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 Predatel' - Aleksei's Arc, Part 1

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Xandra



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Join date : 2010-09-17

PostSubject: Predatel' - Aleksei's Arc, Part 1   Sun Nov 22, 2015 2:29 am

"Lyosha…"

He hated that name. Only she got away with calling him that. "Yes, Irina?" he asked.

"There was a man outside," the small girl said from over her teddy bear. The damned thing went everywhere with her, he was noticing. A side-effect to being a girl, he was certain, or perhaps just being young. "He says that you know him."

"How very informative," he said dryly, not even bothering to look up from his notes. All around him, the floor was littered with loose sheets of paper, crumpled and flat, some covered in scarcely-legible chicken-scratch, other pieces marked with printer ink, still drying on the floor. "I know several people. Tell whoever it is that I am busy."

"Why?"

"Because I am working on something important." An edge of temper entered his voice. It was no lie; he was busy, though perhaps not in the classic sense. His usual notes, pages and pages of compounds and codes, lie buried beneath his current obsession. He took a moment to glance at his wrist-watch, then fell once more to writing, assuming his sister would grow bored and leave him be.

Of course, with women, nothing ever worked as it should. By definition, they were contrary. For this reason, she remained there in front of him, her bear tucked under her blunt little chin. It wasn’t until he looked up that she spoke again. "Don’t you want to see your friend?" she asked, blinking owlishly at him.

Frustration boiled up beneath his temples, but he quickly choked it down. She meant no harm, he reminded himself. Anyone else was a waste of his time, even his own useless mother. Everyone except Irina, who was trying to help, and only annoying because it was within her nature. He sighed, lowering his work. "I’m busy, Ira," he said, more gently than before. "I need to work now. Do you understand?"

She blinked at him, once, then again, then nodded her head, her bear nodding with her. "I do."

"Good," he sighed. "Now go tell whoever it is to leave."

"Okay, Lyosha." With that, she waddled away.

Satisfied, Aleksei turned his attention back to his notes, taking up his pen once more. His solace was fleeting, however, as his sister had not taken more than a single step outside the door before breaking his concentration again.

"He says you have to leave, because he is very busy."

He looked up as a low chuckle echoed from out in the hall. "Vladimir?"

"The nerve," came the low, dry answer. The narrow doorway was abruptly blocked by the broad figure of another man, tall and thick-built like any good criminal should be. Dark hair tied loosely out of his way, he smirked. "Ask for my help, then have a small secretary send me away?" He shook his head, tsking, then looked down at once to the little presence lurking just beside his leg. He patted her on the head. "And to use so cute a girl to deliver the message. You are truly manipulative, Aleksei."

That he couldn’t argue with.

"I thought your name was Vova," Irina chimed in, tilting her head back to look up at the battered giant of a man. "I can’t say the other name."

"Vova is my name," he agreed, nodding exaggeratedly. He then leaned down, whispering loudly, as if to keep the chemist from overhearing. "But Mr. Smart Guy wants to keep sounding smart. Only cute little girls sound right saying that. And guess who’s a cute little girl?"

Irina blinked. "I like you." She turned her head to look at the seated teenager, squeezing her bear to punctuate the statement. "He’s nice."

Nice? Aleksei rolled his eyes, a smirk tugging at the corner of his lips. Oh, to be so young and naïve. What a handicap it must’ve been for her. "Go and play, little sister," he said, gesturing Vova into the room, "the nice man and I have work to do."

"He has to work too?"

"Yes. Go and bother Mama."

With a sour little pout, away she went, shuffling off down the hall.

Vova chuckled deeply as he sunk to the floor, kneeling amongst the blueprints and schematics. "So, Lyosha," he sneered, "What exactly did you want me for?"

"Shut up," Aleksei snapped. He brushed a few freshly-printed floorplans his way, "and have a look at that. We have a busy night ahead."

****

The unwelcome sound of sirens pierced the still and silent night, sending cold waves of terror racing through the skinny teenager. That sound, he thought bitterly, was not a part of the picture he’d worked so hard to plot out. But that was the trouble with small towns. When something went wrong, the police were fast to respond.

He had run surveillance on this place for weeks, had even gone so far as to don his old messenger uniform, strictly for the purpose of getting inside long enough to get a look at the layout. That moment to him had been akin to that instant in which every child lays eyes upon a great and glorious toy, and knows one thing: they must have it. He had gained access to the university’s laboratories, having long since grown bored of his own school’s facilities, but even then, everything he sought to learn from, wanted to work with, was locked away. Not for children, they told him. As if he were some mindless teenager. His age notwithstanding, he was twice as smart as any university aid, three times more than any other his age. Having seen what a true research facility looked like, he’d been overcome by the desire to use it, to take things from it, and to use them for his research.

The young chemist stared hatefully at the other presence from his place atop the counter, recognizing the mark of a laser-point against the much older man’s pant-leg. He’d stepped through the sensor, and the system had alerted the police. Had he come alone, he would have had the presence of mind to recognize such a simple trigger and to avoid it. Then again, had he come alone, he would not have been able to get in at all, as he was no where near strong enough to break the padlock from the side-entry door. Ah, the trials of those who sought for knowledge!

"Aleksei!" the other hissed at him again. For one so large and visibly imposing, he looked awfully shaken by the sound of the militsiya’s approach. "I thought you said you scouted this place!"

"I did, Vova," he snapped, testily. Coward. Still, he couldn’t deny the steady rise of bile at the back of his throat, his nerves twisting mercilessly in alarm beneath every inch of his skin. Yes, they were in trouble, but panicking wasn’t going to get them out of it. It certainly wasn’t going to save his hide. Eyeing the crowbar clutched in his gloved hand, he sighed, then threw it into the air, elbowing shut the cabinet he’d just taken all the trouble to wretch open. "I had thought you would’ve noticed that trigger you’re standing in before stepping on it like an idiot." That was a lie, of course. He hadn’t noticed it, either. The stars in his eyes had obscured his view of the security system, rigged with a silent-alarm, and led him to believe in his foolishness that they would not be caught. Of all the things to overlook.

Lightning-fast, Vova snatched the implement right out of the air, catching it cleanly in his left hand, then took a moment to look down at his leg, only to step backward in surprise, as if doing so would undo what had already been done. It was too late—they were going to jail if something wasn’t done fast. "I’m won’t go back," he growled. As Aleksei jumped down to the ground, the elder boy pointed the crowbar at him, threateningly. "Not for you, or anyone. If I go to prison—"

"Will you calm down?" Brushing himself off, Aleksei threw a wanting glance back over his shoulder, then sighed. Already the sirens were right outside the doors, and any moment, they’d be kicking them in, or calling the two of them to come out. There was no use pocketing anything, or trying to slip away. A wasted night! Of course, that was the least of his worries. After a moment of thought, he glanced once more at the rough older male, who even now was looking to him for guidance. A side-effect of not having a brain, of course. "Do you actually think I don’t have a plan?" he asked, his voice much calmer than he actually felt. "Idiot. Come on." He always had a plan, no matter how confident he felt. He started toward the front door, removing his gloves as he went and tucking them into his hip pockets, where they wouldn’t be noticed.

"You had better," Vova grumbled, jabbing him in the ribs with the crowbar on the way by. He discarded it, allowing it to crash to the floor with a resounding ‘CLANK’, and followed him from the lab. "It’s too late to run."

"It was too late to run when you stepped through that sensor."

"Why didn’t you bother to tell me about it then, O omniscient genius?"

"Because I over-estimated your intelligence and assumed you’d notice."

"You’re full of shit," the other man growled as they made their way down the corridor, "and you had better be ready to fix it."

The sound of footsteps just beyond the doors sent another involuntary shiver down his spine. This was going to take some quick figuring on his part. "I said I had a plan, didn’t I?" That said, Aleksei lifted his hands, then looked up at his partner. "Pretend to cooperate."

Vova stared. "Cooperate?"

"Cooperate," he repeated, waving his hands impatiently over his head. Reluctantly, Vova did the same, lifting his great big hands into a non-threatening position. "No use getting shot."

"I’d rather die than end up back there."

"Stop being so dramatic," he spat, and reached down to push open the heavy steel door before them. Taking a deep breath, he shoved it open all the way, then at once lifted his hand again, letting the door rest against his side. "I don’t know about you, but I’m not going to prison."

As expected, several law enforcement vehicles awaited them, and just enough militsioners for both boys to feel uncomfortable. Without blinking an eyelash, Aleksei descended the steps to the ground, Vova’s broad shadow close on his heels, stepping easily into custody, his face the picture of innocence more befitting his age. Had he been widely visible moments before, in the dark confines of the restricted building, no one would have believed him to be the sixteen-year-old prodigy Aleksei Zel’dovich, and no one would have thought he was innocent. Conversely, no one looking at twenty-two-year-old thug Vladimir Koretsov could’ve possibly suspected that the poor fool was his grunt in this scheme.

"Tell them nothing," Aleksei whispered, "I’ll take care of it—I promise."

"You’d better," Vova repeated, and then they were separated.

And privately, he smiled. He had meant every word that he said, so technically, he wasn’t lying…not yet. But one thing was for certain: he had no plans of going to jail.

****


"Lyosha…"

He hated that name. Only she got away with calling him that. "Yes, Irina?" he asked.

"What happened to your friend?"

'Friend.'

Tick. Tick. Tick. ‘Your friend is being very quiet.’ Tick. Tick. ‘Would you like to tell us what he won’t?’ Tick.

The word itself meant nothing to him, not anymore. Perhaps it was just his own callousness, but the term sounded empty to him. He didn’t have friends—he never had, and likely never would. Especially not at the rate he was going.

He had to stop thinking that way. It was unproductive.

When he failed to answer, she merely drew closer to him, staring hugely at him from beneath her pale fringe. "Did he go away?" she asked. Now this, this was innocence. There was no malice in her face, and something in him doubted that there ever would be. Even hoped against it. Again, he didn’t respond. Flustered, Irina huffed, then flopped down on the floor beside him, scattering his notes with the movement. "I liked him," she said.

"You won’t see him again." Aleksei turned the page in his notebook, scribbling distractedly along the margin of the fresh sheet. It was all he could do to keep from looking at her and seeing those eyes, and the eyes of her bear. Watching him. Asking what he’d done, and why. He didn’t elaborate, didn’t think to. He just kept writing.

There was a moment in which his pencil’s scratching was the only sound. "Oh," she said at length. She turned her head to look up at him. "He was nice."

Tick. Tick. Tick. The old clock slowly ticked away the seconds, the minutes, the sound just audible over the roar of blood in his ears. ‘He threatened my sister.’ It was so easy, so impossibly effortless…like pouring water. Smooth and cool, without guilt. ‘I had no choice.’

"And now he’s gone."

He halfway expected her to argue back, in the way she had been every day this week. She had asked him several dozen different ways what had happened to his friend, where he was, and why he didn’t come back to tell her she was cute, and to be nice to her. When she didn’t continue the discussion, he decided that she’d run out of ways to rephrase the question he wouldn’t answer. He continued to write, refusing to look up.

"You should have friends, Lyosha," she said suddenly, looking up at him again, as if that statement was the answer to the questions they both had. "You’ll be lonely."

‘No!’ Far behind him, a door slammed open, and the sound of objects flying and militsiya officers struggling echoed toward him down the hall. ‘You lying little bastard! I trusted you!’

The point of his pencil snapped right off, flying into the air. "I don’t need friends," he said darkly, staring hatefully at the crater now marring his fresh sheet of notebook paper. He hated the way something inside of him cringed with that phrase. Still, he said it again, gripping tight to the implement, now useless, in his hand. "I don’t need them."

Sharp words bounced harmlessly off his back, leaving not a mark of guilt as he headed toward the doors, and his freedom. He had performed flawlessly, and now his ‘friend’ would serve his final purpose: to take his place, and all the blame. And it didn’t hurt at all.

‘Aleksei!’ Vova shouted after him. ‘You traitor!’

He didn’t dare look back. No matter how hard he tried to convince himself that the fault was not his own, he knew that if he looked back, the stripes he’d hidden would show. The false-innocence he’d fought for would fade to reveal his guilt. He couldn’t look back, because then he would get what any normal criminal deserved: a prison sentence, a punishment. He was too smart to be punished. He wouldn’t be accountable.

He’d meant for this to happen.

‘Traitor!’


He snapped abruptly from the harrowing voices in his mind, the images he’d been trying so hard to drown in formulas and numbers, chemical compounds, calculations and various other worthless bits of busywork. What frightened him the most was not that he had done an injustice to a so-called friend, but the ease with which the lies had come. He hadn’t had to struggle for his answers, they had just appeared, and made so much convenient sense. He’d covered his tracks without even thinking, wearing gloves, and making certain all tools bore the fingerprints of his counterpart. It had been so simple, the evil he’d done. Was it possible for one human being to feel nothing while dooming another?

Something soft and small toppled over beside him, drawing his eyes. In his long moment of inactivity, Irina had wandered away, as often she did when he failed to amuse her. That did not surprise him. What did was the presence of her teddy bear, apparently having been seated at his side, now lying amongst the work he’d spread across his floor. The stuffed little creature, so worn from constant love and affection, seemed to look sadly up at him from the ground, as if in sympathy. Perhaps it was not the only thing to have fallen.

With a heavy sigh, Aleksei closed his eyes again. "I don’t need friends," he told himself, cruelly shoving the pitying toy away. "I don’t need anyone."

****

The cool evening wind brushed gently across his neck, playfully rustling the hair against his nape and inspiring him to adjust his collar. It was colder today than it had been all week, and the passing of the breeze was slowly beginning to aggravate him. The fact that the air all around him was cold made the sudden warmth that gusted by his ear all the more unnerving. His whole back went rigid in reaction.

"Lyosha…"

He hated that name. He hadn’t heard it in five years, and not from that voice in seven. The very sound turned his blood to ice in his veins. "…Vova…" The name was almost soundless, and yet it remained in the air long after the syllables had passed his lips.

Warm breath washed over his bare shoulder, carried on a low, throaty chuckle that had once been a sign of amusement. Perhaps that was what it meant, in reality, though it was no longer a good sign. "You remember me," the low voice purred against his ear in another heated wash of breath, so close it made him shudder. "I’m flattered."

He didn’t dare try to turn, or to scramble away. He had heard the rumors, what the others said; he’d be dead before he hit the floor, and no one would hear him scream. Instead, he remained painfully still, like a rabbit in fear of the jaws of a wolf—jaws which even now hovered eerily close to his face. For once in his life, his sharp mind felt frighteningly dull, numb with fear for what was to come. Fear that was well-justified.

"You lied to me, Aleksei…"

"I didn—" And just that quickly, the cold, flat edge of a blade touched his Adam’s apple, cutting short his protest.

"Hush," he hissed against his ear, and the sound was vicious, almost inhuman. He had never expected his ‘friend’ to be the same when and if they met again—something he had prayed against for years, until that day—but the difference in him was tangible, right through the skin suddenly pressed against him. The body touching his was as hard as stone, huge, and frigid cold against his back, arms thicker and mottled with marks, tattoos and battle scars the likes of which he’d never seen. This was not the same fool he had walked away from that night. It was hard to believe it was the same person at all. Maybe, in some sense, it wasn't. "I won’t hear your lies. I know you."

All he could think was that he hoped to live, to walk away from him again. But something told him that was unlikely.

There was a small pause as Vova let the words sink in, verifying his unquestionable command of the unfortunate situation. "I know you," he repeated coldly, "so well now…so very well. You and your devil’s tongue." Here he stopped, and craned his neck to blow sharply against the back of his neck, a gesture that made him jerk, startled. The cold sting of the knife’s sharp blade at his throat quickly reminded him to be still. "I always hoped I’d see you again…so I could tell you how I feel about you, after all this time."

Those words, under any other circumstance, could have been many things—the plea of an ex-lover, perhaps even an old friend. But the sinister tone in which they were whispered there against his nape inspired in him nothing but fear for his life. The day he had signed his ‘friend’ away, he had still been innocent, at least in some small form. He hadn’t know the nature of the Russian prison system…how wretched, how evil a place the Zone could be. Some called it Hell, and indeed there were devils here. He was nothing but a mouse compared to many…compared to the one breathing fire down his neck in the dank, freezing corner of the prison.

He had implicated someone who trusted him in a crime that was not his, one that was not as horrible as he had made it out to be. He had doomed him to this, not knowing the pain a place like this could cause—or the madness. It wasn’t until he had become a prisoner that he’d realized just what he’d done. It was no question of guilt. It was a question of survival.

The great beast crouched behind him let out another dark sound of amusement. He felt it in hsi bones. "You expect me to kill you." It was a statement more than a question. Aleksei didn’t breathe, wincing fiercely as the sharp edge of the blade suddenly shifted to press with terrifying firmness against the hollow of his throat. "I should kill you." Every beat of his heart thrummed against that edge, pushing so hard against his flesh without biting through. Then, just as quickly as it had appeared, the knife vanished, only to be replaced by a hand, wrapping mercilessly around his throat, balking the passage of air to his lungs. With a chuckle, Vova jerked his head back, and the sharp tip of his tongue snaked out to skate along the edge of his ear, sending a gross, creepy feeling running down his back.

He cringed reflexively away, only to find hand on his neck tightening, sending disquieting splashes of color across his vision.

"No, no," Vova whispered almost gently in that rough, scratchy voice. "Don’t move…" There was an eerie smile audible in his voice, like that of a child observing a dying rat. And that was what he was. "You’ll hurt yourself, and then where will I be…?"

For half a second, Aleksei was tempted to rake his hand with his nails, his chest burning from lack of air. But doing so to a man twice his size would only earn him a broken neck. His head was beginning to swim, the images around him flickering in and out, black patches branching out across the edges of his eyes.

And then, he could breathe for an instant before he hit the floor, and the wind was knocked out of him again. He coughed hard, so hard he choked, grasping desperately at his aching throat with one hand, the other grasping fruitlessly at the bare stone floor, seeking a weapon, or just a means of escape. He didn’t want to die. He thought it again and again.
I don’t want to die.

That same unforgiving hand slammed suddenly down on the back of his neck, crushing him to the ground once more. "You," Vova snarled down at him, grip closing again, threatening to repeat the torture he’d just endured. "You with your razor tongue, bending words to do your chores, so you can come out clean while everyone else ends up entangled in dirty linens. I don’t want you to die…you don’t deserve death. What I want is for you to suffer."

As the air was crushed once more from his body, Alek decided then that he’d rather black out, to escape what he knew would be an ongoing chain of torture and relief, then torture again. And this was just the beginning. He was toying with him. Warming up for what would inevitably be so much worse. Perhaps he deserved it…but he didn’t want it. Couldn’t stand the thought of enduring whatever he had in store. The option of opting out was not given; the moment he began to swoon, his head struck the floor with a blast of white, and he was awake again, and in pain. Almost blind with it.

"Yes, you should suffer…" that cruel voice growled, again so close, so horribly, terrifyingly close. "You wrap your words around others’ minds, take away their sanity…sacrifice them, for yourself. You are very selfish…"

His throat was bare—Vova’s hand now held his chin, the other braced somewhere on the floor nearby—and yet he couldn’t seem to catch his breath. It took him a long while to realize that the reason was because his thin body was crushed against the blistering-cold floor, beneath the weight of his much larger captor. His ribs gave painfully, threatening to snap under the weight bearing down on him. Hot breath washed over his shoulders and neck, rustling his hair and making him wince through the pain and fear.

In the swirling chaos of his consciousness, brought on by suffocation and mind-numbing terror, that low voice, and the ever-present weight were the only things that were solid—painfully so, solid heat bearing him down, contrasting sharply with the frigid, unforgiving words that bit into his mind, sliced him to ribbons even as he drifted. He wished they would fade as well, as all his similar nightmares had. Yes, this was a nightmare…but he was awake. "My Judas…" Vova whispered tenderly in his ear, fingers gripping with bruising force beneath his jaw, "My dear friend—how I love you so…so much that I will save you from yourself…" He laughed then, not a chuckle, but a sound of actual joy…a sound that would haunt his dreams for the rest of his life. A sound that meant no pity would be shown, no sympathy, that no words would protect him from his fury. "I will teach you what it means to
hurt…to be afraid. Only then will you truly know your sin…"

Alek’s fingers brushed gingerly over the diamond-shaped brand scalded into his throat, then at once drew his collar up to conceal it. One of many marks he had earned for his treachery. Predatel’—traitor. The dark block letters felt heavy, like a constant pressure against his low back, from the moment they had been forcibly engraved there. It was the mark of his stigma—that, and this burn. The brand from the ring Vova likely still carried. It said to the world that he had told, sold him out, and the accusing predatel’ revealed that he had lied. Sentenced a man, a friend to death in the Zone.

"Mister…?"

His head snapped up at once to regard a small girl, standing there on the street beside him. He hadn’t even realized he’d stopped moving in his moment of reflection. In the orange-gold light of the sunset, the small blonde child looked so like the sister he had abandoned when he fled from Russia. Deep inside of him, something ached at the sight of the pigtailed girl.

When he failed to respond, she blinked hugely up at him. "Are you okay?" she asked him.

Aleksei hated children, especially American children…but something about her resemblance to Irina inspired him to reassure her. "I am all right," he answered, feeling the Muskovite accent heavy on his tongue. He always felt odd speaking to the natives, and more so when he went from thinking in his language to speaking in theirs. "Thank you very much."

She blinked at him, then smiled, and in an instant continued on her way, hurrying along the empty sidewalk to catch up to the mother she’d left. A teddy bear flailed excitedly behind her like a merry flag as she departed.

Sighing to himself, the chemist pressed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with one hand, the other rising to once more press his collar firmly over that treacherous mark. Again, he began to walk, shrugging his tense shoulders to loosen the tension there. Now, more than ever, he felt torn between two truths: he could never return to his home, but this country would never replace it. The things that awaited him there were in direct balance, one wonderful, one dreadful, and because of them both, he was trapped there. As he slipped his hands once again into his pocket, his bare fingers brushed over the folded letter, and the cool metal of the broken gold locket forever in his possession. He resisted the urge to draw them both out there on the street, and instead continued walking.

Never a complaint—never a sad word, but always in her letters, the use of his childhood pet-name, and the words ‘I miss you’ broke his apathetic heart. No one quite hurt him the way that she did. ‘I want to come to America,’ her neat handwriting said each letter, ‘I wonder if it is beautiful there.’

He sighed, his fingers closing gently around the folded sheet of pink and gold letterhead.  

‘I hope that you are happy, and safe.’


Safe was not something that he could ever be again…but that was not for her to know. She could never come there. She would never know that he had left for his safety, and for her own, so that the beast that trailed him would never get his claws on her.

But still, he had to fear those same claws that had once marked him forever. He had run away hoping that the vastness of Russia and America would act as a strong wall between his own throat and those merciless hands. Koshmar—‘Nightmare,’ the tabloids called him. Vova Koretsov, the pitiless murderer, locked up forever for his crimes against man.

"I will exist forever as your nightmare…and like a plague, I will haunt you, I will torment you until you breathe your very last."

He would escape again, he knew. He would come for him. Aleksei knew that now. Even with the support of the Black Tears, it was only a matter of time. He was in no way foolish enough to believe that the name of any organization, even a criminal one, would stop a madman like Vova from coming after him. Perhaps the Black Tears would protect him…perhaps not. For now, all he could do was work and try to make himself not just useful, but indispensable, so that he would be safe until he could be certain that Vova would not find him. Or until he could protect himself when he did.

It was a hopeless endeavor, he felt. As he made his way through the dull and grimy streets of the city’s lower-downtown area, headed toward his laboratory and the research he had there, he felt horribly cold, as if the icy fingers of death had descended upon him, to grasp at his back. Reminding him that he was on borrowed time.

He didn’t need friends. Didn’t have them—didn’t have anyone at all to rely on. And when the day came that his only friend came for him at last, he felt that his own pride would be the only thing to stand between them.

Perhaps Irina had been right…perhaps he should have tried, when trying was still an option. Now, he was certain that even if he had, it wouldn't make a difference in the world. He was predatel'...he was a traitor. And no one could trust him for that.

He had sealed his own fate.
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