Mily Vasilyevisch Balakhna stepped into the lounge where Samuel Morgenstern sat waiting for him. Morgenstern was reclining in an upholstered chair behind a simple wood table. His hands were in his lap, and there was a gun lying on the table directly in front of him. He looked up as Balakhna came in and he smiled a bit, motioning for him to sit in the other chair which was directly across from him. Balakhna sat down cautiously in it, one of his eyes ever on the pistol lying on the table before him.
"So what brings you here, Balakhna? I thought you preferred to stay in Russia?" Morgenstern asked casually.
"My mission was completed. The last of the test subjects have been rendered harmless." Balakhna replied informally.
"What of Feodor Arensky?" Morgenstern asked. "That is his name right? I know that he escaped, and that was why you were in Anadyr."
"I assure you, he is not going to be bothering anybody anymore." Balakhna evaded. He felt no need to irk Morgenstern with his recent decision to let Arensky live out his life as a bear. It had only been a recent decision, and he wasn't completely sure himself if it was the right choice. However, it had been his choice, and he would stand by it.
"And about that stupid former KGB agent who I sent to kill you?" Morgenstern asked with a comical smile on his face.
"Raporov? Oh he's quite out of the picture I assure you." Balakhna replied. What was Morgenstern’s game now? What exactly was it that he was trying to accomplish? Balakhna was mystified as to his motives; they seemed to be completely off base.
"Good." Morgenstern nodded. "I was hoping that you'd be able to kill him. I really didn't want to see you go, so I sent him after you, thinking that he was to kill you, but instead that you are to kill him."
"Why don't you just tell me to kill him?" Balakhna asked. "It's not like I couldn't track him down anytime I wanted to."
"I know." Morgenstern smiled. "However, I find that you don't like to kill when you're told to kill."
"I've shot children in front of their parents." Balakhna pointed out. A flash of the scene in the house of Sergei Vyatka where he had killed the man's daughter when he had balked at answering a question went through his mind. He pushed it aside. It was no use to him now. "I do not believe you have made a fair estimate of me."
"Well, that may be, or it may not. Either way it doesn't matter." Morgenstern shrugged.
Balakhna leaned forward a bit, "Now I've heard from Dr. Salinger that you did not arrive alone. Is that correct?"
Morgenstern rolled his eyes, "Yes it is. I had no choice but to drag along the Lanway's. They claim that they have some evidence against us, that if we don't do what they ask, then they will reveal this to the whole world. I think they're bluffing. However, I can't take that chance."
"Why not?" Balakhna asked playfully. "You've killed just about everybody else who knew anything: Sauer, Asgaard, and Houck. I wouldn't be surprised if you orchestrated Hemley's fatal accident."
"That I did not do." Morgenstern insisted peevishly.
"So why can't you take the chance with the Lanway's?"
"Because they have seen the entire files on Hemley's computer. They're threatening that if we kill them that the whole world will find out about what Hemley discovered." Morgenstern sighed.
"I can see why you are reluctant to kill them." Balakhna nodded.
"Reluctant for the moment. I'm having all his contacts and his trail searched. The moment we find that he's clean, he dies." Morgenstern declared.
"That's wonderful. Don't you think that the killing has gotten a little bit too extreme?" Balakhna asked a bit reproachfully.
"Hardly, I am planning on taking out a few more people in this operation who are proving useless now." Morgenstern stretched his arms before him, yawning.
"Just who would they be?" Balakhna reached into his pocket, keeping his eyes on Morgenstern's hands, which were perilously near the gun.
"Dr. Salinger has outlived her usefulness." Morgenstern cracked his knuckles.
"Why her?" Balakhna felt the gun under his coat; he slowly began to slip his hand over it.
"Well, simply put, she's become too emotionally involved with her coworkers. That is not something we need in this sort of operation. She is at tears over Sauer's death, and even worse at Asgaard's. I cannot tolerate that sort of unprofessional demeanor." Morgenstern in one swift motion picked up his gun, and was pointing it at Balakhna's head. Balakhna saw the move, and pulled his own gun out, pointing back at Morgenstern.
"An impasse." Morgenstern remarked prosaically. "How cliche."
"Not entirely." Balakhna replied. Coming in the back door behind Morgenstern was another figure. Balakhna smiled, it was Raporov. "Raporov, I'd like you to meet the man who sent you to die at my hand."
Raporov already hand a gun drawn, and came around to Morgenstern's right, just out of sight, and pointed the gun at his head, "Morgenstern, I have a gun pointed at your head. The moment you even try to shoot Balakhna, you will be without a head. I understand that people look pretty funny without heads."
"You lied to me, Balakhna." Morgenstern accused.
"What a shame that is." Balakhna replied laconically.
"Too bad I already knew about that." Morgenstern smiled, and another figure stepped through the door behind Balakhna. "Harris, such wonderful timing you have."
"Now I must warn you, " Harris's voice called from behind Balakhna, " I can hit both you and Raporov before either one of you can take a shot."
"You’re a fool if you think that." Raporov smiled his hand still firm. "There are two of us, and we can synchronize our shots, you only will be able to take out one of us. Either way Morgenstern will be dead."
Morgenstern, still holding the gun firmly pointed at Balakhna seemed to realize that. "Of course, but you are forgetting one thing. Dr. Simpson should be returning shortly, and he will side with me. Then, you both will die. As it stands, one of you will die. The question is, are you willing to die for the other?"
Dr. Simpson led the Lanway’s through the maze of hallways talking as he went, "This facility was constructed many years ago for research, I forget exactly what field it was in; about three years ago we took it over, and began to renovate it for our use. FATE has always been interested in the possible augmentation or manipulation of the human genetic code, but recently we've become much more interested."
"So what does that have to do with us?" Marcus asked pointedly.
"Simple, your son Jacob caught an errant virus developed by our team of scientists. It has been reshaping his DNA ever since. The heatstroke he was developing was a result of that, as his body became accustomed for colder climes. He is now perfectly comfortable in summer clothes at only 5 degrees centigrade. In another few days, that temperature will drop below zero. At the end, he will be most suited for Arctic climes."
"So that is your idea of a response to this meteor?" Marcus asked.
"What is happening to my son?" Sarah asked, shaking visibly. Evan stood at her side, trying to stay out of the view of Dr. Simpson.
"Your son, Mrs. Lanway, is becoming a bear." Dr. Simpson answered her.
"A bear?!?" Marcus looked horrified.
"The bear was the closest creature to human sized that we could come up with, that was also capable of living on land. Would you have preferred we selected a penguin? Or perhaps a manatee?" Dr. Simpson did not seem too concerned with how they felt, despite his question.
"What good is turning humans into bears going to do?" Marcus asked curiously.
"Well we are not going to turn them completely into bears, but instead, only partway. We are working now on a serum that will halt the transformation at a particular point, a point that is halfway between the two forms. Thus giving the ability to live in winter climes, as well as still use tools and think logically and human-like." Simpson explained.
"So why do you say he's turning into a bear?" Sarah asked, her voice hostile.
"Because at present, there is no such serum. Our only remaining scientist who has the experience to create the serum is under a bit of pressure though, so do not fear that it will not be developed in time." Simpson added with a smirk.
"What sort of pressure?" Marcus asked.
"Oh, Dr. Hall is also under the influence of the virus that was injected into your son. He is also going to turn into a bear."
Lifting his muzzle to the air, he smelled the brine to the east, and winced as a memory came flooding back to him. Safety lied to the east. He wasn't sure how he knew, but he did in fact know that if he traveled east, then he would be safe. He picked up the fish he had just caught in his jaws, and began to saunter down toward the smelly, bad-tasting water.
It didn't take long to reach the edge, and he experimentally moved a bit into the surf, feeling the waves wash over his paws, soaking his fur. It was chilly, but something in him told him that he had to brave it, that he could survive. Cautiously, he waded further into the icy chill, but he did not flinch from its embrace. He tentatively pushed himself from the solid ground, and out into the water proper. He began to paddle with his paws. Safety loomed before him, before long, he would share in its embrace.
"Jacob!" Sarah called out at the figure behind the glass window. Jacob did not turn at first, staring instead down at his body, as if in expectation of something. Marcus looked first at his son, and then at Simpson, "Can he hear us?"
"Not yet." Simpson said looking about the room. "Give me a moment and I'll open up two way communication."
Marcus did not thank him, instead turning to face his son. He was alone in a large chamber, the bare walls an off-white. There was a single door to the chamber, and it appeared to be an airlock of sorts. He was completely nude, and his breath came out as steam. Otherwise, he looked perfectly comfortable.
"Jacob Lanway." Simpson called in a dry voice.
Jacob turned and stared for a moment, then he threw himself at the glass, tears streaming from his eyes and a smile over his lips. "Mom! Dad! Evan! How?"
Sarah burst into tears again, and Marcus fought them back to no avail. "We're here son, and we are going to take you home."
"Looking pretty good, big bro'." Evan remarked, trying to sound casual.
"How did you find me?" Jacob asked, his face still in shock, wet with his own tears.
"You wouldn't believe it." Marcus told him. "But that's not important, all that matters is that now we know that you are alive, and that we are together again."
"Can we go in to be with him?" Sarah looked pointedly at Dr. Simpson.
"Out of the question." Simpson remarked with a shrug. "It's too dangerous, you could all die within seconds of setting foot in that chamber."
"You're just saying that to keep me from my boy!" Sarah declared hotly.
"I wish I were." Simpson said in an almost sympathetic tone of voice. "Part of the virus that we placed in them develops into a second deadly virus that will kill any who are not already infected by the first virus."
"To cut down the population?" Marcus queried.
"Precisely. On a cold world, it is necessary that we reduce the population so that we do not starve ourselves to death." Simpson reasoned.
"What's going to happen?" Jacob asked looking between them all, his whole body pressed against the window as if by doing so he could slip through its very substance.
Simpson turned to look at Jacob and he smiled, "You are going to be one of a new race who will own this world in a scant five years. A meteor will be passing just close enough to the earth in that time to shift the orbit of our planet just slightly. Our atmosphere will turn colder, and from our estimates, humanity cannot survive, and even if they do, they will not flourish ever again. We are trying to make a race that will survive and flourish in such a world, and that is what you are becoming: that new race."
Jacob backed from the mirror and looked over his body once more, and then back up at Simpson, and then to his family. Sarah looked at him with eyes that told him that Simpson was wrong, but for some reason, he wasn't sure how that could be. He knew that he was going to start growing fur before to ouch longer, and then he would join Frederick with the others in the second chamber. What could his parents do? Whatever it was, they had to do something.
Marcus shook his head, "No, you are wrong about that. I can prove it."
Simpson looked him up and down, his face aghast. "Do you know, I believe you are right. Just what am I wrong about?"
Before Marcus could even begin, Dr. Hall burst into the room, his face sweating and his eyes wild. "You better get down to the lounge, Morgenstern and Balakhna are about to blow each other apart."
"I'm rooting for this Balakhna guy." Evan murmured beneath his breath, as Simpson stood thinking.
Simpson looked up at them. "I'm afraid that you’re going to have to come with me, and tell everybody at once just what I am wrong about."
"I want to stay here with my son!" Sarah insisted.
"I'm afraid that's not an option." Simpson reached down for his side arm. What was most surprising was the reaction that passed over his face. His eyes went wide, and his mouth hung open. He looked down at his holster and saw the emptiness before him. He then looked bemused at the Lanway’s. His eyes focused in on Evan, who was waving the gun tauntingly in front of him.
"You little thief!" Simpson roared, jumping for the boy.
Marcus grabbed Simpson by the arm, but Simpson kicked him in the stomach, and palm-thrusted his nose. Marcus fell backwards on his rear clutching his nose, praying that it wouldn't start bleeding. Evan tossed the gun aside just as Simpson was on him. Simpson quickly looked up to see Sarah pick up the gun, and point it directly at him.
"Let go of my son!" each word was enunciated so that he might understand them. He put Evan back to the floor, and stood erect.
"You win, but I need to know what Marcus knows. I must have your cooperation." Simpson told them his face completely honest.
"Why should I believe you? You were going to pull a gun on us." she pointed out, switching the safety off.
"Let me tell you why." Simpson smiled, winking at Dr. Hall who looked shocked by the proceedings. "It has to do with just who has managed to keep you alive these last few days."
Marcus looked at Sarah, whose resolution did not change. He then looked to Jacob, who was standing back from the glass now, his mouth trembling. Evan kept his hands behind his back, keeping away from Simpson. And this newcomer, he kept his eyes on Simpson, sweat pouring over his brow. He then listened to Simpson's explanation.
Balakhna felt the tension in the room, hearing every breath and the beat of every heart. Not a single person moved a muscle; none dared to for the slightest motion could induce a bloodbath. Each one knew that to wait too long would be to invite another party in, but not a single person wanted to take the chance of getting killed himself.
They waited for Simpson to arrive, and arrive he did. He came in from behind Morgenstern, and he could see the self-congratulatory smile on his face. Similarly, Morgenstern must have seen the look of despair on his face. That despair turned to confusion, as there was what appeared to be a family coming in behind him, as well as Dr. Hall.
"Oh I see, it is a stalemate in here." Simpson smiled. "Well, you'll just have to wait to kill each other, Marcus Lanway here has something he'd like to tell us all."
"Simpson, just end this stupid standoff." Morgenstern called back. "Anything that nuisance has to say can wait."
"I'm afraid it can't and when you hear it you'll agree with me." Simpson replied nonplused, and then motioned for Marcus to speak. Marcus smiled at Sarah, who still held Simpson's gun, and then looked at the figures before him in the lounge.
"You all thought that you were saving the human race by what you did, and you fools were in fact condemning it even worse than you realized. For the want of a plus instead of a minus, you would have doomed us to a fiery destruction." Marcus began, building up to what he had to say. "The calculations that you trusted upon by your astronomers Hemley and Houck were flawed! A simple mistake, one that was overlooked for so long, cast a shadow of error over all their conclusions.
"In five years, a meteor will come so close to the Earth hat it will shift the Earth's orbit, but not further from the sun like you had been led to believe, but closer! The Earth's mean temperature by my calculations will rise sufficiently to melt a portion of the ice caps, flooding much of the world, including a fair portion of the North American plains. What land will be left? It will be either mountains, vast swamps, or arid deserts. Making man into a bear will only kill him, as there will be very little cold places left. You have condemned my son to death, as well as several other children I understand. You all should be shot, and it looks like I won't have to wait too long for that." Marcus turned his back, grabbing Evan and Sarah, and leading them back out the door.
"You lie!" Morgenstern called back. For that brief moment, Balakhna was too stunned even to pay close attention to Morgenstern, but fortunately for him, neither was Morgenstern.
"No, I don't." Marcus called back. "Morgenstern, you will die before my son will, I guarantee it."
"Mr. Lanway!" Morgenstern called back, nearly frothing at the mouth.
"He's gone, Samuel." Simpson replied shaking his head. Hall was still dumbstruck; he had signed his own death!
"Well, help me out of this situation then!" Morgenstern looked at Balakhna whose composure had been regained.
"Harris, please stand down." Simpson called out.
"Yes sir." Harris replied, putting away his weapon. Raporov glanced out of the corner at his eye to confirm that Harris had put his gun away. He smiled; knowing that Morgenstern was indeed dead.
"Harris, No!" Morgenstern shouted, now frantic.
"Sorry Samuel, but I am the coordinator, higher up in authority than either Hand of Fate." Simpson declared. "You didn't know that of course, you thought I was your lackey, but that is not true. You have been a little over zealous in your duties, good-bye." Simpson turned and left the room, as did Harris.
"Harris! Simpson! No!" Morgenstern shouted after them, his face pale with fright. He then looked down at the gun that Balakhna held before him, too stunned to even pull his own trigger. Balakhna fired before another moment was out. He fired again, and was joined by Raporov who also shot Morgenstern in the head. Three shots had been fired, and Morgenstern was now dead.
"Good-bye Right Hand. It was a pleasure to work with you." Balakhna said as he rose from his seat, and looked at Raporov in the face. "Would you like to be the New Left Hand of Fate? I just received a promotion."
"Why the Hell not?" Raporov asked shrugging. "After being the Swan for so many years this should be a breeze."
Marcus looked back in on his son, who could no longer hear him, and then up at Simpson. "So now what?"
"Well, obviously you'll have to take Dr. Asgaard's place. He was the project head, and he had the final decision on matters scientific. I think you'll fill his shoes nicely."
"Why should I accept?" Marcus asked him sternly.
"Simple, it is the only way that you can have any control over the life of your son Jacob. Plus if you do not accept I can guarantee that you will never see him again." Simpson pointed out.
"I can still kill you." Sarah pointed out, pointing the gun back at him to reinforce her point.
"I'm just the coordinator, there are others higher above me who are much more effective. I selected you for this position the moment that you escaped Dr. Ryan's office, as I knew that only you could possibly have a chance of making it here. What I did not suspect was that you would actually do all the right things."
"So it was you who got that picture put in the paper." Sarah reasoned.
"Very good. That is true. I figured that you would probably happen across it. I used it to keep you interested in finding your son. Stealing the phone and calling Houck I did not expect, and I must admit made my job all the easier. Morgenstern is predictable enough that I was able to maneuver him into a position to bring you here."
"Wasn't it all a bit chancy though?" Marcus asked.
"Oh yes." Simpson admitted. "Quite. Now will you take the job? If you do, I'm sure that we can work out a way for all those who are turning into bears to have a place to live in this hot New World that we will be entering upon. And of course we need to develop a new serum from a different animal, probably a reptile of some sort."
Marcus looked at Sarah, "I guess I don't have much choice."
"So then you will take it?" Simpson asked expectantly.
"Yes. I will. On one condition. That my family be allowed to stay here free from harm, and that we may be allowed to see our son Jacob at any time."
"Granted." Dr. Simpson smiled. "You have no reason to fear me, as long as you do not try to do anything stupid like inform the world. You know that to do so would be to condemn billions to death by starvation."
"You have my word, which unlike some, actually means something." Marcus held out his hand. Simpson looked down at it, and then reached out and shook it firmly. The two then parted, and regarded each other for a moment. Simpson’s nearly expressionless face turned to one of amusement then, "I probably should inform my superiors of this latest development. Would you care to come with me?"
Marcus gazed into his wife’s face, and then turned back to Simpson, his own face resolute. "No, we are going to go talk with our son, and you are not going to disturb us for quite some time."
"Of course." Simpson nodded, turning on his heels back down the hallway. Evan smiled mischievously, and then walked over to his Father and held up a set of keys. "His?" Marcus asked.
Evan nodded. Sarah started crying once more, still holding the gun in one hand. "We are going to have to do something about this bad habit of yours, Evan." She turned to Marcus, putting one hand on his shoulder, "Let’s go see our son."
Marcus nodded, and then led his family back to the holding chamber, where Jacob awaited them.
Rudya Romanovich Ruskalnikov looked out on the sea before him. He had not heard from Anadyr in a day, and it was going on toward afternoon already. He would head back before another night came upon him. He was running short on supplies, and his radio was dead. It had fallen into a river a ways back, but for some odd reason he continued on. Something was compelling him onward, a force he did not know by name.
As he topped the rise of a hill, he saw why he had been led to this point. Before him lay the Bering Strait, and distant he could see the shores of Alaska. Just a tad out from the shore he could see something swimming in the water. He looked through his binoculars and saw something that amazed him and brought relief to his heart. It was the bear that they had been searching for. Ruskalnikov could go home shortly, without fear of being sent out again.
He raised his rifle, took careful aim, and fired. The one shot broke the silence of the air, and a moment later, he could see it broke the skin of the bear. He saw the outpouring of blood, and then the bear's body slipped below the surface. He watched in nervous anticipation to see if the bear would resurface. He saw one paw come up, and then its head, mouth open, the salt water spilling down its throat, and then it sank again. It did not rise to the surface again.
Ruskalnikov slung his rifle over his shoulder, sighed, disappointed that the end to such an arduous journey would be so anticlimactic. He then turned on his feet, and started back toward his home in Anadyr. He looked over his shoulder one time at the empty sea behind him, and felt a bit of him go out to the bear, wishing him luck in the next life. He then turned back with his face set toward happier shores, and familiar faces. He felt so good that he started to whistle. All was going to be right with the world once more. He whistled a happy tune, which in the silence of the landscape could be heard miles away, even beneath the still waves where a mind that had begun to grow dim, finally succumbed to the abyss.
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