Aphelion Issue 294, Volume 28
May 2024
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Happy Birthday Archana Ivanova: Super Spy

By Bill Wolfe

Based on art by William R. Warren, Jr., as well as characters and situations created by Bill Wolfe, Casey Callaghan, and N.J. Kailhofer

Some of the individual versions of the stories in this series were written for forum flash challenge contests to help create this "world." As such, stories may not match the characters or settings of the continuous version of the story, which blended all the entries together.

Aphelion One, Day 41

At 04:51, precisely—assuming you’re on Aphelion time—the computer woke her.

Limba noastră-i o comoară (A treasure is our language that surges)

Īn adīncuri īnfundată (From deep shadows of the past,)

Un şirag de piatră rară (Chain of precious stones that scattered)

Pe moşie revărsată. (All over our ancient land.)

Limba noastră-i foc ce arde (A burning flame is our language)

Īntr-un neam, ce fără veste (Amidst a people waking)

S-a trezit din somn de moarte (From a deathly sleep, no warning,)

Although the Moldavian National Anthem went on for twelve more stanzas. . .plus the refrain, she hit the snooze button without opening her eyes and immediately began her morning exercises. Her breathing became deeper and more regular. To all outward appearances, she had dozed-off for the nine minutes until the alarm sounded, again.

Your name is Archana Ivanova. You are a Geologist. You were born in Balti and were accepted into the Institute of Geology and Seismology in Chişinău at the age of sixteen, specializing in exogeology and remote electronics. Your parents were killed in a bus accident when you were seventeen, leaving no close relatives. At eighteen you were selected to represent Moldavia in the Summer Olympics as a gymnast but had to withdraw due to a shoulder injury. The records of your year of gymnastic training will hold-up to the closest scrutiny. If questioned about it, never never never think about the real Archana Ivanova. Never think how much she looked like you, must have loved gymnastics as much as you, must have had dreams of her own, must have died accidentally before you entered the Olympic Facility using her name. It must have been an accident. It must have!

She realized that her breathing was no longer regular, her emotions were getting in the way of her training. Colonel Petrolescue would have seen it, immediately; and the punishment would have been severe.

With an audible snort she “woke-up” from her snooze. It wouldn’t have fooled the Colonel, but if another agency were recording her in her quarters, it would look like she’d begun a bad dream and awakened naturally. With the practiced flick of a key, she reset the alarm.

Before she disentangled herself from the sleeping net, she inhaled deeply. Along with the normal damp-sock scent of six people living in close proximity, someone was cooking rehydrated bacon. She assayed her choice in clothing, all carefully chosen by the Colonel for maximum sexual allure. One advantage to skimpy attire was that she probably had more outfits to choose from than anyone else on the mission. She decided on the white, form-fitting elastic body suit. She would have to wear the tight black shorts with it, though. She hadn’t shaved her pubic hair for a while and it would show through the fabric. That her dark nipples were faintly discernable, was the point of the garment.

“You must seem unaware of the effect your body has on your opponents,” the Colonel’s voice echoed in her thoughts. “Your desirability may make them pause--if only for a second--before they strike. Use every advantage that you have.”

She glanced at the improvised ‘Ship Calendar’ pasted to the wall.

Day 41, today, was highlighted in green. What was that for? she asked herself. She had only routine duties until the NASA download, tonight. Though she was expecting some encrypted instructions for her remote units piggybacked with the updates, she certainly wouldn’t have marked her calendar for that.

She looked at the date, again. She had a vague memory of having marked certain ship days as having special meaning for the corresponding date, back on Earth. Something about today had made her--and then she remembered--today was her birthday. Not Archana’s birthday, of course, but her real birthday.

“La multi ani, Mahai.” Her Grandmother’s voice was clear in her mind, though she’d been dead for a decade. She wondered if, in some sub-basement, Colonel Petrolescue was raising his glass to her. He was possibly the only other living person who knew she was alive. When she had replaced the real Archana Ivanova, her family had been told she too, was dead.

Would any of them think of her, today? Would they remember that today, their sister, daughter, niece, would have turned thirty-one?

Would Petru remember? Perhaps. He’d asked her to marry him on this date when she was fifteen, and dreaming only of leaving the stifling Russian-Ukrainian backwater town of Serata Mereseni.

How she had hated her hard-line, fanatical, old-school Communist family and their insistence that Pridnestrovskaia Moldavskaia Respublica was their true homeland. To them, Moldavia was just a West-loving, Romanian puppet country. How proud they would be of her, now, working to further the Communist resurgence. But at what cost? That they mourned the loss of a daughter was one thing. But if she died out here, she--like the real Archana--would not be mourned by anyone.

She didn’t know why this bothered her, but it did.

So how would she spend her realbirthday? Well, like any other day, of course. She would talk to her shipmates, listen to their drab, ordinary problems, and pretend that she gave a damn.

The only problem is, of course, that she really did give a damn. She really likes all of the people she works with. Whether it’s the too-perfect Ophelia Dunsirn or it’s the goofy, nerdy Sidney Barnes. She truly likes them all.

Now what?

Once you get to know a person, how can you betray them all. How can you betray any of them?

Must she?

Can she?

If--as the Americans say--‘push comes to shove’, will she be a GOOD spy, or will she choose to put both the people, and the mission, first.

To herself, she whispers: “Happy Birthday, Mahai Lucinschi. Even if you are the only one in the Universe who knows what today means.


©2009 Bill Wolfe

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