Feodor Arensky slipped on a loose stone, and tumbled down the hill into the riverbank. He had been descending quite rapidly this last day, and by now, the snow was barely an inch deep. Of course now that he had finally found a river, he knew which direction the sea lay. If he could make it to the sea, he would be safe, or at least, he would not be lost.
He had given up trying to orient himself by the stars. Somehow, he always got turned around, and ended up heading north instead of south most of the time. He had kept going east though, he had never stopped going east, but he always seemed to head north despite himself. It was odd that way; he wasn't sure how he could get mixed up like that. Several times he had stopped himself, seeing that through some misstep he could now view Polaris quite easily out of his left eye; each time he had stopped, turned back around, and started heading in the direction he felt he should. If he could get to Anadyr, he would be safe, or so he at first had thought.
Now of course, he really wasn't sure about that. He had been convinced when, as he had crested a slight rise, he saw by the light of the moon several men with large rifles, and dogs. They were looking for him; there was no other way he could explain it. Who else could they be looking for? Nobody else that he had known in the gulag had escaped. The thought of the gulag sent a cold shiver up through his spine. The years he had spent there, were innumerable; the pain he had suffered there, was immeasurable; the echoing of the screams through its sordid halls, were undying.
Feodor lifted himself up from the river, his increasingly thick matting of white fur dripping beneath him. He shook himself off, and then sat down beside a tree for a moment. He was tired, and his whole body was sore. He had run too much, and was exerting himself more than necessary; of course he would be sore. He felt a little silly for not expecting it, but there wasn't much he could now but rest. The tree was nice, a conifer, and he rested in its shade. Beneath it, was the first ground he had seen without snow on it, in many years. He felt the dirt between his fingers, felt it rub between the calluses, dig under his nails. He felt the tree against his back, comforting him even as he lay there. He leaned his head back against it and looked up into the branches. He could see the snow lying in them, holding them down and effectively obscuring him from view. He smiled, and lay there, looking up into the branches, just barely getting a glimpse of the stars
Michael Hall followed Nancy Salinger out of the room. She then began to speak, and Michael realized instantly that he liked her. She was a nice woman, and quite friendly, and yet at the same time, also quite distracted. There was something there that she wasn't telling, something he wanted to know.
"What we are doing here is researching the effects of a mutanagetic virus that has effected many adolescents throughout the United States. We have separated them into three chambers, based upon the extent of their changes, and the virulence of the virus."
"The extent of their changes?" Hall asked. His curiosity now piqued, he could indeed see why they wanted him for this job. If it had to do with biochemical alterations, he was one of the leaders in the field.
"Metamorphic changes." Salinger explained. "You'll see what I mean in a moment."
"That group we saw didn't look unusual too me." Hall pointed out.
"That was the first stage of the virus. All the changes in them are internal at the first stage. For instance, their DNA is not that of a human being, or any other creature known to exist on the face of this earth. Their DNA is in flux if you will."
"So what are these biological changes in the first group you mentioned?" Hall asked. When he had done his research with Dr. Sauer, he had never expected that his area of expertise would ever find a use. The idea of changing your physical structure would be blasphemous to most, as they felt their physical nature was descended from some God. Michael believed in God himself, was a devout Christian, went to church on Sunday, but still, he could not help himself. He had always wanted and hoped that a physical metamorphosis was possible. Now, here was likely evidence that it was indeed conceivable.
"They grow a secondary epidermal layer throughout their body. It is composed primarily of lipids, and carbon chains." Salinger explained.
"So in other words, fat." Hall pointed out.
"Yes, fat, but not like you or I have ever seen before." Salinger continued. She stopped at another door, which had the words "Level 2, Extreme Biohazard" inscribed at eye level. Nancy turned to face him, her eyes distant yet firm, "It is highly concentrated fat, and nearly self-sustaining. It acts as insulation, forcing us to keep their chamber cooled to five degrees Celsius."
"And level 2?" Hall asked.
"The changes start to become external, and the virus mutates itself, becoming quite deadly to any who do not already suffer from it." Nancy replied, he voice quite empty, as if there was something more that she was not telling him. She then snapped out of it, and turned to look him in the eye, "I think seeing it should be pretty much self-explanatory."
Mstislav Kordei Raporov stood on the docks of Anadyr, and looked at the idle boats. He grunted in displeasure, spitting into the surf. The scent of brine was all about him, as was the decaying carcasses of a couple whales that were in the process of being cut down into useful parts. The blubber was always a nice treat; they could sell it to the Eskimos, or the Aleutians; that is of course, if and when they were allowed to leave dock. Of course, the rail down to Khamchatskiy wouldn't be finished for another few months. The only other way out of Anadyr was road, but there was no way to feasibly ship their goods by truck. They lacked the resources to purchase any large trailers, so they depended almost completely on boats for transport. Now that was gone too.
He felt the bite of the fleas in his pants, and he idly scratched at it. Most men really didn't like to come near him, as he was so dirty. However, he liked being that way. He enjoyed the company of lice and fleas. Ticks however were another matter, he didn't lick ticks. He wasn't quite sure what exactly the reason himself was any more, but he knew that he did not like ticks at all. Most doctors wondered how he managed to stay in good health, considering his hygiene was reminiscent of the medieval era. However, Mstislav was a hardy individual, eating well, and getting a lot of exercise. After a while he got use to the stink.
The name Swan he had been given by the KGB had an interesting story to it. He was sure it had something to do with some fable that he had read when he was a child. Whatever the reason, the mission he had performed that had earned him that name was one that many in the KGB will never forget. Tales were still being told about his actions in Afghanistan. He had heard many himself, and found them quite wondrous. At times, he wondered who they were talking about, as the person they were describing was so exaggerated out of proportion, that the original intent of his mission was lost. Raporov liked it that way though.
He heard the footsteps on the dock behind him, and he turned to see several of the dockworkers come with toolchests, moving towards, one of the ships. Raporov watched them go in. He was not stupid. He knew that Balakhna probably suspected that he was conducting his own investigation of the matter. However, Balakhna would not know the substance of that investigation, Raporov was confident of that. In the end, he would probably find out, after all, he was the Left Hand of Fate.
That was one thing that had surprised him. Seeing him for the first time after all these years, he had not expected to find out that there was another Hand of Fate, and in fact, one that was of higher standing; he thought it must be so, as the right hand is considered the better of the two hands in general. Obviously, the Right Hand of Fate, was somebody just a little bit higher than Balakhna. However, just how many body parts of fate were there? Balakhna had spoken of a mouth, could there not be others?
After waiting a good ten minutes, the dockworkers left the ship, that is, all but one. Raporov slipped down into the ship, and looked about. The sole dockworker was there standing, with papers in one hand. He was much taller than Raporov; in fact most people were taller than he. His clothing was nondescript, and his build was that of a seaman. Most people were built like a seaman in Anadyr.
"What do you have for me?" Raporov asked.
"We've located the gulag that Arensky escaped from." he replied, putting the papers down on the table, and unfolding them. It was a map of Northeastern Russia. A small area was circled up in the mountains to the northwest. "We don't know the name of the gulag yet, we couldn't get that information, but we managed to locate it."
"Good, I want a reconnaissance team up there immediately. Do you know who is warden there?"
"No. The place doesn't even exist according to records."
"No gulag does, what's your point?" Raporov replied tersely.
"Even in KGB red files there is no mention of it."
"Check the black files. Our comrade told me that going near the prey is like playing Russian Roulette."
"Obviously." Raporov pointed out. "It would seem logical that he might carry some disease. The black files, as you know catalogue our experimentation facilities. It is possible that this particular gulag was used for that purpose. I cannot be sure though until the reconnaissance team gives me word."
"Should I have them prepared for a biohazard?"
"Yes, but do it quietly. Balakhna will get very suspicious if we start sending men out in environmental suits." Raporov scratched at his fleas again, "Now, is there anything else you have to show me?"
"Yes. " he stated, pulling something out of his pocket. "One of our men managed to spot Arensky, and has been following him discreetly at a distance for the last several days. He's taken these photographs over the course of two days and nights."
Raporov looked over the photographs, and then back up at the dockworker, "Oh my."
Feodor Arensky awoke from his slumber, feeling much better. The sun was up, of course, it was almost always up this far north; of course this time a year, the days were rapidly shortening, and pretty soon, the soon would only rise for a few hours, if that. He looked to it, and knew then which way was southeast. He should have thought of it sooner, but alas, he had been in too much of a hurry to realize it would have been the best astrological sign to follow.
However, as he stood up, he realized that he still felt sore all over. It wasn't just in his muscles either, he felt sore all the way to the bone. They were slightly stiff, and he could hear the joints pop and crack as he flexed them. He stretched for a moment, his eyes drifting to the meandering stream just a few yards away. The sun glinted off both the snow and the rippling of the water. It was only a few deep feet at its middle, and Feodor could see several fish swimming about, unaware of his presence.
The sight of the fish immediately reminded Feodor about another sensation. His stomach was empty, and it called out to him even more as he looked at the fish. They would be raw, but it was most certainly better than trying to eat sticks. However, the problem remained how to get the fish. Sauntering over to the stream, he considered the problem. He lacked the necessary rod and reel, plus bait that he would have normally have used, and just grabbing for them would probably be pretty fruitless. However, there were other methods. If he was quick enough, he might be able to knock them out of the water. However, that required him getting in, and he really didn't feel like soaking. However, there really wasn't a whole lot he could do otherwise.
Then an idea occurred to him. He walked back to the tree, and broke off a long branch, snapping all the twigs from it, so that it was a nice long pole. It was a little shaky, but it could prove useful. If he jabbed hard enough, he might be able to spear the fish. He'd heard of people living in far off countries doing this all the time. It sounded pretty easy, and it wouldn't require him to get too wet.
He stepped a foot into the river, the water flowing about his ankles. He leaned forward, and then nearly toppled into the water. Standing upright again, he shook the last bit of sleep from his head, and leaned forward again. This time he was surer of himself, and readied the pole in his right hand. Peering into the water, he saw several fish swim past, ambivalent to Feodor's intrusion. Their iridescent scales flashed up at him, and he marveled at the beauty, the simplicity they represented. He shook himself from his staring, and then jabbed down at a passing fish. He wasn't sure what type of fish they were, he never was much at ichthyology; to him it was just food.
Of course he missed, and the fish sped away, startled by the pole brushing against his side. Feodor chided himself for misjudging the distance. Of course in water, things are distorted. He continued to remind himself of this as he jabbed at a second fish, and missed again. He gritted his teeth in frustration, and then immediately stopped, as for some odd reason, they felt quite tender. It was probably because that while he had no problem with the cold, his teeth were not as protected. There didn't seem to be other logical reason for it.
On his third try, he also missed, as with the fourth, fifth, and sixth, tries. However, on the seventh try, he managed to get it right, spearing the fish back near it's tail. He smiled, and pulled the pole up, the fish caught quite cleanly on it. Feodor gently pulled the fish off the pole, holding it tightly in his right hand. He dropped the pole behind him, and then let out a cry as one of the fins sliced through his skin. He tried to hold onto it still, but it flopped its way out of his now bleeding hand. He tried to reach for it with his left, but in so doing, he overcompensated, and he fell face first into the stream. He rose to the surface, his right palm bleeding, and his fur (there really wasn't any other way to describe it except as fur) drenched and clinging to his body miserably.
He held back the anger swelling in him as he calmly sucked the blood out of his hand. The taste of it was not as bitter as he had thought it might be; actually, it was strangely appealing. He took his hand out of his mouth, horrified at the pleasure he got out of sucking on his own blood. He returned his attention to the stream, and the myriad fish swimming chaotically about him. He reached out with his bloodied hand, and slapped at a passing one, sending it sailing onto the bank. In his anger, he did not notice how successful the tactic proved to be, until he had managed to slap six or seven up onto the bank.
He stared at the fish flopping pathetically on the bank, and he smiled sort of. He looked at the pole that had proved so useless, and laughed mirthfully to himself. He clambered up out of the river, and sat down about the struggling fish. He quickly began breaking off parts he didn't particularly fancy eating, the tail and head, and then set about to chew out the meat inside. He managed to finish five of them before he was so rudely interrupted.
In retrospect, he really should have heard him coming, he wasn't that silent, and the sounds of the hounds he was accompanied by, should have clued him in. However, he had been eating, and they shouldn't have disturbed him. However, such thoughts did not change the fact that while he saw there gnawing on the fifth fish, a voice called from over the hill, "All right Arensky, I see you, don't move." The voice spoke in Russian, which Feodor understood quite clearly.
Feodor turned to look at the man who stood atop the hill aiming a rifle at him. He couldn't tell the make of the rifle, he had seen so many of them in his time. Beside him were two huskies, both whining and pawing at the ground, looking at Feodor nervously. The man gasped when Feodor turned around, and he nearly lost control of the rifle. Feodor considered making a run for it, but he suspected the man would probably regain his composure by then.
"Just leave me alone." Feodor called back. To Feodor's surprise, his voice sounded different, actually deeper and more guttural than before. He didn't know whether this frightened him or excited him. After spending so many years in the gulag, he had trouble distinguishing between his emotions; all he knew was that the sound of his deeper voice stimulated him in some way.
"Don't move!" the man replied, his voice quavering.
"Well, you might as well shoot me." Feodor called back, his voice rumbling. "I am not going to go with you. I will not go back there. Do you hear me, I am not going back there!"
"You will come with me. A friend waits for you in Anadyr." the man replied, now with a reasonable measure of control over the weapon.
Feodor looked at the man and the two dogs that were backing as far as possible away from him. They had gone to Anadyr; it was no longer safe for him. He had to head for the Bering Strait, and cross over into Alaska. Once there, they couldn't touch him. Looking at the stream, he noticed that it went in a generally northeastern direction. He'd follow the stream till it reached the ocean, and then just follow the coastline until he could see Alaska. He'd have to hurry though, until he was out of Russia, he was not safe.
"I told you, you will have to shoot me, I am not coming with you." Feodor replied. He would indeed rather die than go back to what they had in store for him. While in the gulag, he had considered suicide many times. Each time however, he realized that he could not die in those chambers; he had to attain freedom first before he could let himself die. Now he was free, so now he could die.
The man shot a warning shot over Feodor's head. "You will follow me. I insist..." then the man began to choke. It was just coughing at first, and he looked like he had recovered form it after a second. Then suddenly, his eyes bulged from his face, and he grasped at his throat with both hands, dropping the gun as he did so. Feodor watched, his eyes locked on the writhing man. The huskies cried in terror, trying to lick the man's face, not knowing what was wrong. Feodor saw that from out of the man's mouth began to spill blood, and not just blood, but also large chunks of flesh, as he continued to hack and cough. Feodor watched in terror as he toppled to the ground, sliding down the slope to rest only yards away from Feodor's feet.
Feodor moved closer to watch, not sure what was happening, "Are you all right?" he asked, but he knew that it was a foolish question. The man was hacking up his lung, and after a while it looked like more than that, as grayish ooze began to spill out his nose and ears. The blood vessels began to spring out all over his body, and he could see that in some places they had burst the skin, and soaked his clothes. Feodor tried desperately to keep the fish he had just eaten inside his stomach as he watched the grisly disintegration of the man who had spotted him. In moments, even the writhing stopped, as every part of his body drained slowly into the stream, discoloring it a dirty red, not even the color of blood, just of muck.
Feodor turned then and ran. He ran past the decayed form of the man, ran away from the two howling dogs, ran past the two uneaten fish, just ran. He ran, following the stream, his heart pounding in his ears, his stomach trying to heave at even the faintest recollection of the sight. He felt the slickness to his fur fling off at him as he ran; he felt the soreness and tenderness of every bone and muscle in his body increase. He felt a slow throbbing throughout every part of his body, and through it all he could only think of one thing. He was responsible for that man's death. For some reason, he didn't know what, he had to be responsible.
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