Проза "The battle for civilisation"
ОтрывокSeveral days went by. Maksim was in no position to begin acting according to the instructions given by the Snow Leopard. He listened again and again to the voice recording. “The first thing you need to do is prepare for your meeting with Scanner, an agent working for the Golden Baron. He will make his way to you himself to collect information. “You will have to prepare well for this meeting. You must tell him that you need a very large amount of money, the kind of amount that you would not even dare to ask from me. Say, one hundred million dollars for the acquisition of securities, because you’ve decided to get married. You need to build a financial base. In any case, he won’t trust you, but your future wife will be of interest to him. Agent Scanner will ask you to introduce him to your fiancée, and you will agree without hesitation. Mr Korsakov, why are you raising your eyebrows like that? Are you surprised? Ah yes, you have no such girl in your life… Don’t worry about that. I have noticed that you look upon Kira in a somewhat positive light – well, in any case, you seem to show no aversion to her. Well, I shall send you a carbon copy of Kira. This will be my “scan”, and you will introduce her as your fiancée.She will win Agent Scanner’s trust, and set about her mission. She can fulfil any task – nothing is impossible for her.” Upon hearing this order, Maksim was struck dumb: it seemed to him that his entire body had become numb with fear. “Have I really gone deaf? I can’t hear the TV… What’s wrong with me?” Quickly unblocking his ears with his fingers, he began to calm down again: “I can hear, thank God, I can hear.” In his anxiety, he shifted quickly from one corner to another… “What schemeis the Snow Leopard, that saviour of civilisation, embroiling me in?” he wondered irritably about his superior. “Perhaps he’s right though – these elections in the country I have chosen to live in are going to determine the fate of mankind. I can’t say I’m not worried myself as to who will come out on top in the madness of this pre-election race…” A minute later, he gave his answer to the Snow Leopard: “Fine, I agree. Send my fiancée.” “Meet Kira tomorrow at JFK Airport. She’ll be on the flight from Jakarta. Jakarta?! Maksim’s mind clouded over upon hearing this. “But my Kira lives in Moscow. What does he have in store for me, this Snow Leopard?” Presently, he recalled the Snow Leopard’s words. “Oh, yes, of course, it’s not Kira, but a scan of Kira” “Why should I be the one to do all this? Refuse the assignment, refuse it this instant,” the thought, and with that thought, he went over to the computer. “No, stop. I cannot betray the Snow Leopard. Fine, I shall resign myself to my fate,” and went back to watching his favourite TV show. *** Maksim was unable to sleep the entire night, and only managed to get a few hours of respite at the break of dawn. It was midday when he woke. He glanced at his watch – a gift from the Snow Leopard, and hurriedly got himself ready. Drinking tea and eating a chocolate bar on the go, he ran down to the underground garage. It was more than a car – Maksim treasured it. It was also given to him by the Snow Leopard. He sat down at the wheel, when suddenly his hand, which was upon the ignition, hung in the air in a moment of indecision. “Where am I going? What am I looking for? I have everything I could ever need: an apartment, money, a car, and that much-coveted American citizenship. Citizenship…” And Maksim stopped to think for a moment, before wondering, “Can I be sure that I’ve chosen the best country to live in? What would happen if this superpower now decides not to fulfil its historical role as protector of peace in the world? What then?” Maksim closed his eyes and leaned back into the car seat. What would happen to this world, packed full of nuclear weapons, like a tin of sardines? Suddenly, flashes of nuclear explosions appeared before Maksim’s eyes. “What was that…? Hiroshima,” he realised. The memory would not let go of those terrible images of Hiroshima and Nagasaki being bombed. It was his country which carried out that act. What for? It can never be allowed to happen again. With that thought, he furiously turned on the ignition. Presently, he arrived at JFK. It was all very familiar to him. The atmosphere of airports had a calming effect on Maksim. The voice announcing the flights resembled a soothing mantra, and lulled him to nirvana. He felt like closing his eyes, lowering himself to the floor, and switching off consciousness. He went up to the information board. Where was that flight from Jakarta? Ah, there it was, and the arrival time was already displayed. There were ten minutes left; ten minutes before his meeting with fate, with his fiancée and future wife. Maksim wondered how they would spend their honeymoon… The Snow Leopard would cover any whim of his on the travel expenses. “We’ll go to Honolulu or Palma de Mallorca,” he fantasised. In his daydreams, time went by unnoticed. Maksim caught himself viewing Kira as his genuine fiancée. At that point, the announcement came over the public address system: the Jakarta–New York flight had landed. Maksim made his way forward: where was she – his Kira? It was possible to distinguish the crow of passengers coming through the arrivals gate immediately: several people were in unusual national dress. Maksim scrutinised the faces of those passing by, but Kira’s beautiful face was not among them. An hour went by, then another. Kira was not there. “Why is the Snow Leopard toying with me like this?!” Maksim’s throat dried up from the anxiety. He made a dash to the nearest bar. “A soda…” The words were not so much spoken as they were croaked, and the bottle was emptied in one gulp. Maksim began to cry. No, he did not start sobbing loudly, but simply cried quietly. A tear ran down his face, then another. He did not expect such a show of disrespect from a friend… Just then, someone threw their arms around his neck and exclaimed, “Here I am!” He was dumbfounded with surprise – standing before him was Kira, his old friend. “Where were you? I got totally exhausted here.” “I was held up at immigration control.” Maksim hugged Kira and, turning to the waiter, asked for a soda. While she drank, Maksim looked over her. Yes, it was indeed Kira, no doubt about it. She was wearing her favourite trouser suit… Yet, even so, something about the way she looked put Maksim on guard: it seemed to him that her movements had attained a new, peculiar character: they were graceful, flexible, in a way he had not recalled of her. “Have you done a course of yoga, or something?” he jokingly asked. Kira smiled. “You forgot: I’ve always been this way. It runs in the family. Anyway, how about we get down to business? You remember that the Snow Leopard asked me to come visit you in America and act the role of your fiancée?” “Act?” The very word nagged at him greatly. “Yes, act. We need to win the trust of the Golden Baron’s agent. There was nothing left for Maksim to say, other than to reluctantly affirm her words. “I remember…” “Then stay on your guard: Scanner is following us even at this very moment. Hug me, kiss me, basically act like my true sweetheart. “What do you mean, following us?” Maksim protested. “In America, the right to a private life is enshrined by law…” Kira stopped him from talking with a sudden, passionate kiss. “I’ve missed you so much, my love!” Maksim felt as though he had flown at great speed to the stars, far into space. Kira’s kiss brought him an ethereal joy. If she was this sweet, let the game continue forever! He embraced her tightly. “So when will you introduce me to the agent,” Kira asked, gently freeing herself from his embrace. “We must hurry: the Snow Leopard asked us not to waste time, and the danger to civilisation is very real. Maksim felt a pang of jealousy. “And there the Snow Leopard will show me what to do,” he thought. Kira interrupted his thoughts with a softly word command: “Let’s go to the car.”