“He said he saw something, in the heart of the reactor, just before the meltdown,” Valerian said. His eyes seemed to grow cloudy with the weight of remembrance.

It was painful to even hear those words, after what had happened in the Ukraine. “What did he see?” Vasily asked, trying not to let his voice crack.

“Captain Lebedev…he’d gone aboard to try and stop Berenty, to try and leave the rest of us a way off of this rock. We were in radio contact the entire time. There was so much static…so much gunfire…it was hard to understand, hard to make out.”

“Uncle Valerian…what did the captain say he saw?” Vasily pressed.

“I thought I heard Petr Ulyanovich say that he could see into the pod the Elbrus IV had constructed, into the heart of its design. Something even that snake Berenty couldn’t conceive.”

“Uncle…”

“The captain said he saw a young girl. Not unlike his wife when she had been a young woman. It was the last thing he ever spoke of.”

The line to the Bureau didn’t seem to be moving anywhere in a hurry; Adam tried to strike up a conversation with the man in front of him in line, a thirtysomething dressed in bright yellow coveralls and goggles. “What are you in for?”

“The name’s Sol Nechny,” the man said. “I’m a solar mechanic.”

Adam nodded, pretending to be fascinated. “I see! What’s a solar mechanic do?”

“We keep the sun in good order and running,” Nechny sighed. “I’d think that would be obvious from the adjective ‘solar’ and the noun ‘mechanic,’ but I know the state of grammar instruction in schools these days.”

That made Adam feel a little defensive. “Last I heard, the sun was part of the natural world and didn’t need mechanics.”

“Oh yes, I certainly must have things all wrong,” Nechny barked with exaggerated politeness. “After all, I only work in the bloody sun; surely someone such as yourself who’s never been knows more about it than I!”

“It’s a big ball of nuclear fusion, not some kind of steam engine!” Adam cried. He was pretty sure he’d heard that in some long-ago science class.

“Nuclear fusion? Are we going to talk about the tooth fairy and the Easter bunny while we’re discussing old wives’ tales and myths? Do you honestly think an explosion of that size would just stay nicely put and provide free energy out of the goodness of its heart?” Nechny cried.

Adam bristled. “It’s not like I just made that up, you know! I heard it from a science teacher!”

“Nonsense cooked up by people with nothing better to do; not that we’ve any intention of enlightening them, of course,” scoffed Nechny. “Next you’ll be lecturing me about how the center of the earth is full of molten rock!”

“I’m not quite clear on exactly how evil an inanimate object like that can be,” I said. “Atomic bombs don’t kill people. People kill people.”

“The raw uranium was mined from the depths of the Belgian Congo by forced laborers,” said Tex.

“I don’t know where that is.” Geography was never my strong suit.

“Central Africa. The colonial regime there worked millions of people to death.”

“Fun,” I said. “I still don’t follow, though.”

“There’s more,”” said Tex. “The Nazis purchased the raw ore and refined it into uranium oxide. It was on its way to Japan by submarine to build a dirty bomb when the war ended.”

“I’m guessing they didn’t just throw it overboard.”

“The US captured the sub and turned the fissile materials over to the Manhattan Project, which used it in a breeder reactor to create plutonium for a bomb core. Two separate physicists were killed in radiation accidents by that core.”

“Ouch. That’s certainly dangerous, if not necessarily evil,” I said. “What then?”

“It was detonated over Bikini Atoll as part of a nuclear weapons test.”