Authors: Kenneth Cran
CENTRAL SIBERIAN PLATEAU 10,000 B.C.
The dwindling campfire spit glowing cinders into the winter night. Encircling it with their backs to the dying flame, the nervous warriors clutched flint-tipped spears with strong, damp hands. Behind them and huddled closest to the fire, their wide-eyed women and children clung to each other for warmth and protection. To modern man, they would be a familiar looking bunch, resembling the Alaskan Inuit of contemporary times. Mahogany colored skin, dark almond-shaped eyes and hair that was black and gnarled distinguished these people from their brethren across the globe. Unlike the Inuit, however, these people were tattooed from head to foot. In accordance with tribal rank, intricate geometric patterns cut into the foreheads and cheeks of the men, while the older women sported smaller tattoos along their brows. The younger members of the tribe, of which there were now only a few, were years away from receiving the ritualistic symbols.
It was unlikely they’d live long enough to receive their own tattoos.
Upon first appearance, the surrounding forest appeared tranquil. Snow piled heavy along the branches of conifer and naked birch trees, while on the ground, six inches of fresh powder enshrouded the woodland floor like a fallen cloud. Winter had no official start time, for the terms and designations of time were still thousands of years away from being invented. Seasons were recognized as a simple changing of flora and fauna; some plants and animals went to sleep, while others altered their physical appearances to cope with the transformed climate. Still others found it necessary, when the snows fell, to migrate to warmer latitudes. Caribou and geese sought out the grasses and open water of more temperate zones. Their predators, in turn, moved along with them.
The group gazed above the rim of the surrounding wall to the towering dark forest, darting glances at every sudden crack and pop in the night. Short gasping breaths betrayed any sense of calm the night ordinarily brought, for even in the cold of winter, the tribe saw night as a time devoted to the spirit world, to ceremonies thanking the spirits for providing them with sunlight.
There was nothing to be thankful for on this winter night.
They were a ragged bunch, worn and tired from their flight east across the plateau. They had started the day without much sleep, for the night before they had fended off yet another attack. The winter had been harsh, but the enemy was far more devastating. Twenty of their tribe had been killed since the first snowfall. Now, they were fewer than a dozen.
They had found sanctuary within the walls that now surrounded them, walls that formed a macabre fort as big around as a house. Fitted together in a tight, interlocking fashion, giant wooly mammoth bones shaped the circular fort and were stacked to a uniform height twice as high as the tallest man. The thickness of the walls, nearly four feet deep, conveyed a sense of steadfast determination. Clearly, the walls were meant to protect those inside from some great force scarcely imaginable. At some point and not too long before, there had been a roof over the fort, for support timbers hewed from lodgepole pines, as well as the remnants of long horned bison hide, shown through the snowy floor. Though the fort’s walls were impressive, they were not the only defense against intruders. Lining the perimeter wall was a briar patch of tusks, horns and antlers. Perhaps at some point, this lethal palisade would have been intimidating enough to ward off enemies. But the fort had been abandoned for some time, and the lack of systematic maintenance had rendered it vulnerable.
Nevertheless, retreating across the dense conifer forest, the tribe was thankful that they had stumbled upon the mammoth bone fortress. At any other time, they would have approached with more caution, perhaps even held a ceremony. The chase negated that need, and the people had entered the fort just before dusk with little fanfare. Who built it and why, they did not know or care. To them, it was an unexpected oasis in a frozen wasteland.
Pursued across what would later be called the Angara River, the clan saw no sign that the enemy was weary, no sign that their own counterattacks had diminished the enemy’s numbers. Like waves from the sea, the enemy kept coming. Retreating further east was the clan’s best option, and they had hoped to find other tribes to bolster their numbers. But long separated from the body of the main tribe, this group had no notion of Beringia, the land bridge that connected Siberia with Alaska. They had no idea that the other people of the region, exhausted from constant battle with the enemy, had long ago crossed that bridge into the Americas and that the melting glaciers had since submerged the low-lying land. They had no idea that the limitless wilderness they called home was empty of their kind. And they had no notion that 60 miles of ocean lay between them and the safety of the new continent.
The warriors gripped their spears at the sudden crunch of footsteps on snow. Children clung to their mothers, who wrapped their arms around their little ones, shielding them from the enemy outside. Tears welled and streaked across their wind burned faces. The fire behind them was dying, the wood to feed it scattered beyond the circular wall.
Outside, heavy bodies stalked through the forest and surrounded the fort.
The warriors breathed in short gasps. Even in the cold, nervous sweat streamed through their thick brows. Their spears were pitiful, but they held them at the ready just the same.
Deep, raspy breathing from outside grew louder as the enemy closed in.
Closer. Closer. Closer still.
And then, the first screams of terror set off into the night as the fort was breached again and again. War whoops sprung from the warriors, and they charged as the enemy came over the walls.
In the crystal cold of the Siberian night, the bedlam of battle segued to cries of terror and pain as the last human beings of the region were violently wiped from the face of the Earth.
WEST SIBERIAN PLAIN, NOVEMBER 1948
Even in the extreme cold of night, 25 year-old Nick Somerset could smell the
fresh paint and hardened concrete. Everything was brand new, from the perimeter fence surrounding the compound to the blocky buildings that comprised it. Installations like this one were sprouting up across the West Siberian plain, from the southern border with China and Mongolia all the way north to the Arctic Circle.
World War II had brought technology to a new level: automatic assault rifles, German jet fighters, V-1 rockets, the atomic bomb. Yet perhaps the greatest innovation was not a weapon at all, but an early warning system devised by Sir Robert Watson-Watt in Great Britain. The electronic system was first used in England to detect impending German air raids. Watson-Watt had named it Radio Detection and Ranging, but during the war someone decided the acronym was easier to say: RADAR.
Lying prone across ice-encrusted snow, Nick lifted a small camera to his eye and snapped a picture. His focus was the building in front of him, but doubt tainted his actions.
, he thought. The night sky was moonless and as pitch as fresh tar. Insufficient light would in all likelihood render the pictures as worthless dark shapes. But he was here now, at great risk, and so he did the best he could.
Click. A picture was taken. Click click.
The radar installation was lit with a few sodium vapor lights, and their yellow luminance glowed across the snow. Nick belly crawled several feet and hid in the shadow of a six-foot snowdrift. He glanced over toward his last position, reorienting himself.
The compound consisted of three main buildings and a few outbuildings. All were blocky, gray squares built from cinder bricks and covered with flat steel roofs. On the roof of the largest building, two radio towers stretched 50 feet into the air and were lashed down with braided cables. Even with the rigidity of the moorings, the early-winter wind made them sway in the night sky.
In a lot adjacent to the workshop, a row of military troop trucks and Jeep-type GAZ cars, all emblazoned with the red and yellow Soviet star, sat blanketed with snow. An eight-foot tall fence surrounded the entire compound, with a single gate at the north end. At the south end was a recent addition: a non-descript hole snipped through the wire. It was just wide enough for a man to fit through and was hidden by a snowdrift.
A light breeze ruffled Nick’s wavy hair. He scurried to one of the trucks, crawled underneath and hid behind a front tire. He aimed the camera upward, toward the twin gantry towers, to snap another picture.
The door to the barracks flew open, blasting the night with light from inside. Underneath the truck, Nick whipped his head toward the light and saw a rugged bear of a soldier stumble out. He held his breath as the big Russian ambled in an indirect path toward him, sipping from a flask and humming
Shit shit shit shit shit
, Nick thought. But before he could even consider the threat level, the soldier’s legs buckled, collapsing him to the snowy ground.
Nick exhaled his warm breath into the snow. He observed the Russian, the sound of his own beating heart throbbing in his ears. Placing his hand on the K-Bar knife sheath strapped to his boot, he estimated the Russian’s weight, height, and strength. He considered the depth of the snow, the distance between himself and the hole in the fence. A list formed in his mind, with the title typed and centered at the top:
Standard Procedure in Case of Drunk Russian Soldier.
He had no interest in reading that list, because he had no interest in killing anyone. The most relevant thought to the young spy was a simple question:
What the hell am I doing here?
The big Russian let out a thunderous belch, then rolled over on his knees. He glanced toward the truck, and Nick shut his eyes, assured that he had been discovered.
He waited for the shrill screech of a whistle.
It didn’t come.
He waited for the soldier’s booming voice to announce his presence.
After a minute or so, the sounds of the soldier vomiting forced Nick’s eyes open.
Nick forgot about the danger for a moment.
are they all alcoholics?
He had seen his share of drunks during the war, but no one could out-drink a Russian. Nick was sure nursing Russian mothers had one tit for milk and the other for vodka.
Steam rose from the snow where the man had expunged his gut. A little weaker and with the grace of a moose sporting three broken legs, he stood up and stumbled back into the barracks.
Nick rolled out from under the truck and rose to his feet. He darted off across the compound, ducking behind a solid concrete block that was taller than him. Scanning the area, he decided it safe enough, then craned his neck upward. He lifted the little camera and snapped a picture. Above him and resembling a giant steel spider web was a gargantuan radar array. Supporting it were three heavy I-beams that extended to the ground, themselves encased in massive concrete blocks.
Hidden in the shadows of one of the blocks, Nick finished the last roll of film, then slipped the camera into his coat pocket. He pulled out a pair of black gloves, slipped them on, then took another deep breath in an attempt to slow his rapid heartbeat. Digging his heals into the snow, he looked around the compound. In the still of the Siberian winter night, there wasn’t so much as a hooting owl.
He flexed his legs and made a run for it.
He covered 10 feet before the barracks door flew open again, forcing Nick into a skid. He ducked behind an equipment shed as the raucous sounds of a fight broke the silence. Peering around the corner, he saw a tall man beating the drunken soldier and tensed up. With broad shoulders and a face obscured by darkness and the low brim of a peaked cap, the tall man had a menacing aura. He was not as big as the whimpering soldier, but his presence was unmistakable. Nick knew at once that he was an officer.
Cursing in Russian, the tall man swung clenched fists at the drunken soldier, inspiring even more vomiting. Heavy boots landed on his back and gut as the drunk tried crawling away. Sounds of the thrashing trailed off as Nick watched them slip from view behind an outbuilding.
Hugging the wall, he turned and headed for the opposite corner of the building
A familiar song played in his mind:
Want to go right back where I belong,
Way down south in Birmingham,
I mean south in Alabam,
An old place where people go,
To dance the night away!
The Andrews Sisters had been stuck in his mind for the past few days, but he didn’t mind, not at all. He had heard
on a jukebox in London less than two weeks before, and it reminded him just how tired of Europe he was. The first thing he was going to do when he got back to America, other than resign, was to play every Andrews Sisters and Bing Crosby record he could get his hands on.