top of page



7 APRIL, 1962. 



           In all things there is cadence. Every moment bears a sense of calculated rhythm that hushes its predecessor; a succession of the last note to be played, forever cycling the finality of all things. Every color, every sound—the sensory touch of organic and inorganic material strikes a chord to end its moment in time before the next subsequent moment ends. Each final chord is played in an orchestra forgetful of its own immediate conclusion. The song, though heard and understood, ends again, as if those who spectate had not grasped the complexity of the ending melody, the final note is then played again to reiterate the weight of the work. It is a cycle of decay—of things that end.

           This cadence, which revealed itself in the reflective warmth of orange peels palmed in the morning sun, displayed this pattern of disassembled beauty. The remains of morning’s breakfast. The rinds were laid delicately on his desk, the color of which captured Viktor’s immersion. He thought, perhaps if he stared so deeply, he might catch one of these moments pass in the hue of the rinds. To remain devoted to this trance might gift him with witnessing the subtle ending of the fresh orange color which would inevitably lead to a rotted, patchy green. At the least, his infatuation with the idea seemed to slow time.

           In truth, to his discontent, time would continue to pass unabated. It was just the speed of one’s own thoughts ramming through the mind that seemed to stall each advancing second; a sacrifice that was more torture than it was worth to hold on to the present. Viktor’s thoughts trembled likewise, drumming over his scalp and down his back like nervous fingertips. The feeling played his heart and lungs against one another, the former trotting faster, and the latter compressed by his constricted diaphragm.

           Several moments passed before his trance was broken by his sudden recollection of the need to breathe. He took a staggering breath of air, blinking his dry eyes away from the orange mess. He turned to the window, which cast the pleasant light that had so gently pulled him into his meditation, squinting as the sun rose over the horizon of rolling trees. He let go of holding on to the ever-passing present, allowing his surroundings to return to him.

           He stood in his office, which itself stood on the second floor of an individual, temporary unit at the edge of a complex of similar gray, temporary buildings. These units sat in a frozen orbit around a central concrete cube at the heart of the complex, the movement of the orbit marked by connecting, circular roads. The cube stood in contrast to the fields of tall grass and round, short trees expanding into the distant landscape. It was the only permanent structure here. Its height and magnitude were recognizable over the forests that separated it from the nearest town of Kurgan and placed so as if erected in spite of some unforeseen adversary—its presence saying look at me, I am here, despite also remaining so nondescript in the exterior design that no one was quite sure what it was.

           The cube was in fact a multipurpose, government-built research facility. It had changed hands and parted ways with names and identities so frequently, that those who found themselves employed at the cube simply called it the Pharmacy. The name was exchanged between research teams in an informal game of telephone as they circulated on assignments from Moscow. Though leadership enforced the use of the official name for the facility, that name changed as often as its disguised purpose did. It was intended for dual use, firstly in authentic pharmaceutical development, and secondly for confidential, government-sponsored work. All this preparation went into making this official-unofficial government show of new-age development for its citizens and neighbors to see, yet no one cared to learn its name. Plainly, it was a box in the grass.

           Viktor could see this monolith out to the south through his window, squinting as the sun’s light rebounded from its flat surface. The rows of windows at its base glared at him with a hundred glowing eyes of reflected sunlight. He leaned away from the glass, parting the view with a green blur of the cube burned into his eyes. As the faint ghosts of squares faded from green to yellow to a dull red, the dimmed shapes within his office became clear to him again. He lifted his metal-rimmed glasses from his nose to rub his eyes, chasing away the last of the light’s smog from his vision.

           The room lacked any personality. The walls were lined with dull filing cabinets and metal bookcases, all barren now. It was just before sunrise that he had finished packing all their contents into boxes as he had been instructed to. Peering over his desk, he could see one of the neatly stacked towers of boxes at the bottom of a set of rubber-lined stairs.

           He had been given this private portable to use as his own space for organization and research beyond his assigned lab at the Pharmacy. All his notes, marks of achievement, and data were stored here. His work—his purpose—had lined these walls, overflowed from his desk, and had been strewn across the floor. Now, it was all layered together like a columbarium—his life’s work buried in boxes. It was a sobering sight.

           Viktor trailed his hand over the polished desk, his eyes following phantom memories of himself. Faded images bled through the walls. Moments of strife and excitement danced like a long-exposed shot of streaming history captured in the room.

           How could such a thing end? How could one suddenly open their eyes and see a world entirely unlike the one they had known? He had been cheated and lied to. His devotion, marked by a lifetime of effort, had been marionetted for another purpose. It was a vile deception. His disgust at the manipulation of his research had shaken him from a reality he had thought to be living—one in which people banded together to achieve good for tomorrow at the cost of themselves today. It had cost him himself, but what would be bought with the exchange of his soul was utterly not the thing he sought out to do.

           What he had created, what he had done, would be a gift to the world. It would save people. No longer would he see a world like the one of his childhood, where the common people suffered, starved, and died beneath banners who did not know their names. The gravity of this project was surely that serious. It had taken all the years of his youth, the careers of his colleagues, and the lives of those who had been conscripted by his government to ensure its success.

           It was work marked in blood that would forever press his heart with guilt, but he had believed it was for the benefit of all. Instead, to his horror, the application of his research would be used for the furtherment of militaristic capabilities in war—to create a new arms race that the Soviet Union would hold the lead in. In any altercation, be it nuclear war, or soldiers on the ground, the council above him would make use of his work to dominate the battlefield. It would bring a new eclipse upon the world.

           A burst of frustration flared through his chest. Viktor grit his teeth. How could he be so naïve? He ran his hands through his graying hair, taking hold of it in his fists.

           All those years—all the hours spent with what he thought were like-minded supporters—infuriated him. Had anyone shared his beliefs? Had it been so easy to feign united passions? And the cost—the lives he had been given so freely, without question, that he had spent furthering progress—had they all known then that they never wanted the future he saw?

           Seventy-three souls were cast into the fire of progress, all in the name of his research. The pain it had caused him to look away, to ignore the feelings he had at the time, was unbearable to him now. He had thought they were so close, so very near to achieving their goal, that he believed their lives would be worth it. They would die heroes.

           He relaxed his fists, lowering them as he fought bitterness in the corners of his eyes. He forced himself to let go of the anger he felt. There would be time later to suffer the errors of his past, or so he hoped.

           Hope. He lifted his weary eyes from his shoes, letting them drift to the only wash of color left in the drab office. A calendar, pinned up to a cork board between two naked bookcases. The photographed image set above the dates was of an Afghanistan mountainside. It was a window to him. Through this image, he could see past the thin wall of his office, past the complex to the border of Kazakhstan, and then miles on to Afghanistan.

           Nearly five years ago he had gone to Afghanistan to follow a trail that would help lead him and his team to achievement. His mission felt so mystical back then, like he was in an adventure novel. It was innocent, provocative, but never selfish. His research had allowed him to wander with his team, meet the locals, share in their culture, and tie new bonds together that he hoped would last a lifetime. It was bliss. He fell in love with the country.

           There had been no darkness then, no decisions that tread the line of his virtues. Now he was enveloped by the dark. But there was still hope. There was still a way he could divert this course of history, to right his wrongs before it was too late. He knew what he had to do, what sacrifices were required to halt this human tragedy, and he was prepared to make them. 

He was going to defect from the Soviet Union.

           It was absurd, but he had spent more than enough sleepless nights contemplating his options. Any passionate man would conclude that the easiest choice would be to destroy all the evidence of his work before killing himself. It would be simple and effective, but Viktor could not let go of what he achieved. An ardent wish still burned in his heart to continue. There would come a time when he would be able to share his discoveries with humanity, but only when the nations of the world would lay down their arms would they be ready.

           He would burn his notes, dash the evidence, but he would go on—he alone would carry this knowledge. When the leaders of the world finally asked the questions of how to help the people, he would give them their answers. Until then, he would hide away in the shadows.

           Viktor glanced at his watch. The hand ticked over the watch’s white face severely close to the bolded seven. Ten more minutes.

           He had prepared everything, gathering every scrap of evidence from his lab in the early hours of the night. His team would undoubtedly hold pieces to the puzzle, but the essential notes were kept with him here. He never allowed anyone, not even his team, a glimpse of the crucial parts of his work. It allowed him the privacy of contemplating each move but took years of building trust to bring him this opportunity. Now, every scribbled note, drawing, mentioning, photograph, report, and set of data had been stacked on the floor beneath him, even his university assignments. Anything that could lend to the recreation of the project had been combed over.

           Viktor adjusted his glasses, leaning closer to the picture of the mountainside. Stairs of small, mudbrick homes traced along the stepped mountain, hugged from below by waves of green shrubs and foliage. There was a safe place for him there, deep in the Afghanistan wilderness. A haven, a promise, given to him years ago by those he befriended. His time spent in those mountains among villages cut off from the politics of the country had been a gift. The work he had conducted with the assistance of the locals included his own independent investment in their village. He had done all he could to give back to them, and when it came time to leave, it had been made clear to him that he would always be welcome. 

That is where he would go.

           These were not the only connections he had made in that place. He had also befriended an Army Officer in the GRU who had been part of his escort team that took him out to the northern mountains, though it had been unclear how mutual the friendship had been. 

The man’s name was Yuri Volkov, and Viktor had saved his life.

           Though sparse words were exchanged between the two, Viktor had known him to be an honorable man. What happened in those rocky hills solidified that opinion. When they departed, heading back to Kabul in preparation to return home, Yuri had been adamant that he would return the favor. He was the only man in the Soviet Union he could trust, and to his distaste, that reason had been mostly reliant on that he owed him.

           That was five years ago, and Viktor had not spoken to him until a week before today. Could he truly trust him? Viktor had chewed his lip thoroughly since he contacted him, ceaselessly imagining opening his front door to a firing squad. But no other person had given him this sense of confidence—that look of knowing that always gilded his stone-like expression. It was a feeling that he could not hide anything from him that made him trust him, as if all those years ago he knew of the plans that Viktor was destined to make.

           In less than ten minutes, Yuri and a team of hand-picked soldiers would arrive to escort him from the complex. Yuri had pressed that they were of the most trustworthy fellow Spetsnaz soldiers he had fought alongside since he first joined the Army. ‘There are no finer men than these,’ he had told him over the phone.

           Upon taking him from the building, they were to torch the stacks of evidence in a fire that would engulf his office, making it look like an accident. By the time help would arrive, the team would have taken Viktor beyond the complex with special clearance, and to a small airfield a few miles down the road. A plane would be waiting for him that would take him the rest of the way to Afghanistan. There, a separate team would be waiting to take him to meet with his contacts. It was a modest plan, but one that could turn poorly at any point. Viktor would have to put his faith in Yuri to remove any obstacles.

           Would he be so dedicated to him though? Was it reasonable to believe someone would go to this extent to risk their own career, and greater yet, their own life for him? Yuri had been with Viktor to witness their discoveries, their discussions, and explanations for their purpose in Afghanistan. Viktor had spoken freely to him—there was no hiding it from him after all. He could only assure himself that Yuri was one of the few who believed what they were doing was worth the risk.

           Viktor dropped his gaze from the calendar. There was one final undertaking to make—one final sin to atone for. 

           Slowly, he turned to face the end of the room, that dim wall that the light could not touch. The closet: behind that door lay the last offense of his project that had to be removed.

           He pivoted, making for his desk. He slid open the top drawer, the glint of cold metal striking its malevolence up at him. A handgun, given to him by his father—a shared secret the two had kept since the war. It bore an inscription on the wooden grip panel, though it had been worn away from use decades ago.

           His fingers pressed over the worn wood, feeling the soft indentations of words lost. He had begged his father for a gun like this as a young boy. He wanted to be a soldier. It wasn’t until he returned to university following the war that his father gave it to him as a symbol of achievement. It was a proud relic he kept with him to symbolize the effort of his education and a reminder of where he came from. Now, as he grasped the weapon in his hand, its purpose changed. It became something sickly, a blighted tool whose purpose was known to itself, but kept at bay until it knew to crawl out into Viktor’s hand. He had held it often, particularly during times of deep thought, as he traced over the dulled inscription, but now its weight felt substantially heavy. If he let go it might shatter through the floor, down to the earth, pulling him along into the soil. Buried.

           The gun was empty, and without a magazine, but he kept a few bullets he had collected in another drawer. He rang out the second drawer, the bullets clattering forward. He plucked one up, turning it over between his fingers. Setting it aside on his desk, he took the handgun and fumbled the slide back until it locked open. He eyed the closet door from beneath his furrowed brow. There was a cost to his work, but he remained firm that this cost had already been withdrawn—his next actions were but a lingering aftermath of a final note already played.

           He took the bullet from atop his desk and thumbed it into the open slide. It took a moment for him to press it correctly into place, and another to awkwardly release the slide. It sprung forward abruptly, the metal crying out with a sharp whack. The sound startled him. He inhaled deeply, regaining his resolve. He set his jaw, exhaling, then inhaling again, repeating the cycle several more times. He peeked at his watch; the hand had nearly reached its place. No more delays, he thought to himself.

           He crossed towards the closet door, each step resounding with a deep thump that pounded to the beat of his heart. The vibration rumbled through the floor, the combination of rolling sounds deafening his ears with an insufferable baritone. He found himself facing the door, the handle down at his side. He paused, steadying his quickening breath. He let his forehead rest against the door, closing his eyes. His hand found the doorknob, turning it gradually until the weight of the door gave way. He pulled it open and took a step beyond its frame.

           It was dark. Tall silhouettes of retired equipment stood in the corners of the closet. Viktor lifted his hand, waving it until he found the beaded cord hanging from the ceiling. With a tug, there was light. The room filled with a pale, yellow illumination, chasing the shadows back into the corners of the small space.

Set carefully in a makeshift basket was a baby swaddled with a muted length of cloth. The child was placed on a square medical table nestled tightly against the back wall. Sleeping soundly before him was the seventy-fourth patient—the only survivor of the project. Subject seventy-four, Viktor’s true achievement.

           The child seemed undisturbed by the burst of light, though subtle tremors ran reactively through his body. Viktor winced. He thought of his colleagues, his partners, the officials who sponsored his work, every person he met along the way of his career. He cursed them. They had led him to this moment; hunched over in a muggy closet, gun in hand, staring down at the one thing he did right. They were the ones who condemned this babe.

           It made no difference; blood had already been spilled—his humanity was forsaken. Seventy-three others had perished before this child. What made this boy so special? Merely because he had survived? No, it was substantial. But now Viktor held the key, the answers unlocked. This triumph could be repeated. The boy was the last secret to be kept, to never see another day. His sacrifice would secure a future for all the young of the world. It must be so.


           A shaking hand raised the barrel of the gun in line with the child. His pain he could suffer forever, a price he would gladly sew within his heart until he, too, perished. Better this pain tear asunder one man than let humanity continue in what wretched toiling it had since its birth.

           Tears rolled down Viktor’s cheeks, caressing his face. He hadn’t noticed the sound he was making, the rending groan that rose from his throat. All things must end—

           Be a man, he heard his thoughts scream. The sound molting in his voice erupted as the joints in his arm locked, his hand clamped on the grip—directing the delivery of his wickedness. His finger coiled back towards him, pulling the trigger.

           There was a soft click and the sound of stressed metal. Viktor pulled the trigger again. Another quiet click. Again, he pulled—and again, only the faint metal ding responded.

           Viktor, eyes stinging, lifted the gun to his face. 

           The safety was on. 

           His knees buckled and he sank to the floor, sobbing. He sent the weapon spinning away from him, its poisonous touch unbearable. The gun spiraled into the base of one of the cabinets beyond the closet.

           His tears flowed freely, biting down onto the sleeve of his coat to stifle his sobs. He could not stomach this cruelty. It wasn’t fair. Viktor lifted himself from the floor, leaning his back against the door frame. He shook his head, unwilling to open his eyes. To see the reality he was cursed with was insurmountable.

           The baby began to cry, disturbed from his sleep. Viktor was suddenly pulled from his self-loathing, hoisting himself to his feet. His brow peaked with concern; he lightly tucked his hands under the swaddled child, lifting him from where he lay. The beckoning sense of grave mortality seemed to part from him as he stood there, pressing the weeping babe to his chest, attempting to calm him.

           Viktor’s face felt wet. He blinked thoroughly, regaining his breath. He blew out through pursed lips, cooing while rocking the child. He took a shuddered breath, sending shivers across his ribs. He thought quickly, turning about. Swift steps carried him back to the window. A low roar hummed in the distance, and soon, the bulky image of a large truck grumbled around the bend into the complex. Viktor struggled to balance the child in his arms, freeing his hand to check the time.

           They were here. He paced the room, whipping his head around as each new thought in his head shouldered past the former. He crouched down, reaching for the handgun. His hand recoiled as if it was fighting him from pressing it against a hot stove. His cheek twinged as he seized it from the floor. It was a tricky effort to lift his lab coat with the barrel of the gun and slide it into the back of his pants. Pausing at the stairs, Viktor bit his lip, each second delivering him a new directive. The open drawers of the desk itched for his attention. He pivoted, taking two stretched steps to snatch up the remaining bullets from the drawer, shoving them into his pocket.

           The chortled hum of the truck drew near. Viktor made his way down the single flight of stairs, careful to not upset the baby as he did so. The front door sat directly before him, and opposite that was the maze of boxes containing all he was willing to part with. It was hard to imagine the sitting area and small kitchen that was hidden behind the stacks; they stood like curious onlookers watching Viktor’s unhinged plans unfold.

           He moved side to side, making final mental checks. It seemed like he’d forgotten everything, this sudden turn in his meticulous plan having thrown his agenda from his mind. He straightened himself out, setting his shoulders back, and wiping his face with his sleeve. Several instants passed and the truck’s rumble came ever closer.

           He eyed an open box beside him. The immediate thought to cast the gun into it crossed his mind, but he fought against the instinct. He would be irreversibly marked as a traitor anyway, pretending to look innocent was useless. He cleared his throat, glancing down at the baby whose cries just now subdued into murmurs.

           The engine of the truck shook the portable’s walls as Viktor heard it come to a stop outside. It continued to quake for some time before the engine was shut off. He could hear several voices emerge, followed soon by a chorus of boots crossing the gravel to his door. Viktor loosened his collar, jaw tightening, as he prepared for whoever was approaching.

           The voices hushed altogether as a separate set of footsteps crunched towards the door. Each step came equally apart from the other, gradual, the beat unabated as they thumped up the metal stairs just outside. Silence whirred in Viktor’s ears during the seemingly ceaseless lapse in time. A knock struck the door.

           Viktor swallowed, approaching the door, and taking hold of its handle. He lowered his thumb onto the handle’s lever. A deep clack echoed, the pressure giving way as Viktor pulled the door inward. The glare of the sun overwhelmed him. All he could see was the outline of a tall figure on his steps, surrounded by blobby shapes standing around in a semicircle. He squinted, his eyes fighting to adjust to the brightness. Soon, the form of the figure took a familiar shape. Yuri Volkov stood at his door, a slight smile on his face recognizable beside the radiance of the sun’s light.

           “Hello, Doctor Nikolaev,” Yuri greeted him, his voice calm and direct.

           Viktor eyed him from the doorway in semi-disbelief. There he was, the broad-shouldered man, who stood with an unabashed formality, hands behind his back. He had a dignified look to his face with a strong jaw, rounded chin, and a straight nose held by a set of laugh lines whose creases were the only marks of his aging since last they met.

           Viktor blinked, unable to find his voice. He found himself admitting his expectation of opening the door to the authorities, or even some band of KGB, come to arrest him. He turned his head to cough.

           “Lieutenant,” Viktor managed, taking a step back to allow Yuri to enter.

           The man proceeded into the cluttered entryway; jaw held in counter to each footfall. Viktor caught him glance at the baby in his arms and was surprised by the look of pity that met his gaze. The look vanished as he advanced towards the hoard of boxes.

           Viktor watched him, his breath light behind his teeth. There was something he couldn’t read in the man, but it was like him to be withheld. Still, it made him uneasy.

           As Yuri examined the various containers behind his lifted chin, Viktor regarded his attire. In Afghanistan, he had been dressed in dust-covered gear with an iconic Spetsnaz blue and white striped shirt underneath his fatigues. Now, he wore a clean, formal, Army uniform adorned with awards and ranking of which Viktor was embarrassingly uneducated in. Atop his head of prudently groomed, wheat-colored hair, he wore a distinct military hat. Along its black rim ran a golden cord shadowed beneath the wide, green, circular shape of the cap.

           The Lieutenant turned to face him. “Have you all that you need?” he asked.

           “Yes,” Viktor practically whispered. He averted Yuri’s scrutiny, shifting his weight.

           “Everything is ready?” Yuri stepped beside him.

           “Everything,” he replied.

           Yuri gestured to the door. Viktor lowered his head and walked outside. His heart was racing. Seven men stood facing the building, Kalashnikov rifles slung over their backs. Their faces were hidden under black balaclavas, but Viktor could see their glinting eyes watching him, unblinking. He noticed four of them carried duffle bags. He turned back to Yuri who followed him beyond the door, giving him a look of uncertainty.

           He nodded his assurance, standing beside him. Yuri looked over his men, inhaling slowly through his nose. Viktor eyed the vacant facility.

           “Team designated Yelena,” Yuri motioned to Viktor, “you are to escort Dr. Nikolaev from the facility. During that time, I will lead team two, designated Dmitri, and secure the demolition of the collected assets.

           Yuri’s gaze panned over his men as he spoke. The soldiers stood like statues, listening intently. They were unwavering, raising Viktor’s confidence and allowing him to breathe a little easier.

           “Once the building has been secured and demolitions primed, both teams will have five minutes to extract from the area. It is anticipated that security will have entered full lockdown by that time. Expect local authorities to block the roads. Yelena, you will receive word once demolition has commenced.

           “We have secured fifteen minutes to move Dr. Nikolaev to the plane and become airborne,” as Yuri spoke, tension began to build in Viktor’s shoulders, “security has been temporarily removed from the airfield. You are guaranteed only this allotted time before they return to their posts, and we risk the Doctor’s exposure.”

           “In the event you are exposed, we will do what we can, but nothing is promised,” Yuri’s eyes bore a stern look from under his hardened brow. “You know what is expected of you.”

           The men sprung into action, catching Viktor off guard. The escort team moved to Viktor. Before he could speak, two of them placed a hand on either side of his back, ushering him towards the canvas-covered truck. Viktor trudged forward haphazardly, trying to turn back to speak to Yuri, but the man had already disappeared into the building. His team—Dmitri, marched through the doorway after him. The door shut, and Viktor was briskly led to the back of the truck.

           The men assisted him inside where they sat him on a long bench. They sat on either side of him, sliding their rifles from their shoulders. They appeared in perfect sync, setting the butts of the rifles against the bed of the truck simultaneously. Viktor just stared with wide eyes ahead, sweat beading on his brow. It was happening—without a final word or moment to collect himself, this was happening. There was no going back.

           With a burst of thunder, the truck’s engine groaned to life. Viktor lurched as the vehicle sped forward. The truck bounced occasionally as it rolled down the road, swaying with each turn. It felt like being aboard a ship at sea, adding to the nausea he already felt. He closed his eyes, exhaling. He looked down at the baby.

           To Viktor’s surprise, he was still sleeping. At least there was that to be thankful for.

           He felt the truck come to a gradual stop. He assumed they had reached the entrance gate of the complex. Painful seconds ticked past and they were off again. He tried to lean forward to get a peek through the slight part in the canvas but the presence of the soldier beside him weighed in heavily. He sat back, attempting to relax, keeping his gaze from lingering on anything but the floor.

           Again, the truck came to a stop. A few minutes had passed on their ride from the complex, giving thought to Viktor if they had arrived at the airfield. The soldier nearest the opening to the canvas stood up, slinking through the curtain and hopping to the ground. Viktor could feel the other man beside him lean forward.

           A knock rapped the side of the truck and the soldier beside him patted his back. Viktor stood, carefully poking his head out of the canvas. A group of similarly dressed soldiers gathered around him, exchanging looks as he brought the baby out from behind the canvas. They helped him down, and another pair took him by the arm, leading him to the plane ready on the runway. It was a squat, dual-engine plane, whose propellers were already whirling with deafening anticipation.

           They walked across the dusty runway, the roar of the engines blaring in his ears. He could feel the child stir and he tried to cover him with his coat. A man rolled a step ladder up to the door of the plane, quickly motioning for him to board.

           He nearly stumbled entering the plane where he met several, unmasked men in civilian attire. They paid him little attention, acknowledging him with a shared frown. One of them directed him to his seat before returning to pull the door shut, locking it. Viktor’s head spun. He was sat down in a reasonably comfortable chair and had a small window he could peer out of if he hunched over. He watched as the step ladder was removed and the soldiers ran from the runway. The plane took off soon after, leaving Viktor careening his neck to ogle the soldiers load into the truck.

           His stomach was pulled back as the plane rose into the sky. He clenched his abdomen, fighting the sickness that had been rising within him. His eyes squeezed shut, his glasses pinching his curled nose as their altitude increased.

           As the plane leveled out, Viktor opened his eyes, easing the tension in his muscles. He curled over again to look out of the window, seeing the rolling landscape awash in morning light. Acres of green grass and veins of trees expanded over the horizon, separated by a river mirroring the blinding sun. He turned away, adjusting his glasses. He rested his head back against the seat.

           He let all recollection of the day slip away, letting the present be his only reality. He breathed easy. Here, he was away, he had escaped. Beyond him now were only miles of land that they would glide over, aloft in the wind. His worries could be set aside for now. He could surrender himself to this moment.

           He let his eyelids flutter shut. Cadence, the word repeated in his head. Danger was not far behind him, and his future had yet to be secured, but this piece of the trial had ended. The revolting rhythm of the morning had come to a close. Though the performance was long from over, this song finished on the note of growling engines passing through the clouds. He let himself sink into his mind, images of the morning rummaging through the dark of his slipping thoughts until he fell asleep.



           Yuri stood before the window beside Viktor’s desk, face half cast in shadow. He watched the plane coast through the air, turning towards its course. The plane flew smoothly above the wisps of clouds tickling the blue sky, disappearing as it circled past the complex. Yuri looked down to the facility grounds. Not a person in sight. The emptiness made for a pleasurable, quiet morning.

           “Lieutenant,” a voice stated from behind.

           “Report,” Yuri instructed, turning to face the soldier. He noticed a leather-bound book in his hands.

“The journal,” he offered it to Yuri who took it in his hand, flipping through the pages, “as requested. We’ve recovered the other listed items, but—”



           “Is there a problem?” Yuri asked, shutting the book.

           “There is concern about the core asset,” the soldier paused, eyes seeking his next words, “for Subject Seventy-Four.”

           Yuri pursed his lips, returning to the journal. The leather was cracked with age, and rough in areas. Nearly all the pages had been filled, each wrinkled with pencil and ink, now yellowing. A thin, blue tassel divided the center of the book, sticking out like a dead tongue.

           A low hum could be heard outside. He turned, looking through the window once more.  The truck, followed by a black, boxy sedan, drove up to the gate, pausing as it was opened. The vehicles leisurely made their way back towards Viktor’s office. Yuri lowered his chin.

           “Never mind concern,” he stated, turning towards the soldier. “Should we need him, we know where to find him.” He handed the journal back to him. “Have the priority assets prepared for transport. Burn the rest.”

           Yuri stepped past him, making his way down the stairs. The other men were busy organizing various files and papers into their bags. He left them to their work, passing through the doorway to greet the arriving vehicles. The truck creaked to a stop, and more men hopped out from the back, jogging to the office. They saluted Yuri as he made his way to the black sedan, then banged their boots up the stairs and into the building.

           The windows of the car were tinted black, concealing the passengers. The door opened and the driver stepped out of the vehicle, saluting Yuri before opening the rear door. Yuri removed his hat and slid into the interior of the car; the door shut behind him. All light was blocked out from within the black sedan. He squinted his eyes back up at the sky, the tinted window making it difficult to see.

           “The asset?” huffed a voice beside him.

           “-will be taken care of.” Yuri’s concentration was unbroken.

           “I shall have to inform the others. The council will hear of this.”

           “As you will.”

           “My—this is unlike you,” the voice chuckled. “What do you plan to do?”

           Yuri watched as a cloud skimmed across the sky, eventually pulling itself into a thin, white strip. He blinked, missing its last breath as it faded away into the vast blue above. He turned to face the man beside him.

           “I plan to play.”

bottom of page