THE LIVING STATUES: RED MAFIA PART 2
Continued from Part 1
Sergei lived in a large flat near the center of the city, just off Gerasimov. He had a large dacha to the north, close to St. Petersburg, and the flat was adequate for the time he spent in Moscow. The flat was made up of six smaller apartments in an old workers' residence, the walls torn out and reconfigured. Gennady kept the Zil parked in a nearby shed, and there was no indication that anyone but old service widows and factory workers might live in the area. Sergei liked it that way. When he wanted to impress, he could pick someone up in the Zil, he could meet them at one of the Western-style hotels near the Kremlin. In a country as changeable as Russia, Sergei found an anonymous residence helpful.
He sat with a tumbler of Stolichnaya in one hand, a cell phone in the other, staring out one of the large tinted windows at the grey skyline. "What do you mean, a holdup with the ship? There are limits to how long I can keep this cargo. I'm still awaiting the specifications, by the way… yes, yes, I understand… look, you have my fax number. My medical director is coming by, and… that's right. You are beginning to understand. I need that now!" He stabbed at the power-off button on the phone, fuming.
Gennady sat near the door, pretending as usual to read Isvestia, watching Sergei for any possible instructions. Gennady was a fairly simple man, content to await his master's bidding. A bell sounded. Gennady neatly folded his paper, and peered at a closed-circuit TV screen carefully. "Sir, the Doctor is in the elevator."
Sergei continued to stare out the window. "Let him up. Then leave us."
Gennady nodded. "Yes, sir. Shall I see to the car?"
Sergei waved him away. "Whatever you like. Just be sure to keep your phone on standby, in case I should need anything."
The Doctor came into the apartment just as Gennady left, nodding in recognition. "Sergei."
Dr. Godorov sat. He never thought twice about rejecting a simple order from Sergei - it was easier to placate him, his temper was legendary, and his reputation… well, it was easier to placate him.
Sergei set down the tumbler of vodka and the phone, and began pacing. He liked to pace when he was thinking, or when he was working to close a deal - it calmed him somehow. "Godorov, what is our inventory status?"
"We have 37 units in storage at the moment."
"How many programmed?"
"Well, Sergei, you know that the programming is harder when the units are in cold storage. Synapses are greatly slowed, connections are weaker, the device is less reliable. This has slowed the projected timetable and…"
Sergei stopped pacing. "Godorov, I didn't ask you to make excuses. I asked you how many units are programmed?"
"At present, 14. I hope to have 21 ready by tonight. We should be able to start 7 more this afternoon."
Sergei started to pace again. "That's not as big a crisis as it could have been. You should be thankful for that. There have been more shipping delays. How long can the units travel?"
"Well, we've had to rely on external cooling, so we're storing at about minus 10 Centigrade - 25 days, I suppose, before they'll need oxygen and a warming cycle. Go any longer, and the serum might not be adequate. Brain damage."
"Hm. That would be a big spoilage problem, yes? Can we ship at a lower temperature?"
"I would need the proper equipment. We used the deep freeze serum dosages. We can go as low as you want. It's just a matter of proper containment and equipment."
"You draw up a list of what you need. You'll have it, by noon. Our contacts in America are becoming nervous that we will be unable to deliver. Oh, and Godorov?"
"The two from the other night, the ballerina and her friend?"
"Make sure they're ready. Our sex doll buyer is anxious, and I want both of them out of sight soon. There's been some heat at the secondary warehouse."
There was no signal, just a feeling of puzzlement. Where am I?, Katryn asked herself after a time. She waited. Nothing was replacing the floating of her dreamless sleep. Where am I?
She could see nothing, no shapes anyway. It wasn't black, though - it was a foggy gray, featureless but textured, like the city at dusk. She could hear nothing, no traffic, no mechanical sounds, no brisk wind, nothing. She breathed, and nothing happened. She felt no movement, no taste or smell of air, neither moist or dry, nothing at all. Am I dead? In her mind, she rolled around. She thought she felt movement, but there was no tactile feeling outside her own body. Her body seemed awkward, contorted somehow… and it was cold. Very, very cold. Did I freeze to death? Cold. Freeze. Snow. She had been dumped in the snow… and it all rushed back to her.
She could see some shapes moving about very rapidly, and it occurred to her that her eyes were probably frosted over. She thought she should be frightened, angry, something, but it was as thought all the emotion was frozen inside her.
Hello? It was a voice. Or was it? Was she hallucinating?
Hello? Slightly more than a whisper. The voice sounded insistent in some way, perhaps commanding. Are you ready to listen to me now?
Listen to who?, she thought.
To me, the voice answered. She had to be hallucinating. What should I listen to?, she thought.
To what I'm going to tell you.
Who are you?, she thought.
I am… your teacher. Let's begin. The voice was so insistent, she couldn't refuse.
Dr. Godorov leaned over Katryn's stiff body, attaching sensors and meters. He talked into a microphone on his lapel, making field notes. Godorov was a meticulous notetaker. He had been a biologist in the NKVD's secret laboratories for years, until Yeltsin and his ilk put he and his team out in the street. Above all else, he remained a scientist, even in Sergei's service.
"Subject 110812, a 20 year old female, 175 centimeters long, 53.6 kilos. Axillary skin temperature is minus 22.4 Centigrade. Rectal core temperature is minus 9.3 Centigrade. The Pokharin metabolic suppression and vitrification serum was administered in the maximal dose for a specimen of reported size and mass. Metabolic function is suppressed to 0.08% of normal parameters, with synaptic function at 1.24% of normal parameters. Synaptic programming modification commenced at 1130 hours. Since transfer of the subject will begin this evening, a programming unit will be placed in the subject container, and programming will continue during transit. Despite further cooling, programming should be completed in 22 days."
Godorov waved over two of Sergei's henchmen. They were always around, watching and waiting. Sergei liked them big and dumb. Godorov didn't mind; they did all the heavy lifting. "Gentlemen, will you help me place this one in the storage bag?" While they rolled out the bag, the doctor placed a small device around the outside of Katryn's right ear, then carefully ran a wire down to a small grey object lodged deeply inside her ear. He tested a small hand-held device, looking for some small lights. Satisfied that the device was working, the three of them put on elbow-length heavy insulated gloves and lifted Katryn's body over the bag. It was made of very thick translucent plastic. Once her body was inside the bag, it was sealed with a zipper and a waterproof gasket. The only remaining opening in the bag was a small cap, like the opening on a waterbed. Godorov opened the cap, and slid a hose into the bag. One of the henchmen turned a faucet at Godorov's signal, and a thick clear gel started rushing into the bag. The doctor filled the bag until it was roughly cylindrical, with Katryn's body suspended roughly in the middle, then motioned for the faucet to be stopped.
"Subject 110812 was placed in a Number 2 transit bag, filled with 300 liters of refrigerated silicon gel. The transit bag was placed in a liquid helium dewar at 1150 hours, to be maintained until transfer." While the doctor recorded, the henchmen opened the end of a big stainless steel cylinder, disgorging steam, and slid the bag inside.
"Next will be subject 110813. Keep moving, gentlemen. Five to go."
Mitch was sweating harder than he could remember sweating in years. That'll teach me to sit around too much, he thought. It had been hard to get out and run, with the heavy snow in early December, and last minute Christmas shoots. Most of the girls were taking an extended holiday break. Natalie and Susan were in the Caribbean, Jennifer and Amy off wherever each had gone. Cindy, of course, was still there - Dan hadn't come by, but Mitch had seen his car in the area once or twice. Kristen hadn't had any interest in going away. Mitch thought about letting her free, just to see what might happen between them. I'm a big fuckin' chicken, he realized.
He was at the edge of the forest now, nearly back to the house. Snow hung heavily in the tree branches. The whole area looked like a Christmas card. It made him think about a shoot in the snow, naked flesh against the cold white. He chuckled to himself. He was already supposed to be thinking about a swimwear shoot!
Then there was the cryptic letter from Allen. He hadn't spent more than a half-dozen evenings with Allen since acquiring the Immobilizer. Allen had become involved in a number of things he couldn't really talk about, and eventually moved from New York to Washington. Out of the blue, a big envelope arrived in mid-December. Allen was having something shipped from Eastern Europe, he said, and needed somewhere discreet for the package to arrive. Would Mitch let him ship it to his house? Mitch was uncomfortable with the idea, but had the nagging feeling he owed Allen big time, and said yes. The package was supposed to arrive by the end of December - any day now.
How can I sweat this much in the middle of winter?, Mitch thought. Only one more mile!
Kristen sat still in the living room, along with Mitch's Cindy-table and couch. She had developed the habit of trying to find increasingly provocative storage poses for Mitch. She knew it drove him crazy, and the idea of torturing him a little was exciting for her. Every once in a while, getting ready for a shoot, she thought about propositioning him. He was awfully attractive, and obviously attracted to her, she figured. And how long had it been since her last boyfriend, anyway? To her, it had been months - God only knew how long on a calendar!
This time, she had sat on the edge of the Cindy-table, both crossing her legs and turning her torso to her left, with one arm drawn across her breasts, the other loose with her hand covering any hint of public hair. The effect was provocative in an R-rated way, without showing much. She knew Mitch liked to be able to freely look at her body, and she had guessed rightly that the pose drove him nuts.
This time, though, when Mitch came in, he just couldn't shake the idea of a winter shoot. He went to the Immobilizer controls, and brought Kristen back for the first time in three weeks.
She stretched slowly, langurously, like a cat, then stood up. "Hiya, Mitch!" She looked around slowly. "Where is everyone?"
Mitch was fumbling through his equipment drawers, not even looking her way. "It's Christmas time, remember? You were the one who didn't want to leave, as I recall."
"Wow, Christmas already. That's a little disorienting." She sauntered over to him, as he continued moving around equipment. He looked in her direction. He was still surprised how quickly she had become comfortable with walking around naked. Most of the time, he forgot to leave out a robe. She put a hand on his shoulder. "Don't suppose you have any mistletoe?"
He smiled, and completely missed the reference - he was in photo mode. "Nope, but I have a Santa hat. Here, try it on!"
I don't think I'll ever understand him, Kristen thought. She put the hat on, tilted it at a jaunty angle, smiled. "Christmas chic?"
He stood back, surveying. "Not bad. I was out running…"
"I can see that!"
"… and it clicked for me. A winter shoot. What better photo contrast than you against the white of the snow, huh?"
Her smile faded. "In the snow? Like, me? Like with no clothes on, outside, in the snow?"
He was oblivious. "Yeah, won't it be great?"
She shook him by the shoulder. "What, are you drunk?"
"Wha… huh? No, I'm not drunk! Look, it's not that cold out. Haven't you ever made naked snow angels, or anything like that?"
"Naked snow angels? Are you sure you're not drunk?"
"Hm. I'll make you a deal. To prove that it's not that cold…" He took off his jacket and running pants, leaving a T-shirt and running shorts. "I'll go out like this. Besides, I can just immobilize you. You won't feel a thing."
She gave him a mischievous smirk. "Only if you make sure I get good and warmed up when we come back in. And you'd better not leave me immobilized in the snow very long!"
"Promise! I promise!"
"I'm not really enthused about being outside either."
"Come on, we're in the middle of nowhere. We go sometimes two weeks between cars on that road, you know that."
She eyed him suspiciously. "As long as you're sure…"
"I'm sure, I'm sure. Now let me see here… lens, film, camera, good light outside today… that's it. Let me grab you a robe."
"Don't bother. If I'm going to be cold, I'm going to be cold. Let's get this over with."
He reached for a small box on the end of a long reel of cord. "Best remote control I could come up with." She held the front door open while he reeled out the cord.
She winced at the cold snow under her feet. "Oh, you're going to owe me big for this, Mitch. Really big. Okay, now what?"
"Hm… how about a snow angel?"
"You've got to be… really big, Mitch, you're going to owe me so big you won't know what to do!" She walked out into the calf-deep snow, the cold biting into her lower legs. "Get that damn camera ready - aaaah!" She abruptly plopped down into the snow, and started making a snow angel. She started laughing.
Mitch stopped after a couple of shots. "What's so funny?"
She sat up. "Come here."
"Just come here."
He set his equipment on a towel on the edge of the driveway, and wandered out into the snow, the cold sinking into his lower legs, too.
She smiled at him. "Well, come on."
"Your turn. Make a snow angel."
He stared at her for a while. Then he plopped down into the snow, flailing his arms and legs, throwing snow in every direction. And he laughed before he sat up. "God, I haven't done that in years. Okay, a couple more shots, and we're done."
She shivered. "Thank God. Now what?" She was laying back on her elbows, propping her back off the snow.
He abruptly reached down, grabbed the remote controller and a wad of snow, and winged the snow right at Kristen. It caught her right across the breasts, and she started to sit bolt upright in surprise and cold shock. He caught her right in mid-rise, half angry, half laughing.
"Sorry, but I figured I'm in trouble anyway, right?" He snapped off a couple of pictures. Kristen, still in shock, was lingering in consciousness, when she heard the sound of snow crunching under tires at the end of the driveway! Oh my God!, she thought. A car?? Then she could see a panel truck, just beginning the slow drive up to the house. This is way past owing me big time, she thought as she disappeared into a cold fog.
Mitch's mind raced at a thousand miles per hour. How was he going to explain a naked woman in the snow, unmoving, to the truck driver? He looked back at her, certainly unconscious by now, looked at the advancing truck - Thank God it's a long, snowy drive, he thought - and saw the snow shovel. God, she's going to kill me. He managed to cover her with four big shovelfuls just as the truck drew close to the house.
The driver hopped out. "You Mr. Kirkland?"
"Hm. Shovel your drive in shorts very often?"
"Wha…? Oh, the shorts! Well, I was out running, and I'm a photographer. Just had to try and catch this elk I saw."
The driver took a hard look at him. "Uh-huh. I have a crate for you. Sign here please. Want it in the garage?"
"Uh, sure… Wait, can you get it in the house?"
The driver eyed the front door. "Not through that door. You got French doors, or sliding?"
"Got a clear path?"
"Sidewalk. Let me grab the shovel in case there's been any drifting."
"Let me get my partner. It's really big."
The crate was big, all right, almost 7 feet long and better than 3 feet high and wide. It was heavy, too, judging from the strain both the driver and his partner showed as they pushed the crate around the back of the house on a cart. They left the crate sitting near Mitch's equipment carts.
As soon as the truck was headed down the street, Mitch raced back to the snowpile on top of Kristen. She had definitely been in the cold too long, although the Immobilizer slowed physical responses too much for her to become frostbitten. He mulled over whether to wake her up or not, decided to use a dolly and wheel her back inside. He set her in front of his gas fireplace, on a thick blanket, wrapped her in another blanket, and left her Immobilized. First, he wasn't prepared to deal with her. Second, he was damn curious about the crate.
He walked around and around it. It was stamped in various places with blue letters he couldn't read; they looked Russian or something. There was an invoice packet on the side, with a small box inside. The word INSTRUCTIONS was written in English on the box.
"Package, my ass," Mitch said aloud. Allen hadn't told him whether to open it or not. He had asked him to call, though. It took two or three transfers for him to reach Allen's office.
"Allen Byrne's office."
"Hi, this is Mitch Kirkland calling. Is Allen in?"
"I'm sorry, Mr. Kirkland, Mr. Byrne is in a meeting right now, but he left me a message for you."
"He told me to tell you to be sure and open the package immediately, not to wait under any circumstances. He'll call you as soon as he gets out of his meeting. I was told to let him know immediately when you called."
"Okay, tell him I'm following the enclosed instructions, and to call me as soon as he can."
"Thank you for calling, Mr. Kirkland."
Weirder and weirder, Mitch thought. He went to find some scissors, then extracted the box marked INSTRUCTIONS .
The contents didn't simplify things in the slightest:
CONTENTS: One unit; storage bag; instructions; handheld controller; operations manual; pumping device
STEP 1: Open the crate.
Carefully open the top of the crate, followed by one side.
STEP 2: Decant the unit.
Examine the contents of the enclosed storage bag. If the contents appear fully liquid, drain the enclosed storage bag using the enclosed pumping device. If the contents are not fully liquid, let the bag sit at room temperature until the contents liquify. WARNING: contents contain silica; be sure to dispose properly. Once the bag is drained, open the sealing gasket and unzip the bag. CAREFULLY remove the unit from the bag. WARNING: unit may remain at or near cryogenic storage temperature - use appropriate care in handling.
STEP 3: Prepare the unit for activation.
Check the core temperature of the unit. Leave the unit at room temperature until core temperature returns to a minimum of 25 degrees Centigrade. Once the unit reaches 25 degrees Centigrade, follow established procedures for warming from hypothermia. Consult attached document for complete warming instructions.
STEP 4: Activate unit.
WARNING: Be sure to fully rinse unit, to remove any silica residue. Once unit reaches a core temperature of 34 degrees Centigrade, select the ACTIVATE mode on the handheld controller. The handheld controller allows considerable control over unit operations. Consult operations manual for details.
The whole thing was completely beyond Mitch. Some kind of robot?
He went to his shop in the garage, and came back with a crowbar. He stopped for a moment to check on Kristen, who was warming up nicely, then peeled the top off the crate. Most of the interior was filled with a thick plastic bag, full of liquid. It reminded him of a waterbed mattress. In one corner was a small box, which contained a battery-operated pump and two long hoses - one to go into the bag, the other to drain the contents. He decided to just drain into his sump - what the hell else am I going to do with this stuff?, he thought. The drain cap was right on top of the bag, so he decided not to open the sides yet, in case the bag became loose. He opened the cap, and a bit of the contents dripped on his finger. It was really cold, at least as cold as ice water.
He sat next to Kristen while the bag drained, trying to figure out what he was going to say to her when he let her wake up. He decided to develop the photos - maybe they'd be good enough to let him weasel his way out of the situation! While he was working, he heard the small pump shut off.
He peered down into the box. The bag had mostly collapsed, but he could clearly see the gasket that hid the zipper. Carefully - the bag was very cold - he opened the zipper, pulling open the bag. It was dark at the bottom of the box, so he got a flashlight, and shined it into the bag. The first thing he saw was the face of a woman, incredibly pale, fixed in exquisite ecstacy. He heard himself scream, seemingly at a distance, and felt himself run for the front door, before he regained a tiny bit of composure.
He forced himself to return to the crate, and look in again. Unit? This was a unit, to be prepared for activation with a controller? Something really strange was going on here. Allen, you owe me big time, Mitch thought as he began taking the side off the crate.
The half-frozen woman inside the crate was pleasuring herself with a vibrator - the whole thing just kept getting stranger and stranger. There was a rectal thermometer with a gauge at the exposed end. The core temperature was minus 2 degrees Centigrade, so it was going to be a while before he got any answers. Mitch carefully removed the woman's body from the crate, and placed it atop the same blanket Kristen had been wrapped in. He carried Kristen over to the couch, and wrapped her in a terry cloth robe. He decided to get some sleep, and wait for Allen's call.
Mitch stumbled out to the living room. Kristen was still there, wrapped in a robe and lying on the couch. His Cindy-table was still there. There was a disassembled crate and a rumpled, heavy plastic bag. And there was a naked woman on a blanket. She lay more composed now. She was slick with the gel that had drained from the storage bag, and her limbs had dropped to a near resting pose. The vibrator had slid from her, but not the thermometer. It showed a core temperature of 26 degrees Centigrade, so Mitch followed the warming instructions and drew a bath. It gave him a chance to rinse off the gel, too.
She was young, probably younger than Kristen, and strong. She was tall, probably 5-8 or so, and slender - she reminded him of a dancer he had dated once. There was a device that looked a lot like an Immobilizer wrapped around her right ear, but a wire came out of the device and snaked down inside her ear. He could barely see a greyish object of some kind, deeply wedged into her ear. She had dark hair, pulled back sharply from her forehead into a sort of bun. Her hair was probably fairly long, he thought.
She warmed rapidly. By the time he dried her and laid her on his bed, the temperature reading had risen to 34 degrees Centigrade. He pondered the handheld controller, as the instructions called it. It was a little bigger than a television remote control, with a numeric keypad and a small screen like the LCD panel on a calculator. The biggest buttons were marked ACTIVATE and DEACTIVATE. He pressed the ACTIVATE button. The LCD panel lit up slightly.
It said WORKING… ACTIVATION IN 15:00. The time immediately began counting down.
When the time said 5:20, the telephone rang.
Mitch grabbed it eagerly. "Allen?"
"Mitch. I'm so sorry I didn't get a call to you before. We have a big mess on our hands. Did the, uh, package arrive intact?"
"Allen, this is weird. Very, very, very weird. I unpacked the, uh, package like the instructions said to. Warmed it up, or her up, or whatever that thing is. Jesus, Allen, this gives me the creeps."
"It's all right, Mitch. I'll be up there in a couple of hours. So is it back up to normal temperatures?"
"Uh, huh… 36 degrees Centigrade now."
"Great. Just leave her then, until I get up there with my team."
"Leave her? But the instructions said to push the ACTIVATE button."
"Shit. Push the ACTIVATE button? Shit. Tell me you didn't do that. Please tell me you didn't do that."
"Allen, I followed the fucking instructions! What do you want from me?"
"Shit! Quick, I need the number off the invoice."
"The invoice! The invoice! I need the number off the top, now!"
Mitch scrambled through the instruction papers and the manual, finally found an invoice back out with the invoice packet atop the crate lid. "Uh… a number… a number… Jesus Christ, Allen, is she the Terminator or something?"
"Mitch, the number! What's the number?"
"Uh… wait a minute… here it is, 110812."
"110812… 110812… uh-huh. You sure it's 110812?"
"Yeah, Allen, I can read, okay? 1-1-0-8-1-2."
"Okay, that's good. Her name is Katryn Bondarenkova, Mitch. At least we're about 90 percent sure of that. And no, she's not the Terminator. Listen, I'm meeting my team at the helipad as we speak. I'm going to be there in… just a little over two hours. Don't let her leave! Okay? I don't think she'll want to, but don't let her leave. If our information's right, you could be in for a very interesting couple of hours, though. Good luck." Allen chuckled a little.
"Good luck? What the hell are you laughing about? Jesus, Allen, hurry up and get here! You're creeping me out!"
Note... There was supposed to be part 3 but it never came... let's us do something about that ... OK??
Coming in Part 3: Mitch, meet Katryn - Katryn, meet Mitch - Mitch and Allen reunited - Enter the Grey Man - Mitch tries to make up with Kristen - The Gallery begins - returning from vacation