Lizard and lost time

Rakitin's room surrounded him in insulating silence. Sometimes there were footsteps, doors opening and closing, sounds of the evening muffled behind the walls. Rakitin was in an armchair with a book in his hands. He was not, in any effective sense, reading. His eyes fell blindly over the familiar letters. It was curious what flat symbols words could be.

By now the nameless man would be in Moscow.

Tell yourself a story, Leshovik had said.

He was waking. He could see and smell the nylon of the bodybag and feel the pavement through the thin fabric. He would be hazy from the drug, but he would remember what he had to do. He felt for the knife at his feet and cut himself loose, found the cache sewn into the bottom.

The light above Polya flickered, then held steady. All day he had been a step away from the world around him, but that was not unusual. The consistency of strangeness made itself a protective normality.

The nameless man was dressing quickly, counting the money left for him. He was in the shadows at the mouth of the alley, checking the street with cautious eyes. He was in the city, free, holding the secret of himself.

The Lightest Element

Hydrogen was the most abundant element in the universe, so there was a great and cosmic irony in waiting nearly three weeks for the shipment to arrive on Utrov's transport.

With the flip of a lever there was liftoff in the form of a colorless flame, and disbelieving laughter. No need for two fuel tanks or a complex ignition system; hydrogen reacted violently with oxygen.

It was a funny little element. One asocial proton and a lonely orbiting electron.

It was also the lightest element in the universe; seven percent lighter than helium, and burned brilliantly at the centers of stars all across the galaxy.

For her purposes, though, it reduced the weight of her weapon by fifty-some kilograms and made gravity an obsolete boundary. Hydrogen didn't simply defy the laws of physics, it spat in their face and called their collective mothers a whore.

All it took was a good start from a fair distance, and Katerina ran up the side of the Main Wing like a spider up a plaster wall, hovered in mid air for a few moments like an indecisive butterfly looking for the perfect flower, and dropped onto the roof of the building.

A few months of tinkering in room 307 produced a hydrogen-fueled jet pack with a shortened wingspan and increased range. With it came improved mobility and implementation of new technology from the West -- a thin, body-skimming flameproof suit replaced asbestos and vulcanized rubber and was more effective at regulating the wearer's core temperature; a gold-leafed face mask with a built in respirator eliminated the need for a heavy smoked glass helmet.

The Fury hadn't invented a better mousetrap, but rather, a better cat.

The woman turned and ran across the roof of the Main Wing, up and over the ledge, bridging the gap to the Administrative Wing in one impossible jump. The landing was a little rough, and she only caught herself at the last possible moment to avoid tripping and landing most unceremoniously, sprawling on the roof.

She was upright and nothing was on fire, so that was good.

Thrusters deactivated, she collected her thoughts and pulled off the expressionless mask that lent itself to nightmares about Venetian demons. The day was overcast and smelled like rain, but her view thus far had only been bronze-hued.

With a sound of pondering, she pulled a small notebook and pencil from the breast pocket of her suit and began scrawling a few notes, pacing back and forth as she wrote, murmuring to herself as though no one was watching.

Wings Spread, A Fresh Start, A New Day [March 1, 1964 12:02 PM]

Dmitry Grigoriev winced at the loud hum of the crowded mess hall, gritting his teeth against the throb in his head. He still had a headache, but he wasn’t entirely certain if it was a product of all the pertsovka he drank the night before, or the empty vodka bottle that his commander smashed over his head.

The aspirin and black coffee of the morning had taken most of the edge off, making the dull thump at his temples bearable.

It was a fucking stupid idea to go after the Fury with a knife anyway, but it seemed like a good idea at the time he found his Iosef sucking their commander off in the hovercraft hangar.

Dima limped along gingerly as he took his tray and started toward the table where the flame unit was usually quarantined. None of his own were there -- the table was deserted, excusing a stray napkin that lay in a crumpled heap at the edge.

He did not realize that he had stopped until a GRU grunt bumped into him and scurried off with a shrill apology.

Deimos did not want to sit alone, and he was suddenly aware of his disappointment that none of his unit mates were there waiting for him. It would have been nice to sit in the company of warm comradeship after the turbulence of the last few days.

Somehow, they reached an awkward, fumbling agreement, he, Iosef, and their commander. Everything, the Fury explained, was supposed to be shared equally between comrades, like good pertsovka, and by the end of the night they were drunk as hell and laughing like nothing was ever wrong to begin with, and thinking kalinka, kalinka, kalinka, moya was a wonderful song to serenade the night patrol with on the way back to their barracks.

Normalcy had returned like the first spring buds blossoming on a birch tree after a harsh winter, only to be frostbitten when Iosef suggested he should fuck Deimos while their commander watched.

He was smiling now, as he stood there in the shaft of sunlight pouring in from the window, and the GRU soldiers sitting at the nearest table began to murmur among themselves, stare, and scoot toward the other end of the bench.

It was amazing, the things pertsovka made men agree to.

The memory of the night drinking with Katerina flickered across his mind, chased by the meeting with the black-haired boy-sniper in the yard and the words spoken against the cold night air: “Maybe you should try something new…find someone to talk to, or do something else.”

Deimos’ depraved smirk faded as impulse inspired him suddenly; he turned on his heels and he made his way between the tables, wordlessly sitting down at a table near the center of the room occupied by a gaggle of Ocelot Unit soldiers.

He nodded to them even as they glared and their conversations fell silent, and self-consciously tugged at the sleeve of his jumpsuit, until the marbled scaring on the back of his hand was covered again. Deimos decided they would just have to deal with the faded blue letters on each finger above the first knuckle, because he wasn’t wearing his fireproof gloves in the chow hall.

Dima cleared his throat and picked up his spoon even though he didn’t have much of an appetite and it was unbearably hot in the mess hall all of a sudden.

“So... how's the borscht today?" 

Entry tags:

Nightfall

The day passed in slow silence. The pall of presence just out of sight never lifted, a haunting by the living. There was a point that even Polya could tell not to press.

That night he and Nika parted ways with the nod that was becoming habit. Polya couldn't find the words to ask if he was going to be all right.

There was a bond between him and Isaev deeper than Rakitin could comprehend, the severing of it even more so.

As they had learned to when given no strict direction, his steps took him toward the range. It was better to do something productive when weariness began to register.

A false positive, for some time yet. It was surprising how little a body really needed.

He crossed the base, passing soldiers like ghosts.

Getting down to business

"Okei, what are we going to do to this guy?"

Taras warmed up methodically, stretching like he was about to work out. Muscles bulged under his uniform jacket as he raised his arms to chest level, pulling the biceps taut.

"The pathologist," he clarified, after a moment.

He and Ilarion were walking past unadorned concrete walls toward the outbuilding that housed the KGB pathologist's lab. The morning air was thin, and misted in front of their lips.

Around them, mountains surrounded the base, tall and bleak, like watchtowers.

Taras flexed his hands into fists.

"I mean, this guy has something to with why Andrusha can't take a piss without someone watching him, right? I think we should lean on him pretty hard."

Movement caught his attention. A pair of guards were walking a large black dog past a fence topped with razor wire.

He frowned, averting his gaze.

"Because, khui, I want to hit something," he muttered.

Reunion

Kassian opened his eyes.

He lay in the bunk next to Isaev, shoulder to chest, warmed by the shelter of blanket and skin. Andrei's arm, solid and weighty with reassuring muscle, curled around his waist.

It was dark in their barracks, though not dark outside.

He could see light outlining the edges of the window opposite, around the shades that he never opened. It was past sunrise, then. They had slept in.

He supposed it was all right, given they had no official duties as Ocelots today. Isaev was under technical house arrest, though he could go anywhere he wanted on base, provided he had an escort.

That job was Kassian's.

Kassian settled back, feeling Andrei's arm tighten reflexively against him.

Good work if you could get it.

There was a knock at the barracks door.

Kassian frowned.

That was unusual. If they were needed in some official capacity, CODEC was the easiest way to reach them. There was no need to waste time with a personal visit when a call would suffice. It was also the wrong time of day for social visits, invitations to poker or drinking. Not that Kassian received a lot of those.

Gently, he pulled away from Isaev's grasp and sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his jodhpurs. He reached out to brush his hand across Isaev's brow.

"Andrei. Someone's here," he murmured, getting up to answer the door.

Night Arrival

"We're here," the army pilot called back to them, yelling over the rumble of the helicopter's rotors.

Taras Cheslavovich Oleksei raised his head, blearily.

"Khorosho," he muttered.

He sat between Ilarion and Anya, hunched over, broad uniformed shoulders curled inward, arms folded in front of him and pressed against his stomach.

It had been a very long flight.

They'd arrived at the army base outside of Leningrad just before nine in the morning and boarded the military helicopter. It had clamshell rear loading doors that opened into a cargo area large enough to hold a MVD sedan with room to spare, though it was empty. Apparently, they were the cargo.

The hold was clearly not meant for passenger comfort, or for long trips, for that matter. They sat on a thin metal bench that folded down in the front of the cargo area, which was unheated.

Taras had never been in a helicopter before. He hadn't been prepared for the sensation of flight, which had seemed to vibrate straight through him, shaking him to his core.

He'd spent the first hour of the flight puking into a bucket in the back of the hold.

The second hour, he'd spent dry heaving until he was exhausted. Taras had rinsed his mouth out with vodka and went back to the bench to sit down. Anya had rubbed his back and murmured comforting words, then gave him some hard candy from her purse, like a mother.

After that, he hadn't puked any more, which he considered a point of pride.

Taras knew you had to take it where you could get it.

Ten more hours and four stops to refuel later, he still felt like he'd been beaten from the inside out with brass knuckles.

Conversation had been sparse. Ilarion had seemed preoccupied, while Anya read a pocketbook novel with a small flashlight she had in her purse. Taras thought he might have dozed fitfully, waking up disoriented.

Ahead and below, he could see a few scattered lights through the darkness through the canopy windows in the cockpit, faint signs of what passed for civilization. They circled the base once.

He wondered whose brilliant idea was it, to put a military base out in the middle of the Urals.

Taras straightened in his seat, squaring his shoulders, tugging his MVD cap down low on his brow, shading his mismatched mongrel eyes.

The helicopter hovered, then started to descend.

"All right," Taras said, breaking the silence. He had to speak loudly to be heard, and his voice sounded a little raw.

He turned to look at Ilarion.

"How are we going to play this?"

Trickle-down.

It was early evening when he found Rakitin reading a novel in the officer's lounge, seated in an avocado-green pleatherette armchair in the corner.

The lieutenant looked engrossed, and didn't even look up as Liadov approached.

Science fiction, he noted, as he put his hand down on the page.

"We have a problem," he said, as Rakitin looked up, blinking.

Friendly fire [February 25th, 12:44 am]

Rakitin's path took him to the range by rote before he had consciously set a course. It was a place open to anyone at any time, and thus of interest to few at this hour. Anonymity could be found in the steady report of gunfire.

Rakitin was in a mood to hide in plain sight.

He had left the wounded soldier to sleep, exhausted from the attempt to dig into his recalcitrant memory. For as little as they had ended up having to show for it, he had played along gamely, with remarkable resilience.

It was a stark contrast to other mystery Rakitin was embroiled in. Here, instead of a man hiding his true nature from the world, was a man whose nature hid from himself. It was a kind of honesty by default, to have nothing over which to construct lies.

For as much as it could be said that any man ever knew himself.

Let alone another.

Rakitin faced straight forward as the pattern of bullets subsumed him.

Revenant [February 24, 1964 11:25 pm]

David was getting restless.

He had always been quick to heal from injury or recover from illness, even as a child, rarely sick longer than a couple of days at the most. He'd broken his leg in high school, tibia snap, bad fall on the football field, and was out for six weeks, then another six weeks of PT and he was good as new, even better.

It had been three days since he'd been brought in from the cold, poisoned. Suffering from exposure and hypothermia and other things, and now, he felt almost like normal. Maybe a little more tired, but that could just as easily have been attributed to being stuck in the infirmary with little exercise.

Three days.

He'd been able to keep up the amnesia ruse, and so far, the nurse hadn't found his tactical knife hidden between the mattress and bedframe. No one had come to haul him away for interrogation under suspicion of being an American spy.

So far so good, as they said, but David knew it wouldn't last.

He brushed a hand over his dark hair, which was cut in a simple soldier's crop, universal military. It wouldn't give him away, not like the thousand other things that could cause him to slip up - an idiom he didn't know, a joke, a concept. He might know the language and speak it with his father's muscovite accent, but that didn't make him Soviet.

David Petrovich Kerensky bled red, white and blue.

His time was running out, the mission had gone wrong, and now he was pretty sure the CIA had given up on him, sent the self-terminate signal to his CODEC, cut him free like a kite on a string.

He'd gotten caught in a tree branch, disavowed.

Thing was, if he didn't have the mission, he didn't have anything.

So mission it still was. He needed to come up with a plan of action, find Snake, figure out what to do about the Boss, stay alive, and get out of Russia, somehow.

David sighed, and lay back in the infirmary bed.

He supposed he had better get started on that.

Something Wicked This Way Comes [Feb 24th, 11:56 PM]

Dmitry Grigoriev gave a shiver and raised the collar of his fireproof jumpsuit to stave off the cold northern wind.

Ever since Magadan and its punishing chill, he loathed the winter and the wind that bit at his cheeks and turned them rose-red.

The peppered pertsovka that gently blurred the edges of his senses heated his blood and offered some lasting heat against the Russian night.

He wasn’t sure where he was going as he walked along the still tarmac, vaguely aware of the red lights blinking lethargically on the distant radio tower and the tap of his boots on the concrete.

The sky was clear, and glittered with distant stars, hazed by the lights of the Grad.

Katerina could call the constellations by name, but they were abstract and upside down to Deimos.

It was pleasurable to wander around in the still night without objective or the burden of a flamethrower weighing him down.

Anything could happen in the dark.

Not so long ago, he stalked the streets of Moscow on similar cold, clear nights, under a ghostly full moon. Those memories seemed faded as a weather-worn photograph, slowly tearing away from the nail that held it fast against the back of his mind.

If he wasn’t careful, the northern wind might very well carry it away from him, and only a rusted nail would remain as proof that there ever was such a dark photograph pinned there.

Ahead, a pair of guards huddled together for warmth and possibly more; their conversations stilled as he passed.

His pulse stirred as he thought of them, lovers without names, hushed gasps and desperate cries, pressed up against a wall or crouched behind a truck.

He wanted to turn around and confront them and make a lewd offer they couldn’t refuse, but he kept walking, pulled along like the needle of a compass swinging wildly to point at unseen magnetic fields.

In his periphery vision a figure moved under the halo of yellow from the sodium lights, and Dmitry Grigoriev turned and followed.

 

Disclosure in the Lab

When it came to some questions, no answer was the clearest you could get.

It had been a misunderstanding on a basic level. Projection, that sorriest of states. Rakitin had been hearing what he wanted to hear.

Facing reality promised to make things much simpler.

It would probably break it, but, well, there you were.

At the same time as it evoked a pang of sympathy, Leshovik's affront was almost funny. Maybe you had to be used to Liadov saying those sorts of things.

"Speaking of," Rakitin said, shrugging back into his role like an old jacket, "That could exonerate Isaev in another way. Odds are low that he'd fit this bill. The blood type of the semen collected from the body is A B negative."

In einer kalten Winternacht... [Feb. 24, 1964 5:54 PM]

Johann Krauss pulled his office door shut behind him, turned the silver key in the lock, and wriggled the door handle out of habit just to be sure all of the tumblers had fallen into place.

After dear Savva Semeyonev returned Motte, the hideously pink Persian curled up on the corner of Johann’s desk like a wad of chewed up and spat out bubble gum, and fell into a deep, peaceful slumber.

The cat only stirred when he took out a pad of stationary and began at letter to Nataliya Molokova, and only to cast an annoyed glare in his general direction, insulted that he dared to exist in her office.

Whatever horrible crime had been carried out against his cat, she remained relatively unchanged beyond her new obnoxious blush.

As he navigated the hallway with his characteristic limp, he hummed the first few lines of  Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen softly to himself, thinking about nothing beyond what dinner lay ahead of him at the mess hall.  


 

Preparations, Continued

Aryol looked down.

He sat cross-legged, hunched over slightly, arms crossed over his thighs. His stomach hurt. Maybe he'd eaten too quickly, or too much, or maybe the dough had been too rich. He didn't know.

The major had called him sick, he remembered. It had been the night before, after he'd confessed about who Kasya was to him.

Aryol tugged idly at one of his bootlaces.

"How does something like that happen?" he asked.

It was a moment before he looked up.

He hesitated, then met the major's eyes.

"Was he born sick? Or did something bad happen to him? Or did no one ever tell him that it's wrong to kill people, and he just doesn't know it?"

Aryol looked down again. He gave his bootlace a sudden yank, and pulled the knot free.

"I mean, that would be pretty messed up, because normal people know that. Would you be able to tell it was him, if you met him, just by the way he acted? Or would he seem normal at first? Or could you look him in the eye - "

He glanced up.

"...and tell something was wrong?"

Preparations [Feb 24, 9:24 am]

They said a new day was a clean slate.

It might even be true, if you could move all the other ones piled on top to see.

As luck would have it, it was Captain Irinarhov watchfully trailing Rakitin through the courtyard to the lab this morning. Rain was falling, making visibility poor, and he was sticking close. He hadn't said a word.

Not that that was unusual. It was one of the characteristics that, in any other situation, would have tempted Polya to keep a close watch for raindrops to pass through him.

He had to accept that Irinarhov was a solid and living man, whatever might suggest otherwise.

However much easier it might have been, otherwise.

Entering the outbuilding was the sudden cessation of the pressure of rain, and the withdrawal of its noise to the distance of roof and walls. Rakitin remained by the door, shaking droplets from his hat, until it closed and dampened the rest of the sussurrus.

"Captain," Rakitin said, as the newborn silence was drawing breath. "May I have a word with you?"

East Wing Feb. 24, 10:02 AM [for anyone]

The hallways were silent except for his boot clicks on the tile and the occasional plaintive mew coming from the bundle clutched to his chest.

Io murmured reassuring words to his quarry, stroking her head through the blanket to keep her still.

So far, so good.

The East Wing was disserted; no one saw him invite Major Krauss’ beloved Persian cat into room 307 and no one saw him emerge with the Major’s feline half an hour later, dripping wet and wrapped in a moth eaten green blanket.

He thought he was home free, until he saw the soldiers standing at the bottom of the stairs.

If he saw them, they saw him, and there was no use in turning back to find an alternate route.

“Comrades!” He called cheerfully to them, descending the stairs with grace and enthusiasm. “How are you, on this lovely, lovely morning?”

The blanket in his arms meowed, and struggled.

Firing Range [Feb. 23, 9:04 pm] [for anyone who would like to join]

The lights of the range were becoming dependable, like the weight of the gun in his hand.

Meeting the murderer Deimos face to face had gifted Rakitin with an odd clarity. While felt no especial desire to kill the flame soldier, neither did he feel any reluctance. It was something he would do, if and when it became necessary.

There was no question of going back to his quarters for a while. Overhearing Nika and Aryol as they were fucking felt like an invasion of their privacy. Anyway, Rakitin didn't much care for sleep, beyond the essential. There was always something more useful or interesting to do.

In any case, it was nice out here. The cold air was cleansing, as was the steady rhythm of weapons fire. Rakitin fell into the pattern of recoil as the world closed to the long, bright corridor, the stylized sihouette, and the gun in his hands.

Distractions fell aside as if they stood at the end of the lane. The matter of the Flame Patrol murderer was settled. Utrov had proven worthy of no concern, and doubtless would keep his distance. Rakitin could focus on investigating the murder, and the mystery of the nameless soldier. After that...

He could stay here.

It had taken time before he could allow himself to believe it, like a desert traveler facing an oasis that could easily be a beautiful mirage.

The Colonel wanted him to stay.

What use a pathologist could serve after the investigation was over, he had no idea. He would find out.

Rakitin would stay at the Colonel's side and help him achieve his dream.

And, though the Colonel would never know, somehow Rakitin would make himself worthy of that, and of loving him.

Rakitin paused to reload. His fingers moved deftly over the clip. The bullets lined up in a column of potential, and the sound of it sliding home was invigorating as hope.

Mess, cont

Rakitin stared at Liadov, his stomach clenched into a ball of ice.

Slowly, as he studied Nika's expression, he realized something.

Someone was striking derision and a wall of cold rejection, someone was where they weren't wanted, and it wasn't Polya.

How strange.

In the wash of relief and something else (acceptance? No, that was absurd), he felt an undercurrent of sympathy for the supply captain.

For the first time, it occured to him that he could play along.

Polya looked met Utrov's eyes and smiled a little, shyly.

The secret was shared, after all.

"You know, I think he does."

Mess

Life went on.

Heat and noise, startling after the cold open space of the courtyard, enveloped Liadov and Rakitin as they walked into the mess hall. It was a little early yet, and the building was half full of soldiers boasting, arguing, laughing. It was easy to slip under the surface, though Ippolit was peripherally aware that he still merited a few odd looks. He was used to that.

It was an opportunity to recover from the inquest, and Rakitin was grateful. Isaev's calm stare had been as disorienting as Irinarhov's forgiveness. The interview had been bad enough, but it hadn't disturbed him to this extent. Rakitin hadn't been been given that quality of fear by a man's mere presence since...

...since a long time ago.

The chill was leaching from his mind, now, with the awareness that the case had taken a temporary reprieve. Nika seemed relieved as well.

The corpse would be as dead in the morning.

Rakitin felt some of the tension ease from his shoulders. The day was done. It was unlikely the rest of the evening would provide any especial trials.

By the time they took their places at the accustomed table, Polya had regained the equilibrium to find it all darkly funny. Some days it was as though someone had written half a tragedy and half a farce and thrown the pages in the air.

"So," he said to Nika conversationally, "I hear Molokov's replacement came in today."

Inquest: Part II

Andrei sat back in his chair, and regarded Lieutenant Rakitin.

Rakitin's oddly dark eyes were plaintive and accusatory- not in a hostile way, but more a quiet disbelief, informed by an awareness he probably didn't even apprehend at this point.

Isaev admired that on some level, but on another level, it irked him. He hadn't killed anyone, not this time, and this frosty little prick looked at him like he was a man-eating tiger that citizens had allowed to roam free, blithely strolling the sidewalks.

"I think we are all aware," he began, slowly, "of the kind of ethics Captain Irinarhov espouses. Most, myself included, would even count them excessive."

He let his chin tilt up, snorting slightly.

"This is a man who insists upon verbally correcting his own documented kill-count, any time the matter comes up, because he maintains that the accurate tally is actual one less than the official."

Isaev laughed, shaking his head.

"This is a man who has suffered for his morality and integrity, as I'm sure Major Liadov could attest. Out of deference and respect for that unique conscience, I omitted him from our plans concerning Borishnakov, and have no qualms about having done so. I did this, because he is a true friend, in the most classical sense- like Orestes was to Pylades."

He paused.

"He is also my superior."

Isaev's grey eyes passed over Liadov briefly, noting the studied and downcast impassivity of his face, before fixing on Rakitin once more.

"And he is telling the truth. Moreover, I do not believe that he would lie. So by conjecture, I must agree. We played cards, we drank a little, we traded stories and we bunked for the night. As is our friendly custom."

Andrei leaned forward, letting his voice go quiet, directing it at Rakitin particularly.

"You know, comrade Lieutenant, there are other reasons a man may be loath to give an alibi, despite its veracity. One of them might be trepidation of being misunderstood- that admitting to a harmless social liaison with a comrade might result in unwarranted accusations of criminal affection. One might reasonably want to shield a beloved comrade from such...tarring. Especially in the face of an MVD inquest."