Marina Garnova reached her office later than anyone else in the morning. She was the manager of the public post, telephone, and telegraph company in the capital. She worked efficiently in her small office until the afternoon, then when she felt she could no longer breathe inside, she escaped her room. Once outside, she saw two of her best friends at the corner They joked with one another. They talked about politics. All three supported the Voronin Initiative but didn’t feel comfortable speaking informally since other people were around.
Later in the afternoon, Marina checked her to-do list. She noticed that she had completed her tasks for that day, so she began to read the daily newspaper she bought that morning. She checked the front page of the paper. The news was about the war in the north. She read the article about the tsar’s past. The author explained how the tsar changed during the war period. New lies, she thought.
She remembered previous times, when the tsar was mighty and protected the country from its enemies. Then the winter came to the state. First, Andrei Alamov murdered the tsar. Then people began to create hundreds of lies about the tsar. However, Marina knew the truth. Marina knew that they were enemies of the tsar because he was a patriot and a religious man. She saw the picture of Ivan Oblomov, and she felt disgusted. She remembered the oath of those who fought for the revolution. They claimed, “All men are equal.” How could she be equal with a Tajikistani or Kazakhstani man? She missed the tsar. He was the one who knew how to handle these parasites. He was man enough to squeeze these bugs. They murdered him because he wanted to protect Russians and Mother Russia. Maybe the revolution was successful, and they now manage the country, but we are still much more numerous across the country. One day this nation will remember its roots.
Marina sipped from her cup of coffee. Her eyes caught sight of an empty chair in front of her little office. She could not help but look at the empty chair and the empty desk, which had belonged to her best friend, Natalia. She met Natalia before the revolution started. She was the most beautiful girl she had ever seen, but she was young and naive too. She could lose her way in the big city quickly. It was possible that people could mislead her.
Marina showed her how to love the tsar. She taught her how to be a patriot. However, one day an unexpected tragedy happened. Imperial police officers confused Natalia with a dangerous revolutionary. They took Natalia away, and nobody saw her again. Her family was afraid to contact the police station, so she just disappeared from the world. Marina knew in her heart that she was dead and felt anger at the revolution. It was their fault. They were responsible for her death because they betrayed their country’s beloved leader.
Suddenly Marina felt like somebody was watching her. She looked at every corner of the office, but she could not see anything out of the ordinary. Everybody seemed busy with their own jobs. She turned back to reading the newspaper. She just turned the pages carelessly, then she looked at pictures. The last sheet of the paper was the sports section. Since her husband loved football, she scanned the news quickly—a friendly football game between Russia and England resulted in a draw. The title of the article about the sports competition was “Football Is a Game of Mistakes.” She glanced at the clock and saw that her work day was almost over. She breathed deeply and stood up. She took time to clear her desk and then left her office. After exiting the building, she strode to her car.
Her husband was an engineer and an inventor, and he had made a small automobile for her. He told her that only a few automobiles existed in the entire country, and that this was the best among them because he made it with love. Indeed, for many months the automobile worked like a Swiss watch.
Marina was proud of her small automobile. She unlocked the car’s door and checked the vehicle carefully before she got in. She was happy to see there were no new scratches on the body—a rascal from the street had previously scratched it with his key.
She drove faster than she normally did. She wanted to get home. Again she had the feeling that somebody was watching her. It seemed that hundreds of faces were watching her! But then it began to rain outside, and she had to reduce to her speed.
Suddenly, she heard a noise from the front of the car. The engine made a strange sound and she thought something had cracked it. The car stopped. She sighed, unlocked the car, and got out. The rain had slowed down, but she did not notice. She lifted the car’s hood and stared at the engine, but she realized she could not solve the problem. Looking around for somebody who might help her, Marina at first did not see anybody. Then on a second look, she saw a man inside a garden behind a gate. He was quite tall, standing behind the iron bars and looking ahead. Feeling panicked, she did not notice that something was wrong with him. Why would a man stay in the garden under the rain?
She walked toward him and asked, “Sir, could you please help me? I have a problem with my car.”
The man’s voice was joyful and cruel simultaneously. “I cannot help you, Marina Garnova. Nobody can help you now!”
She started to ask, “How do you know—” but then the stranger smiled and she saw his teeth. They were not a man’s teeth. They were wolf’s teeth. The wolf, the only wolf, she thought, and she looked up and saw his red eyes. She stepped back. Suddenly she felt pain in her head, and she collapsed. Her eyes closed. Before she lost consciousness, she remembered the newspaper article: “Football Is a Game of Mistakes.”
You put the wrong people in your heart, Marina. You made many mistakes in your life, and now you will pay for them.
When she opened her eyes, she saw ghosts around her. Hundreds of wondering eyes looked at her. She recognized Natalia’s face among them. Her once beautiful face was full of black-and-blue marks, and she noticed that her brain was visible through the opening on the left front side of her head.
Natalia saw her too. “Marina is that you?” she asked.
Marina tried to turn her head, not wanting to see her face.
But Natalia came closer to her. “Look, what happened to me,” Natalia said with a deep voice. “You told me to follow the leader. You told me he would bring us the daylight. You told me the Republican people are our enemies. Look what your leader did to me, Marina. In my short life, I loved the wrong people because of you. You told me that you love the monster because he protects the country and our religion, and I believed you. I was too foolish. You lied to me, Marina. You did not love him because of that. You loved him because he promised to do evil to the unprotected poor people. You thought that they are a few and weak and you were many and powerful. You were thirsty to do evil. You drank the black water he gave you and gave me that black water to drink too. You poisoned me, Marina. You made me the enemy of my sisters and my brothers. I died together with my Tajikistani brothers.
“Where were you, Marina, when I needed you? Why did you not come and search for me? You had influence as a senior state officer. Why didn’t you do anything? I waited for you there in prison; I hoped you would come until the moment I died. I prayed to God to send you to save me. After I died my soul stayed here, and I searched for you everywhere. Now I have found you in this twilight.”
Marina heard a man’s voice behind Natalie’s ghost. “Marina, I have known your love for me for a long time. Now you have to do something for me.”
Remnants of the Empire Army
Ivan Oblomov flipped open his pocket watch. “Late again,” he said. “These magical training sessions do not teach him how to be punctual.”
Ivan’s wife, Sofia, laughed and said, “Come on, we still have time before your speech.”
A knock on the door was followed quickly by the entry of one Republic officer. “Comrade Alamov is here, General, and he asks your permission to enter the war room.”
“Permission granted. Send him inside,” Ivan said.
Andrei Alamov entered the room and smiled at his old friend. “How are you, Ivan?”
Ivan quickly stood up from his chair and hugged him. “Great.”
Andrei then turned to his sister Sofia and greeted her warmly.
When Andrei turned to the other generals in the room, Ivan saw him look carefully at their faces without any sign of recognition.
Ivan introduced some generals and then looked at Andrei and smiled. “When was the last time I saw you?”
“Almost five years ago.”
Ivan sat back in his chair. “I am glad that you did not refuse my offer and interrupted your training to come here tonight…to be with us.”
Andrei said. “You wrote that it is an important matter regarding the war.”
Ivan looked at his fingers for a moment. “Indeed, I wrote that. Well, tonight we may start an attack that could finish this war for good,” he said.
He looked at the magician’s face to see the effect of his words.
Andrei surveyed the room. The walls were a dark gray from the floor up to waist height, where they changed to a light gray up to the ceiling. That color style was almost standard for all the Republic meeting rooms. Twelve officers sat around a rectangular table. Ten generals and two admirals were in the room. He noticed the dark green cloth on the table. Almost all the officers around the table were smoking. The white smoke under the yellow light reminded Andrei of his days during the Great War. When he looked carefully, he saw some cigarette holes in the fabric. There were books and letters in front of the generals. Only two were taking notes while the others discussed a letter in low voices.
Andrei heard some angry words about timing, but he could not understand what the discussion could be about. Behind them, two other low ranked officers were talking quietly. Andrei observed their dark green uniforms with wonder. He could not guess their divisions or their duties in the room. He checked their faces. Both seemed bored with the endless discussions in the room. He met their eyes one by one. However, they did not show friendliness toward the hero of the Republic.
Andrei turned his attention to the large map in the middle of the table. The map, which covered almost half the table, was different from standard military maps. Andrei thought masters must have prepared the map especially for this meeting. The only lamp in the room shone over the map. Andrei walked to the map, glancing at its black and white points. He studied some black spots for a few seconds, and then he asked, “As far as I know there are more than two hundred sectors led by the Imperial army. How can you finish the war with one action?”
Ivan stood and joined Andrei at the table. “The black points are the remnants of the old empire army. However, after the tsar’s death, there was civil war within their cities. Now there are more than one hundred different names of states, and they are destroying themselves very effectively.”
The imperial warlords controlled cities were marked on the map. Andrei pointed to the middle of black dots. “General Voronin? He still fights against the Republic, no?”
Ivan scowled. “He and his so-called white army fight us. Yes! However, after our three victories against his troops, last month he ordered all sections to retreat to Kurmask for a final stand. Do you know how many old empire sections replied to him? Four! From the hundreds of sections, only four of them joined his desperate call!”
Andrei was suspicious. “So, do you plan to attack Kurmask?”
One general stopped writing his notes, turned his head, and looked at Andrei with puzzled eyes. Others ended their discussions, and the room fell into stressed silence. Andrei felt that his question surprised everybody in the room. Some felt offended, he guessed. A low ranked officer said a word in a foreign language. At that moment, Andrei understood that the strange uniforms belonged to a European ally. Andrei looked at the international officers for a moment. Nobody in the room said anything to help Andrei solve the puzzle.
“Don’t you read any news, Andrei?” Ivan said, breaking the silence. “We already made a successful landing on that island, and our victorious troops are marching to their capital. Indeed, that is why I called you. Tonight our troops will attack his palace, and we will capture him. The entire island is under siege! He cannot escape anywhere!”
He banged his hand on his chair. “Tonight, I will declare our final assault to the world by broadcasting it. I want you to stay with me when I speak. Ten years ago, you killed that bandit and destroyed their unity; tonight, I capture this criminal and destroy their hopes. Will you stay with me during my speech?”
Andrei smiled. “Of course, my dear friend, but only if you let me see my little nephew first!”
Ivan laughed and said, “Yuri has been waiting for today for a long time! He is here in another room; let me bring you to him!”
The two friends walked out of the room together. After Ivan closed the door, Andrei asked, “What is wrong? Why are you so suspicious in your heart?”
Ivan replied reasonably, “I do not know what is happening, but Voronin’s soldiers are fighting like monsters. In one week, we lost almost half of the first initiative. The second initiative must be sent to capture strategic points. The casualties are beyond our calculations.” He forced himself to smile. “But at the end, we have ten times more troops than they have! They will surely lose.”
“What were you expecting? You entered the wolf’s lair. They fight for their very lives. They are ten times more dangerous in their lair! Voronin chose that island because it is a holy place for his religious belief. Only the most fanatic troops accepted his offer. The battle is an insult to them. They fight back to the last soldier. You have to be ready for more casualties!”
Ivan’s smile faded. “I know… This one is an expensive victory! However, winning against them in their home will break their hope. We shall easily convince them to surrender.”
They were in front of Yuri’s door. Ivan did not look at Andrei’s face as he opened the door for him. He talked for a while with Yuri and then left the room. Andrei understood that something was lost between the father and the son. Despite his feelings toward his father, Yuri was pleased to see his uncle. They joked and reminisced about old adventures until Ivan returned to collect Andrei.
“Are you ready?” Ivan asked. “I start my speech in ten minutes. We have to go to the conference room.” He said nothing to his son before leaving with Andrei following him to the conference room.
Ivan started his speech with his famous charming smile. “Free people of the Russian Republic and the hopeful people of the Empire’s occupied territories. Tonight, we unleash the most powerful attack on Admiral Voronin’s palace. Field Marshal Kareen personally manages this final assault—”
Suddenly all the screens turned black. Ivan looked around with questioning eyes. Then the monitors went active again, but it was not Ivan on the screens. It was Voronin’s face.
“Good morning to all our allies and fearful citizens of the Republic. Tonight, I would like to present to you my dear friend Kareen,” he said.
The camera turned to show Kareen’s face.
Andrei felt how badly this affected everybody in the room. Yet, he felt something else, something he had not felt in years!
Kareen’s eyes were full of fear. The camera turned back to Voronin again.
Voronin had a warm smile now. “My friend and his troops have fought bravely, but they did not have a chance Our power is beyond their imagination. Now my words are for the ones waiting for the warships to come and attack us. For those who turned their weapons on our capital, I want to introduce to you somebody you know very well. I want to introduce you to your biggest nightmare.”
Andrei could feel the color drain from his face; he felt paralyzed. He looked at Ivan and said, “This is not possible.”
Ivan stared at the magician. “What is not possible?”
Before Andrei could answer, the camera turned again slowly and showed the Tsar.
Tsar breathed loudly in front of the camera. “This is a direct order to all the empire troops outside fighting with each other. Stop killing your comrades! Generals, raise your armies to fight the Republic armies! Turn your weapons on the enemy.”
He breathed again. “Once you lost your hope, once you killed your friends, once you begged help from your enemies. Once my life was stolen from me… Now I have turned back from the dead. We will take back everything stolen from us by the enemy. If you follow me, if you look up to the sky, if you look in your heart and see my face, then come and join us. Attack this so-called siege. Help us destroy them. If you follow me , I will lay their troops’ flags at your feet and their commander’s life to your justice.
“Ivan Oblomov, listen to me carefully. The pawns you sent to defile this holy place are now dead. Prepare yourself for death too, because I am coming to take your worthless life next.”
Tsar turned to Kareen. He raised his left hand up, and suddenly Kareen’s body was floating one meter from the floor. Kareen brought his hands to his neck. He struggled for breath but then he died.
Tsar turned back to the camera. But instead of his voice, a young man’s voice spoke. “We stopped their broadcasting.”
Ivan Oblomov looked at the screen and, once again, saw himself. He felt the fear in the room. He understood that he must do something. He shouted to the screen. “Voronin…You, old dog! You will pay for Kareen’s death. You and that impostor who made a disgusting theater in front of us will meet with the blade of justice… Soldiers, officers, we have killed a dozen fake tsars in these ten years. We will kill one more too, and I promise you he will cry out for mercy when our many troops enter their so-called holy palace.” He raised his finger. “Hey, charlatan! Do not waste your time coming here, because I will come to you. I will personally come there with an army five times more powerful. I will burn the ground you walk with the power of Republic.”
Ivan pointed to Andrei. “My fellow soldiers, look at the last living magician’s face. We will never lose when he fights with us.” He heard approving voices in the room.
He looked back to the camera with fire in his eyes. “And this message is for the rebel armies’ generals. Whoever listens to this charlatan’s words and whoever broke the peace with the Republic must be ready for our anger. If anyone of you look up to the sky to see a dead devil’s face and dare to kill even one of our soldiers, I will come back for you too.”
The broadcast ended. Ivan and his first general pushed Andrei out of the room. Ivan shouted back. “All the army commanders, come to my room in five minutes.”
“Can you believe these charlatans?” Ivan said. “I do not understand. How did they catch Kareen?” He shook his head. “His death will greatly boost the morale of the enemy.”
“I don't think he is a charlatan.” Andrei said calmly.
Ivan’s brows rose. “Are you sure, Andrei?”
“Yes, I felt his power, his anger, and his confession. However, I did not feel the man. Whatever he is… There is no human being inside that costume.”
Ivan stared at him. “Are you sure about this? Listen to me. Do not say anything about this feeling to anybody. Our troops are in the middle of hundreds of thousands old empire soldiers. A charismatic leader like the tsar could unify them. If this happens, our so-called numeric superiority shatters like glass. We have to hurry and stop this.”
Ivan paused and then smiled. “I am sure you are wrong. He is just another charlatan. However, we cannot take the risk that cities join to become one power again. Tomorrow at dawn I will initiate Plan B.”
Before Andrei asked, he explained, “We prepared plan B for an urgent case. The more powerful army is ready to attack in the red deserts of Moor. Soon I leave from here and join them. Are you coming with me?”
“No, my brother, I will join you later. First I have to go to Mukaran.”
“Mukaran? It is controlled by imperial rebels! I know their commander, and he is a tough. However, civil war goes on there too. Be careful. Voronin’s spies were seen there.”
Ivan looked thoughtful for a second. “An envoy is here tonight from Zanutsk. Zanutsk is on the way to Mukaran, and tomorrow one of our ships will return the diplomat to Zanutsk. Although the vessel is somewhat small, you could travel with the diplomat if you want. Is it okay for you?”
Andrei smiled and replied. “Of course it is okay. Thank you, Ivan. I will try to come back as soon as possible to join your initiative.”
Ivan smiled too. “I will handle it without you. Just try not to be killed there.”
Ivan hugged his brother-in-law and wished him an easy journey, though he worried that Andrei was putting himself in significant danger. He stopped himself from voicing his concerns. We are at war; danger exists in every corner. I should let him handle this threat in his way. I have a more important duty to handle, he thought.