The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers That Formed Our Nation, by Fenster, Julie M.
- ISBN: 9780061231896 | 0061231894
- Cover: Hardcover
The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation
Kaliningrad Oblast, Russia: Saturday 24 October 7:45 A.M. local time
Engines throbbing, the salvage ship slipped into the secluded cove by the cold light of a misty Baltic dawn. Stefan Baklanov stood at the Yalena's prow, his hands clamped around the rusted rail, his gaze fixed on the empty docks of the dilapidated shipyard before them. He was sixteen years old and just beginning his fifth month working on the Yalena, a lumberingÂ¬ old diesel-powered catamaran. He heard his uncle, the captain, bark an order from the bridge, then felt the deck of the big ship shudder beneath him as the engines slowed. A shiver of excitement tingled up Stefan's spine, mingled with a stir of unease. He threw a glance over his shoulder at the barge that wallowed in their wake like a dead whale. On the barge's deck rested the ghostly wreck of a Nazi-era U-boat.
Even in the dim light of dawn, the huge submarine's long, low silhouette and upthrusting conning tower were unmistakable, its steel hull covered with accretions from the sixty-plus years it had lain beneath the waters of the sea, a silent tomb to the scores of Germans who'd once sailed her. The sailors were still there—or at least, their bones were still there. Stefan knew because last night he'd taken one of the dive lights and squeezed in through the sub's popped hatch for a quick look.
His uncle and a couple of the men had already spent hours crawling through the U-boat's narrow passageways and cramped quarters. Uncle Jasha emerged unusually silent and grim faced, but that only piqued Stefan's curiosity more.
At first it had been a grand adventure, squeezing through silent portals, gazing in wonder at the funny old glass and brass gauges in the control room and the cook pots still hanging over the galley range. But as the narrow golden beam of his light played over long-abandoned bunks and empty leather boots, Stefan grew more thoughtful.
He'd expected to crawl through a wet, rusted interior smelling of brine and the creatures of the sea. But nothing was wet. With a chill, he suddenly understood: for all these years, the sub's hull had held. He saw the pair of eyeglasses lying on a table and the trumpet clutched against the desiccated ribcage of the man who'd once played it, and the awful truth of what he was seeing hit him. These men hadn't died quickly in a fiery explosion. They hadn't even drowned. They'd suffocated. Slowly.
Stefan had grown up hearing his grandmother's stories of the Great Patriotic War, of the siege of Stalingrad and the deadly winters of 'forty-two and 'forty-three. He'd imagined the Nazis as demons, as somehow not quite human. He'd never thought of them as the kind of men who might set aside a pair of reading glasses to clutch a beloved musical instrument to their chest as they breathed in their last, dying gasps. Suddenly the narrow passageways and low ceilings seemed to press in on him, stealing his breath until he raced for the hatch again, not caring how much noise he made or who saw him.
Uncle Jasha had slapped his big hand against the side of Stefan's head for taking the dive light without asking. But when Stefan started ranting about how what they were doing was wrong—wrong and dangerous, for surely they were tempting the wrath of the ancient gods of the sea—Uncle Jasha had simply laughed and called him sentimental and superstitious. Yet the sense of foreboding lingered, even in the cold light of day.
Now, Stefan sucked in a breath of air tinged by the acrid stench of an old fire smoldering in the shipyard. A shout from one of the Yalena's crewmen drew his head around and he caught the sound of an outboard motor cutting through the stillness. He peered into the mist, past the rocky point where a scattering of stunted, wind-twisted pines grew. It took a moment before he spotted the launch filled with six or eight men that skimmed across the flat pewter water toward the Yalena.
"Damn," muttered Uncle Jasha, coming to stand beside Stefan at the rail. A big, barrel-chested man with a salt-stiffened head of dark hair and a full beard, Jasha Baklanov still towered over Stefan by half a foot. For five years now, Uncle Jasha had been the closest thing to a father Stefan had. By turns gruffly affectionate and chillingly stern, Jasha lived by a looser moral code than Stefan's father. Which probably explained why Uncle Jasha was alive, whereas Stefan's father was dead.
Stefan glanced up at him. "Who is it? The men from the shipyard? Why are they coming out to meet us?"
Instead of answering, Uncle Jasha rubbed one work-worn hand across his mouth and down over his heavy beard, his nostrils flaring wide. "Get below."
"But I wanted to—"
"God damn it, boy. Do as you're told. For once."
Stefan threw a last look at the approaching launch, then pushed away from the rail.
But he didn't go below. Heading for the open stairwell, he ducked behind the tattered tarp that covered the lifeboats and their davits and doubled back so that he was some ten or fifteen feet away from the landing where the men would come aboard. Through a slit in the tarp he watched his uncle station himself beside the rail. A Russian bear of a man in a striped sweater and a Greek fisherman's cap, Jasha Baklanov stood with his legs splayed wide, his fingers combing through the wild disorder of his beard in that way he had whenever he was thoughtful—or troubled.
The whine of the outboard motor drew close, then suddenly died as the launch bumped against the Yalena's hull. Stefan watched the men come aboard—dark-haired, solemn-faced Slavs from the looks of them, with maybe a few Chechens. But the man who walked up to Uncle Jasha was subtly different. Dressed in a black sweater and loose overcoat, he was as dark-haired as the others, but tanned. When he spoke, his accent was strangely clipped, his phraseology awkward, like a man who'd learned his Russian as an adult or in school.
"This wasn't the plan," the man said.
Uncle Jasha's face darkened, and Stefan realized this must be the man who'd hired the Yalena, the man Jasha referred to only as "the Major."
"There were complications," Uncle Jasha lied. "We needed to move early."
A tight smile split the Major's face. "And you didn't notify us because . . . ?"
Rather than answer, Jasha Baklanov said, "You've been watching us."
"Did you think we wouldn't?"
From where he crouched behind the tarp, Stefan felt his heart begin to pound. No, Uncle Jasha hadn't expected the men who'd hired him to be watching them. How had they done so?
The Major glanced toward the barge and its long, silent burden. Jasha Baklanov said, "The sub's cargo is intact."
"Good. Then you won't mind if my men take a look." The Major nodded to a Â¬couple of his men. Stefan could hear the tramp of their boots as they headed aft. When Stefan brought his attention back to the Major, he understood why the men wore loose overcoats. As he stepped away from Uncle Jasha, the Major's coat opened to reveal a machine pistol.
At his nod, the rest of the men—except for a big, redheaded Chechen—spread out over the ship in a way that made Stefan nervous. The minutes crawled past. Stefan watched, terrified, as the Major flipped open a sleek cell phone. He said something Stefan couldn't hear before glancing over at Jasha Baklanov, his eyes narrowing. "One of the sub's hatches has been blown."
The man beside the Major lifted his machine pistol so that the muzzle pointed at Uncle Jasha's chest. Jasha shrugged. "I was curious. What's the harm? I tell you, what you want is still there."The Spirit of Invention
The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation. Copyright Â© by . Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Excerpted from The Spirit of Invention: The Story of the Thinkers, Creators, and Dreamers Who Formed Our Nation by Lemelson Center for the Study of Invention Staff, Julie M. Fenster
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