Thursday, February 22, 2018

Decadence

The word plays through my consciousness, even though it seems far from the lips of the culture.

"Decadence."

It's an old word, archaic and faintly fusty.  It describes a reality that some might say just cannot be.  But it feels right, feels like the place that we are as a society.

Things feel like...rot.  A little off, like the sharpness in the expired milk that curdles on the surface of your coffee.  Like decay, with which decadence shares a root.

It is not limited to one part of our society, but permeates it, through and through.

On the right, madness, the willful derangement of a movement that has lost all connection with reality.  Science?  Piffle.  Sound economics?  Hah.  It doesn't matter if a particular approach has failed time and time again.  You just keep on doubling down, because surely, surely it'll work next time.  It has to, because it is what you believe to be true, reality be damned.  It must trickle down!  It axiomatically must!

Instead of the real, there is the stirring froth of ideological rigidity, now wed to the gibbering glazed eye certainty of trollery and conspiracism, delivered more often than not without attention to spelling, grammar, or sanity.  It has ceased to be the stolid conservatism of the learned, cautious traditionalist, and become instead the self-annihilating "conservatism" of the addict who refuses to let go of their poison.

In the "middle," a mass of humanity that drably trudges through lives rendered increasingly meaningless by the permeating pressures of self-indulgence and anxiety.  That great anxious center tranquilizes itself with churning aimless busyness, and/or actual tranquilizers.  And if internet traffic volume is any indication, there's also a whole bunch of porn in there for the aimless masses, too, up to and including the sort of thing that might leave Caligula a little nauseated.  That and violent entertainment, lots and lots of the ultraviolence, to the point where shootings and stabbings, cities being destroyed and planets exploding?  Just par for the course.  Good for a giggle, even.

On the left?  Hah.  There lies fractally fragmented academic irrelevance, a churn of "movements" devoted more to deconstructing anything they touch than to laying the groundwork for any deeper social progress.  The paradoxically bougie-left is #twitter-flighty, pathologically hyper-judgmental, addled by pop-culture, and more than slightly neurotic.  It is also completely and willfully devoid of purpose.  "Purpose," after all, is a white colonialist construct, a manifestation of patriarchal, cisheterosexual hegemony.  And "truth?"  Truth on the left has been defined down into the functional oblivion of granular subjectivity.  It means nothing.  It goes nowhere.

And in all of this, every facet of our culture is absorbed by an increasing obsession with the fluttering irrelevance of the moment, personified by our impulsive, shallow, radiantly unwise and #blusterous choice for president.

Decadence just seems too accurate.

Decadent cultures can find their way back to a place of integrity and progress, as they have over the millennia of human history.

But if history is any guide, that's going to be a very hard path.

Monday, February 19, 2018

A Good Guy With A Gun

I struggled with posting this.

After the shootings in Miami (remember that one?) I found I could not preach on the violence, could not interpret through the moral lens of scripture.  It was Sunday School Sunday, and, dammit, I wasn't going to take that away from the kids just because our world is a bloody horrible mess.  Sometimes, we are prophets.  Sometimes, we are a sanctuary. That day, my little community was a sanctuary, a place of quiet and calm and joy amidst the horror.

But that slaughter demanded a response, one that came in the form of a horror story.  It's a story that continues to have relevance, because there's a saying out there that is fundamentally invalid.

"Nothing stops a bad guy with a gun like a good guy with a gun."

This is not true.  It wasn't true in Dallas, when those law enforcement officers were murdered in the line of duty.  There were twenty open-carry activists there at the demonstration in Dallas, and not a one of them did anything other than get in the way of police and make things harder.

It wasn't true back when an acquaintance of my son took his own life with his father's gun.  "Guns just make everything worse," my son said, as he went to join a circle of friends who are devastated by the sudden, pointless loss.

It wasn't true in Vegas.  Or whatever shooting has most recently occurred.

It has never been true.  It is a comforting lie, told by a people who repeat it to themselves over and over again.  It is one of those sayings that traps a people in a bad place.

This is not to say I don't know good people who own guns.  I do.  They are excellent human beings.  They hunt for food, which is infinitely more respectful of creatures than eating industrially produced meat.  They care about protecting their families, as do I.  I respect them.  My knowing them does not allow me to stereotype gun owners or to simplify a complex reality.

But I weary of this endless stream of death and suffering, and from that weary anger, I wrote this story.  It is a work of horror, one that speaks to the heart of an American lie.  My wife did not want to read it, not once I told her the premise.  A dear friend read it, and said it was the ugliest story of mine that he's ever read.  He's right.

So, much as I hate the whole idea of trigger warnings, consider this a strangely meta trigger warning.  If you are a victim of gun violence, proceed with caution.  If you're a gun enthusiast, it'd probably be better to just not read it at all.

It is a horrible story.
-----




A Good Guy With A Gun



The weight of it, the perfect weight of it, nestled against his chest as he got out of the truck.  Polymer and steel wrapped in the soft leather of his well worn concealed-carry holster, light but not too light, good stopping power, the Walther invisible against the largeness of Don’s frame.


It was the right gun, just the right gun, a gun that said he knew guns.  


It was the gun Jesus told him to carry for when the time came.  


Because it was the gun he had with him that day.


It had been a Saturday, cool Tennessee winter day.  He’d driven Dawn to the mall, where else, Dawn and Joelle and Sarah, laughing and fluttering and endlessly Snapchatting.  The three of them, BFFs, now all fifteen together on Dawn’s fifteenth birthday, giggling and shimmering with energy, he trying not to feel too humiliated by the KPop she’d birthday-bullied him into playing.  He told her he’d have to crank Vince Gill for six hours straight to make the truck stereo work right again, and she rolled her eyes at him.


Carla’d been really surprisingly cool about Dawn being with him for her birthday.  “You’re her father, Don.  And she asked me if it could be you, ‘cause she knew she’s sposed to be with me this weekend.  I’ll do her sixteenth.”  Almost felt like it used to be, for a moment there.


“Are you seriously on your phones?  Talking to Each Other?”  Don rumbled, the big pretend gruff Dad rumble from the front of the crew cab.  “You’re right next to each other!”


His phone hummed in its dash mount, and there was the text from her, her pretty little freckled face, tongue sticking out from between her beautiful teeth, braces off just last week.  “I loves you daddy ;0P”


They’d parked, a good distance out, mall was crowded today.  Don found a spot, and parked the truck, then it was the little giggling herd moving towards the entrance, playing and skipping, young and alive, filled with the hormonal sparkle of young women coming into their bloom.


She was so pretty, so pretty.  Don watched the boys in the mall, saw them seeing her, a mix of pride and fierce protectiveness rising in him.  Damn right she was a good looking girl.  Don’t you even think about doing more than looking.


Dad tagged along, maintaining a discreet distance, just close enough that the wad of twenties in his jacket pocket was conveniently accessible when it was time for Custard King and Aunt Annies.


The Walther, where it always was, right by the wad of twenties, nestled by his heart.  Because you never knew.  Better to have a gun and not need it.


“Daddy, we’re going into Lollipops to look at skirts!”  He’d smiled.  “Yeah.  You do that.”  He pointed, heavy hands in a big thick tatted workingman’s arm.  “I’ll be right over here, in the sporting goods store.  You just let me know when you’re ready...and just remember, the movie’s in an hour.”


She rolled her eyes, but then blew him a kiss.


He was looking at lures.  At a little boo-jig, for next time out with Bill in that sweet bass boat of his.  


That was what he had been looking at, when he heard a scream, and then the first shot.  


It was a 12 gauge.  Knew it by the tone, by the timbre.  There was less than a heartbeat, and there was another.  Another.  Another.  And screaming, more of it, and shouting, a rush of movement in the great hallway of the mall.  


His hand, straight to the Walther, and he moved towards the front of the store, as others fell back.  Doom dahwm doom, came the roar, seven shots now, a mix of buck and slugs.  Dahwm dahwm doom, ten shots now, coming closer.  


Ten shots, no pause to reload.  Semiauto.  Not a hunting shotgun, not pump action like the Remington 870 Tactical Blackhawk Spec Ops II he kept by the bedside, couldn’t be.


Dahwm dawhm Dawhm, three more, thirteen now, rapid succession, semiauto, no pumping.  


He was at the front of the store now, Walther out, safety off, crouching low on straining old knees, finger safe.  Dahwn dahwm Doom dahwm dawm.  Five more, no slowing, Jesus, eighteen out with no slowing.


The crowd, wild rushing mortal terror.  A woman fell hard two yards away, in a spray of scalp and hair and bone.  The shooter, behind them, somewhere, too many people, too many to see clearly through the screaming chaos, no clean shot.


He didn’t have a shot.


Movement, cutting across the crowd, coming towards him, running.  Dawn, face white with fear, pushing through them, running to her Daddy, to Daddy where it was safe, to Daddy so strong.  His eyes flitted, adrenaline sharp, between her and the onrushing chaos.


He didn’t have a shot.


Doom doom dom Dawhm.  Twenty two.


Two others down, shadows.  Don saw them but did not see them fall, his eyes on his daughter, running.   His breath, drawn quick.  “Down,” he was going to say, “get down.”  The words were right there.  He was going to say them, and she would get down and be safe.


Dom.  Twenty three.


Dawn’s eyes suddenly wide as her body bent from the impact, ribcage shattering as the slug entered, a look less of pain than surprise.  Her eyes stayed on him as she fell, her arms barely stopping her fall.


Poppoppoppop, from nearby, the off-duty officer unloading his Glock at the shooter.


Don was up and moving, everything too bright, a great rushing hiss in his ears, moving like his knees weren’t old, the Walther clattering from his hand, and he took his baby girl up in his arms, brushed the hair from her ashen face.


Her mouth worked, trying to draw breath into collapsed lungs, a glottal bloody futility.  


Daddeee, she mouthed without breath.  Daddeee, silent from the Nonee Cream Color Proper Pink of her lips and her beautiful teeth stained dark with arterial blood.


And her green eyes went wide, and all the light went away.


There was screaming, but he could hardly hear it.  People said things.  He responded.  


Then there was the ambulance ride, slow, sirens off.


Carla, crying, shaking, incoherent, clinging to the pretty little body.  Doug was with her.  


Then cops.  Questions from cops, about him, about the Walther, which was returned to him.


The shooter was 27, divorced, restraining order, wife worked at the mall, first one to die.  The shooter had only one gun on him.  It was a Vepr 12, they said.  An imported Molot, Russian-manufacture, 12 gauge semi-auto tactical.  AT $695, a real bargain in close quarters personal defense.


He was running a twenty five round drum magazine, an SGM Surefire, made with pride in the USA.   The shooter had four other magazines on him, SGR Tactical Industries, 10 rounds each.  The shooter had each magazine carefully loaded with a randomized mix of thirty five Winchester Super-X Hollow Point Rifled Slugs and thirty shells of Remington Double Aught Buck.  


But only nineteen dead, including the shooter, and sixteen injured.  Didn’t even set a record.  


There was a funeral.  He was there.


He did not go to work.  He sat, sat in the double wide, and did not sleep.  He watched the coverage, for a day.  For a few more days, he read about it.  He read familiar words, watched the same dance, saw his friends making the arguments that he had made when his mind could still think.  


About freedom.  About the Second Amendment, and tyranny, and rights.  


Over and over again, in all the places on the net where he spent time, saying that if those shoppers had been armed, the shooter would have been taken down.  


“If more of the sheeple had been concealed carrying, he’d have been taken down in a heartbeat,” said libertywolf1776.


“The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun,” said @flagpatriot.  


“It’s only because we’ve let the socialists and the nannies keep law abiding citizens unarmed that this even happened,” said freedom4ever44.   


“What stops a bad guy with a gun? A good guy with a gun,” commented eaglefire1975.


A good guy with a gun.  A good guy with a gun.  


The words, in his head, over and over and over.


He felt the ghost of the Walther’s industry-leading grip setting just so in his hand, perfectly weighted, nice clean groupings at 25 yards.  And he saw the screaming chaos around him, the fog of human panic, no clean shot through women and children and the innocent, no shot he could take, so much confusion.


And he saw Dawn fall.  And the light leave her eyes.  


He did not sleep.  Weeks.  Sometimes, there would be darkness, and time would pass.  Maybe that was sleep.  He did not know.  Sometimes he ate, cold things brought by people from the church.


He did not remember anything.  Just the six words on endless repeat, over and over.


Until one night he lay down, and it was not darkness, and the words fell silent.  Don slept, and he had a dream.  He was standing in the mall.  It was all quiet.  Then Jesus came to him as an angel, walking down the empty mall towards him.  It did not look like Jesus, at least not like Don remembered Jesus looking from church.  The angel wore a crown of razor wire, with a robe stained and crusted with blood, teeth sharp and black, and eyes like the dark embers of a dying fire.  


But the angel said it was Jesus, and that felt right to Don because it just did.


And Jesus talked to Don.   He talked to Don even when he was awake.  Jesus told him things he was going to do. Don would have to make some things.  He would have to say some things.   Jesus was going to help him.  


So Don went back to work, after talking to Bill who let him come back.  It was funny, because he didn’t feel anything, but the angel helped him make it seem like he did.


The Jesus angel helped him order all the things he used make the Box.  It was hard to make, so many wires and timers and connections.  But Jesus told him just how to do it by taking him to a special page on the internet that had instructions.


Now Don was standing in the access road, under the shade of the trees, feeling the weight of the Walther, just right.   He adjusted his tie, because he was wearing a suit to talk to an important person.  He had driven up from Tennessee to meet him, hours and hours.  Terrence D’Ononfrio, Director for Legislative Outreach.  


Mr. D’Onofrio was important, and he was in the big building, which stood tall and steel-bright by the side of the highway.   


The National Firearms Federation, the headquarters, the place where they made the magazines that Don got every month and where he sent his annual membership payment.  They printed the sticker he had on his truck.  They printed the card he carried in his wallet.


Don had called Mr. D’Onofrio.  Jesus had told him what to say.   About Dawn.  About “situational awareness.”  About proper handling and training in a crisis.  Things like that, so that he could come in and meet and talk.


“I surely do appreciate your reaching out to us, Mr. Lanier,” Mr. D'Onofrio had said over the phone.  “Stories like yours help build up some spine in Congress.  As the father of that poor girl, Lord, your voice matters in keeping our Second Amendment rights from being watered down.  If just three or four more people had been carrying that day, Lord, I just wish it was so.  Maybe your story can help keep our freedoms secure.  I am, truly, so sorry for your loss.”


Don thought about what he had said on the phone, as he pulled the duffel bag from the passenger seat of the truck.  He did not feel a loss.  He did not feel anything.  The bag strained against his arm.  It was heavy, very heavy, because the Box was in it.  And some other things, too.  He closed the door.  It went thunk, because it was a Ford, and a good truck.  He patted it, absently.


He walked across the parking lot, to the big shiny glass entrance.  There were security guards there, on the other side.  The doors opened, smooth and automatic, and he walked up to the front desk.


“Can I help you?”  It was a big guy, with a shiny badge.


Don said all the things he had been told to say.  “I’m here to see Terry D’Ononfrio.  Don Lanier.  I’ve got a three thirty appointment.”  He opened his jacket, showed the Walther.


“Do I need to, like, check this or anything?”  


The guard laughed.  “What, are you kidding?  I do need to check in your bag, though.”  


“Sure,” Don said.  He wasn’t worried.  Jesus told him this would be fine.  He unzipped the duffel, and the desk guard looked into it.  There was a big Box of what looked like bulk nine millimeter ammo, and a toolkit.


“I’m planning on shooting a bit at the range after the meeting.  It’s open till six thirty, right?”


“Yeah.”  The guard nodded, smiling.  “You’ll need to go up to the seventh floor.  Legislative affairs will be the suite to your right.  Have a good one.  Hope you have a good meeting.”


“Thanks,” Don replied, zipping up the bag.  It was good he’d used an ammo container when he built the Box.  He had wondered why, but now he knew.


“You got stairs I can use?”  Don knew the answer, but he asked because he had to ask.  “I’m,” and he patted his belly.  “...tryin’ to lose a couple of pounds.”  The guard pointed him to where he already knew the stairs were.


Don stopped at the second floor.  He was not going to go see Mr. D’Onofrio.  That was not what Jesus wanted him to do.


He needed to be on the second floor.  That was where he needed to go in the building.  Right in the middle of the building, on a lower floor.  That was where the Box needed to be.


But first, he walked around.   To the floor exits for each of the stairways.  


A generous application of epoxy, quick sealing, super strength, in each of the mechanisms on the lowest two floors.  The only exits left?  Into the second floor.  That is where everyone would go.


The doors opened, and Don stepped out.  He turned to the left, which is the way he knew he had to go from looking at the building floorplan on the membership site.  He walked past cubicles where people were busily working.  He walked past doors with names on them.  It was all very nice and fancy.  He walked around a corner, to a place where they were doing some construction.  Those offices and conference rooms were not used.


He took off his jacket.  Underneath, his white dress shirt.  Clean.  Pressed.  Bright.  


Unstained.


That was where he set down his bag.  He unzipped it.  He took out the tool kit.  In it, there was an awl.  It was very, very sharp.  Don had sharpened it himself.   He held the awl in his right hand.  


Then he opened up the Box.  There was the timer.  He set it.  Thirty seconds.


He took fifteen steps back.  Counting every one.  He took a deep breath.


Then he shouted into the empty hallway, a loud angry voice that everyone would hear.  “Put it down!  Put it down!  Now!  Put the safety back on, put it down!”  Seven seconds.


He extended his hand, the awl poised above his heart, turned inward.  “I need you to set that gun down now!  NOW!  Put it down!”  Four seconds.  The sound of movement, a distance behind behind him.


Two.  One.


The timer in the Box sent a signal to the firing mechanism.


There was a loud noise, then another, then another, as the Box began firing the blanks.  


25 Rounds, P.A.K., Walther 9MM blanks, utterly realistic.  Three out.  Twenty two to go.


Don stabbed inward with the awl.  It sank deep into the meat of his left shoulder.  It should have hurt a great deal, but he didn’t feel anything anymore.  The shirt stained with his blood.


He dropped the awl, and drew his pistol.  He fell back, stumbling on purpose, blood streaming down his arm, firing one-handed, down the empty hallway.  Pop.  Pop pop pop.  Four shots, carefully counted, Hornady Critical Defense, 117 grain hollowpoint, ideal close quarters rounds tearing thick chunks from the drywall.  One shot remaining.  One left in the magazine.  It was much louder, here in the closed space.


From behind him, a man, young, glasses and suit, his face pale.  In his hand, a Beretta PX4, tiny and compact, perfectly discreet 9MM.


“Jesus, what the hell is…”


Don said what the angel told him to say.  “Just here...for an...interview.  This middle-aged guy in the empty...office.  Standing there, pistol out.  I asked where…”


Three more shots, bang bang bang, and both Don and the stranger flinched.


“He started shooting, Jesus, I tried to…”


The man moved forward, took position.  “You’ve been hit.  Get security.  I’ll stay here.”


Don fell back.


Another man, moving forward, taller, balding, cautious.  Glock 19, aimed down, ideal concealed carry tool, trigger safe.  “What’s going on?”


“My first day.  This guy, young, glasses, Jesus, I...I...can’t remember his name, we’re meeting, he starts saying crazy things.  Pulls a Beretta on me.  I tried to talk him down, then made a break for it.  I’m..I’m hit.”


The man’s face grew pale.  “Right.”


There were three more shots, and the sound of shouting.  Then two more.  Then another voice, shouting.  More shots.


The sound of more movement, and an alarm now.  A woman, short, brunette, determined lips tight, fear and ferocity mingled in her eyes.  Her Sig Sauer P938 sitting in her hand, dark, compact and purposeful.


To her, he said, “Big guy.  Balding.  Jesus.  Just went crazy.  Yelling at me, I got off a couple of shots, but I’m hit.”


More shots, more shouting.


A man, grim and stocky, buzz cut, Korth SuperSport chambered in 357, serious piece of kit.


To him, he said, “Christ, I can’t believe she shot me.   I can’t believe she shot me.”


Even more shouting, women’s voices, men’s voices, more shots, different sounds, large and small rounds.


He passed others.  The words he shared, all the words given by the angel Jesus with his black teeth and his dark and fiery eyes.  He shared them with every person he passed.  Every one, armed and frightened, groups of two or three.  Every one, seeing the gun in his hand, the blood on his shoulder.


“I didn’t get a good look at him.  Big gun.  Grazed me.”


“Jesus, I thought he was a cop, new guard, don’t know his name, just started shooting.”


“There’s a couple of them.  Terrorists.  Working together, infiltrators.  They tell you to stand down, and...and….Christ, they’re just shooting everybody.”


He went to the stairs, entered.  Behind him, more shooting, bursts and rounds and screaming.  The fire alarm sounding, roaring, so that he had to shout to the people he passed coming down.


“They’ve blocked off the stairs, doors are jammed on the first floor.  Only way out is through the second floor, watch yourself, at least three shooters.”


He heard the hard brass laugh of the Jesus angel in his ear.


He pushed into the entrance to the sixth floor.  There was no-one there.  Outside, sirens, many sirens, and a crackle of distant pops and snaps and bangs.  And screams.  They went on and on.


Ron leaned against the wall, sliding down.


He was so tired.  So tired right now, so tired.  But he couldn’t sleep.  It was so loud.  So loud. Jesus told him, then, how he could sleep.  How he could finally rest.


One round.  There was one round left.  He checked, made sure it was chambered.  In the distance, from below, the sound of gunfire kept him awake.  


The sound of so many good guys with guns.  So many good guys with guns.  Good guys with guns.


The words began to cycle again in his head, and he knew he had to make them go away.


The taste of the Walther’s muzzle, steel and plastic and sulfur, thick and heavy on his tongue.


He closed his eyes, and there was razor wire Jesus waiting, eyes afire, great black mouth stretching to a yawning oblivion.

Don took his shot.

Friday, February 16, 2018

Venera 19

There, on the screen, I can see him.  


How busy he is!   Writing away on his research, so very important.  His face illuminated by the glow of his computer, a lean sharp face, the face of a starving fox.  His eyes flick back across what he has written, and he mutters to himself and chews his chapped lower lip, which he always does when he is nervous.


I want to say, Kolya, stop!  Stop nibbling at your face!  You’ll make yourself bleed again!  So I say it.


But he does not listen.  Oh, Kolya.  You never listen.  


And there, look, of course he is bleeding.  It takes him a moment to realize it, because he is so distracted, so lost in his own thinking.


He half-realizes blood is flowing, feels it on his face.  He brushes at it, a smear of dark red on the light blue cuff of his rumpled collar shirt.  He sees the stain, grumbles.  He has done it again.  


Then his face vanishes from the screen as he fumbles in the pocket of his pants for a tissue, which he presses against his lip.  He does not stop reading, still working, one hand pressing against his lip to stop the bleeding, his mouth agape, his crooked teeth showing above the gum.


For such a brilliant man, he looks very stupid.  He continues muttering, his voice absurdly slurred.


I struggle not to laugh, but it does not matter.  He does not see me, because that is not how spyware works.


It is so silly for him to be wiping away the blood.  There will be so much more blood on his shirt when I kill him.  


That will be in, oh, what, five minutes?  


Maybe six.  Or ten.  I am not sure.  I am in no hurry.  It just needs to happen tonight.


And I would like him to finish his memo, because it’s really very good work.  Very important.  It could change all of history.


If he wasn’t going to die.  Which he is.


Still, even if you’re going to kill a man, it seems unfair not to let him finish the project that is his life’s greatest achievement.


His death will be a “robbery,” a sign of our times, one of the best scientific minds in the New Russian Federation snuffed out at the prime of his career.  And why?  So that some criminal can help themselves to his meager possessions?  So that his modest illicit cryptocurrency hoard can be ransacked, the handwritten access codes taken from his cracked safe?  


There will be a few articles in the “independent” media about the rise of crime, and about how the new president really needs to crack down.  Some arrests will be made.


And that will be that.  All as planned.


So tragic.  Dear, dear Kolya is the brightest of bright minds.  I have read all of our very thick dossier on him, not just once.  I’m almost proud of him.  


No, I am proud of him.  


I open my flat...it’s slow, of course, an old unit...and dig down into the menu to take one last look at his file.


Nikolai Sergeiovich Vostov is one of the best the Neo Russian Federation has to offer, from a long distinguished line of great scientists.  His great grandfather survived the gulag, then the sharashka, worked with Korolev and Mishin in those first heady days.  His grandmother, herself a force to be reckoned with, leading the further development of the RSS after the beautiful idiot Americans were helped along into their collapse into chaos.  Which left that orbiting station as an unguarded prize free for the taking.


That same station still shines in the night sky, ten times the size, like the north star above the clear air of the steppes.


And his father, oh, his father.  Without him, we would not have beaten our dear Chinese friends to the Moon.  Mother Russia’s flags would not now be able to claim so many of the ore-rich space rocks we now harvest.  None of that possible, had it not been for Sergei Ivanovich Rostov.  


At forty seven, Kolya honors their memory.  A lifetime of study, both a brilliant theoretician and a highly competent engineer.


His file is one triumph after another.   All the best marks in school.  Prize after prize.  Driven, earnest, utterly devoted to his work.  Completely loyal.  The ideal citizen.


And no carefully hidden perversions!  Not interesting on that front at all.  Just a failed and childless marriage, and she wasn’t right for a man of his focus and temperament anyway.  He doesn’t even drink!  Such a wonderfully odd man.


Without Kolya, the new Venera missions would not have succeeded.  Venus, once again the focus of Russian efforts now that the red soil of Mars is definitively Russian soil.  There would not be a ring of satellites around that shrouded world, scanning and mapping the hidden surface through the towering smothering blanket of clouds.  There would not be the eager dreamers talking about a thousand year project of terraforming that world some far off day.  


Why do this?  For no other reason than to show this world we rule it.  Russia, at the forefront of science!  Russia, the envy of the world, the sole superpower, greater even than at the height of our unprofitable Soviet hubris!


From his diligent, earnest submissions to the Directorate, his particular interest has been clearer and clearer.  A decade ago, from the Venera 15 orbiter, when the first hint of Venus Object 47 was reported.  The data, revealed in a scan of debris and microsatellites in orbit around the planet.  Necessary to insure the subsequent missions didn’t play bumpercars with existing objects.


Most were of no interest, just a smattering of debris.  But Object 47?  It was different.  Metallic, six meters in diameter, regularly shaped.  


Venera 16 and 17 confirmed it’s peculiar profile.  An object for special focus.  Then Venera 18.  A loss.  A very large explosion on the launch pad.  No deaths, which made it good for the state news.  People like explosions.  Bright colors and danger and noise add spice to life.


But Venera 19 included a side mission for the orbiter.  And a sophisticated probe and computing software, the very latest.  Only a handful knew about it.  Vostov himself.  Kureyev at the Ministry of Security.  And, of course, the Directorate.


When Vostov’s suspicions were confirmed, he took control.  Closed out all others.  Managed the contact with what was clearly not a natural object.  His instruments..a cutting edge nanoscale cryptoprocessing system I don’t even begin to understand... made the connection.  Uploaded results that were, how do they say, “interesting.”  


Results which he is now summarizing, in an exhaustive memo to the Directorate.


Kolya is meticulous and careful in all that he does, and does nothing rashly or without being absolutely certain of himself.  If he wasn’t, perhaps he wouldn’t be about to die.  That is such an irony.


A more headstrong man would have told everyone what he knew, perhaps the moment he first discovered it.  Would have shared with his team.  Would have perhaps fled to Japan, or to Switzerland.  We’d have found him and killed him there, too.  Russia does what it wishes, wherever it wishes.  But at least others would have known.


But that would not have been like Kolya.  Kolya had to keep his cards close to his chest.  Had to shut out everyone else once he began to realize what his discovery meant, hiding his suspicions behind the veil of security and state secrecy.   National interest, or so the clearance level indicated.  But really, he just had to be sure.  He had to know without a doubt that he was right, and had to have complete confidence in his findings.  


Which he is.  He knows he is correct.  I hope there will be a satisfaction in that.


Finally, finally, he pushes away from the screen.  He is done.  Through the audio, I can hear the sound of an ancient printer whirring away in the background.  


I take a deep breath, and sigh.  It is time.  I must stop putting this off.  I deactivate my flat.


I slide the old trusty Makarov into its soft, well-worn holster, and ease myself up.  I groan, because groaning is what I do now.  Fifty two years, and I am getting old for this job.  It’s good to be a big man in this profession, but after a while, you start feeling all that weight in your knees.


Out in the stairwell, it is hot.  Knees be damned.  I force myself to climb the stairs.  Six floors from my basement apartment to where he waits.  In part, because it is good for my heart.  Also, I do not trust the elevator in this old building.  Every other day, it breaks, and I would feel silly, stuck there ringing the lazy superintendent for hours  “Hey!  Come get me out!  I’m on my way to go kill my friend Kolya!”  Such things do happen.


One flight, then two.  I can feel the sweat beading on my forehead almost immediately.  Even in December, now, Baikonur is still so very warm.  Thirty two degrees yesterday!  And the air conditioning, crudely installed by drunken men who were not adequately paid off, works pretty much never.


That is a pity.  I think that every time I enter the building.


Because the world is warming, faster and faster now, it seems.  Even the state media comments on it, because you had to, because you couldn’t miss it.  It’s usually a joke.  Or talking about technical solutions.  Or about how sturdy and patient the people are.  It’s not a problem.  No need to worry.  So people don’t.  Why bother with something like that?  And it’s just weather, they say.


Forty years ago, as a boy, it was already hotter than it had been when his father was a boy.   But not like this.   It used to get cold sometimes.  There would be snow.  But I have not seen snow for five years.  Maybe six.  


Even up north, when “business” takes me there.  The world is changing.  We all feel it.


This change, like the fall of America a century ago, is a gift to Mother Russia, as the frozen wastes thaw and become...for now, at least...the new breadbasket of an increasingly starving world.   With the Arctic Sea completely open and iceless for a decade, and the Americas a feuding mess of confederacies, it is the trikolor flag that flies from the drilling rigs that harvest the last of the world’s crude.


We have the food.  We have the fuel.  Russia, ascendant, even as the deserts spread in the tropics and the crops fail in the American Southern Confederacy and Siberia is pleasant in the winter.  In Moscow, the new towers gleam and sparkle, and the big cars of the apparatchiks and the fliers of the oligarchs zip about.  


Such a strange, fleeting, glorious time.


I reach his floor and move down the hall to the right.  A woman passes me carrying a bag.  She is young and pretty, a slender Kazakh with broad cheekbones, her golden skin flecked with milk chocolate freckles.  My Ministry augmentation tells me her name, her record, everything.   I smile and tip my head.  


She does not even look at me.  This is a good choice.  Never look at or speak to big augmented men wearing suits with bulges at the armpits.  I think they teach that in the primary schools now.


There it is.  Number Seventy eight.  A nondescript grey door, the paint chipped and flecked, in a dimly lit hall.  The air hot and stale.


I take a moment to collect myself.  Then, after a breath, it is time.


I hit the door hard with my shoulder, and it buckles inward, but the bolts hold.  The stairway reverberates with the sound of the impact.  


Everyone hears it.  I know this.  That doesn’t matter, because we are Russian.  A Russian knows that if you hear a door being kicked in, you are thankful that it isn’t yours.  And you keep yours nice and closed and be sure you don’t see anything.  Don’t peek out.  Don’t get involved.


Because what would the point be, if you saw anything?  Just the risk that you might be thought to be a subversive, or one of those people who didn’t understand the necessity of minding one’s own business.


Such people disappear.  And who wants to disappear?  Better to see nothing.


I hit the door again, and the bolts burst, and I am in.  My entrance is not very graceful, and I feel a little lumbering as I regain my footing.  I’ve done better.


Kolya is there, on the far side of the room, near the small galley kitchen.  He is standing and looking right at me.  He looks a little flushed, but not really all that surprised.  


Not surprised by this very large man who has come through his door.  Nor by the small but effective pistol I have pulled from the holster.  He looks right at me, his eyes afire.  I can see his great mind working.


He does not move.


I nod my head in greetings, as I step in and slightly to the right, the door temptingly open to my left.  “Nikolai Sergeivich Vostov?”  As if it would be anyone else, but it seems good to finally formally greet him.


“You do not have to do this.”  He looks at me, and knows me.  So smart, my Kolya.


“Do what, my friend?”


“The object I am researching is not naturally occurring.  It’s an artifact of alien origin.  I must share this information with the Directorate.”


He certainly cuts right to the chase.  I say nothing.


“Surely you know what that means.  There was life on Venus.  Life!   The Venera were not just life, but civilization.  They reached into space, as we have.  Object four seven is a satellite, one that has survived billions of years.”


I nod again, my genial smile unchanging.  “Yes, Dr. Rostov.  We’re very aware of that.  It’s been in your reports.”


“And I have deciphered the information from the probe that made contact, from what it has been streaming through the secure channels, all of it.”


“Of course you have.  I’ve read your summary.  It’s very thorough.”


“You’ve read?  But it was for the Directorate, securely…but Kureyev must have...”


His mind grasped what that meant.  That they had read it.  That they had shared it with the Ministry of Security.  That the Ministry of Security has passed it on up, and that they were told...to send me.  Kureyev himself had given my authorization.


“But they can’t, the summary, if they’ve read the summary, you...you must realize what this means.  They must read what I have written!  The Venera left us everything they knew.  Everything.  That life arose there, over the billion years Venus was habitable.  That after stops and starts, they became sentient.”


I nod, and he continues, his voice growing more and more agitated.  


“But they made mistakes, mistakes we have replicated.  Their history is there, all of it.  Different technologies, ones of value.  But also their use of carbon fuels, from the hundreds of millions of years life existed on that dead world.  The climactic chain reaction.  That over seven hundred years, their atmospheric carbon levels exploded, their shortsighted industrial activity coupling with natural processes to trigger the cascading process that turned Venus from a habitable world into a hellscape.”  


He is almost shrill now, lost in his final monologue.  I let the words flow over me.  It’s always a little embarrassing, honestly, for a man to lose his composure in this situation.  They so often do.  I’d hoped he wouldn’t.  But it would be unfair of me to blame him.  He really does care about his work.


“It’s all there, all there left as a warning.  We’re seeing it now, all of it here on Earth, the same cascading out of control.  You think this weather will change?  Will just right itself, will plateau?  This will be the end, the end of us, we have to act, have to.”


He pauses, sees that I am still placidly smiling.


“You don’t understand.  This will not stop.  You have to see this, you...whatever your name is...have to see how...how important this is.  You have a choice!  Your family!  Your friends!  We are dooming ourselves, to…”


“In two hundred years.  Maybe three.”


“But we can slow it, buy ourselves time, maybe find a way to…”


He is stalling now, stalling with a conversation about stalling.  I like that, and indulge him for a moment.  My voice, nice and easy and calming.


“To what?  Forstall the inevitable?  Why?  Why cause a panic now, just to buy a few dozen pointless years?  And you must know that there are trillions of rubles worth of crude still to be extracted from our Arctic holdings.  Russia has so much to gain, which the Directorate sees as valuable.”  


There’s a flash of defiant anger in his face now, one that makes him look like the pictures of his grandmother in his file.


“What does that mean!  What does power and profit mean, when the world will die?  And there are billions, billions who will starve...surely you see...you see that…”


“Some will survive.  Enough.  Or not.  And why make the people upset about something that they can do nothing about?”


I smile, and I look at him, right in the eyes, man to man as he deserves.  


“We all die sometime, Nikolai Sergeivich Vostov.”


He understands what I mean when I say that.  Even before I raise the pistol.


When he moves, he does not come for me.  Wise, because I am a much bigger man.  He moves for the door, just as I had expected, and I am surprised at how quick he is.  I would not have thought he would still be that fast at his age.


Tiff tiff tiff, says my Makarov through its silencer.  


It sounds like two little rods of iron knocked together, so unmusical, just a very flat sound.  It would be nicer if it was a little bell, or something with a pleasant tone, something Kolya could hear and appreciate in these last moments of his life.


But it is just a tool, and the sound is dull.  A pity.


He stumbles, surprised, they always look surprised, three little holes in his blue shirt.  There is more of a mess on the other side, I am sure.


He lies there, gasping, the bright fire in his eyes dimming.  Shock.  There is not enough time for pain.


Tiff, says the Makarov again, and he is still.


“You were a brilliant man, Kolya,” I say, to the empty room.


I look around at his apartment.  I was too focused on killing him to really pay attention before, and a person’s home tells you so much about them.  


It is a small apartment, humble, but thoughtful.  Everything is orderly and in its place.  The paintings and pictures, neatly hung and tasteful, a mingling of abstractions and scenes of nature.  The kitchen, small, but with quality cookware logically presented.   Lighting, subtle and perfect.


Simple and elegant and functional.  I would have expected no less.  I breathe in, and let out a sigh.  After I secure all of the data from his illegally firewalled computer and break into his safe, I will have to smash much of it.  The apartment must look ransacked, after all.


It is all such a pity.


But business is business.