Part IV: Expedition To Earth
After the evening meal, Raisa and Mikhail would normally head out to the theatre or a movie, or invite a few friends round for a Pepsi. Tonight, however, they're off to Sheremetyevo Airport to greet the winner of the U.S.-Soviet Friendship Society's "Win a day with Mikhail Gorbachev" competition. This competition attracted over 10,000 entries, despite unfavourable comment in the U.S. media, and represents a significant propaganda victory for the Soviet Union. Contestants were required to write an essay on the subject "U.S.-Soviet Relations: Where to from here?", and as a tie-breaker had been asked to complete, in 25 words or less, the sentence "I would like to visit the Soviet Union because... ".
Although the tie-breaker had not in fact been required, as the winner's essay stood head and shoulders above its competition, his sentence had read "I would like to visit the Soviet Union because I have in my possession complete design drawings of the prototype Strategic Defence Initiative antimissile laser system." This sentence contains 26 words and would, had the tiebreaker been required, undoubtedly have been disqualified.
The winner calls himself Jim Beam, and he arrives from Heathrow Airport by Aeroflot. He is met as he steps off the plane by senior officers of Soviet military intelligence, who relieve him of a folder of drawings he obligingly presents to them, and after submitting to a final search he is permitted to meet the Gorbachevs and the press. After exchanging pleasantries, the threesome return to the Kremlin for a private get-acquainted chat in Mikhail and Raisa's apartment. "That means private", Mikhail insists, shooing away the lurking Kremlin guards.
When the door has closed behind the last of the guards, it is Raisa who speaks. "We have been awaiting this meeting for a long time, Anatar. But why did you choose such a public method of arrival?"
The Ambassador to Earth of the Galactic Federation peels off his false head, legs and genitals, places them in a small attache case, and squats before them in its true form. "An old Earth custom, I believe - of hiding in plain sight. How could anyone so public as Mr. Jim Beam be other than what he seemed? Well, we can dispense with Mr. Beam now. How soon can you leave?"
"I've told my colleagues on the collective farm that I'm taking a week's holiday - I believe that will be sufficient? I've packed my bags, and we recovered the atmosphere suit and other equipment from the Tunguska a week ago. The matter transmitter brought them in easily. I'm ready when you are, Anatar."
"Very well. Mr. Gorbachev, would you like to come with us to farewell your wife?"
"I certainly would. But there's one thing I don't understand, Anatar: why can't the matter transmitter take Raisa all the way to Galactic H.Q.?"
"I don't know, General Secretary. I'm a diplomat, not a scientist. But I've been told that both loci of the matter transmitter need to be on the same planetary body - something to do with frames of reference, I understand."
"Science is a wonderful thing. I must introduce you to some of our more far-sighted writers on the subject."
"Save the books for later, Mick," says Raisa. "It's time to go."
The aliens' ship is waiting in a forest between Shar'ya and Kirov; their matter transmitter, of which an embarrassed Academician Ivanenko is still trying to provide a convincing explanation to the military, sends them through one at a time. The ship is the conventional saucer shape. A ramp extends to the ground, and between the pine trees small figures on trolleys are moving through the mist, collecting specimens.
Before Raisa puts on her atmosphere suit and goes off to the headquarters of the Galactic Federation to present the case for Earth's admission, she and Mikhail say goodbye. They stand at the foot of the ramp, holding each other close.
"Keep everything ticking over whilst I'm away, won't you, Mick?"
"I don't expect any major problems. I'm sure we'll reach a compromise on the Zils without Andrei losing face. Nothing else should be too difficult - for me. You're the one who's got the hard work ahead."
"Oh, I think I'll manage O.K. It's a formality, really, isn't it?... Well, Anatar is looking impatient, probably. I have to go. I love you, darling. Take care."
"I will. You take care too. I'll take a day off when you get back, eh?"
They hold hands as long as they can whilst Raisa seals herself into the suit. Then they separate, and she walks slowly up the ramp as the returning alien scientists whir past her. When they have all returned, the ramp is closed and the spaceship rises silently upwards. As Mikhail turns to return to Moscow, the sky fills with light and a peal of thunder echoes over the sleeping land.
"Win A Day With Mikhail Gorbachev" was included in Best New Zealand Fiction 4 and then collected in my second short story collection, Transported.
You can buy Transported online from Fishpond or New Zealand Books Abroad. You can also read review excerpts and find out more about Transported