We cannot live only for ourselves. A thousand fibers connect us with our fellow men; and among those fibers, as sympathetic threads, our actions run as causes, and they come back to us as effects.
― Herman Melville
It was 8 PM Russian time on Thursday when Cecilia disembarked from the Dreamliner and walked into Sheremetyevo Airport. As she traversed from the terminal to the main area of the airport, she passed a room dedicated to the memory of the American leaker Edward Snowdon. Apparently this was where he stayed after the American government revoked his passport and left him stranded in Russia. Cecilia thought about the irony of his act, versus the mission she had undertaken. Edward had finally returned to the U.S., homesick and, in fact, dying of a brain tumor which the blogosphere had blamed on the government’s poisoning him to get him back. But that was quite some time ago, and memorials notwithstanding, Cecilia was tired and ready to get to her hotel. Dr. K had made a reservation for her at the Hotel Metropol, on Teatrainyy Prospect, only a short walk from his office.
Cecilia had no luggage to collect, so she and her backpack went directly to the cab stand and got into the first available car. All she said was Hotel Metropol. The driver nodded, and they took off. The E105 was still full of cars and trucks at 9 PM, so the trip to the hotel took nearly an hour. She checked in, went to her room and fell onto the bed. But she could not fall asleep, likely a function of jet lag. She got up, put on her nightgown, and brushed her teeth. She lay back down on the bed, and fell into a fitful, half sleep until 8 am. She arose from the bed, stiffy and achy, put on her clothes and went downstairs. Breakfast was coffee, and groats with blueberries, not exactly to her liking, but it gave her enough sustenance to get on with the day. Dr. K had invited her to dinner that evening, and his wife Tatiana was sure to prepare a fabulous Russian meal for both she and Dr. K to enjoy. Tatiana was Dr. K’s second wife, his first having died of heart failure about 10 years before. She was much younger than Nikolai, but from the way he spoke of her, Cecilia knew they were a devoted couple.
Cecilia arrived at Dr. Kardashev’s office at 9, and he was already at his desk at work on his latest project, involving wormholes. As she entered the office, Dr. K stood up, and hobbled over to her, enveloping her in a bear hug. “I’m sorry you are suffering so with your gout..please, come and sit and put your foot up,” said Cecilia, setting down her backpack and guiding Nikolai back to his seat. He shook his head and chuckled softly. “Getting old isn’t always fun, but as long as I have my work…” he sat down in his chair with an “oof,” then looked back up at her and smiled. Cecilia took the chair next to his desk and began to open her backpack. Nikolai looked at her, realized she was about to get down to work, and said, “Wait, my dear Cecilia” … he pronounced it Checheeleuh…”Can’t we talk a bit before you show me what you’ve brought?” Cecilia hesitated, realized she had plenty of time to share the message with him, and sat back in a relaxed pose. “Certainly, Dr. Kardashev…” He interjected, “Nikolai, Nikolai, please…we are friends, no?” Cecilia nodded, “Nikolai, what I have been sent to talk with you about is important, but certainly it can wait. Did you want to talk about your lastest research?” Nikolai shook his head, and said “Oh, you young people are always so serious and always in such a hurry. Please, can we not sit and perhaps have some tea?”
At that moment, what appeared to be a graduate student came in with a tray of glasses in silver frames, and a pot of tea. Nikolai poured the steaming brew into both their cups, and put lumps of sugar into his. He looked at her expectantly, and she nodded, so he dropped two lumps into her cup. He stirred both with a small, silver spoon and handed Cecilia her cup. At that instant, a flash in her head reminded her of tea with Father Teodor and her Abuela. Her mind drifted back to that day in Cuba, with all its consequences of discovery. But Nikolai had paused, and had obviously asked her a question. “I’m sorry, Nikolai, my mind had drifted. Please, repeat what you just said?” Nikolai looked puzzled, then said “How was your flight?” Cecilia nodded, trying her best to overcome her exhaustion and speak with this eminent man. “Fine, fine..no problems,” was all she could get out. Nikolai nodded, and then asked “what were you thinking about just then that led your mind so far away?” Cecilia said “Oh, just some things that occurred a long time ago involving my family – my grandfather to be specific.” Nikolai nodded, and then said “We’ve always been so concerned with the research, we know almost nothing about one another, and this is your first visit to Moscow, yes?” Cecilia nodded. Nikolai continued, “So, your name is Doctor Checheeleuh Vasquez and you are a cosmologist but you like …” Nikolai left the sentence open ended so she could fill in the rest of the sentence. “I am a devoted fan of the American baseball team, the Miami Marlins. I find baseball very mathematical, and …” Nikolai again chuckled and shook his head. “Always the math…you remind me of myself when I was about your age..so eager to know everything.”
There was a brief silence, and then Nikolai put his hand against his forehead. Cecilia was concerned that he was in pain, but just then Nikolai said “I once knew a man whose name was Vasquez. I was a teaching assistant at Moscow University, and he was a student of physics …nuclear I believe…his name was …” Nikolai hesitated, obviously concentrating to find the missing name…”Javier!” Nikolai’s head popped up, and a smile of satisfaction lit up his face as he recalled a name from decades before. “Yes, that was it..Javier. He was a good student – from Cuba, as I recall. Fidel had sent him to learn about nuclear physics to assist him with the unfortunate excursion into the arming of that island.” Nikolai shook his head, muttering something about the folly of that history. “I recall Javier, as I tried to convert him to the study of the stars instead of the atom. But he said he was obliged by his government to continue with this line of physics, and I knew from experience that he could not exercise free will in this endeavor.”
Cecilia was astounded at the words that she’d just heard from Dr. Kardashev. She could barely find her voice when she croaked, “The man you speak of was my grandfather.” “Is that a fact?” was all Nikolai said. They looked at one another, and an immediate connection between the two of them began to be formed. After a long pause, Cecilia spoke first. “He was a good man,” was all she could think to say. So many conflicting emotions raced through her head at that moment. Should she tell the story of her grandfather? His real name? All that had occurred when she went to Cuba?” She decided not to say anything about all that. Finally, Nikolai said “That was a very long time ago, but I still remember him as a good fellow who often spoke about another woman named Checheeleuh…a woman he had to leave behind in Cuba?” Cecilia felt overwhelmed with sadness and grief at that moment, but all she said was “My grandmother.”
After that conversation, they set to work on the reason for her visit. She gave Nikolai the letter from President Huntsman, and shared the information Colonel Oates had shared with her. Nikolai was already aware of the increasing border tensions, as Moscow holovision had already shared similar pictures to the ones published in The Economist. Nikolai readily agreed to participate in the press conference in six weeks’ time. “I’m not sure what my participation will accomplish, but I will help in any way I can.” They agreed that Nikolai would write a response to the President that Cecilia would deliver back, through the Secretary of Defense.
With that business completed, Cecilia and Nikolai began to discuss the research project involving terrafarming and water extraction from a colony on Mars. The details of the problems associated with water extraction involved issues that had enormous implications for both planets. Everyone knew there was plenty of frozen water on Mars. Not as many knew that the thin atmosphere and lack of gravity on Mars made it nearly impossible for water to exist on the surface in liquid form. There had been several ideas tested. One involved using comet collisions to generate heat to melt the ice, but that did not solve the problem of the atmosphere. The best prospect was to infuse Mars’ atmosphere with CFCs to induce a global warming effect. Obviously the proposal needed to be tested in a laboratory prior to any effort being made to implement the notion. And the ethics and politics of using what is considered a pollutant to change another planet’s atmosphere had to be discussed, and objections addressed. Nevertheless, the work needed to continue, if for no other reason than to provide hope that the current problems plaguing earth could some day be alleviated for everyone.
Nikolai had his graduate student bring in a light lunch of black bread, butter, sardines and more hot tea. After lunch, Cecilia could barely keep her eyes open. Nikolai suggested she walk back to her hotel and rest, prior to coming to his and Tatiana’s apartment for dinner. Cecilia agreed that was a good idea, and walked back to the hotel. But in spite of her best efforts, sleep eluded her. She tossed and turned, with her mind constantly returning to the amazing coincidence that her friend and mentor, Nikolai Kardashev, had known her grandfather and affectionately remembered him.
Finally about 7 PM, Cecilia got in a taxi in front of the hotel and gave the cab man Dr. Kardashev’s apartment address. The apartment was in one of the older sections of Moscow, referred to as The Arbat. The eminent scientist could live anywhere in Moscow he chose, but instead he stayed in the same apartment he’d occupied with his previous wife of 46 years because it was comfortable and familiar. She found Apartment 2F, and knocked on the door. A woman answered, opening the door wide and smiling at Cecilia. She said, “Come in, please, come in! Welcome!” Cecilia walked into the spacious apartment, simply furnished and decorated in what she perceived as old Russian style. There were antique icons gracing the far wall, surrounding an antique, gilded mirror. The furniture was old but surprisingly looked perfectly comfortable and appropriate for the space. Tatiana had returned to the kitchen, saying that dinner was nearly ready and she should make herself comfortable. She told Cecilia that Nikolai was resting after his long day, and at 92 years of age, with gout, he needed to take care with his health. Cecilia wandered into the dining area. On top of the sideboard, there was a picture of Tatiana and Nikolai, together and smiling in front of their dacha. Next to that framed photograph was a photograph with three individuals: a man, woman and child. The child appeared to be about five years of age. Cecilia carefully picked up the framed picture, and had what could nearly be described as a mystical experience. The man in the photograph was a younger version of her grandfather, and the boy bore a striking resemblence to her stepbrother, Manuel, whom she hadn’t seen in ten years, but with whom she regularly corresponded. Tatiana came out of the kitchen, carrying a bowl of borscht in one hand and a smaller bowl of sour cream in the other. She saw Cecilia holding the picture, and said “Oh, that was Nikolai’s daughter Magda, with her husband and son. Trying to sound casual, Cecilia asked “And the names of her husband and son?” Tatiana put the bowls down, turned to Cecilia and said, “Her husband’s name was Juan Lopez Linares, and their son’s name is Manuel. After the accident, Manuel went back to Cuba to live with his grandmother.” She returned to the kitchen to fetch more food. Cecilia practically ran over to the chair to sit, as she feared she was about to faint.