Posted 13 May 2013 - 11:01 PM
Thank for the advice, Tycek. I've updated it, hope it's clearer now!
The apartment was doused in colour as he woke. The crack in the curtain was enough to light the room up, and he blinked away the brightness as he pulled them further apart. His first sight of the world today was not that different to that last night - this morning, technically. Everything out there was still grey. Dull. The same, soulless sight greeted him each day. Perhaps a nuclear holocaust would add more colour - he turned from the scene with disgust for his thoughts.
His life was not a happy one - but why should it be? Was anyone else’s? Was anyone else in this strana happy? Perhaps even the leaders were miserable, though they could be miserable in their Dachas, and their expensive comforts. No, their lives were not miserable but... were any of them burdened by the same concerns? Did they not care? Did they see themselves as beyond the reach of Nuclear Fire?!
Nikolay's questions continued as he started the engine of his VAZ automobile - a process that took anything from a minute to ten - fifteen on one cold, one Janurary morning.
The drive was uneventful, done so in the vehicular company of other men such as himself. At least he had something to look forward to tonight - the hockey. He had forgone the usual bet, instead saving his spare money - what little of it he had - for their weekly card game.
"Dobroye utro, Nikolay," the man said with a smile and a nod as he punched in.
"Gennady." Nikolay was tired from his unwelcome spate of wakefulness the night before and didn't feel like involving himself in any conversation - at least until he sat down in the cafeteria anyway.
Another tale he'd heard from his former drinking companion - who had, one day, seemingly disappeared off the planet - was that America was full of men who spent their days riding stallions across plains in the blazing sun, drinking themselves cool with good Vodka - or whatever it was the amerikantsy preferred - and rescued damsels in distress from dastardly barons, all while fighting the natives. How typical, he'd thought. It was obviously a tall tale, but the part involving the natives was not. Amerika had been discovered almost five hundred (or so) years ago, and colonised by the Spanish and British, who had instigated a war to vacate the locals from their own homes. It was the perfect manifestation of the amerikantsy and their arrogance, and little had changed since.
Nikolay’s overalls were grubby, and not that comfortable. He was used to them, though, and dutifully headed to the tunnels.
“Nikolay!” The unnaturally cheerful voice of Nikolay’s closest friend greeted him in the dim tunnel. His footsteps clanged on the metal grating, and a hammering echoed from farther down the passageway.
“Iosef, my friend.” Nikolay greeted his comrade with a smile he did not feel. “Did you receive the early shift?”
“There was a problem reported from the night crew. Pressure readings are inconsistent.”
“That’s what I think.” Iosef Dementyev nodded at the pipes. “I’ve walked the tunnel, but I can’t see any.”
“We will have to check each section ourselves.” Nikolay sighed.
“Yes, we will.” The frustration was shared, but it was their job – no, their duty – and it sure beat monitoring gauges. It would take the most part of the day to check all of the pipes, but it had to be done.
The day dragged on, though no more than usual, and Nikolay kept staring down the length of the pipes, knowing full well where they led and what purpose they served.
“Have you ever wondered what the amerikantsy are like?” He asked after a couple of hours of monotonous searching.
“We know what they’re like. Greedy and arrogant. They want to see our mighty nation fall.”
“Politically, perhaps, but what of the people?”
“What do you mean, tovarishch?”
“Do you wish to see their nation destroyed?”
“I wish to see our nation prosper, my friend.”
“Spare me the party fignya. Do you – you personally – wish to see every man woman and child of that country perish?”
Iosef hesitated, then hung his head. “No. I do not wish death upon anyone, but these amerikanstsy have all their nuclear missiles pointed at us, hence ... this.” He waved at the pipes and tunnel.
“And we have ours pointed at them. It is like a game of chess, my good friend, and both are at an impasse. If one makes an attempt on the other’s King, they will surely lose their own.”
“A stalemate, yes my friend. Why the talk of Amerika?”
“I am scared, Iosef Olegovich. I am terrified that the stand-off will not last, and that one side will launch at the other.”
“Then our duties today are even more important and we should get back to them.”
“I feel like I cannot do that sometimes, my friend. This facility has one purpose. We’re told that it is for the good of our country, and to match the American’s show of force... But really, this facility is not to defend; we cannot stop their rockets. It is to kill thousands – perhaps millions, most of them will not be our enemy. They will be people like me and you, or Natalya.”
That hit a nerve. Iosef stepped forward, getting in Nikolay’s face. “You would be wise to watch your words. You are my oldest and dearest friend, but such suggestions are treasonous!”
“And why is that? Because our leaders know better?”
“Yes! We must have faith in them.”
“But do they know better? They entered this unwinnable face-off, putting us all at risk...”
“The risk comes from without, not of our own making.”
“Maybe so, but I fear the launch of these.... ungodly weapons. They will surely destroy the world.”
“Have you not considered the possibility that we can stop their rockets?”
Iosef remained silent at that.
“Nikolay, you must not speak like this. It worries me, should someone hear it.”
“Perhaps I do not care. I am supposed to worship our all-knowing leaders, because they are our leaders? I cannot. I can see the road we’re walking down, and there is no light at the end. We will all perish, and that terrifies me. Worse still is that I cannot do anything about it.”
“Even if you could, what would you do?”
“I do not have that answer, but can you tell me, honestly, that it’s not a worrying situation? Do you think everything’s how it should be?”
“I think we should get back to work, tovarishch.”
Nikolay shook his head.
Everywhere he looked, it was the same. The same grey walls, like a prison; the same tedious, monotonous routine, day in day out, marching toward their doom. Only he could see it – or, more appropriately, only he was bothered by it. Perhaps others were, and they had the ‘good sense’ to hide it. The posters that broke the dullness of the concrete – strategically placed – were all motivational, encouraging faith in The Party, and for each man to do his duty. It occurred to him that, with the exception of his old drinking friend, everything he knew about America came from his country’s leaders. Did they teach them the truth, or was every word spun for their own end? Most likely the latter, Nikolay thought. It was enough to put him off his lunch, though he forced himself to eat anyway.
The bar was like any other throughout the world – not that Nikolay would know. Many faces were familiar – some colleagues, others regular patrons, but some were not. Nikolay picked up the glass from the bar full of vodka and turned, instantly finding the shoulder of a burly man who was staggering sideways. The glass slipped from his hand and shattered on the floor in a splash of clear alcoholic liquid.
“Der'mo!” Nikolay breathed passively. He’d have to buy another one. The heavy-set man had turned his head and muttered a ‘sozhaleyushchiy’, but Nikolay hadn’t heard it.
Nikolay waited for the barman, but as his hand came up, another man spoke over him, ordering two Vodkas. The unfairness of it grated on Nikolay, but he sighed to himself, resigning to wait for his turn, should that come around again.
“A drink,” the man said, sliding one of his two vodkas across the bar. Nikolay looked up to see the same large man with a glass in hand, nodding at him.
“Spasibo,” Nikolay said, picking up the glass. The man nodded but continued to stare. “Was there something else?”
“I.. Yes, well... forgive me for saying this, but you seem concerned about something.”
“It is not your worry, tovarishch.”
“How un-socialist. Your problem is the state’s problem.” The man’s voice almost sounded mocking.
“The state doesn’t care about such problems.”
The man’s eyebrow rose. “IS that so? Perhaps a fellow drinker would.”
“I doubt that. My burden is my own; no one wants part of it. Perhaps it is better I keep it buried in my mind.”
“If you wish, tovarishch. I trust my debt is paid?”
“For the drink.”
“Very well.” The man turned to leave, but paused. He turned back. “Are you alone, my friend?”
“Yes. I did not feel like sitting with my colleagues today.”
“Then perhaps you would consider sitting with us.”
“My own company is sufficient. I do not feel much like socialising.”
“Very well. We’re in that corner, and the Vodka is plentiful, should you change your mind.” Nikolay saw the man point with his glass, to a group of men sitting out-of-the-way in the corner. “Perhaps we could find a solution to your problem. My name is Vasily.”
“[iProshchaniye[/i], my friend... for now.”
Nikolay chewed on that for a while. Finally, and with a new drink, he ventured over.
“Ah! Nikolay!” Vasily said, his arms out in greeting. “Come. Sit.” He pushed a stool out and Nikolay took it. “Comrades, this is Nikolay. Nikolay, you know my name as Vasily. This is Sergei, Andriy and Gregory, Dimitri and Yuri.”
Nikolay nodded his greetings and shook the hands. Each one gripped his hand like a vice, and it was all he could do to not grimace or shake his hand after.
“Tell me, what do you do?”
“I work at the facility down the road.”
Yuri grimaced at that, though Nikolay did not know why. There was something about these men. They seemed friendly, but their eyes spoke a different story. Their eyes were like those of soldiers; filled with resolve and a coldness that made him feel uneasy. He stole a look across the bar to his colleagues – who hadn’t seen him, thankfully – and wondered if he should make his excuses and leave.
“Kukol'nyy,” Sergei’s mouth moved and his voice barely seeped out. He looked at him, frowning.
“What was that?”
“Don’t mind Sergei,” Vasily said, his hand coming up as if to hold his friend back. “He does not agree with certain... technologies.”
Another frown. Were these men pagans or something?
“I’m sorry, friends, but I think I best be leaving.” Something was very wrong.
“No, the apology is mine to make,” Vasily said, his hand coming toward Nikolay, as though to grab on to him.
“It is fine, but I – ”
“You are worried about something. You do not sit with your colleagues, two of which I know work on the missiles.” Nikolay blinked at that, and the shock obviously showed on his face. “Instead you drink alone, staring into your glass should it begin to fill with tears. You lament over something, and instead seek the company of strangers.”
Nikolay fought to find words, finally managing a few. “I do not understand.”
“You are unhappy, are you not?”
“I am fine, my friend.”
“Yerunda!” Gregory snapped, his fist hammering on the table, shaking the glasses which rested upon it. A hand came up from Vasily, and Andriy – seemingly the quietest of the group – calmed his friend down.
“I must apologise for Gregory. He is a hot-headed man, though we all share the same passion.”
“What passion’s that?” Nikolay risked.
“Now that, we can not say. A man must have some secrets, must he not?”
A shrug. “That is your own business. But you question why I do not sit with my colleagues, why I drink alone – why?”
“Because I can see it in your eyes, my friend. You do not like your job.”
“Many do not. But it is our duty to do them – ”
Gregory threw himself back in his chair and, again, Andriy reached out to calm him, his eyes landing on Nikolay.
“If an American came up to you, and offered you a new home, a safer one, in return for helping them end this war-without-battles, would you take it?” Something in Andriy’s voice hit home. It did not sound like a query, nor was it apparently a trap. These men were too rough to be agents of the state. But still...
“The amerikantsy are our enemies. To aid them would be a crime of the highest order!” The protest was right out of the book, Nikolay knew; enough to satisfy any KGB officer, or deter any American agent – were such men here? He knew there were some in Moskva, and that they were watched like hawks, all day and all night. Even their bathroom visits were monitored.
“My friend, you need not worry. We do not work for any Soviet agency, nor any western one. We have seen you often in here, and you always appear exhausted and worried. You look like a child, about to burst into tears. This concerns me, because I do not like seeing a fellow Russkiy live in such torment.”
Russkiy, Nikolay noted. This man spoke as though he was a descendant of Nicholas II himself – the conspiratory possibilities he set aside.
“I have complete faith in the S.S.S.R. But I do worry that the arrogant Amerikansty will be too eager and that our missiles will have to fly up to meet theirs. This is an understandable concern is it not?”
“Of course it is,” Yuri said.
“I know what our missiles will do to their targets. The Amerikan missiles will do the same, and.... how many people would die?”
“So you wish to see an and to this farce of a war?”
“Yes, and I wish to see my country prosper.” That was true, after all. “The Americans think they can dictate to the world, but not us!”
“You wish to eradicate them?”
“No. I wish for both sides to see the foolishness of their actions and agree to some kind of treaty.”
“Bold words, my boy,” Vasily said.
“And you’d be wise not to repeat them in public.” Andriy advised.
“But we agree, sobrat. This is why we asked you over here. I think we may be able to help you realise your hopes. Meet us here tomorrow, when you finish at the facility. We will take you to meet our leader – his name is Vladimir.” It was an irony that Nikolay saw. Was this Vladimir starting a revolution? Was this a state-sponsored trick, or a trap set by the Americans to force him into betraying his country?
The risk was worth it. It was not betrayal if his country had already betrayed him.