Kuzma sits with his back straight, his hands on the table, palms down, as still as a millpond, looking straight ahead at the mirror. Two hours and still they waited on the other side. He didn’t mind. Time was his ally.
He is certain that the air conditioning was intentionally shut off, but his disciplined mind refuses to despair, instead taking his body through a cool down routine that keeps him physically and mentally from overheating. He imagines those assembled on the other side of the mirror are perplexed by his crisp, clean appearance. Even his white button down shows no signs of perspiration.
With steady gaze, he stares at the mirror, refusing to turn toward the door when he hears it open. The approach is slow, methodical and the slamming of the thick folder on the table in front of him is meant to unnerve. Amateurs.
A square jawed, crew cut behemoth fills the space between him and the mirror, places his palms flat on the table next to Kuzma’s and leans in until Kuzma can smell the cigarettes on his breath. The behemoth stares into Kuzma’s eyes for a full minute, neither blinking or speaking until finally the behemoth says, “Explain exactly what the fuck is going on.”
His voice is gravelly. At least a pack a day smoker. Kuzma thinks, I’m doing you a favor. “You seem to have everything already,” he says glancing down at the folder. “Are you incapable of understanding?”
The behemoth leans away, a scowl on his face. “So, this is the way you’re going to play it. A tough guy. A smart guy with a smart-ass mouth. Think you’re all superior and shit. Well,” he lets out a short snort, “I guess maybe we had it wrong. We thought that if we were nice, you’d be inclined to have a nice conversation, maybe explain why people across the planet are dropping dead like month old houseflies. But hey, I’m down with getting all Gitmo on your ass.”
This time it is Kuzma who snorts.
“You think that’s funny?” The behemoth is back in his face, lips pulled back into a snarl, yellow teeth glistening with spittle.
“Yes,” Kuzma answers, a smile on his face. “Because you have the information and you are incapable of processing it, so you resort to bullying tactics. Very childlike.”
The behemoth reaches forward, grabbing Kuzma by his shoulders and lifts him from his seat, when suddenly his eyes go wide, he releases his grip and puts his hands to his temples. Immediately his face becomes bright red and he teeters, tries to grip the table on his way down, and crashes to the floor. Kuzma doesn’t need to check, he already knows, the behemoth is dead.
She sets a bottle of spring water in front of him a takes the seat opposite. She is tall, perhaps over two meters, with long brown hair and a small mole on her chin. Above her high cheek bones, grey eyes, probably an eight on the Martin scale, stare back at him.
“My name is Riley McManus and I work for the Center for Disease Control. She extends her hand in greeting.
Kuzma accepts it but maintains silence. He is interested in this approach, which he is certain is not another attempted seduction like the French tried, nor the brutal interrogation approach of the Germans, Brits and now, the Americans. No, this is something different, and he is hopeful. He unscrews the lid and sips the water.
“And you are Kuzma Ivanov, known in Onionland as Angel Smerti—the Angel of Death.”
Kuzma sighed. “An unfortunate nickname bestowed by the over-dramatic.”
“Your file,” she continues without acknowledging his comment, “indicates that you are a chemical engineer, educated at MIT, the Imperial College London, Kyoto University and Delft University of Technology.”
“To be exact, Ms. McManus, I never attended Delft or Kyoto, however I participated in a joint study with those institutions.”
“I see,” she says, making a notation in his file. “And you work for the Russian Government?”
Kuzma’s smile is sad. “I am currently unemployed.”
“But you did work for the Russian Government,” she glances at the folder, “for a classified subgroup of the defense ministry.”
“Het. I worked for the Ministry of Health.”
She makes another notation and Kuzma notices the ring on her hand.
“And this agent, was it something you developed at the Ministry of Health?”
“Het. We did not develop it. It is natural.”
She frowns. “I’m sorry, Mr. Ivanov, but this agent has been studied by the best biological and chemical engineers on the planet and they have never seen this before.”
He nods in agreement.
“So why is that?” she asks.
“What possibilities have you reached?”
She looks away, then down, then back to him. “That this agent was manufactured, or was discovered in a place not previously explored, or is not from this world.”
He smiles. “Very good.”
“Mr. Ivanov, I don’t mean to be rude, but time is critical if we are to find a cure.”
His smile disappears and for the fleetest of seconds, he feels melancholy. He shakes his head slowly.
“No, as in, you won’t help us, or no that there is no cure.”
“Both,” he whispers.
Several seconds pass in silence before she replies, “But you worked for the Ministry of Health. You are supposed to keep people healthy, yet millions are dying.”
“And some are not.”
“Yes, some are not.” She becomes still as if the thought had not occurred to her. “Some have not, but are you telling me that some never will? Are some people immune?”
“Ms. McManus, you concluded that the origin of the agent was either manufactured, a remote discovery or not from this world. I told you we did not manufacture it, leaving the latter two possibilities which are each correct. Immunity implies the body’s ability to fight a disease through antibodies or sensitized white blood cells. This is not the case.”
She is furiously scribbling notes in his folder, her hair falling over her eyes. She looks up, pushing the hair back behind one ear. “Go on,” she implores.
Kuzma shrugs. “What else is there to say? Some people will die, some will not and there is nothing to be done about it.”
“But you don’t know that,” she says. “If we know what this agent is, how it works—what?”
Kuzma is shaking his head. “I know what it is. I know what it does. There is no cure, Ms. McManus, no way to undo what has been done. I’ve spent a decade researching this with some of the best minds in the world. Let it be. Everything is going to be fine.”
She stares, mouth open, eyes wide. Her eyes flutter, then narrow. “Ten years. You’ve known about this for ten years.”
“June 25th, 2007. That is the day we discovered it,” he says matter-of-factly. “Within a month, we knew it was something alien. Within six months we knew its effect on lab specimens and at just over two years, having visited the site himself, Putin ordered limited testing on human subjects, initially prisoners.”
She is making furious notes in the file, which amuses him since he knows every word is being recorded.
“So, this is some sort of chemical weapon? Something not ready for deployment that got away from you,” she guessed.
“Not precisely. Chemical, yes. Weapon,” he extends his hand, palm down and tilts it to and fro. “Putin thought it had defensive weapon potential, and thus redirected our efforts in that pursuit.”
“An alien chemical agent discovered in 2007, which Putin visited in 2009 that is remote…Lake Baikal?”
“Excellent, Ms. McManus.”
“And you said, both remote and alien, so…an asteroid? At the bottom of Lake Baikal?”
Kuzma beams and nods. “Brilliant, Ms. McManus.”
“And the substance was thought to be of defensive weapon value, but no more. Because Putin is dead. Like most of the world’s leaders, like multiple millions of people around the world. And there is nothing that can stop it.”
Kuzma extends his hands toward her palms up.
“Some people are affected, some are not, and you say, ‘Everything is going to be fine.’”
“Life will go on, Ms. McManus. Humans will continue to exist on the planet, and the world will be a safer place.”
“A safer place. Millions dying, every military in the world on maximum alert, the doomsday clock at one minute until midnight, and you are acting as if this is no big deal. Are you insane, Mr. Ivanov?”
“I don’t believe so, Ms. McManus, though history may judge me as so.”
She leans away from him, staring wide eyed. “Did you do this? Are you the one who made it global?”
“I was part of a small group, yes.” He adjusts his position on the chair. “Though you need not worry about the doomsday clock. There will be no nuclear exchange, no global war, it simply isn’t possible.”
She rubs at the mole on her chin, her eyes distant.
“Ms. McManus, I see you are engaged to be married, congratulations. You want a future, and I assure you there will be one. What does your fiancé do for a living?”
“Excuse me?” she asks, pulled back to the conversation.
Kuzma repeats the question.
“She’s a doctor. She works with Doctors Without Borders.”
“Is she a violent person?”
“Violent? No, of course not.”
“Then you have nothing to be concerned. As Spock would say, ‘Live long and prosper.” He smiles at her and scoots back in his chair as if to leave.
“Wait,” she says reaching out and grasping his hand. “Please, stay. Help me to understand.”
Kuzma hesitates, then scoots his chair forward. “Okay. Ms. McManus, are you a religious person?”
“Not particularly,” she admits.
“Are you familiar with the Christian bible?”
“A little—wait, are you talking Revelation? The Apocalypse?”
“Het. I am referring to the Beatitudes.”
Her brow furrows as she tries to recall the Baptist Sunday School lessons of her Texas youth.” The blessings? The Blessed be the whatevers?”
Kuzma chuckles. “Yes, the blessings. From the Sermon on the Mount. God has sent us a gift from the heavens. He sent it millennia ago, but we have only recently been able to receive it and now, to share it.”
“You’ve lost me, Mr. Ivanov.”
Her eyes narrow and Kuzma sees she is suspicious, believing he is some religious zealot trying to bring about the end of the world. He holds up a finger and starts to recite. “Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.” A second finger, “Blessed are those who mourn: for they will be comforted.” A third finger, “Blessed are the meek: for they will inherit the earth.” He stops, smiling, certain that she will now understand.
“I don’t understand,” she says.
“The Smyrnoi. The Meek. They will inherit the earth. That is happening now. The aggressive, the violent, they are dying. The smyrnoi, the meek, they are not. They are inheriting the earth.”
She sits back, color draining from her face.
“You are trying to imagine such a world,” Kuzma says nodding. “Do not be afraid, it is good.”
“But, so many people are dying,” she says quietly.
“Violent people. War mongers. Hateful people. We have created a new world—a safer, peaceful world. Tell me, Ms. McManus, would you have done differently?”
Tom Gumbert lives in the woods with his wife Andrea in a log home overlooking the Ohio River, in an area that was an active part of the Underground Railroad. Operations Manager by day, Tom is a daydreamer with eclectic tastes in what he reads and writes.
Tom is honored and humbled to have had short stories appear in wonderful online and print publications throughout the U.S., U.K., Canada, Ireland, and Australia. He
co-authored the anthology, “Nine Lives,” which was published by All Things That Matter Press, and can occasionally be found working on his novel.