Messages and Messengers
by Michael Haynes
I met the old man a week after his 100th birthday. His nurse let me into his apartment and left without speaking.
"You're late," were his first words to me.
"I'm sorry, sir. The checkpoints--"
"Of course the checkpoints." His country had dismantled little of the security infrastructure put in place after the arrival last year of the aliens from Gliese 667 C, even once it was clear they came in peace. "And it's not 'sir,' it's Pyotr."
"Thank you," I replied, cutting myself off just before another "sir" came out of my mouth. I was compiling an oral history of the final decade of the Cold War for my doctoral dissertation. Getting an interview with Lieutenant Colonel Stasov had been on my list since the project's beginnings. Even with his acquiescence, it felt strange to speak familiarly with a man who very well may have kept the world from falling into total nuclear war decades before I was born.
I sat in the old armchair which was the room's only furnishing besides Stasov's own chair and a small stand beside his chair.
I started my tablet's recorder and gestured toward it. "I'll be recording our conversation, with your permission?"
We spoke at length about that night when, as duty officer at a missile defense early warning facility, he'd chosen to interpret computer reports of an American first strike as a false alarm.
"You've said you were unsure at the time as to whether your decision was correct or not, that you were only certain when some time had passed and no actual strikes had occurred."
Stasov nodded and reached for his pack of cigarettes and a lighter. He took his time lighting a cigarette and taking a drag from it.
"Yes," he said, "I've said that."