A mysterious explosion in China, Oksana is kidnapped, and SETI receives a cryptic distress call from deep space. Mike and the crew discover that not only is the speed of light not a limit to Vesna's capabilities, but they have cousins in trouble across the cosmos.
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More action than the first two novels in the Chronicals of Vesna, Ad Astra demonstrates the inventiveness of Mike and his crew when they must find a way cross the galaxy to save another enclave of Angli.
"Mr. Angelskov?" the woman on the telephone asked.
"Olga!" Mike chided Oksanaís mother. "Weíve known each other too long to be formal. Weíre family!"
"Da, Mikhail Ivanovich." She replied addressing him Russian style using his patronymic. "Is Oksana with you?"
"No. Sheís supposed to be finishing up some lectures at school and then coming home to you for a couple of weeks before running over to Novgorod. Why do you ask?"
"She did not come here yesterday and hasnít called. I thought she might have made a side trip for you." Mike could hear concern in the womanís voice and he began to worry also. Next to her work, Oksanaís family was everything to her. Mike knew the girl wouldnít forget to keep in touch or miss a chance to spend time on her fatherís farm.
"Have you talked with John? Maybe she stopped by in the States to see him."
"I spoke with him before I disturbed you. He has not heard from her in a week. This is not like her."
"I agree. Itís not like her at all. She wouldnít miss your fabulous cooking for the world. Besides, youíre not disturbing me. I promised you that I would look after her like my own daughter. Just because weíre all back on Earth doesnít change that."
"We know. If you could find her for us, we would greatly appreciate it."
"You know I will. Wherever she is, I can locate her."
"Bolshoi spacibo, Misha."
As Mike hung up, Lana asked, "Was that Olga? Is there a problem?"
"I donít know yet. It seems Oksana didnít show up at the farm when she was finished with her lecture series and she hasnít called either."
It was Lanaís turn to frown, "She wouldnít go anywhere without letting her mother know first!"
"I know. Thatís what I said. House? Can you get the satellites to start scanning for her signature?"
Oksana, Mikhail, and Carol had all had the same RFID transponders implanted that Mike carried in his shoulder. The primary purpose was to identify them to Mikeís various computers so that they could pass through any security force field that had been set up. As his primary flight crew, Mike had felt it important that any one of them be able to have access to the house or to Vesna at all times. A secondary advantage was that the sensitive receivers Mike installed in space could locate any one of them quickly.
"Iím moving them into position now," the male computer voice said. "I should have an answer in a half-hour."
"Excellent! Let me know when you have something."
"Kerosene in your helium bath! Remember that!"
It only took 15 minutes before the house announced, "Weíve located her, Sir."
"Good," as he switched on the big-screen television in the den.
"Whereís she at?"
"Her signal is coming from an apartment complex just outside St. Petersburg."
The scene on the television zoomed in until Mike could make out the buildings. The view was unremarkable and could have been anywhere on Earth. He could discern a half-dozen three story buildings as the satellite camera focused in on one.
"Anything remarkable about the place?"
"No, Sir. Weíve just now pinpointed her and havenít had time to check on anything else."
As Mike continued to watch, he saw a man of obvious oriental descent exit the building and get into an automobile.
"See if you canít follow that guy. And also get taps on all of the telephone trunk lines in and out of that building as well as any close cell sites as soon as you can."
"Itís being done right now. Iím already into the main switch and should have those lines isolated in a minute. Iíve got another satellite that will pick up that car in just a few minutes."
"Good. Keep me posted."
Svetlana had joined her husband in front of the screen, "This does not look right. Oksanaís apartment is near the University, not out here."
"I know. And I may be paranoid, but we just saw a man leave the building who looked suspiciously Chinese."
If this had been Khabarovsk or Vladivostok, that wouldnít raise an eyebrow. However, since it was mainly Europeans and Scandinavians that visited and stayed in St. Petersburg, it was disturbing. Mike felt a shudder pass through his wife as the possibilities crossed her mind.
"What are you going to do?" she asked.
"At the moment, just watch," he shrugged. "Whereís Misha this week?"
"He and Carol are in Nevada right now. Heís finishing up testing some new aircraft or other and then theyíre planning on a few weeks of vacation in Greece."
Her eyes narrowed, "Why do you ask?"
"I may need his help for a day or two, thatís all," Mike wouldnít meet her eyes.
"Youíre not just watching! Youíre planning!" Svetlana accused. "I want to know what youíre thinking and I want to know now!"
"I think Oksanaís in trouble," Mike said sheepishly. He knew the third degree was coming, but was hoping to postpone it for a while.
"And you want Mikhail Illyich forÖ?"
There was no escape now. When the motherly side and the journalistic side of his wife came out simultaneously, he knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that he was directly in the path of the fan and whatever hit it would soon cover him.
"I need his military thinking," Mike offered.
"And what else?"
Mike was squirming now in the knowledge that in the ten years since they married she had managed to learn him extremely well. There had been a time when he could still pull rabbits from a hat, but in typical Russian matriarchal style, she had him down cold when it had an effect on the family.
"I may need his help getting her out of there," he said in a low voice.
"Iíll go and pack some things, then."
Mike went bolt upright from the slouch her inquisition had placed him in,
"Lana, you donít have the skills I need for a mission like this if it has to be. Misha does."
"But heís my son!"
"Yes. Heís also my teammate and my stepson. I respect his skills and judgment or I wouldnít think of asking him. There is nothing you could contribute to what we may have to do. You would not just be in the way; you could endanger all of us."
"But Misha is not a fighter. He is a pilot. He tests aircraft."
"I know. Iím not much of a fighter any more, either. Oksana is also a teammate, though, and Mikhail has the training. Will you allow him to make the decision?"
Lana wasnít certain whether to be angry or frightened or both. Mikhailís father had been a warrior and all it had gotten him was killed. She did not want to lose either of the remaining men in her life. Yet, she also considered Oksana as the daughter she never had. They were all members of the family who had traveled to other planets and to a different era. The bond in that fellowship was one that could not be explained.
A tear formed in her eye and slowly made its way down her right cheek as she slowly nodded.
"Iíll keep him safe," Mike whispered as he took the woman in his arms.
"You cannot know the future. You know a lot of things, but that you cannot."
"I know. It may not be what we think, but I have to be ready for any contingency. I know you understand that I promised myself that I would never do this again, but I have a new team now and I can't let this happen to any one of you. If youíre frightened for Misha, I wonít let him know."
"He would never forgive me," the tears were running freely now down both cheeks. "Besides, it is not just he. I do not want to lose you either. What about John? What will you tell him?"
"Heíll be the third member of the team."
"This is Mike Angel. I need a favor."
"Gospodin Angelskov! You do not call so much anymore," there was almost a hurt tone in the Russian Presidentís voice.
"I know. There has been much to do and I know how busy you have been."
"Da. Yet if I do not call moia mat at least once a week, my life becomes almost not worth living. She would be standing down there in Red Square yelling up at my office."
With the tension broken, both men laughed heartily at the thought.
"You are constantly speaking with your President," Dubinov continued.
"Thatís only because he gives me a hard way to go."
"You wish for me to do the same also?"
They both laughed again, "No, Sir. I need a break from defending myself."
"Then you and Sveta must join Raisa and me at our dacha soon. You will cook."
With a laugh in his voice Mike replied,
"You have my word on that Sergei Borisovich. Right now I have a problem that I need your assistance with."
"If I can, please?"
Mike explained the situation and his fears to the President and outlined what he wanted to do.
"I will call Colonel Sitchin in St. Petersburg immediately," Dubinov said when Mike was finished. "He will be of assistance."
"Sir, Iíd like to keep this as low-key as possible. My main goal is to locate Oksana and retrieve her safely. I do not want anything to spook the people who may be holding her. I sincerely appreciate the offer of your policiya, but too many people may cause the plan to misfire. I will, of course, keep the Colonel informed."
"Da. Then I will ask him to only give you any assistance you request. Good luck, my friend. My prayers will be with all of you for success."
"Thank you Sir. I appreciate all you can do."
As they disconnected Mike said, "House? See if you can locate Misha for me, ok?"
"Already done. Heís holding on line two."
"Has Gídala taught you that mind-reading trick of his?"
"No Sir. I know you well enough that youíre becoming boringly predictable."
"For Godís sake, donít tell Lana that! I need to keep her off balance."
"I heard that!" his wifeís voice came from behind.
Mike jumped, "Donít sneak up on me like that! Youíll give me a heart attack."
"You canít get a heart attack and you know it. Youíre in perfect condition for the next several hundred years. And when youíre conspiring, there are no rules." She stuck her tongue out at him.
Mike just sighed knowing that between his computers and his wife, he didnít stand a snowballís chance in a blast furnace of getting away with anything.
"Put Mikhail on, please."
"Dad! Whatís up?" the young manís voice came through the speaker. He was using the satellite phone, which carried video also so his image came up simultaneously on the large screen television in the den.
Major Gerasov looked especially good in his uniform, but still had the appearance of a seventeen-year-old even though he was technically twenty-eight. The entire crewís experience with Díam and Yíva on Mars had corrected all of their genetic defects causing them to age at one-tenth the rate of the rest of the human race. Each successive visit had reset their biological clocks to zero so that they each had a life expectancy that would probably be close to a millennium. His wife, Carol, was particularly aggravated that she had to show identification for "R" rated movies. Although she was almost twenty-seven, she looked the same as she did when she was sixteen. Mike had told her to get used to it because she would probably have to put up with that indignity for at least the next fifty years before she might look twenty-one.
"Misha, can I drag you away from Carol for a couple of days?"
"Oohh, I donít know. Iíve got thirty days leave coming and we were flying to Athens tomorrow. Sheís been looking forward to it and honestly, sheís becoming more like my mother every day. Iíll catch hell for months if I have to cancel. Itís a woman thing."
Mike made a pained face to the camera as Lanaís voice came from behind, "I heard that!" The boy was now in it as deeply as Mike.
"Mama!" the Major said, surprised, as Lana strode into camera range. "I didnít know you were there."
"Obviously!" was the frigid reply.
"Please, Mike, save me from this," as sweat broke out on the youthís forehead.
"Hey, you're on your own" Mike raised his hands with palms outward. "I may already be sleeping aboard Vesna myself tonight."
Desperately trying to change the subject, Mikhail asked, "Whatís so important that you need me?"
Mike spent the next ten minutes bringing his stepson up to speed on what was going on and the boy stiffened, "I will be ready when you arrive."
"Thanks. Oh, and Iíd like you to requisition a couple of items from General Adams, if you can." Mike gave the boy a short list of equipment he anticipated needing.
"When will you need them?"
"Iíll be there in about two hours."
"Iíll be waiting on the runway."
As they broke the connection Mike said,
"Heís already on hold."
"I hate it when you do that!"
Lana just had a smug look on her face that informed Mike it would be a cold night.
"Hey! Are we going to save the world or just go on a picnic," was the reply from the young anthropologist.
"Not the world and no picnic either. Thereís a problem thatís come up that concerns you."
When Mike finished explaining the situation, there was a look on the young Doctorís face that was a cross between horror and panic, "What can we do?"
"You, Misha and I will retrieve her from whatever's happening. We donít know, yet, exactly what is going on, but I assume the worst."
"I agree. I'm not military like the two of you. I donít know how to do anything like this," the young man protested.
"I need a scout. Surely your years on the reservation have given you some tracking skills."
The boy brightened, "You betcha! I never would have thought that my life would turn out as it has twelve years ago. But with what I learned from Little Deer, Morning Thunder, and my people here has given me more than I can ever return to them. I can find a kangaroo rat on a football field, and weíre talking about my girlfriend here. Iím in, when are you coming?"
"Iíll be there in an hour," Mike broke the connection.
"So youíre taking two boys?" Lana queried.
"Theyíre not boys, theyíre men"
"Misha will always be my little boy to me."
"Iím sure heíll be glad to hear that," Mike retorted sarcastically. "I need Mikhailís military mind and Johnís skills to carry this off. I donít want the Spetsnaz storming the place and Kika ending up dead in the cross-fire."
"But if you are right, then all of you will be in danger anyway."
"If I am right, the Chinese have kidnapped Oksana and intend to milk her brain dry of everything she knows. They tried to build their own weapon once and Iíll guarantee you that theyíll do it again at any cost. They just lost twenty-million people in a colossal screw-up, but they have a hundred times that many that they can expend in more experimentation. Itís not just that; Oksana is a teammate, she canít be left behind! House?"
"Heís on line one."
"Iím beginning to hate that machine," Mike said under his breath to Lana.
"I need three of your best men at the Ivanov farm yesterday!"
"Whatís going on?"
Mike explained the whole story and McKinney just whistled, "Where do you want me to meet you?"
"Look you old spook, youíre good; Iím better. This has to be kept small. The two boys have the skills I need to back up my plan. I appreciate the offer, but this calls for a finesse you occasionally lack."
"Alright," there was a smile in the ex-CIA manís voice. "Whatís plan B?"
"There is no plan B. If plan A fails, weíve failed. There are no other options. Just keep Pavel and Olga safe by whatever means you need to. If they can grab Oksana, they can user her parents for leverage too."
"Will do, chief!" and McKinney signed off.
Lana gently put her arms around Mikeís waist and kissed him. "Keep them all safe," she whispered.
"I will," Mike promised.