The interviewer glanced sharply at Igor. Whilst she did not actually move her eyebrows, he had the impression that she did not approve of him. Negativity and discouragement seemed to come off her in waves. He made a conscious decision to gather up his courage, taking it up about him as if it were an actual cloak; with an effort, which he hoped was concealed, he held her gaze steadily. He’d been through battle, through fire and storm; he had no need to be afraid of such as she – and yet, he was. But where had she been at Yekatarinburg? Had she attained to battlefield promotion? Had she seen what he’d seen, done what he’d had to do? Yet, he knew in his heart the answer to all those questions. The interviewer was an air force officer and very much senior to him. She was a combat veteran – we all were. She would have seen as much action as he, if not more than he.
She took a short intake of breath, as a precursor to speaking. Ages passed in an instant. All time seemed to him to stand still in that single moment between her little intake of breath and the words that he knew would follow.
“OK, Major. Thank you for time and for joining us today. The panel will consider your application and we will let you know in due course.”
And that was that. He had hoped against all hope that he would know in the interview itself, though he should have known better. He would have to wait. He arranged his face in what he knew would appear as a grave and formal military mask, and thanked his interviewer. He pushed back his chair, rose to his feet, and saluted the officers of the panel. And he left the room.
“What does the Group Captain think?” asked one of the other two members of the panel, once Igor had left the room.
“He’s easily the strongest and most able candidate we’ve seen so far. A definite. I don’t want him thinking he’s God’s gift to Mother Russia though, so I had to take a stern line with him in the interview. If he has a weakness, it’s that he will tend to see things in black and white.”
“That could be his downfall” replied the Army officer to her left.
“Indeed. In these times, the need is for balance and nuance, for political nouse, for treading carefully through the post-war wreckage and taking forward what is right, but letting go what is not right, whilst not condemning it overtly.”
“Letting the old, bad ways wither on the branch”, put in the Army officer.
“Tochna” replied the third officer, heretofore silent. Precisely. “Much is at stake. Stray but a little to the left or to the right, and our new-found strength will snap in our hands. We would not wish to return to the past. Russia has moved a long way during and after the war.”