges.  I'll  speak  with  Marshal
Gubarev personally.  My rank may be entirely honorary, Yefremov, but I
do retain a certain influence."

The KGB man shrugged.  "The gun crew are under orders from Baikonur to
keep  the  communications  module  under  lock and key.  Their careers
depend on it.''

"Martial law,  then?" "This isn't Kabul,  Colonel. These are difficult
times.  You  have  the moral authority here;  you should try to set an

"We shall see," Korolev said.

Kosmograd swung out of Earth's shadow into raw sunlight.  The walls of
Korolev's  Salyut  popped and creaked like a nest of glass bottles.  A
Salyut's viewports,  Korolev thought absently,  fingering  the  broken
veins at his temple, were always the first things to go.

Young Grishkin  seemed  to  have  the same thought.  He drew a tube of
caulk from an ankle pocket and began to inspect the  seal  around  the
viewport. He was the Plumber's assistant and closest friend.

"We must  now  vote,"  Korolev  said  wearily.  Eleven  of Kosmograd's
twenty-four civilian crew members had agreed to  attend  the  meeting,
twelve  if  he  counted  himself.  That  left thirteen who were either
unwilling to risk involvement or else actively hostile to the idea  of
a  strike.  Yefremov and the six-man gun crew brought the total number
of those not present to twenty.  "We've  discussed  our  demands.  All
those  in  favor  of  the list as it stands " He raised his good hand.
`three others raised theirs.  Grishkin, busy at the viewport stuck out
his foot.

Korolev sighed.  "There  are  few  enough  as  it  is.  We'd best have
unanimity. Let us hear your objections."

"The term  military  custody,"  said  a  biological  technician  named
Korovkin,  "might be construed as implying that the military,  and not
the criminal Yefremov,  is responsible for  the  situation."  The  man
looked  acutely uncomfortable.  "We are in sympathy otherwise but will
not sign.  We are Party members." He seemed about to add something but
fell silent. "My mother," his wife said quietly, "was Jewish."

Korolev nodded,   but   he   said   nothing.  "This  is  all  criminal
foolishness," said Glushko,  the botanist. Neither he nor his wife had
voted. "Madness. Kosmograd is finished, we all know it, and the sooner
home the better.  What has this place ever been but  a  prison?"  Free
fall  disagreed with the man's metabolism;  in the absence of gravity,
blood tended to congest in his face and neck,  making him resemble one
of his experimental pumpkins.

"You are  a botanist,  Vasili," his wife said stiffly,  "while I,  you
will recall, am a Soyuz pilot. Your career is not at stake."

"I will not support this idiocy!" Glushko gave the bulkhead  a  savage
kick that propelled him from the room.  His wife followed, complaining
bitterly in the grating undertone crew members learned to  employ  for
private arguments.

"Five are  willing to sign," Korolev said,  "out of a civilian crew of

"Six," said Tatiana,  the other Soyuz pilot,  her dark hair drawn back
and  held with a braided band of green nylon webbing.  "You forget the

"The sun balloons!" cried Grishkin, pointing toward the earth. "Look!"

Kosmograd was above the coast of  California  now,  clean  shorelines,
intensely  green fields,  vast decaying cities whose names rang with a
strange magic. High above a fleece of stratocumulus floated five solar
balloons,  mirrored geodesic spheres tethered by power lines; they had
been a cheaper substitute for  a  grandiose  American  plan  to  build
solar-powered satellites. The things worked, Korolev supposed, because
for the last decade he'd watched them multiply.

"And they say that people  live  in  those  things?"  Systems  Officer
Stoiko had joined Grishkin at the viewport.

Korolev remembered  the  pathetic  flurry  of  strange American energy
schemes in the wake of the Treaty of Vienna.  With  the  Soviet  Union
firmly  in  control of the world's oil flow,  the Americans had seemed
willing to try anything.  Then the  Kansas  meltdown  had  permanently
soured  them  on  reactors.  For  more  than three decades they'd been
gradually sliding into isolationism and industrial decline.  Space, he
thought  ruefully,  they  should  have  gone  into  space.  He'd never
understood the strange paralysis of will that had seemed to grip their
brilliant  early  efforts.  Or  perhaps  it  was  simply  a failure of
imagination,  of vision.  You see,  Americans,  he said silently,  you
really should have tried to join us here in our glorious future,  here
in Kosmograd.

"Who would want  to  live  in  something  like  that?"  Stoiko  asked,
punching  Grishkin's  shoulder  and  laughing with the quiet energy of

"You're joking," said Yefremov. "Surely we're all in enough trouble as
it is."

"We're not  joking,  Political  Officer  Yefremov,  and  these are our
demands." The five dissidents had crowded  into  the  Salyut  the  man
shared with Valentina,  backing him against the aft screen. The screen
was  decorated  with  a  meticulously  airbrushed  photograph  of  the
premier, who was waving from the back of a tractor. Valentina, Korolev
knew,  would be in the museum now with Romanenko,  making the  straps.
creak.  The  colonel  wondered  how  Romanenko so regularly managed to
avoid his duty shifts in the gun room.

Yefremov shrugged.  He glanced down the list of demands.  "The Plumber
must remain in custody.  I have direct orders. As for the rest of this
document "

"You are guilty of unauthorized use of  psychiatric  drugs!"  Grishkin

"That was entirely a private matter," said Yefremay calmly.

"A criminal  act,"  said  Tatiana.  "Pilot Tatjana,  we both know that
Grishkin here is the station's most active samisdata  pirate!  We  are
all criminals,  don't you see?  That's the beauty of our system, isn't
it?" His sudden,  twisted smile was shockingly cynical.  "Kosmograd is
not the Potemkin,  and you are not revolutionaries.  And you demand to
communicate with Marshal Gubarev?  He is in custody at  Baikonur.  And
you  demand  to  communicate  with  the  minister  of technology?  The
minister is leading the purge." With a decisive gesture he ripped  the
printout  to  pieces,  scraps of yellow flimsy scattering in free fall
like slow-motion butterflies.

On the ninth day of the strike,  Korolev met with Grishkin and  Stoiko
in  the  Salyut  that  Grishkin  would ordinarily have shared with the

For forty years the inhabitants of Kosmograd had fought an  antiseptic
war against mold and mildew.  Dust,  grease, and vapor wouldn't settle
in free fall, and spores lurked everywhere in padding, in clothing, in
the ventilation ducts.  In the warm, moist petri-dish atmosphere, they
spread like oil slicks.  Now there was a reek of dry rot in  the  air,
overlaid with ominous whiffs of burning insulation.

Korolev's sleep  had  been  broken  by  the hollow thud of a departing
Soyuz lander.  Glushko and his wife,  he  supposed.  During  the  past
forty-eight hours,  Yefremov had supervised the evacuation of the crew
members who had refused to join the strike.  The gun crew kept to  the
gun  room  and  their barracks ring,  where they still held Nikita the

Grishkin's Salyut had become strike headquarters.  None  of  the  male
strikers had shaved,  and Stoiko had contracted a staph infection that
spread across his forearms in angry welts.  Surrounded by lurid pinups
from  American  television,  they  resembled  some  degenerate trio of
pornographers. The lights were dim; Kosmograd ran on half-power. "With
the others gone," Stoiko said, "our hand is strengthened."

Grishkin groaned.  His nostrils were festooned with white streamers of
surgical cotton. He was convinced that Yefremov would try to break the
strike  with  betacarboline  aerosols.  The cotton plugs were just one
symptom of the general  level  of  strain  and  paranoia.  Before  the
evacuation  order  had come from Baikonur,  one of the technicians had
taken to playing Tchaikovsky's 1812 Overture at shattering volume  for
hours on end.  And Glushko had chased his wife,  naked,  bruised,  and
screaming,  up and down the length of Kosmograd.  Stoiko had  accessed
the  KGB  man's  files  and  Bychkov's psychiatric records;  meters of
yellow printout  curled  through  the  corridors  in  flabby  spirals,
rippling in the current from the ventilators.

"Think what  their testimony will be doing to us groundside," muttered
Grishkin.  "We won't even get a trial.  Straight to the psikuska." The
sinister  nickname for the political hospitals seemed to galvanize the
boy with dread.  Korolev picked apathetically at a viscous pudding  of

Stoiko snatched   a  drifting  scroll  of  printout  and  read  aloud.
"Paranoia with a tendency to overesteem ideas!  Revisionist  fantasies
hostile  to  the  social system!" He crumpled the paper.  "If we could
seize the communications module,  we could tie into an American comsat
and dump the whole thing in their laps. Perhaps that would show Moscow
something about our hostility!"

Korolev dug a stranded fruit fly from his algae pudding. Its two pairs
of wings and bifurcated thorax were mute testimony to Kosmograd's high
radiation  levels.  The  insects  had  escaped  from  some   forgotten
experiment;  generations of them had infested the station for decades.
"The Americans have no interest in us," Korolev said.  "Muscow can  no
longer be embarrassed by such revelations."

"Except when the grain shipments are due," Grishkinsaid.

"America needs  to  sell  as  badly as we need to buy." Korolev grimly
spooned more  chlorella  into  his  mouth,  chewed  mechanically,  and
swallowed.  "The  Americans couldn't reach us even if they desired to.
Canaveral is in ruins.

"We're low on fuel," Stoiko said.  "We can take it from the  remaining
landers,"  Korolev  said.  "Then  how in hell would we get back down?"
Grishkin's fists trembled.  "Even in Siberia,  there are trees, trees;
the  sky!  To  hell  with it!  Let it fall to pieces!  Let it fall and

Korolev's pudding spattered across the bulkhead. "Oh, Christ,"

Grishkin said, "I'm sorry, Colonel. I know you can't go back."

* * *

When he entered the museum,  he found Pilot Tatjana  suspended  before
that  hateful  painting  of  the  Mars landing,  her cheeks slick with

"Do you know, Colonel, they have a bust of you at Baikonur? In bronze.
I  used  to  pass  it on my way to lectures." Her eyes were red-rimmed
with sleeplessness.

"There are always busts.  Academies need them." He smiled and took her

"What was it like that day?" She still stared at the painting.

"I hardly remember.  I've seen the tapes so often, now I remember them
instead. My memories of Mars are any schoolchild's." He smiled for her
again. "But it was not like this bad painting. In spite of everything,
I'm still certain of that."

"Why has it all gone this way,  Colonel?  Why is it ending now? When I
was  small  I  saw  all  this  on televisian.  Our future in space was
forever "

"Perhaps the Americans were right. The Japanese sent machines instead,
robots  to build their orbital factories.  Lunar mining failed for us,
but we thought there would at least be a permanent  research  facility
of some kind. It all had to do with purse strings, I suppose. With men
who sit at desks and make decisions."

"Here is their final decision with regard to  Kosmograd."  She  passed
him  a  folded  scrap  of  flimsy.  "I  found  this in the printout of
Yefremov's orders from Moscow.  They'll allow the station's  orbit  to
decay over the next three months."

He found  that  now  he  too  was  staring  fixedly at the painting he
loathed. "It hardly matters anymore," he heard himself say.

And then she was weeping  bitterly,  her  face  pressed  hard  against
Korolev's crippled shoulder.

"But I have a plan,  Tatjana," he said,  stroking her hair.  "You must

He glanced at his old  Rolex.  They  were  over  eastern  Siberia.  He
remembered  how  the Swiss ambassador had presented him with the watch
in an enormous vaulted room in the Grand Kremlin Palace.

It was time to begin.  He drifted out of his Salyut into  the  docking
sphere,  batting at a length of printout that tried to coil around his

He could still work quickly and efficiently with his good hand. He was
smiling  as  he  freed  a large oxygen bottle from its webbing straps.
Bracing himself against a handhold,  he flung the  bottle  across  the
sphere  with  all  his strength.  It rebounded harmlessly with a harsh
clang. He went after it, caught it, and hurled it again.

Then he hit the decompression alarm.  Dust spurted from speakers as  a
Klaxon began to wail. Triggered by the alarm, the d~cking bays slammed
shut with a wheeze of hydraulics.  Korolev's ears popped.  He sneezed,
then went after the bottle again.

The lights flared to maximum brilliance, then flickered out. He smiled
in the darkness,  groping for the steel bottle.  Stoiko had provoked a
general systems crash. It hadn't been difficult. The memory banks were
already riddled to the point of collapse  with  bootlegged  television
broadcasts.  "The  real bare-knuckle stuff," he muttered,  banging the
bottle against the wall.  The lights flickered on weakly as  emergency
cells came on line.

His shoulder   began   to   ache.  Stoically  he  continued  pounding,
remembering the din a real blowout caused.  It had to be good.  It had
to fool Yefremov and the gun crew.

With a squeal, the manual wheel of one of the hatches began to rotate.
It thumped open, finally, and Tatjana looked in, grinning shyly.

"Is the Plumber free?" he asked, releasing the bottle.

"Stoiko and Umansky are reasoning with the guard." She  drove  a  fist
into her open palm. "Grishkin is preparing the landers."

He followed her up to the next docking sphere.  Stoiko was helping the
Plumber through the hatch that led from the barracks ring. The Plumber
was  barefoot,  his  face  greenish  under a scraggly growth of beard.
Meteorologist Umansky followed them,  dragging  the  limp  body  of  a

"How are you,  Plumber?" Korolev asked. "Shaky. They've kept me on the
Fear. Not big doses, but and I thought that that was a real blowout!"

Grishkin slid out of the Soyuz  lander  nearest  Korolev,  trailing  a
bundle  of  tools and meters of a nylon lanyard.  "They all check out.
The crash left them under their own automatics.  I've  been  at  their
remotes  with  a  screwdriver  so  they  can't be overridden by ground
control.  How are you doing, my Nikita?" he asked the Plumber. "You'll
be going in steep to central China."

The Plumber  winced,  shook  himself,  and  shivered.  "I  don't speak

Stoiko handed him a printout. "This is in phonetic Mandarin. I WISH TO

The Plumber  grinned  and  ran  his  fingers  through  his  thatch  of
sweat-stiffened hair. "What about the rest of you?" he asked.

"You think we're doing this for your benefit alone?"  Tatjana  made  a
face at him. "Make sure the Chinese news services get the rest of that
scroll, Plumber. Each of us has a copy. We'll see that the world knows
what  the  Soviet  Union  intends  to  do  to  Colonel Yuri Vasilevich
Korolev, first man on Mars!" She blew the Plumber a kiss.

"How about Filipchenko here?" Umansky asked.  A few  dark  spheres  of
congealed blood swung crookedly past the unconscious soldier's cheek.

"Why don't you take the poor bastard with you," Korolev said.

"Come along then,  shithead," the Plumber said, grabbing Filipchenko's
belt and towing him toward the Soyuz hatch.  "I,  Nikita the  Plumber,
will do you the favor of your miserable lifetime."

Korolev watched as Stoiko and Grishkin sealed the hatch behind them.

"Where are Romanenko and Valentina?" Korolev asked, checking his watch

"Here, my colonel," Valentina said, her blond hair floating around her
face  in  the hatch of another Soyuz.  "We have been checking this one
out." She giggled.

"Time enough  for  that  in  Tokyo,"  Korolev  snapped.  "They'll   be
scrambling jets in Vladivostok and Hanoi within minutes."

Romanenko's bare,  brawny  arm  emerged  and  yanked her back into the
lander. Stoiko and Grishkin sealed the hatch.

"Peasants in space." Tatjana made a spitting noise.

Kosmograd boomed  hollowly  as  the  Plumber,  with  the   unconscious
Filipchenko, cast off. Another boom and the lovers were off as well.

"Come along,  friend Umansky," said Stoiko.  "And farewell,  Colonel!"
The two men headed down the corridor.

"I'll go with you," Grishkin said to Tatiana.  He grinned. "After all,
you're a pilot."

"No," she said.  "Alone. We'll split the odds. You'll be fine with the
automatics. Just don't touch anything on the board."

Korolev watched her help him into the sphere's last Soyuz.

"I'll take you dancing, Tatjana," Grishkin said, "in Tokyo."

She sealed the hatch.  Another boom,  and Stoiko and Umansky had  cast
off from the next docking sphere.

"Go now,  Tatiana," Korolev said.  "Hurry.  I don't want them shooting
you down over international waters."

"That leaves you here alone, Colonel, alone with our enemies."

"When you've gone, they'll go as well," he said. "And I depend on your
publicity to embarrass the Kremlin into keeping me alive here."

"And what shall I tell them in Tokyo,  Colonel? Have you a message for
the world?"

"Tell them .  .  ." and every cliche  came  rushing  to  him  with  an
absolute rightness that made him want to laugh hysterically: One small
step... We came in peace

Workers of the world.... "You must tell them that I need it," he said,
pinching his shrunken wrist, "in my very bones."

She embraced him and slipped away.

He waited  alone in the docking sphere.  The silence scratched away at
his nerves;  the systems crash had deactivated the ventilation system,
whose hum he'd lived with for twenty years. At last he heard Tatjana's
Soyuz disengage.

Someone was coming down the corridor. It was Yefremov, moving clumsily
in a vacuum suit. Korolev smiled.

Yefremov wore his bland, official mask behind the Lexan faceplate, but
he avoided meeting Korolev's eyes as he passed. He was heading for the
gun room.

"No!" Korolev  shouted.  The  Klaxon blared the station's call to full
battle alert.  The gun-room hatch was open when he reached it. Inside,
the  soldiers were moving jerkily in the galvanized reflex of constant
drill,  yanking the broad straps of their  console  seats  across  the
chests of their bulky suits.

"Don't do  it!"  He clawed at the stiff accordion fabric of Yefremov's
suit.  One of the accelerators powered up with a staccato whine.  On a
tracking screen, green cross hairs closed in on a red dot.

Yefremov removed his helmet. Calmly, with no change in his expression,
he backhanded Korolev with the helmet.

"Make them stop!" Korolev sobbed.  The walls shook as a beam cut loose
with  the sound of a cracking whip.  "Your wife,  Yefremov!  She's out

"Outside, Colonel." Yefremov  grabbed  Korolev's  arthritic  hand  and
squeezed. Korolev screamed. "Outside." A gloved fist struck him in the

Korolev pounded helplessly on the vacuum suit as  he  was  shoved  out
into  the corridor.  "Even I,  Colonel,  dare not come between the Red
Army and its orders." Yefremov looked sick now; the mask had crumbled.
"Fine sport," he said. "Wait here until it's over."

Then Tatjana's  Soyuz  struck  the  beam installation and the barracks
ring. In a split-second daguerreotype of raw sunlight, Korolev saw the
gun room wrinkle and collapse like a beer can crushed under a boot; he
saw the decapitated torso of a soldier spinning away from  a  console;
he  saw  Yefremov  try to speak,  his hair streaming upright as vacuum
tore the air in his suit out through his open helmet ring.  Fine  twin
streams  of blood arced from Korolev's nostrils,  the roar of escaping
air replaced by a deeper roaring in his head.

The last thing Korolev remembered hearing was the hatch door  slamming

When he woke,  he woke to darkness,  to pulsing agony behind his eyes,
remembering old lectures.  This was as great a danger as  the  blowout
itself,  nitrogen bubbling through the blood to strike with white-hot,
crippling pain...  But it was all so remote,  so academic,  really. He
turned the wheels of the hatches out of some strange sense of noblesse
oblige,  nothing more. The labor was quite onerous, and he wished very
much to return to the museum and sleep.

He could repair the leaks with caulk, but the systems crash was beyond
him.  He had Glushko's garden.  With  the  vegetables  and  algae,  he
wouldn't  starve  or smother.  The communications module had gone with
the gun room and the barracks ring,  sheared from the station  by  the
impact of Tatjana's suicidal Soyuz.  He assumed that the collision had
perturbed Kosmograd's orbit,  but he had no way of predicting the hour
of the station's final incandescent meeting with the upper atmosphere.
He was often ill now,  and he often thought that he might  die  before
burnout, which disturbed him.

He spent  uncounted  hours screening the museum's library of tapes.  A
fitting pursuit for the Last Man in Space who had once been the  First
Man on Mars.

He became  obsessed with the icon of Gagarin,  endlessly rerunning the
grainy television images of the Sixties,  the newsreels  that  led  so
unalterably to the cosmonaut's death.  The stale air of Kosmograd swam
with the spirits of martyrs.  Gagarin,  the  first  Salyut  crew,  the
Americans roasted alive in their squat Apollo...

Often he  dreamed of Tatjana,  the look in her eyes like the look he'd
imagined in the eyes of the museum's portraits.  And once he woke,  or
dreamed he woke, in the Salyut where she had slept, to find himself in
his old uniform, with a battery-powered work light strapped across his
forehead.  From  a great distance,  as though he watched a newsreel on
the museum's monitor,  he saw himself rip the Star of the  Tsiolkovsky
Order from his pocket and staple it to her pilot's certificate.

When the knocking came, he knew that it must be a dream as well.

The hatch wheeled open.  In the bluish,  flickering light from the old
film,  he saw that the woman was black. Long corkscrews of matted hair
rose like cobras around her head.  She wore goggles,  a silk aviator's
scarf twisting behind her in free fall.  "Andy," she said in  English,
"you better come see this!"

A small, muscular man, nearly bald, and wearing only a jockstrap and a
jangling toolbelt, floated up behind her and peered in. "Is he alive?"

"Of course I am alive," said Korolev in slightly accented English.

The man called Andy sailed in over her head.  "You  okay,  Jack?"  His
right  bicep  was  tattooed  with  a  geodesic  balloon  above crossed
lightning bolts and bore the legend SUNSPARK  15,  UTAH.  "We  weren't
expecting anybody."

"Neither was  I," said Korolev,  blinking.  "We've come to live here,"
said the woman,  drifting closer. "We're from the balloons. Squatters,
I guess you could say. Heard the place was empty. You know the orbit's
decaying on this thing?" The man executed a clumsy midair  somersault,
the tools clattering on his belt. "This free fall's outrageous."

"God," said the woman,  "I just can't get used to it!  It's wonderful.
It's like skydiving, but there's no wind."

Korolev stared at the man,  who had the blundering,  careless look  of
someone  drunk  on  freedom  since  birth.  "But you don't even have a
launchpad," he said.

"Launchpad?" the man said,  laughing.  "What  we  do,  we  haul  these
surplus booster engines up the cables to the balloons,  drop `em,  and
fire `em in midair."

"That's insane," Korolev said. "Got us here, didn't it?"

Korolev nodded.  If this was all a dream,  it was a very peculiar one.
"I am Colonel Yuri Vasilevich Koro1ev."

"Mars!" The woman clapped her hands. "Wait'll the kids hear that." She
plucked the little Lunokhod moon-rover model  from  the  bulkhead  and
began to wind it.

"Hey," the  man  said,  "I  gotta  work.  We  got  a bunch of boosters
outside. We gotta lift this thing before it starts burning."

Something clanged against the hull.  Kosmograd rang with  the  impact.
"That'll  be  Tulsa,"  Andy said,  consulting a wristwatch.  "Right on

"But why?" Korolev shook his head,  deeply  confused.  "Why  have  you

"We told  you.  To live here.  We can enlarge this thing,  maybe build
more. They said we'd never make it living in the balloons, but we were
the  only ones who could make them work.  It was our one chance to get
out here on our own.  Who'd want to live out here for the sake of some
government,  some army brass, a bunch of pen pushers? You have to want
a frontier want it in your bones, right?"

Korolev smiled.  Andy grinned back. "We grabbed those power cables and
just pulled ourselves straight up.  And when you get to the top, well,
man,  you either make that big jump or else you rot there." His  voice
rose.  "And  you don't look back,  no sir!  We've made that jump,  and
we're here to stay!"

The woman placed the model's Velcro wheels against the curved wall and
released  it.  It  went  scooting  along  above their heads,  whirring
merrily. "Isn't that cute? The kids are just going to love it."

Korolev stared into Andy's eyes.  Kosmograd rang  again,  jarring  the
little Lunokhod model onto a new course.

"East Los  Angeles," the woman said.  "That's the one with the kids in
it." She took off her goggles,  and Korolev saw her eyes brimming over
with a wonderful lunacy.

"Well," said  Andy,  rattling his toolbelt,  "you feel like showing us