“I’ll be at that address until noon tomorrow. If you’re coming, find me before I leave.”
January 18th, 1989, 7:30 AM, St. Petersburg
Dmitri stared down at the little rectangle of cardboard and scoffed. The man who had given it to him—this Mr. Carter—had been very persuasive, but it would take more than a few oblique threats and the offer of a state-of-the-art lab to make a defector out of Dmitri Vologin.
It was tempting. Of course it was tempting. This sort of thing always was, on the surface. But he did not think he would still be himself, if he left Russia. Not in that way, at the very least. Slinking off in secret, to join a big American corporation… No. That was not his way.
Dmitri went to rip the card up, but he paused, frowning, and set it down on his kitchen table as he went to put on his coat and hat. Well. The sun had not yet risen; noon was hours away. He had taken the night to consider it, but, perhaps… it was true, what Mr. Carter had said. Comrade Kinski was far less lenient than Dmitri’s previous superior had been. He wanted results, and he wanted them now, and he had been bringing that pressure to bear on Dmitri these past few weeks with increasing strength.
It was with that thought in mind that Dmitri picked the card up on his way out of the house, slipping it into a little slit in the lining of his coat before doing up the final button. He was not going to use the address, of course.
But it never hurt to have a backup plan.
“Tell me. Did Comrade Kinski take the bait?”
“I do believe so, sir.”
“Excellent work, gentlemen.”
Dmitri got to his lab to find it in an uproar. From the sound of it, one of the lab techs was having a panic attack in a closet, and his research partner, Kostya was nowhere to be found. Comrade Kinski had taken up station in the middle of Dmitri’s lab, overseeing a group of men who were removing some of the more specialized equipment—equipment that was necessary for Dmitri’s work—from the lab.
“What is meaning of this?”
Kinski raised an eyebrow at Dmitri. “You were warned of what the result would be if you kept failing to bring me results, Comrade Vologin. This equipment will be put to better use by scientists who are actually producing results that will benefit the party.”
“The results of this work will benefit humanity.” Dmitri gritted his teeth, pushing down a surge of white-hot anger.
Kinski scoffed. “What do I care about humanity? Just be glad that I am leaving you with what you need to get on with your work for a few months more. Perhaps if you have some results in that time, I will consider bringing some of this equipment back, yes?”
Dmitri balled his hands into fists and clamped his mouth shut. He could not give in to the urge to launch himself at Kinski, to attempt to beat the man into a pulp. Kinski’s goons would pull him off in an instant and it would be Dmitri who found himself beaten to a pulp, and there would go any chance of working himself out of this situation.
Where was Kostya?
“Kinski’s leaving Vologin’s lab, sir.”
“Excellent. Let’s see if we’ve provided the right amount of leverage for our dear scientist, shall we? Is everything ready?”
“Make sure it’s good to go in five minutes. I don’t pay you to be almost ready.”
Dmitri waited in angry silence until Kinski was gone. Kostya still had not appeared, which made Dmitri wonder if he had received the same offer Dmitri had, if Kostya had defected and been caught at it. Perhaps that was what had caused this crackdown.
Kinski had continued to push Dmitri while he and his men ransacked the lab, searching for an excuse to do worse to Dmitri than they had already done, but Dmitri was not planning to give him the opportunity. Once the last of Kinski’s goons was out the door, Dmitri sprang into action, checking the remaining freezer and letting out a relieved sigh. Good. His samples were still there. Though what that meant for Kostya… no. No time to think about that. The best he could hope for was that Kostya had overslept today. The worst…
No time for that. An hour to gather what he needed and to get to the address.
And then he and his research would no longer be Comrade Kinski’s problem.
“Vologin is on his way.”
“Excellent. What was that you said about needing one final touch? Oh, I see. Well, that will have to wait for Doctor Vologin to arrive, I’m afraid. Now someone get me Rosemary on the phone.”
“Here you are, sir.”
“Oh, very good.”
It was ten minutes to noon when Dmitri arrived at the address on the card, lugging a case full of carefully packed vials and little else aside from the clothing on his back. Now was not the time to regret his other possessions.
Not that he had ever been one for keepsakes.
He strode up to the door and knocked on it briskly, and it was opened by a man who had the look of a low-life thug of some sort, albeit one in a very nice suit. The man looked Dmitri up and down, but did not ask who he was; he simply stepped to one side and ushered Dmitri into the house and down a hall to a sitting room of sorts, where Mr. Carter appeared to be holding court with a handful more men who were all just as brawny and just as well-dressed as the one who had let Dmitri in. A large, black bag occupied one corner of the room, obviously full of… something. Dmitri was not sure he wanted to know what.
As Dmitri stepped in to the room, Mr. Carter held up one finger, an indication to wait. “No, something distinctive, I think. We want to draw the eye away from his other recognizable features.” Mr. Carter paused for a moment, listening to the person on the other end of the line. “Fantastic. I know I can leave it all safely in your capable hands, Rosemary.” He hung up and looked up at Dmitri. “Vrach Vologin. I was starting to wonder if you were going to be joining us.
“I am here now,” Dmitri said, holding up the case he was carrying. “And here is my virus.”
“So very glad to hear it.” Mr. Carter stood and crossed the room to stand in front of Dmitri, nodding at one of the goons as he did. Dmitri found himself divested of the hard case containing the samples of Koschei Bessmertnyy, and instead was forced to meet Mr. Carter’s bright blue eyes, which seemed to bore uncomfortably into him. “Do you have a spare pair?”
Dmitri blinked, confused. “Spare… pair?”
“Of glasses,” Mr. Carter said, in the sort of tone Dmitri was used to hearing adults use on not-too-bright toddlers.
“A pity. Ah, well, we’ve got that covered on the other end. You’ll just have to make do until then.” And with that, Mr. Carter snatched the glasses off Dmitri’s face and handed them off to another one of the goons, who crossed the room to the big black bag. Dmitri made an abortive attempt to snatch the glasses back, and was immediately restrained by another of the goons.
“What is this?” he asked angrily.
“We don’t want people asking any uncomfortable questions, doctor,” said Mr. Carter, calmly. “So we’ve got just a little more work to do before we leave the country.”
Two sleek black cars had appeared outside the house since Dmitri had entered it, and he was bundled into one of them by a pair of the besuited thugs. The black bag was shoved carelessly into the seat next to Dmitri, and he eyed it dubiously as the car rolled into motion; the contents moved in a way that made him suspect—but no. What would they need with a cadaver? It must be something else.
Dmitri looked up, meeting the eyes of the front-seat passenger, who had twisted in his seat to stare at Dmitri. “Do you speak Russian?” The man did not answer, so Dmitri continued in English. “What is happening? Can you tell me?”
The man still did not answer. Dmitri was starting to wonder if the man was deaf when the car pulled up outside of a building that, even without his glasses, Dmitri immediately recognized as the one that contained his lab. “What-?”
Before he could finish his question, his door was flung open and he was yanked out of the car and hustled up a set of stairs that he only did not stumble on because he knew them so well, after working in this building for five years. He heard the sobbing of the lab tech who had been panicking earlier in the day, caught a glimpse of her wide-eyed, terrified face, covered in tears, heard the thug say “Get out of here, before we do to you what we are going to do to him,” in fluent, unaccented Russian.
“I demand to know what is happening!” yelled Dmitri in Russian, bracing his feet against the ground. The man escorting him tugged him off his feet, and the sound of the lab tech’s sobbing faded into the background. Still, there was no answer. Oh, blyad, was this a set-up? Catch him attempting to defect, use that as an excuse to rid themselves of him entirely?
He was forced to his knees by the thug, and a second man forced a bag over his head. He let out an angry, wordless shout at the indignity. And then, very near his head, there was the sound of a gunshot, and the thump of a body. Had that been Kostya? Was he next?
But no, he was urged back to his feet, and he was able to shove the bag up so he could see. Immediately, he wished that he had not done that; the move revealed the body of a man on the floor who was very similar in build to Dmitri himself, wearing a set of clothing very much like the outfit Dmitri was wearing. As to whether there were any facial similarities, Dmitri could not judge. The man had very little face left, merely a bloody hole full of shattered bone and the shattered pieces of what Dmitri assumed must be his own glasses.
Dmitri felt a little bit ill, but before he could react, the hood was tugged back over his face and he was whisked off down the back stairs of the building and into another car.
“You can take that off now,” said Mr. Carter’s voice.
“Could have warned me,” said Dmitri in a careful, measured tone as he tugged the bag back off his head, certain that if he let go of what tenuous control he currently had over his emotions, he might start screaming.
“Ah, but your acting wouldn’t have been nearly as good,” said Mr. Carter, flippantly. He made a casual gesture towards the driver, and the car started moving. Dmitri could not tell what direction they were moving in—his attempts to orient himself as they drove were hindered by the fact that without his glasses, even Mr. Carter’s features were indistinct and blurry unless Dmitri leaned in far, far closer than he felt comfortable being to this unpredictable man—but even so, he got the impression that they were not heading towards a public airstrip of any sort.
Before they got too far along, there was a concussive boom; Dmitri looked out the back window and, to his shock, saw a tower of flame behind the car. It died down quickly, but Mr. Carter’s lack of concern left Dmitri certain that the explosion had been expected… which meant that his lab was most likely in the center of that conflagration.
He hoped the thugs had taken the time to empty the building before setting it ablaze.
He suspected, given what seemed to be the relatively ruthless nature of the man in the car with him, that they had not.
A half-hour drive later, and Dmitri’s suspicions about their destination were confirmed; they pulled into what looked like a mostly-disused airstrip. A small, powerful-looking passenger plane was parked there, and a pair of waiting attendants opened Carter and Dmitri’s doors, then unloaded the remaining contents of the car.
“Come along now,” said Mr. Carter. Dmitri followed, feeling blank and hollow. Sometime during the drive to the air strip, he felt as if he had come unmoored from the world, as if the ground were no longer solid beneath his feet. The fifteen feet to the plane were not enough to convince his mind of the solidity of the world around him, and once aboard…
Mr. Carter opened the door to a compartment. It was cozy, comfortable; several plush seats, a table, what looked like a bed. A thousand times more luxurious than his small apartment, and almost as large. “Do try to get some rest, Doctor Vologin. One of my assistants will be in here with some paperwork for you once we’ve taken off.”
Dmitri found that speech was beyond him at this point; the shock of the past few hours was finally making itself felt, and once Carter left him, he barely managed to stumble over to one of the seats and collapsed into it, trembling.
He did not know if he had chosen the correct path.
But there was no going back now.
Once the plane reached cruising altitude, one of the two attendants—or perhaps some third person he had not yet met—came in with a folder full of assorted paperwork. An American passport, a driver’s license—though when he would ever use such a thing, he did not know—and a contract, among other things. The attendant took him through the stack of papers, pointing out where he needed to sign and initial. Dmitri did his best to read the entire thing, but the attendant was rushing him through it—on purpose, Dmitri suspected—but even if he hadn’t been, well, without his glasses, trying to read the entire thing would have been an exercise that only resulted in a headache. He simply hoped that he would get a copy for himself once everything was signed, and that the attendant’s summary was accurate.
Though truth be told, as long as Dmitri had access to the lab, to the financial support, to the staff that Mr. Carter had promised, he did not much care about the finer details of the agreement. All he really wanted was to be left alone to get on with his work, and based on the contract, it seemed that Mr. Carter was willing to let him do that… provided he bent his brain to other research projects when time afforded, of course.
After the contract was signed, the attendant went briefly over the remaining paperwork, offered Dmitri a drink or something to eat, and, when he refused, suggested he get some sleep and left the compartment for the time being.
Dmitri tested the bed. It was obscenely comfortable, but when he tried to lay down and relax, when he shut his eyes, the only thing he could see was the body of the man who looked like him, the shattered face that might have been his.
So instead, he sat back down at the table and squinted his way through the rest of the paperwork, taking in what information he could retain. His new alias—Karl Kelley, apparently—the name of the manager who would be overseeing his lab—Rosemary Epps—the names of the techs who would be working under him—Aditi Korai, Andrew Lin—but no, names had never been his strong suit, and he had found himself uncertain of what the names had been bare minutes after he moved on to the next page. He flipped back to check the names again, but decided he would be able to learn them better once he had faces to go with them.
He wondered how long it was going to take until his alias sat on him as well as his birth name.
His head was starting to hurt. He tried the bed once more, and again, the image of the corpse of the man who had looked like him flashed behind his eyes. So instead, he paced.
He did not know how long it was—an hour? Perhaps two?— when the attendant checked on him again. Dmitri took the man’s offer of food and drink this time, and was brought a rather splendid dinner and a coffee.
And then… he paced. He tried, oh, he tried to sleep. Laying on the bed, sitting up on one of the plush seats, even laying flat on the ground, but every time, the panic set in once more.
He wondered if he would ever be able to sleep again without seeing that image in his mind.
January 19th, 1989, 2:32 PM, Cape Canaveral
“We’re here, Doctor.”
Dmitri blinked himself awake, eyes bleary from the nap he had just taken during the car ride from the landing strip, short as it was. But at least he had finally slept. He reached up to adjust his glasses before remembering they weren’t there any more.
Mr. Carter had already turned away from Dmitri to his window, which he had rolled down, and had started talking to the indistinct shape of the person outside.
“Rosemary. How good of you to meet us.”
The indistinct shape responded in a cheerful female voice. “It is my job, sir.”
“Still. You could have left this to your assistant.”
The driver of the car had opened the door next to Dmitri at that point, and was pointedly staring at him, so Dmitri missed what came next as he clambered out of the car and stood unsteadily, clutching the pile of paperwork and identification that he had been given on the plane to his chest. And then the driver closed the car door, slid back into his own seat, and drove off, and he watched it go, feeling disoriented and exhausted and completely lost.
He looked down at the papers he was holding, frowning. They, and the clothing on his back, were quite literally all he owned in the world at the moment.
The shape who had been talking to Mr. Carter through his window crossed to his side, resolving into a short, wide, dark-skinned woman, with very tall hair and a very teal suit. Details were beyond him without his glasses, but he could tell that she was smiling at him. “Nice to meet you, Dr. Kelley,” she said, holding a hand out to him, with something clasped in it. “My name is Rosemary Epps, and I’ll be managing your lab. You can just call me Rosemary, though, everyone does.”
“Er. And you can call me Dmitri—no. What was the name?” He shuffled the papers in his arm around, pulling out a passport and squinting nearsightedly at it, searching for a reminder of his new alias. “Karl, apparently.”
The woman—Rosemary, he reminded himself—laughed at that, and waved the contents of her hand at him. “Here. This will help.”
He reached out and took the object from her, and it turned out to be a hard case, the sort glasses came in, which he proved incapable of opening one handed. Rosemary tsked, and took it back from him, opening it and holding up a pair of thick, black plastic frames, very different from the round wire-rimmed ones he was used to.
“May I?” she asked, and he nodded, too tired to do anything else. She folded the arms of the glasses out, carefully reaching up to settle them on his face, smoothing the arms over his ears, tweaking them to lay straight.
In front of him, her face resolved to that of middle-aged black woman, well made-up, hair just as tall now that it was in focus as his first blurry impression of it. She had to be very short, he thought; a glance down at her feet revealed heels of an inch or two, but even with them the top of her head just barely reached his nose, and he was not a tall man. Her shoulders, on the other hand, were a good few inches wider than his own, even under the shoulder pads of her expertly tailored teal dress suit. The overall impression she gave was one of… abundance, he forced himself to think, setting several rather more rude descriptions aside.
She gave his glasses a final tweak, and smiled, a bright, startling flash of teeth that lit her entire face up, and he almost stopped breathing for a moment at the warmth of it. “There. That’s better. Would you like to see your apartment?”
Dmitri nodded, and the woman put a hand on his shoulder and turned him around gently to face the apartment building behind them. “Lucky you, you’ll be right next to me,” she said, grinning up at him and herding him efficiently through the front door, which she opened with a keycard.
He frowned at the keycard. “Do I have one of those?”
The woman—he had already forgotten her name—grinned up at him again. “Oh, yes. It should be with your paperwork.” She led him to a door one from the end of the hall, and pulled a ring of keys out of her pocket, unlocking the door and then dangling the keys off her index finger in Dmitri’s direction. “And these are yours as well,” she said, dropping them into his open hand when he held it out. “Now, I rather suspect you’d like to sleep the clock around just about now; Mr. Carter tells me you didn’t get much rest on the plane. But if you get hungry, there’s food in the fridge and more supplies in the pantry, and if you need anything, I’ll be just down the hall for the rest of the night, and my office number is on the pad right next to the phone, all right?”
Dmitri nodded. “When… what do I do next?”
The woman cocked her head to one side, considering him. “I’ll pop in tomorrow morning and see how well you’ve recovered from the flight first, I think. We’ll decide how quickly to integrate you based on that.”
Dmitri nodded again. It seemed to be the only response he could manage at the moment.
The woman reached out and took the pile of papers out of his hands, tucking them against her chest, and then took the keys back as well. With her free hand, she grasped him by the elbow, guiding him down the entrance hall to a small living room. She set the papers and keys down on a side table in the living room and opened a door off the living room, revealing a bedroom. “Doors in the entrance hall are kitchen and bathroom, bathroom on the same side as this. Now sleep, Dr. Kelley. You have a lot of work ahead of you, and you can’t do it if you’re exhausted.”
“Told you to call me Dmitri,” he mumbled, staring blankly at the bed. It had been a very, very long day, the length of two normal days, and it had started with Mr. Carter and his subordinates faking Dmitri Vologin’s death, and it seemed that the shock of that particular maneuver of Mr. Carter’s was finally getting to him, along with the exhaustion of being too tense to sleep during the entire plane ride from Russia.
“No, you told me to call you Karl, but I prefer not to.” The woman sighed, and took his elbow again, pulling him through to the bedroom, turning him, making him sit and then lay down on the bed, maneuvering him as if he were a child. He followed her gentle nudges and shoves without resistance, and then he lay there, staring up at the ceiling, hardly registering it as she pulled his shoes off, then came and took his glasses, folding them back up and putting them back in hard case they had come in before setting them on the side table. “Sleep,” she said, looking down at him, placing a comforting hand on his shoulder. “It’ll all sort itself out in your brain in the morning, I promise.”
He sighed, and shut his eyes, and slept.