56.4 - Checking In

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Edited 1542142991
Chapters 1. Joa 2. Ivan 3. Gregory Joa sits, waiting, nervous. The Mistress has summoned her, and her research is not yet complete. Unless, of course, she's been summoned for something she's done wrong, some matter of dissatisfaction.  In which case, this can end in pain and blood. She's seen that happen. But rightfully. Rightfully! The Great Mission, she knows, is paramount. She joined it willingly, she knows for what they fight. All too painfully she knows. The chaos, the pain, the hatred, the false -- She closes her eyes. This is important. I must not fail. I must not. "Ms Nyobé." Joa's eyes snap open. She tries to get to her feet, an automatic reaction, but the table of the booth restrains her. "Mistress --" The Mistress gives her a look. "Oh!" Joa feels her face get hot. "Miss. Ma'am. I --" "My error," the Mistress says. "I should have used your first name." An error? Joa blinks. "And I yours, A--" "Alice Chan," the Mistress says.  "Alice ... Chan." Joa slips out of the booth. "Alice. Its good to see you again." The casual English come naturally from her now, after a decade in the States, even if she still has the accent of her native Fulfulde, overlain with some French (never English!) learned as a child. "And you, Joa." She holds up a plate with a quartet of cookies. "They have good baked goods here, I'm told." The Mistress -- Alice -- gestures, and Joa slides into the seat, the other following suit. "I have a coffee ordered," Alice tells her. "Did you want anything?" "The coffee here is --" Joa pauses. "We have limited resources, and do not spend them on coffee in places such as this." Alice makes a face. "Yeah -- I understand." She smiles. "You're wise with the the resources you have. I approve." "All is for the Great Mission. Any surplus of what we earn to our expenses goes to a reserve for that purpose." Alice nods, her expression serious. "The purpose of the Great Mission is the happiness and fulfillment of all, beyond the artifice of money and the control of soul-crushing orders from supposed betters." A half-smile, then. "It's all right to occasionally indulge in something that brings you joy."  Joa furrows her brow. "I -- the goals of the Great Mission are wise, of course, but to celebrate before it is achieved is an indulgence that --" "Discipline is important, but a system with no relief valve is unreliable and cannot be trusted." Joa nods. She thinks of life before she entered the service of the Master, the small joys and happinesses of that time. How they came to an end. "As you say, M-- Alice." Alice takes a bite of the cookie, cocks her head. "I believe they make these here, though the dough comes from an outside source. The health risks of the additives are negligible, probably less than from the refined sugar and flour in use. But, for the moment, please, enjoy." Joa nods. Thoughts of the old times disturb her, and she remembers a blessing her father used to say over food at the table. She banishes it from her mind; the Mistress would righteously strike her down for such sentimental religiosity. "How are things going at the store, Joa?" She smiles. "Well, Alice, quite well. We have improved operational efficiency by 12.3%. The other employees there have adopted the changes with little resistance. I have submitted to the FedEx corporate headquarters recommendations around the most significant improvements, so that they may be used elsewhere." The smile grows larger. "I have been told that I will receive one of the monthly commendations for one of them." Alice arches an eyebrow. "That seems positively corporatist of you, Joa." Catecholamines shoots through her system, filling her mind with panic. She restrains herself from fleeing, or from groveling for forgiveness, but sits shock-still, unable to speak. The Mistress frowns. "That was a complement, not a critique, Joa. Blending in, establishing credibility, increasing the financial resources you glean from the oligarchs -- those are all good things for the Great Mission." Relief floods through her, as abrupt as the panic had. Joa nods. "Thank you -- Alice." "And the trail?" "I have removed or damanged most of the records and information that helped us find you. Other elements remain in play, but scattered. I am working on them." "And your other assignment ?"   "I -- I have data, but no analysis as of yet. The dataset remains small for the addresses you provided, so no patterns can be provided with confidence." Alice nods. "Good. I would worry if you were too quick to find a pattern." "There are some odd correlations, but outside of normal analytical rigor. If this is an emergency --" She holds up some fingers from where her hand sits ont he table. "Take your time, Joa. It is better that your analysis be correct than that it be overly-swift." "Yes, Alice." Alice frowns, and Joa realizes that her response was too formal in tone. She might as well have said "Mistress" or "Ma'am" as the cover name the Mistress is using. She tries again, letting her voice be as casual as possible. "Yes ... thanks." That draws a smile. Then, "How are the others doing?" Joa tenses. She had feared this was coming. Speak with confidence. "Ivan is working hard. He is most efficient, and has taken point on the management of our apartment. He --" She pauses, then continues, "-- he is an excellent cook. We do not indulge in valueless consumption of food, but he is skilled at taking staples, plus spices and cooking techniques, and making them quite tasty." "Better than ration packs, I'd guess." "Much so!" "And that is what I spoke of when I talked about allowing some joy into your life. Ascetic discipline would call for you to eat the most flavorless food, lest you be seduced by flavor into indulgence and gluttony. A wise discipline allows for some pleasure amidst self-control." That actually makes some sense, and Joa is about to comment when the young man at the counter calls out Alice's name.  "Can I get you something?" she asks Joa. Joa hesitates, then, "Black tea, if you would." Alice smiles. "I'll be right back." Joa sits at the table, quietly, nibbling her cookie. She ponders the similarities and differences between the Mistress and her father before her. She encountered Dr. Achilles Chin in person twice in her life -- the first time, when she was saved, and the second time, shortly before his death, when he staged his operation out of the Arlington Cell. On that first occasion, she could only remember his power, his kindness, his determination. On the second -- He is a great man. Was a great man, gone to his reward. His devotion to the Great Mission explains much, justifies much. She bows her head. The Mistress appears more like that first encounter. Do the seeds of the second rest within her as well? She glances over to the counter. The Mistress is gesturing sharply with a pointed finger at the person working the counter. Joa cannot hear her voice, nor see her face, but the young man -- tall, gangly, ginger -- looks pale. He rushes over to the back counter, busying himself with, it looks like, Joa's tea. Joa flushes. There is a line of people behind the Mistress. Joa would not have queue jumped in such a fashion; that the Mistress would makes her feel ... uncomfortable. In a few moments, the Mistress -- Alice -- is walking back with a tray bearing both her own coffee and what must be Joa's tea. She hands the cup, a tea bag dangling in it, over to Joa. "Here you are. Sorry, it's in a tea bag." "Thank you. You needn't have troubled yourself." "Nonsense. I take care of my own." Joa bows her head. "So, Ivan is doing well. What of Gregory?" This is the part where Joa knows she must tread carefully. After what happened to Enrico -- "Gregory is a diligent and hard worker," she replies. "He applies himself to our mission, often manning the front desk during our shift. His work allows me to use the computer systems at the store in service of your assignment -- Alice." Alice takes a sip of her coffee -- black, Joa notices -- and nods. She looks serious. "And outside of work?" "He -- labors hard at our apartment, keeping everything tidy, making sure that all chores are done." She shrugs. "He's our Fourth, but the work assignments are fair and he pitches in willingly for his part." "Is he happy with your assignment?" Joa stops her nibbling for a moment, then covers that by setting the cookie down and picking up the tea, taking a sip. It burns her tongue, but that's necessary. "He is eager for action. As are we all. Until then, we await your orders." Alice raises an eyebrow. Joa has seen that expression on her father's face, in person and on the viewscreen.  "M-- Alice, it is not my place to question my Fourth." Her face softens slightly. "Joa," she says. Her hand makes a slight movement, as if abortively reaching out to touch hers, but that would be far too scandalous, and if that is her intent, Joa is glad she changes her mind. "Your loyalty does you credit, and I will not ask you to test your faith and friendship in Gregory, with your Fourth, against that which you owe to me." That stings. Her loyalty to her Mistress should be paramount. That is the fourth tenet of the Great Mission, is it not? But ... Joa realizes with a small jolt that Alice has cut to the heart of the matter. Greg has been there for her and Ivan -- protected her, seen that she had food and shelter (and though sometimes both were scant, he shared and shared alike).  And she knows, she's seen -- the Master's cause attracted those who were cast out of normal society, sometimes for their poverty and politics, sometimes for their ability to fit in -- and there were many cases where their fervor, their zeal, even their madness, made them brutal and erratic masters of their own parts of the Mission. But Grego has none of that -- yes, a temper, to be sure, a willingness to violence at times that Joa both shrinks from and feels guilty at her fear in the face of his true belief. But he can  be kind, companionable -- he even has a finely honed humor that rarely comes out but which has lifted their spirits in their darkest hours.  (She puts aside in her mind what had happened to Gene, the erstwhile traitor in their refugee group. Gregory acted with firmness and dispatch, and could have rightfully punished him far worse before ending his life.) That is an immediate loyalty. She knows Greg, knows him as her personal leader, comrade-in-arms, even friend (within the bonds of discipline), for the past few years of desperation. She cannot betray him. But she owes so much to the Great Mission as well -- a sworn oath of loyalty for her rescue, of course, and of fealty to the man who led it, and to the cause which burns as a fire in her heart. The Mistress is the Master's heir, and hads shown in turn a loyalty to her people that cannot but help influence her. She cannot betray Alice, but -- She hasn't realized this challenge even existed. Now that she does -- Joa takes a deep breath. "Greg is a loyal soldier to the Great Mission, Alice. He has proven himself again and again." Alice smiles, though it is not a joyful expression. Again, she has seen that face on the Master as well. "Joa, you are one of my intelligence gathering and analysis experts. You, above all others, known the importance of complete information in making an assessment. I did not question Gregory's loyalty or devotion to the cause -- or to me --" Alice pauses there just a moment, then continues. "-- but whether he is happy. Is he driven solely by duty, or is he finding fulfillment in the mission given to him at this time." "Are happiness and fulfillment important?" Alice cocks her head slightly, then leans forward, and when she speaks, her voice is low and intent, her eyes drilling into Joa so that she cannot look away. "Remember, what we do is not for some faceless cause, some abstract call to duty. The Great Mission -- when we forget about the individuals for whom we fight, their particular happiness and fulfillment, then we treat them as soulless machines, faceless, even disposable, the same way the oligarchy and power structure see them. We become no better than that which we will overturn." She drums her fingers on the table. "But that also includes those who fight for the cause." Joa draws back a bit from that intense gaze, but does not break from it. "We sacrifice all for --" "-- for the Mission. Yes, I've heard the mantra." Joa can hear anger behind those words. "And each of us is called to do so, in small ways and great. But that doesn't mean we should seek out misery, or expect mindless drudgery in duty, or simple obedience. We are not robots, none of us. The whole cannot be great if the individual parts are not, if they are malnourished in body or in spirit. Seeking happiness is not an indulgence: it is a way to grow strong, better able to fulfill the Great Mission." Joa nods slowly. That all makes a strange sense, even if I cannot imagine the Master saying such words. But from the Mistress, here, now, it makes sense. "I -- yes, I believe I understand." Alice smiles, a wry twist to her lips. "It's an easy lesson to give, not so much to follow. Believe me, I do know." Joa returns the smile, though not sure why. It is a lesson she has had to fight with, I can tell. The Mistress is human, even if touched with the divine. That is -- something for me to remember. It makes her seem both lesser and greater. Her tongue touches her upper lip, then she says, "Gregory -- is not happy. He burns to act. He has been focused on finding you, to rejoin the cause, but now that he has, he aches for more direct action. He is frustrated, and that frustration ..." She trails off. Alice's smile thins. "As I thought." At Joa's attempt to speak again, to defend her Fourth, Alice holds up a hand. "I do not count that against him. He is a warrior. Give him a warrior's assignment and he is focused. Take that from him, and he is restless, looking to strike out at something." She snorts, again an oddly human expression. "I know the feeling." Alice leans back. "I'll need to find a way to better direct him. Meanwhile, Joa, I have a favor to ask of you." "Of course!" "I need you to keep an eye on him. Not --" She holds up a hand again. "-- spy on him, or plot any action to his detriment. Just -- if you can soothe his urge to war before the time is right, that would be of help." "I have. I've tried to urge patience." A smile. "Good. Excellent. You are a voice of reason, something that should help him. But -- if he seems to be planning something -- contact me." "Mistress?" An eyebrow. She feels her cheeks warm again.  Conne ! It's difficult to fight against the customs of over a decade. "Alice. I --" "Take no action. Just contact me. I -- need to have a meeting like this with him, but that may take some time. If he is about to act precipitously, I need you to let me know, so that -- so that the Mission is not endangered, or the other threads I have built for the right moment are not disrupted." This time she does reach out, put her hands on Joa's where they are rested on the table. "Can you do that? For me?" "It would -- it would be an honor. Alice." A slight squeeze -- Alice's hands are warm, strong -- and she releases Joa. "Good." Her eyes flicker to the side. "I need to go." She takes a last sip of coffee. "I am well-pleased with you, with all of you, Joa. What you are doing is important, and your devotion to the Great Mission is clear." "And to you -- Alice." Something else flickers across the Mistress' face, too fast to recognize. She merely nods, shoots her with finger pistols (!), and slides out of the booth. "We'll talk again soon, Joa. Thank you." Then she's gone. Joa leans back and sips her tea, which has gone cold. The Mistress -- Alice -- is very different from her father. Younger. More human. More approachable. Even more caring. Her words are at variance with those of the Great Mission, but not in spirit, at least not as she explains it . She closes her eyes. One similarity remains. I would die for her. I would not be happy to give up my life, but she would be a worthy cause for it, no matter what doubts Greg has. Joa gets out of the booth, carefully counts out some change to leave on the table, and leaves. [to be continued] #Cutscene
Ivan looks at the menu. It's an odd phenomenon, this American obsession with breakfast-lunch cafes. So many of them here in Halcyon, almost as many as coffee shops, and they always have "Egg" somewhere in the name, directly or indirectly. "The Egg and I". "The Little Chicken". "Egg Daze". Would a place named "The Brunch Cafe" be too prosaic to succeed in this country? Perhaps, when the Great Mission is fulfilled, if it is within his lifetime, he will find out. He looks across the table at his dining companion. "Is this where I say something that shows I am Russian? Maybe a comment about food shortages, or waiting for service, or perhaps a microphone in the flower bouquet?" Alice -- that is her preferred address, he again reminds himself -- smiles. "Not if you don't wish to. I imagine it gets tiresome." "Russian humor is very strong. It carries quite the burden for us. But, yes, I'd as soon skip it." He shifts over to his mother language. "Besides, it never sounds quite right in English." She holds up a finger. "But we will speak only in English. It makes it easier for someone to overhear, but less likely that they will be inclined to. Foreign languages always draw attention -- especially in this country." He nods. "Of course." The waitress, an older woman with a name tag that says "SOPHIE," finally steps up. "All y'all know what you want?" Alice looks at him. He knows his civilian clothing is not quite military-sharpness, but good enough for the storefront. He wishes he'd had time for a haircut, but her personal message directly to him had not given him that chance, only to trim his beard.  He nods again, as does Alice. "I'll have the lunch Caesar, dressing on the side," she says. "Iced tea." When Sophie looks querying at him, Ivan says, "Breakfast Burrito. No meat added, just the smothering with green chili. Coffee, black." She reads back the order. "Be right back with those drinks," Sophie says striding off toward the kitchen. Alice looks at him. "I like the Breakfast Burrito," he says, feeling strangely defensive. "One of America's best culinary inventions. They make it here with the hash browns inside, a bit crisped, so it gives a nice texture." A thin smile touches the edge of her lips. "I might have to try it next time." "If this is to be a regular meeting, then, yes, I concur. I am told I am a passable cook, so take that as a professional recommendation." She doesn't reply, but lets her eyes drift around the room. Finally, in the face of the silence, and more nervous than he dares to show, he says, "So to what do I owe a fine breakfast and time with my, ah, employer?" "Do I need to justify my actions, Sixth Chernikov?" "Hardly, Miss Chan. I simply want to be sure that whatever it is that you seek that I am able to provide. We sacrifice all for the Mission, yes?" She nods. "The Mission is all." They sit in silence, until, several minutes later, Sophie returns with their food. Ivan looks at her salad, than at his breakfast burrito, which is huge, almost overlapping the plate, smothered in aromatic green chili and cheese. "We could ask for a second plate, if you would care for --" "No, no," Alice says. "This will be fine." He shrugs, and digs in.  After a few bites, he lets himself become aware that she is watching him. "Would my --" He catches himself. "Would you care for a bite?" "No, the salad will be suffice." Ivan nods. Takes another bite. "They do, in fact, make excellent green chili --" "Po'shyol 'na hui!" she growls, and shoves her fork in his direction. He smiles, pleasantly, and cuts off a bite that includes some chili, eggs, and the hash browns inside.  As she chews, he says, "There, see? Was I not correct?" She nods. "My service to the Mission is in research, finding useful information." He gestures at his plate, a sly grin on his face. "You see the value I can provide." She smirks, sips some of her tea, and nods again. "You are a most interesting man, Ivan Chernikov. How did you come to my father's service?" "Ah. There is little to tell. I was sixteen, seventeen, when everything changed in my motherland." He takes another bite. "By which I mean, nothing changed in effect, only in motivation. Rather than the commissars stealing what they could on behalf of the People and the Revolution, we had oligarchs stealing what they could on behalf of themselves and free enterprise." He grunts. "For those from whom all is stolen, there is little difference." She nods. "So, economic deprivation --" "No," he interrupts, though  his voice is polite. He gestures with his coffee mug. "When I was attracted to a meeting where your father's agents were, ah, recruiting, that aspect provided an immediate, short-term incentive, yes. Three hots and a cot, as the Americans so poetically put it. But as the Russian-American Maslow indicated, meeting basic bodily needs only goes so far. A cause must engage the imagination, the passion, the revolutionary fervor." He takes another bite of burrito, pushing it around in the green chili. "And the Great Mission ...?" "Hallowed be its name," he says, without irony, and sips his coffee. "Those without in Mother Russia have sought redemption and salvation through many means. The Mother Church. The Revolution. The Great Patriotic War. The war against the West." He shrugs. "Now there is no great cause, save a self-serving patriotism that feeds no bellies and stirs no hearts. The Great Mission, though -- now that is a different matter." Alice takes a bite of salad. "In what way?" she asks in a casual tone. Too casual for him to take it as such. "It is, perhaps, like the Revolution. It promises the overthrow of the corrupt, the powerful. It has a charismatic leader. It promises a better tomorrow for all, where all are cared for, where all serve, where all are served. It is not a war of the powerful against the weak; it is a war of the weak against the powerful. It is a cause one can believe in." "And do you believe in it, Ivan?" she asks, softly. "Miss Alice, I am Russian." He snorts, smiles. "You see? Stereotypes are impossible to avoid. But, to continue -- to be Russian, means to believe the cause that will make things better for the self, the family, the village, the city. But also to know that such causes are forlorn, at best." Alice frowns. "That seems a recipe for despair, Ivan." "A great doctor is to perform a surgery in a medical theater. He stands before the patient, ready to begin the operation that will save the man's life. Just as he prepares to cut with his scalpel, an old woman in the tiers above shouts out, 'Give him an enema!' The great surgeon glares at the interruption, then turns back to the patient, and raises his scalpel. Again, the woman's voice comes, 'Give him an enema!' At this time, the great doctor turns to the audience above, tears off his mask, and shouts, 'This man suffers from a ruptured appendix! How could an enema help him?' The old woman shouts back, 'It couldn't hurt!'" He takes another bite of breakfast burrito. She snort, then nods, slowly. "When all is desperate," she says, considering the words as she speaks them, "even those things one has no faith will succeed are pursued. 'It couldn't hurt.'" "Yes!" he says, with a fierce grin. "That. Now you understand Russia." "Now I understand you, Ivan Chernikov. Thank you." He nods, takes another bite. Chews it, savoring the texture, the flavor. If a last meal, it is a good one. "Mistress ..." "My name, Ivan." "A cat may stare upon a queen, Mistress. If I am to utter lèse majesté , let me do so honestly." She is still a moment, then nods. "Mistress, you ask many questions about the Great Mission. About me. About my faith in it." He inhales slowly, enjoying the aroma. "It seems, as a Russian, from a Russian perspective, that you, yourself, entertain doubts." Alice is quiet for a minute. He enjoys another bite. At length, she says, "Explain." Ivan shrugs, his gaze down at the table, at his food. "For the true believer, to inquire if, or to understand why, another believes ... this makes no sense. There cannot be disbelief, save for an act of will. An intentional sin, if you will. One does not believe for a reason; reason can only lead to disbelief. Ah, belief in the great Truth is the default, as it is the natural order of things. Only dis belief can be asked after." She nods, takes another bite of her salad. "Go on." "It so follows that, should someone ask about belief, about why another believes, then that person's belief itself is a fragile reed at best." He shrugs again. "Or it is a test to see whether the person so inquired is prepared to blaspheme, to commit heresy against the great Truth, the axiom of the ideology." He takes another bite. It is not quite as good as the previous one. It is an interesting observation that the keen edge of anticipating death can only heighten sensation so much, so long, for such a short interval. "Ivan," she says, her voice soft, the weight of her gaze palpable even if he dare not look up. "The cause, the Great Mission -- I believe in these things with all my heart, with all my soul. The need to free humanity from its oligarchs and overlords, from the power of the plutocrats and autocrats -- this I truly believe." He nods. "That is -- a fine thing to know, Miss -- Alice." "But I tell you also, for your ears alone, Ivan: I have no faith in my father's method of pursuing that mission." Ivan bows his head lower. "Is the cause then lost, Mistress?" "No. It must be pursued by other means -- less bloody, less violent." She pauses, then adds, "Less disregarding of each person for whom we fight, less focused on some grand, glorious future at the expense of those in the present." A sigh. "This is a better way, I think." He snorts, and feels the smile wreath his face as he looks up at her. "Then, you, Miss Alice, are truly worthy of the crown I suspect sits heavily upon your head." He barks out a laugh, and holds up his coffee cup. "Ha! To revolutions for each man, rather than all men, Miss Alice! To remembering each revolutionary by name, rather than just bragging about a number sacrificed for the greater good!" She meets his smile, with cautious reluctance -- but also sincerity, if he is any judge, holding her tea up to strike against his mug. Ivan quaffs down the rest, while she sips. He leans forward, across the small table. "But this, this change in course -- it is not without danger. And closer than you might wish." He lowers his cup. "But, in great Russian tradition, before we talk of the truth, I must relieve myself. If you will excuse --?" He pauses, patiently, until she starts at processing his question, and says, "Of course, don't be an idiot." She leans forward. "In the revolution, nobody will need to ask permission to take a piss." "Hah!" He grins, and heads to the restroom hallway in the back of the shop. She's still sitting there, picking at her salad, seemingly lost in thought, when she hears the trio of gunshots. The table they are in is along the wall opposite the hallway that leads to the WCs -- not a truly safe "corner" but as close as Ivan could manage. Alycia burns precious seconds making her way past people shouting and running away (and a few shouting and running forward). She pushes her way through these at the last. Ivan is slumped against the wall, beside a stack of high chairs, opposite the Men's door. A trio of dark red stains is already turning the front of his flannel shirt to a gory mess. She tears the shirt aside. Exit wounds. He was shot from behind. "Call 911," she screams at the idiots crowding around. Ivan is still breathing, a bad burbling noise and weak spasms in the chest.  She can see a fire door to the alley behind standing slightly ajar at the end of the hallway, and longs to dive through it, find who did this, smash their head into -- But Ivan is still breathing. "I need towels, all the towels you can find! And call 911, dammit!" She's no idea if anyone's already done it, but -- "It can't hurt," she mutters. Ivan makes a sound. His right hand reaches up, feebly grabs at her jacket. His mouth moves, but words can't make it past the blood welling there.  His eyes slip to his left, at his other hand, lying limp on the floor. Next to them, on the tile, he's scribbled something in his own blood, the letters facing toward her.  d L The eyes turn back to hers, wide, pale, bore into hers as if trying to convey a message by thought alone. Then they roll up into his head and he passes out. "Towels!" she shouts again, just as someone, Sophie she thinks, pushes a stack of clean white towels at her and she tries to apply enough pressure to the wounds to keep him from bleeding out -- only one of the life-threatening conditions he face. She's still there, performing what battlefield care she can, when the paramedics arrive, pull her out of the way.  He's been dead five minutes by then, from her estimate. She slips back into the main room of the cafe, now deserted. She slips her silverware into her pocket, moves the iced tea glass to the stack of dirty dishes by the door, then goes out a supply door from the kitchen to the alleyway. Her eyes flicker around, but see no obvious clues. The police will be here shortly, and if there's anything to find, they most likely will. She slips Ivan's wallet into her pocket as well, carefully lifted during her care of him. It will delay, at least, the authorities tracking him down, if not prevent it. No, the latter's not likely, even if Joa scrubbed all records of them from police databases. Too many other things -- his being a regular at the restaurant, for example, will point to his identity. At best, she might have days before he's tracked down, and, with him, the others. At least, though, his name will eventually be known to them. No faceless, nameless martyrs for the Great Mission, not any more. And she doesn't need days, only hours. She knows who did this. Ivan told her. The finger painting in his own blood. It wasn't what anyone else would have read. Ivan was Russian.  The writing, facing toward him, was Cyrillic. Г Р Or, in Latin lettering: G R. Gregory Ramirez. [to be continued]