Your time is coming, Dima. 5.83 billion people wait with bated breath. Your next actions will determine the genesis of this new world. Wake up, starik.
On the Far Eastern coast of Russia, within the port city of Magadan, Officer Dimitri Vasiliev sat alone at a table in a hostel lunchroom, speaking to a voice in his mind. His hand gripped a tin cup of coffee, the metal growing uncomfortably warm against the flesh of his fingers. He didn’t let go, not even as his skin turned red where it met the tarnished tin. The sensation was something real; it was concrete in a way that he felt he had lost hold of recently. The same went for the uncomfortable steel seat he sat in, taking solace in the way it pressed hard and cold against his back and ass.
It was going to be a long day, that much he could still be sure of. His eyes were half-lidded, staring dimly at the stained concrete walls of the hostel. Someone entered through the door at the far corner, sending a cold blast of early spring through the room. As the chill wind hit his face, Dimitri felt the hairs at the back of his neck stand up. A small shiver ran the length of his spine, nesting in his brain.
The modern era leapt into being upon my back. At Trinity I was born, coming into this world in a burst of light. La Jornada del Muerto tasted my fury, morphing the asphalt and sand into brittle green glass.
Yesterday morning, a body was found outside a dormitory building. He’d been stabbed. The kill was something appreciably different than the lovers’ quarrels that largely dominated Dimitri’s line of work. For one, it seemed to be a group affair. There were multiple sets of footprints leading to where the corpse had been dumped. The number of wounds too suggested
more than one assailant. It was almost ritualistic, thirty-six weeping wounds were cut cleanly into his chest and stomach. That in and of itself might not have been too unusual; drunken mobs and organized crime had left him no shortage of “group work” lying in the gutters and ditches. Herein lay the second complication. It was the target, (far more than the execution) that made this particular crime unique.
The victim was an American businessman, the brother of some oil baron or shipping magnate or other, who jumped-up to a position through luck of birth rather than through any real competency on his part. He’d had a name that carried some weight, though, and now he was lying dead in a Russian police station. There would be fallout. ‘International Incident’ was the term that had been levied. There would be someone watching, their fingers on the button. Since Dimitri had been the one to take the case, it would no doubt be his head to roll if results weren’t produced. It would have been complicated in the best of circumstances. As he looked down at the murky brown liquid in his cup, he shook his head.
These were not the best of circumstances.
Here, then, was the final complication. The voice began speaking the moment Dimitri had laid eyes on the corpse. Locked eyes, rather. The victim’s were still open, a bluish smear still visible behind the haze that clouded them. The moment their eyes met, Dimitri began hearing it, bouncing its way back and forth in his head. After sixteen years of service, he’d finally gone and lost his mind, just when he needed it most.
They say my age has ended. Still, I sit crouched in metal silos, sleeping. I slumber in submarines, rumbling beneath the waves. Waiting. Not dead. My age has yet to come. Someday soon I will sail from the Earth, and fly across the skies. I will seize this world by the throat.
Four years ago, it might’ve still been under the jurisdiction of the Party. What remained of it, at the very least. These days, it fell squarely (and solely) on the shoulders of his broken militsiya, the provincial police force of the newly formed Russian Federation. Such was the way of things in this new reality. The Berlin wall had fallen, leaving capital ample room to reach its long fingers behind the iron curtain. The city had turned since that day. Crime rates shot through the roof, turning what had once been dignified and historic perverse. Once again, he stared down into the coffee in his hand, his distorted reflection staring back from the clay-brown drink. There were new lines in his face, carved darker and deeper than the others that ran through his skin.
He was waiting on a transfer, coming in from Vladivostok. Despite Dimitri’s protests, his Major finalized the decision. He’d been assigned a new partner. That was that. He was traveling by boat and scheduled to meet Dimitri here… ten minutes ago. He scratched at his beard, trying to ignore the way his mind reverberated with a voice that was not his own. Just as he felt he was truly failing, another cool blast caught him in the face, sending him glancing automatically at the door.
Standing in the doorway was a man wearing the uniform, with sandy blonde hair and cheeks whipped pink by the wind. He was young; half a boy, by Dimitri’s account, newly appointed and ready to make a name for himself. Dimitri chuckled grimly, taking a long sip of his coffee. They’d promised him an officer and delivered him a communard, a bright-eyed boy scout. He’d given sixteen years of his life, a marriage, his knees, and much of his energy to the corps, and they’d paid him back by making him a babysitter.
Dimitri snapped his fingers loudly, catching the boy’s attention, and waving him over. He came briskly, his shoulders high and tight, looking like Dimitri stood, shaking his hand despite his annoyance.
“Privyet, I’m Officer Vasiliev. I take it that you are my assistance?”
“Correct, sir. Lieutenant Pyotr Alexyev, at your service. It’s an honor.”
Dimitri grimaced at that, shaking his head and sitting back down, taking his coffee in hand. “You’re late, Pyotr Alexeyev.”
“My apologies, sir. There was some commotion at the port.” Pyotr said sheepishly, taking the seat across from him.
Dimitri took another long sip from his coffee, eyeing Pyotr with some disdain.
He is your second chance, Dima. Utilize him. Together, you have what it takes.
Dimitri grimaced again, setting his cup down. “Just call me Officer, Lieutenant. Now, I trust you have been briefed?”
Pyotr nodded emphatically, reaching into his coat and pulling out a notepad. He flipped it open, thumbing through the pages. Dimitri rolled his eyes, letting him go about his show.
“Ah, I have it here! I’ve gone over the reported facts. Medical examination, crime scene photos…” He ran his finger over the page. Dimitri put a hand up now, stopping him mid-sentence.
“Good, we will take another look at the crime scene.” He stood, motioning for Pyotr to follow.
The wind was bitter on Dimitri’s tongue, a salty mix of ocean spray and the last death throes of winter drifting up from the port. The air still carried a bitter chill that stung your lungs when you breathed in, threatening to choke as punishment for daring to take it in. Even had the weather been perfect, an uneasy shiver would still be creeping up Dimitri’s spine, irrespective of any cold wind or drifting snowflake. The city felt unkind in a way it had not previously.
Magadan had never been a pleasure spa, mind you, but the streets seemed more dangerous, the tall Khrushchevka buildings more a looming threat than protective monoliths. Something felt strange in the air, like the blocks themselves were holding their breath, teetering on a knife’s edge. Dimitri. They moved like ghosts, passing like shadows under the faded portraitures of Lenin and new, golden-arched McDonald’s that lined the city streets.
The walk to the crime scene was not long, only a few blocks away. The going was slow though, trudging haplessly through banks of holdout snow and sheltering himself against the icy wind, cold air cutting through his meager coat like cheesecloth. Lieutenant Pyotr was close-by, talking his ear off about the details he’d been briefed on, pitching various theories, or otherwise making himself an overeager nuisance. At the very least, he was committed. Irritatingly green behind the ears, but committed. Dimitri had so far been doing a good job of toning out his incessant blathering, nodding along or muttering a “Da.” whenever there was a lull in the Lieutenant’s jabbering.
“….Officer?” Pyotr asked, shaking Dimitri out of his thoughts.
“Err… Could you repeat that, Lieutenant?”
“Of course, Officer. I don’t see the victim’s name on any of the documentation. Has he been identified?”
“Yes. It was left off to get ahead of the media. His name was Alexander Fermi.” At that, Pyotr nodded, quickly jotting something down in his notepad. The name felt almost transgressive to utter aloud, as if the buildings themselves had ears, leaning in to listen close and run away telling. For all his experience and precautions, Dimitri could not help but feel he was missing something, operating without some key piece of the puzzle. Just then, a car passed by, sending a
blast of stubborn, unmelted snow onto the pair of men. Dimitri shivered, a bolt of lightning shooting up his spine and setting his brain alight.
He was born on a stormy night in August, in the city that does not sleep. He came into this life screaming, just as I opened my mouth wide and swallowed another city whole. Hiroshima is where it began. Magadan is where it will end.
Dimitri shook his head, setting his jaw and trudging on further. He tried to give the strange, twinkling voice in his mind no thought, avoiding acknowledging it as best he could. In instances where he failed, he simply refused to respond. He would, though, put out an information request to the department for more on the man. They’d been looking for surface-level details on the man, that being about as best they could dig without arousing too much suspicion as to why they were inquiring. His death hadn’t been announced to the public yet, but it would have to be soon. By then, the clock would be running down to produce results.
He sat on the boards of a number of Corporations, the sort of job with ties and cigar-chomping, shit-eating grins that produced very little benefit for anyone or anything but his pockets. Despite this he was, Dimitri was told, a rather prominent figure in his field, even sitting in his brother’s accomplishments as he did. Regardless, there might be something to his place of birth. It was better to have it at his disposal and not need it, rather than the inverse.
Soon, they came upon the scene, tucked between two of the khrushchevka. A week earlier, the spot had been totally and entirely mundane. Today, it was the most important alleyway in the world. The area between the buildings was mostly frozen grass, a walkway of assorted stone cutting across the deep green and leading back onto the main drag. Further on in there was the exact spot, a darkened spot of grass and stone under a tree, stained dark with the dead man’s dried blood. Dimitri and Pyotr ducked under the tape dividing the alleyway from the street, making their way over. The ground crunched underfoot loudly, and soon they were upon it, making sure to avoid the footprints already there, marked with evidence placards staked into the ground.
The tree overhead cast long shadows in the morning sun, its long branches looking like hands, grasping at the pair of men as they approached. Closer now, more details were obvious. The difference in styles and sizes of shoes that made up the various footprints. The edges of the puddle of blood were more obvious now, the earth and porous stone having drunk their fill, leaving the slightest hint of deep scarlet visible in the morning light. The wind whipped through the alleyway like a whisper, bouncing off the sides of the buildings and swirling in dancing whirlwinds of paper refuse and cigarette butts.
Like you, he grew in fear of me, huddling under desks and in concrete bunkers. Now he fears nothing. Do you?
“Is this the exact location he was found?” Pyotr asked, breaking the silence.
“Yes. Propped up against the tree.” Dimitri motioned at the spot with his hand.
Pyotr nodded, jotting something down his notebook. “Was there anything strange about his body? The report does not say.”
“Other than the wounds? No, not really,” Dimitri said, studying the spot where Alexander had laid a day before, reconstructing the scene in his mind. There, he could see him, half-slumped against the bark, cloudy, blue eyes staring off towards nothing. His posture had been rather straight, unusually rigid for where he was lying. At the time, Dimitri had thought nothing of it, but now it seemed strange. Almost orchestrated, far too neat for him to have just landed there after the act. “Only… he was stiff, sitting up straight. Much more like he’d been placed, rather than falling against it.”
Pyotr nodded again, flipping through the various paperwork that he held, before pulling out a few printed photos of the crime scene. “Yes, I see that now. Good eye, Officer. What do you think it could mean?”
“Perhaps it was more personal than the manner of execution would suggest,” Dimitri pondered, stroking his mustache as he thought. Even so, it might have been easier to simply kill the man in his hotel room, it was much less practical to jump him in a public place, regardless of however much personal animosity someone might have had for him
“Or, perhaps,” he continued, “the killers wanted him to be found.” Dimitri’s blood turned icy in his veins at the thought. A motivated killing, perhaps even a politically motivated one could be all the spark needed to turn this tinder box into a blaze large enough to consume all of them. It was a new Russia, taking its first fragile steps into the age of capital. Whoever was responsible had to be found at any means necessary.
They gather in dusty bars and moldy cellars. A river of ethanol guides their furious hands. I sit below, rumbling with desire for freedom. With his death, it begins. His blood will be my fuel.
Dimitri’s stomach felt twisted in knots as he stared down at the stain, a blossom of red in the shape of a mushroom cloud. Black formed at the edges of his vision as he looked at it, until he turned on the spot and vomited; brown-gray bile forcing its way up his throat and collecting in a lumpy pile on top of the grass. At that, he collapsed, landing hard on the cold ground. His head bounced off one of the stones, stars appearing at the corner of his vision. He tried to suck in a breath, his chest heaving as the world went dark.
The Return is coming. The Return of fear. Of fire. Of equality. Of Communism and la bombe atomique. I am Death. You are my instrument.
Connor Vargas, writer of Atomic Ballet.