Typing Test


He'd walked the last 20 versts after having hitched a ride on a cement truck. They found him a little apartment in town and a job on the construction site for the spent fuel depository. As for a residence permit: for that, Mikhail told me on the phone, they'd rely on their big shot brother. I was ready to help out. We both treated Petya as though he had to be taught to swallow. "Let me do that," we'd tell him, before he'd even commenced what he was going to attempt. Whatever went wrong in our lives, we'd think they still weren't as fucked up as Petya's. Mikhail's shift came on duty at midnight, an hour and 25 minutes before the explosion. Most of the shift members did not survive until morning. Petya, I was told later, was fishing that night with another layabout, a friend. They'd chosen a little sandbar near the feeder channel across from the turbine hall, where the water released from the heat exchangers into the cooling pond was 20 degrees warmer. In spring it filled with hatchlings. There was no moon and it was balmy for April, and starry above the black shapes of the cooling towers. Earthenware Pots As Chief Engineer of the Department of Nuclear Energy, I was a mongrel: half technocrat, half bureaucrat. We knew there were problems in both design and operating procedures, but what industry didn't have problems? Our method was to get rid of them by keeping silent. Nepotism ruled the day. "Fat lot of good it's done me," Mikhail often joked. If you tried to bring a claim against someone for incompetence or negligence, his allies hectored you, all indignation on his behalf. Everyone ended up shouting, no one got to the bottom of the problem, and you became a saboteur: someone seeking to undermine the achievement of the quotas. People said I owed my position to my father, and Mikhail owed his position to me. ("More than they know," he said grimly, when I told him that.) At various Congresses, I ran my concerns by my father. In response he gave me that look Mikhail called the Dick Shriveler. "Why's your dick big around him in the first place?" Petya once asked when he'd overheard us. We all lived under the doctrine of ubiquitous success. Negative information was reserved for the most senior leaders, with censored versions available for those lower down. Nothing instructive about precautions or emergency procedures could be organized, since such initiatives undermined the official position concerning the complete safety of the nuclear industry. For thirty years, accidents went unreported, so the lessons derived from these accidents remained with those who'd experienced them. It was as if no accidents had occurred. So who gave a shit if the Ministry of Energy was riddled through with incompetents or filled with the finest theorists? Whenever we came across a particular idiocy, in terms of staffing, we quoted to one another the old saying: "It doesn't take gods to bake earthenware pots." The year before, the chief engineer during the start up procedures at Balakovo had fucked up, and 14 men had been boiled alive. The bodies had been retrieved and laid before him in a row. I'd resisted his hiring. That, for me, constituted enough to quiet my conscience. And when Mikhail submitted an official protest about sanctioned shortcuts in one of his unit's training procedures, I forwarded his paperwork on with a separate note of support. Pastorale The town slept. The countryside slept. The Chief Engineer of the Department of Nuclear Energy, in his enviable Moscow apartment, slept. It was a clear night in April, one of the most beautiful of the year. Meadows rippled like silvery lakes in the starlight. Pripyat was sleeping, Ukraine was sleeping, the country was sleeping. The Chief Engineer's brother, Mikhail, was awake, hunting sugar for his coffee. His half brother, Petya, was awake, soaking his feet and