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November 29, 2018
In Mother Russia, secrets did not stay secret for long. Information was strength. Informing was ingrained. It was nothing short of miraculous that Colonel Pavel Mikhailov of the 224th Air Detachment, Military Transport Aviation, had been able to hide his sins at all.
The tribunal convened by his superiors had been a lengthy and embarrassing ordeal. But he was better for it, wasn’t he? Bez muki net nauki—no torture, no science. No pain, no gain, the Americans said. Now he’d gotten back his wings—and he wasn’t about to do anything that would jeopardize them again. He would be careful. He would be precise. Above all, he would be sober.
Flashlight in hand, the fifty-three-year-old colonel walked beneath the drooping wing of the monstrous Antonov An-124 cargo plane, taking comfort in the smell of jet fuel. A light wind tousled his thinning gray hair. Rosacea that never seemed to go away anymore pinked the round apples of his cheeks. The night had turned out chilly, but the day had been a pleasant one for spring in Moscow, and the black tarmac was still giving up its warmth. Colonel Mikhailov wore small foam earplugs to protect his hearing, but the whine of the auxiliary power unit and the hydraulic squeal of machinery were muffled music to his way of thinking. He played the flashlight under the broad surface of the swept wing, then carefully checked each of the twenty-four tires, as complete and thorough in this preflight as if he were still a pink-faced cadet at Gagarin Academy.Continue Reading