December 1993. Washington, DC. An arms show. Pentagon weapons designer and engineer Doctor Olivia Tolchin is drifting. A highly-regarded engineer, she is there to network and to interview, to take the next step in her life. She knows she is worth a great deal to a defense contractor who can sell... show more
December 1993. Washington, DC. An arms show. Pentagon weapons designer and engineer Doctor Olivia Tolchin is drifting. A highly-regarded engineer, she is there to network and to interview, to take the next step in her life. She knows she is worth a great deal to a defense contractor who can sell her expertise in sensors to the Pentagon as fragile, exotic and hopelessly overpriced. In the aftermath of the Cold War, she knows that this is more and more the defense contracting game. Playing it would give her access to better labs, equipment and personnel, make her wealthy and—hate herself for betraying her country’s best interests.
Personally, Olivia was badly hurt in a light plane crash. Her long, painful recovery forced her to learn to live without compromise: she is still unable to run but she can hike again. Her lover left her while she was still hospitalized and she settled out of court with the wealthy lawyer who was her student. Between the settlement, her family money, and her personal ability, she is more than financially secure. There is a great deal she could do: it doesn’t have to be defense.
She is pondering these facts of her life when the senior Russian military intelligence officer in America, Major General Getmanov, approaches her. He tells her simply: “You and your work are of great interest to us. Although we are not yet friends, we are no longer enemies. Call me if you want your work to matter.” She does. Late that night, walking and talking, he makes her an offer. Come work for us, he says, against the enemies of my country who are also the enemies of your own. She counters in a way that strips him of his tradecraft: “I will do so but not here. I will do so in Russia, honestly and loyally. And I will skip all the phony testing and benchmarks to go straight to operational testing and evaluation in the field.” In the cauldron that is the First Chechen War, a cauldron made infinitely worse by a Russian Army collapsing into the particular horror of military ineptitude.
The last thing Olivia does before she gets on that plane to Moscow is to tell the CIA where she’s going and why. It’s not a promising meeting. Her CIA contact blows her off but he promises her, he’ll write a memo. Of course that memo is sold. Back to the Russians. Where it threatens to destroy not just Olivia but all those she has come to care about and who have come to trust her.
A love, politics, and war story set in Boris Yeltsin’s corrupt and violent Russia of the 1990s.