Arkady knew this was the end. He was tired of running and he could recognize a metaphorical dead end when he smacked his metaphorical head into it. Minutes from now, they'd catch up with him. At first they'd be polite and ask him to open the door. He'd refuse and they'd make demands. Eventually they'd break down the door and then… then this all would end.
He sat down in the one black leather armchair this ancient office provided. He felt it settle into the once lush but now threadbare red carpet as he leaned back. This room had heard its share of dark secrets, unmentionable pacts, and hollow promises of loyalty. It was only fitting that they should all be stripped away soon, a final cleansing of a filthy history.
With trembling fingers he produced a battered cigarette from his back pocket and lit it. His thoughts went back to the spring of '81, when he was just one more destitute student at the Moscow Institute of Physics and Technology. Like many in his generation, he'd been brought up to believe in the evils of Western decadence, and in the superiority of his Soviet motherland. When they approached him, he was awed by the fact that they'd even noticed him at all.
"And you say the Americans have these … strange things locked up?" he asked.
"They are trying to. But Americans, they are not … efficient. We are," his mysterious date answered.
"And you need my help? What can I do?"
"You have a gift, Arkady," she said.
He barked a laugh, "Hah! I wonder what that is then. Definitely not the gift to complete my research project."
"Oh, you have one, Arkady Potyomkin, we know. Besides, we have just the thing to inspire you to finish that thesis of yours."
She leaned in closer, breathing against his ear.
"How would you like to work with a fully operational black hole generator?" she whispered, sending shivers down his spine.
When he'd shaken the icicles from his brain, he responded.
"Impossible. The laws of physics do not allow for it."
When she smiled in response, Arkady couldn't figure out if she was being friendly or condescending.
"I do not think we consulted with them when we accidentally created it, Arkady. Regardless, it needs work. We need it to be portable, we need it to be controllable. We need your research and your brilliant mind."
Arkady closed his eyes. A beautiful woman was making promises involving things that could not be and it all felt like something straight of a Yulian Semyonov novel.
"And how did you end up watching me? I'm nobody."
"Come come, you must understand that we have made it our mission to know everything about exceptional talents such as yourself."
It occurred to him that if she indeed represented who she said she represented, they would know the color of his underwear and what flavor ice cream he preferred. He'd only heard them referenced in whispered conversations on campus. That in itself made it all the more impressive they were now here, trying to get him to work for them.
"And if I agree to work for you, I will never see my family again?"
"No. You will be dead to your mother and father. We will make sure of that."
Arkady smiled. His father, a man so deeply buried in the bottle he might as well live in it, and his mother, a woman bereft of personality or backbone. No, he would not miss them. There was his brother, Alexei, but he had left as soon as he'd been able to, choosing the navy over a life of beatings and verbal abuse. He had not seen or heard from Alexei in seven years.
"I think I accept your proposition. What do I do now?"
She smiled and batted her emerald green eyes at him.
"You do nothing. We will contact you again when we need you."
Then she turned abruptly and walked away, leaving Arkady sitting alone on the bench in Khlebnekovskiy park. His sandwiches had not been touched, and the excitement of getting to develop technology that defied nature for GRU Division "P" had left him without hunger. He tossed them to the pigeons and got up to walk back to campus.
As he took the final drag of his cigarette, Arkady realized that he'd never learned the name of his recruiter, even though he'd spent years in service of the Division. Shuffling outside the door pulled him from his pensive mood.
"Arkady Potyemkin, this is Agent Fiorecci. I have been tasked with your retrieval and I know you're in there. We can do this two ways. Either you come out with your hands behind your head, or I'm going to count to ten and then I'll come in," sounded a female voice.
So, no politeness. Heh, Americans. He allowed himself a little smirk. Anyway, it was fitting. Brought into this game by a woman, and taken out by one; the symmetry brought a smile to his face.
Arkady reached into his coat pocket and produced a small cylindrical device, the culmination of his research for GRU Division "P". An old prototype he'd kept without authorization of course, the real thing was never developed further after the '86 incident. The last he'd heard, they'd filled the cellars at the Lubyanka with cement.
In a way, it was a total anticlimax. A simple metal tube, no longer than a bottle of Coca Cola. He screwed off its top and put his finger down on the small black button underneath. It felt unreal to finally do it.
He closed his eyes and thought of the way he and Alexei used to fight.
He felt the hum building.
His father's belt as it whipped through the air, eerily whistling before hitting his young skin.
His mother's rare moments of loving attention.
His last kiss and the look in Anna's eyes when he walked out on her, for good.
His ears were starting to hurt.
The things he'd seen…things that should not have existed, but did. Abominations. Too much flesh, too little life. Too much blood. Too much.
Sixty men dead when it malfunctioned. Limbs being stretched, and stretched, and stretched into infinite directions, heads folding in on themselves.
He could feel a small trickle of blood running down the side of his head.
He closed his eyes and sighed. There would be peace.
They had a hard time explaining. Yes, a part of Bucharest's historic center had been destroyed. Yes, lives had been lost. Obviously, it was a terrorist act. Blame flew, and claims were made. After all, what was a nice big silent implosion if not a good excuse to send in rambling, deranged letters proclaiming yourself the next big thing in terrorism?
At Site-193, Saint-Petersburg, Northwestern Federal District, Russia, Site Director Valentin Gavrilenkov faced a videoscreen showing a small, balding man. He looked worried, and rightfully so.
"Tell me again how this is the outcome of a simple detainment mission for a lowly ex-GRU Division "P" operative, Dušan."
Dušan Bogoescu, regional coordinator of the Foundation Covert Intelligence Division for Romania, cleared his throat.
"Well, sir…the American MTF that flew in was apparently not briefed on Potyomkin's history. Also, we did not know he'd liberated a prototype of one of their failed projects."
"I would guess not, no. And whose job was it to brief our American colleagues? Remind me, Dušan."
The answer came hesitantly.
"That would be me, sir."
"Right you are. Well, I have it on good authority you may expect a trip abroad soon, Dušan. The O5 council would like a word with you."
Valentin pressed the disconnect button on his phone and folded his hands behind his head. They still weren't working together, even when they were on the same team.