The next morning when Carter boarded the delegation bus to Sophiaskia, the only empty seat was next to a woman he did not recognize from the bar or the dinner, or from his perusal of the computer files. She was; however, amazingly attractive, and she tapped the seat next to her in a somewhat suggestive, but not over-the-top fashion. Figuring a little skirt chasing would aid his cover, he sat with her. "Sorry Amy," ran through his mind as he started to chat with the woman.
The bus ran through town with the usual spiel, "Here in our ceety,…" intoned the guide. (People with Russian/Ukrainian accents never can pronounce "city".) It was not long before they were rolling through the countryside and, save for the occasional abandoned kiosk that had been a Soviet travel checkpoint, it was about like driving across Kansas – boring.
Carter and his still nameless companion soon fell asleep. They had left very early and it was a long ride. At one point Carter stirred and found the woman’s head on his shoulder. He looked at her and, for the briefest of moments, thought he saw Amy. But then she stirred and the vision was gone. Whatshername was there.
Arriving at Sophiaskia was a chore. As they crossed the 30-km exclusion zone they were required to change into old scratchy woolen suits and leave their clothes at the border. Nothing crossed the border without thorough examination and, if necessary, decontamination. It was easier to change clothes and leave them there. Everybody looked like they were dressed in potato sacks, except for Carter’s seat mate. Her outfit looked tailored.
As they approached the plant itself things really did get eerie. At Sophiaskia, there is a palpable sense of disaster. All human habitations have been abandoned for many years. It’s a ghost town, but it’s not old enough. It’s a heavily forested region until you get within a couple of kilometers of the plant, then it has been clear-cut. Yet on the fringes of the clear-cutting, the trees are clearly diseased and misshapen, if living at all.
The visitors were shepherded through the various "sights": the abandoned town of Sophiayat, the in-ground vaults where contaminated soil and flora are buried, the botany and zoological research stations, finally ending up at the power plant itself.
Security was amazingly lax. It had been very heavy at the exclusion zone border. Carter figured they felt they had the zone tightly secured. He also admitted to himself there was a very high natural barrier to wanting to come in. He also noted offices scattered throughout the facility belonging to the various charities and NGO’s. They were all abandoned with a layer of dust, save for one, and yet it was unmarked. "Bingo!" he thought to himself as he started to slow down and fall to the back of the group. Whatshername had been near the whole time, which he expected, and he noted that she was starting to lag with him.
Thinking quickly, he caught her eye, pointed to a nearby restroom, and then dropped out of the group altogether as they rounded a corner. He walked to the offices of interest and found the door unlocked. He knocked, but there was no reply, so he walked in. As he looked around, getting his bearings, there was Amy, sitting at the receptionist's desk. Before he could utter a sound, she was standing next to him with her hand over his mouth.
"I’m here to watch your back," she whispered in his ear, "I’ll explain as we go along."
Carter, still stunned, checked her out from head-to-toe. She looked like a comic book superhero. She was wearing some sort of suit made of he-had-no-idea, but it was constantly changing color and at times blended so well with whatever was behind her that she became virtually invisible. He noted there was a hood hanging behind her neck. Clearly she could have covered her head and face and disappeared altogether.
Carter quickly found a computer terminal and hacked in. It was easy this time. They must have figured no one would even get this far. All he found was more on the extortion operation. He again noted the missing material, but it was simply recorded as missing. There was nothing about a destination. Then he found some small notations. Every time a little material went missing, it noted, "See Ilya."
But it was the final notation that really mattered. Some of the material had "gone missing" in the last 5 hours, and it was noted in "tunnel 5." About this time, Amy, who had been checking out the suite of offices, walked in from the back and said, "Everything looks very ordinary, except for one very heavy door back here. It’s like it’s made of lead or something."
"That’s where we are headed," said Carter.