“I don’t believe you.” Ken Lawrence pointed at Dmitri Matochkin, his tipsy grin taking away any anger the gesture might have implied.
Dmitri smiled and took a sip of his bourbon. “Of course you don’t. It does sound fanciful, does it not?”
Lawrence and the elderly Matochkin had sat and drank for hours in Matochkin’s hotel room. They’d talked about the Cold War and espionage practices in the United States and the Soviet Union, the topics on which Lawrence was doing research for his dissertation.
Matochkin had emigrated to the States early in the century. Last night he spoke on a panel discussion at Lawrence’s university on the topic of US/Russian relations in the 21st Century. He had not been optimistic. After the panel had ended, Lawrence asked Matochkin if he could to have a few minutes of his time. The old man agreed and told him to come by the next evening.
Somehow this evening’s talk turned to numbers stations, those strange shortwave radio stations transmitting, at various times, squawks, hums, beeps, buzzes, and occasional strings of seemingly-random numbers. It wasn’t much of a secret that these stations were used to pass messages to spies but Matochkin hinted that he knew a well-kept secret about a particular station.
Lawrence sensed that Matochkin wanted to tell him what he knew but that the conversational dance dictated that Lawrence insist and Matochkin resist. At first.
“Alright, I’ll tell you,” Matochkin said, after some prodding. “But first, let us have more of this wonderful bourbon you brought me.”
It had been an impulse purchase, a gift for the old Soviet hand as a thanks for his time. Lawrence hadn’t expected it to be received with so much enthusiasm. Matochkin refilled their tumblers with an impressively-steady hand.
“There is one of these stations in… But, no, I shouldn’t say where. Besides, I think it may be moving again soon… We will just say one of these stations, yes?”
“It has transmitted for many years, going back well before Perestroika and all. Its transmissions are sent through a variety of channels. In the end, the actual messages from those transmissions are recoded and sent into space through one of our ‘weather’ satellites.”
He was amused to see Matochkin make air quotes around the word “weather” and wondered if this was an affectation he’d picked up post-emigration or if that particular bit of body language was used in Russia as well.
Matochkin took a sip of his bourbon and eyed Lawrence, who realized it was his turn to nudge the conversation along.
“Okay. Why are the messages sent into space?”
Completely deadpan, Matochkin replied, “Because that’s where the aliens are.”
“What aliens?” Lawrence needed no prodding this time to deliver his line.
“The aliens we made contact with in the late 1960s.”
This was when Lawrence declared his disbelief and Matochkin told the young doctoral student he’d expected that reply.
“Suppose this is true. Why wouldn’t our government have been told about it by now? It’s been, what, twenty years since the Soviet Union collapsed?”
“Okay. A long time. Surely at some point in there…”
Lawrence broke off as Matochkin shook his head.
“No. At no point in there. See, there are very few who know the real meaning of this station. When relations were good between our countries, the people in power did not know. More recently…” He shrugged. “It’s considered a state secret.”
Lawrence pondered this and took a sip of his own bourbon. It was indeed good stuff.
“So why tell me? Couldn’t it cause you trouble?”
“How much trouble can be caused to a man of my age with liver cancer? My doctors give me four more months, Kenneth.”
In light of this news, Lawrence didn’t want to declare his disbelief again in. Still, he wondered why having this conversation had been so important to Matochkin.
“Fine, but why say anything at all?”
Matochkin sipped his drink again and looked away. He was silent for a long moment.
“I knew of some of the transmissions, a long time back. The aliens, they’re due to arrive in two years. I thought I might live long enough, but I won’t.”
He turned back to Lawrence.
“I wanted someone here to know.”