CHERUB: The Fall - Robert Muchamore

CHERUB: The Fall - Robert Muchamore


Aero City is located in a rural area three hundred kilometres north west of Moscow. Built in the Soviet era, the town was a major centre for aviation research and many of Russia’s civil airliners, military transport aircraft and guided missiles were built within its giant factories.

In 1994 the government announced plans to sell the whole of Russian industry under a scheme known as ‘mass privatisation’. The process was riddled with corruption and many of Russia’s most valuable assets fell into the hands of a small group of men and women who became known as ‘the oligarchs’.

One such man was Denis Obidin, who used his position as a junior bank official to fraudulently lend large sums of money to his own wife and parents. Obidin then used the cash to buy up shares that the government had given to factory workers who had no idea of their true worth. By 1996, he owned a slice of the Russian aerospace industry that was thought to be worth more than $800 million.

Today, Obidin not only controls all of the factories and most of the land and property in Aero City, but has had himself appointed mayor in a rigged election. When a local police chief announced plans to investigate corruption within Obidin’s administration, the officer was found dead in his apartment and Obidin put his brother Vladimir in charge of law enforcement.

Obidin initially laid out grand plans to design and build a modern Russian airliner that could compete with Boeing and Airbus, but his reputation for corruption scared off foreign investors and no airline will purchase aircraft from a company with a shady past and an uncertain future.

After a series of lay-offs, the unemployment rate in Aero City exceeds eighty per cent. Obidin’s one remaining factory produces a small number of missiles for the Russian military and upgrades elderly Russian airliners by fitting efficient British jet engines. But with the Russian military slashing its budgets and airlines steadily replacing their fleets with western aircraft, this work is drying up.

Obidin has given up hope of raising the billions needed for his airliner project and put out word to international weapons dealers that everything is for sale. For the right price, a visitor to Aero City can purchase anything from a batch of rocket fuel or blueprints for a missile guidance system, all the way up to a truckload of anti-ship missiles capable of sinking an American aircraft carrier.

(Excerpt from a classified mission briefing for James Adams, August 2006)


Denis Obidin’s luxury home had featured in glossy magazines both in Russia and across northern Europe. The rambling wooden structure was three storeys high, with eight bedrooms, a ballroom where Obidin’s wife hosted parties, and an eighty-metre spire at one end. The spire was topped off with a rotating platform and a retractable dome that would occasionally be opened to reveal a large telescope.

Denis claimed to love astronomy, but everyone knew that the tower was really a sniper post. Wealthy Russians were often targeted by kidnappers and the sniper was a last line of defence against anyone who managed to breach the electrified perimeter, avoid the guard dogs and make it past the machine gun-toting guards who patrolled the compound.

The huge double-glazed windows in Denis Obidin’s library looked out over an expanse of forest. The leaves were autumnal and the ground was dusted with snow. A romantic might have found it beautiful, but James Adams could only see cold.

It was warm inside the Obidins’ house, with its under-floor heating and a gas generator buried beneath the garage, but the rest of Aero City got its electricity from a decrepit nuclear power station five hundred kilometres away and suffered regular outages. After a month living in Aero City, James had concluded that the only thing in the world worse than school was a school where you spent the entire day wearing fingerless gloves and watching your classmates’ breath curling up towards the ceiling.

‘It’s snowing,’ James said, in Russian, as he looked across a long desk at Denis Obidin’s six-year-old son, Mark.

James had been learning Russian intensively for three years and was fluent, though his accent was nowhere near good enough for him to pass as a native. James asked Mark to repeat the phrase in English.

‘Zisss nowing,’ Mark said.

‘Not bad,’ James said cheerfully. ‘Now let’s try English numbers again.’

The little boy shook his head and screwed up his face before breaking into a giant yawn. ‘I’m too tired.’

‘Come on, Mark,’ James said