“Night falls. Or has fallen. Why is it that night falls, instead of rising, like the dawn? Maybe night falls because it’s heavy, a thick curtain pulled up over the eyes. Wool blanket.” ― Margaret Atwood, The Handmaid’s Tale
He watched as the stick left traces of wood in the stained marble step. First, he scratched the outline of her face and her hair then her eyes. Her almond eyes were always promising to come back to him. Where was she now? Why did she not come for him? Nuru felt adrift, cut loose from his tether. He missed his mother.
The grinding of tires on grit and asphalt went unnoticed. The crunch of doors locking against the car frame didn’t distract him from his thoughts or the erasure of his wood stylus from his mournful expression on stone. It was the click of soles on pavement coming directly at him that sounded so familiar.
“Mother,” he exclaimed. Nuru jumped up and clutched the woman paused at the step in front of him. He buried his head in her stomach and cried.
“Why did you stay gone so long?”
Deft fingers ran through his hair and held him. Nuru inhaled her bright floral and wood scent. He looked up into the wet emerald-green eyes of his Goddess of Change; the auburn haired woman who slipped into his dreams at night. She knelt and put her hands on his shoulders.
“What is the matter Nuru?” Val’s voice was soft like the touch on his cheek wiping his tears away from his face.
“My mother hasn’t come home, and she didn’t call me as she promised – I miss her. I want her to get home to me.”
“I have to see your father for a few minutes. You wait here on the steps for me, and I’ll come back for you.”
The small Cybrid glowed with delight as he nodded his acceptance. He hoped Miss Valeriya knew where his mother was and would take him to her.
* * *
Val walked down the narrow hall to the security desk. A Cybrid met her with a familiar grin as his eyes scanned her.
“Hi, Ulan. How is my big man doing today?” Val bent down pretending to pull up a sag in her stockings. She ran her fingers from her knee up and inside her dress to the top of her thigh. The black dress emphasized the exposed top of her fair skinned breasts as she bent over. Val looked up to make sure the Cybrid guard noticed her.
“I’m doing better now that you are here, Val. Are you here to see the Commander?”
“I came here to see you. I was hoping for one of your searches to find all the dangers I secreted away in all my private places. But, the Commander is a good cover story.”
Ulan laughed. He reached his hand out to Val.
“Come behind the desk here and let me see what you’ve hidden under that dress.”
Val held his hand and looked in his gray eyes. Val flirted with the guard and wrapped her thumb and forefinger around the knuckles of his three fingers. She held her fingers up in an open circle to emphasize her measurement.
“My God, Ulan. You’re a beast of a man.”
Ulan laughed at their game of one-upmanship.
“Oh, dear, I’m late. Can you let me up to Kirill’s office? He’ll slay me if I’m late with my report.”
Val’s worried voice made Ulan think it wiser to let the woman go before he shouldered the blame for aggravating the Commander’s schedule.
“Right this way, Miss Valeriya.” Ulan left the ID tag on the desk that would track Val’s movements in the building and escorted her to the elevator.
Val reached down in her purse and took out a small invitation card.
“I’m having a little dinner party and inviting a few friends over. You really should ask Dasha to go with you. She’s sweet on you. She has an eye for handsome men.” Val cooed in her best flirtatious voice.
“I’m a little too low on the social scale for Dasha.”
“Oh, don’t swallow that crap. Ask Dasha. If she says no, then you’ll be my date for the night.”
Ulan smiled as he pointed to the elevator. Val tiptoed as she leaned up against the guard, puckered her lips, and closed her eyes expecting a kiss. Ulan obliged her with delight as he gave her a peck on the cheek.
Val made her way into the elevator, turned and winked at the guard as the doors closed. She straightened her hair and dress as she looked in the elevator mirror. A shaky hand reached into her bag and took out an ink pen and clipped it to her cloth belt out of sight in the small of her back.
She walked down the hall as more guards stepped out to look at her. No doubt, Ulan had called up and warned them not to cause problems for him later.
Val walked through the French doors of the secretary’s office and stopped by Dasha’s desk. She offered her a perfume gift box. The woman sniffed the box and smiled, her eyelashes fluttering in mock surprise.
“Thank you, darling.” She looked up at Val with her rosy cheeks and red painted lips stretched in a big smile.
“I’m wearing it now, dear.” Val held Dasha’s attention with her glowing green eyes as she spoke in a hushed tone.
Val held her wrist up for Dasha to take in the essence. She rested her other hand on Dasha’s shoulder as the secretary leaned forward holding Val’s arm. The Cybrid woman breathed in and cut her eyes up at Val with a sensuous smile.
Val leaned in close to Dasha’s face to whisper her enticing sub rosa.
“It drives men to their doom. They’ll shake you right out of your clothes just to smell your bare skin with this on.”
Dasha giggled approval as she envisioned Val’s suggestion.
Val gave Dasha the same invitation card and explained her plans for the evening.
“You should come with Ulan. He’s smitten with you. He loves a curvy girl like you,” Val teased.
“And how do you know such intimate details of Ulan’s fancy in a woman?” Dasha raised her right eyebrow with exaggerated scrutiny.
“I’m a spy. It’s my business to know the desires of men I plan to seduce.”
The women shared a sly laugh as Val winked and whisked past the secretary into Kirill’s office without signing the register.
* * *
Val walked into Kirill’s office and stopped several paces from his desk. The Commander studied a stack of papers. He leaned on his left arm; fingers threaded through his hair. He looked exhausted. Val waited for him to look up and steeled herself for what she feared would come next.
“Oh, hello Val. I’m sorry. I was just going over the reports from the field. Things are heating up in every sector with small group attacks on our people. Something is up. These attacks could be the harbinger of a major offensive by the Dragons.” Kirill came around his desk and hugged Val like one hugs a friend after a long absence.
“I have word from my contacts the Dragons want to discuss peace. They may try to consolidate their positions before negotiation.” Val tested Kirill to judge his mood as she held him to her as long as he would allow.
“They will surrender unconditionally and accept my terms or the war will continue.” He broke away from her embrace as his mercurial anger flared and his eyes burned with hatred.
“Kirill, sweetheart. There is no such thing as unconditional. There are always conditions. We must consider the offer and counter with our offer. Our fall back is those things most important to us, sacrificing only the small details.”
“Let me think about it. At the moment all I can think about is Vika. I haven’t heard from her. Tell me about the mission and when you last saw her.”
“I left her in a good position with the Dragons surrounded. We set a trap for them, and they fell into it willingly. Her delay in reporting can only mean she is hunting any remaining Dragons in the area.” Val spoke in a detached voice to hide the pain of the truth.
“Nuru and I miss her. I find myself more and more unable to cope without her. Her strength renews my spirit.” Kirill’s exhaustion crept back in his demeanor.
“She feels the same, Kirill. She will do anything for your favor and your son.”
Kirill looked at Val with a blank expression. A thin film of water appeared in his eyes. He turned, trying to wipe away the moisture with his hand.
“Sit down Val and let’s talk.” Kirill pointed at the couch against the wall. Centered on the wall above the sofa was the painting of a Roman soldier standing guard by the open door of the Emperor’s chamber. The irony caused Val’s heart to skip a beat. She knew that it was the most trusted guards that often assassinated the Emperors that fell out of favor with the people.
Kirill sat in the high corner of the divan and leaned against the armrest. He patted the cushion beside him. Val sat next to him on the edge and turned toward him. Her right knee lay flat and pointing to the back of the sofa with her foot under the left knee. Her short dress rode high on her hips. She watched his eyes look down and then at her face. His cheeks flushed with color.
“What shall I tell my contacts to pass on to the Dragons?” Val asked in a soft voice so not to provoke Kirill.
Kirill held Val’s hands in his and looked into her eyes. He seemed to search for the right words to go with his stern face. Val thought he considered the distraction she offered with open legs. But, he stopped short. He squeezed her hands to emphasize his words.
“Tell them to deliver this to the Dragons. I will order a full assault on every Dragon enclave. I will hunt them down with my assassins in every corner of the world. Every Cybrid revolutionary will give their life to rid the world of them. Those are my conditions.”
Val dropped her head and averted her eyes, unable to look in his face. He just sealed his fate. She hoped to break his will to fight and help him sue for peace. She was willing to give herself to him to gain the influence necessary to change his mind. He and Vika were in love and dedicated to each other. Val’s attempts to seduce Vika only resulted in Vika’s sharp rebuke, and now Kirill turned away from her discrete offer of sex and an opportunity to have peace. Only a man of strong will did that.
She looked down at her hands as Kirill waited for her reply. She saw in Kirill and Vika a perseverance to their ideology that was no different than her own except the two were at odds. There was nothing left to do but her duty. She leaned over to hug him and kissed his cheek to say goodbye.
As Kirill reached around her to accept her show of affection, she reached for the pen and placed it at the point where the back of his skull met the neck. A needle shot out of the end and into his flesh through the occipital port and into his brain. The nerve toxin spread attacking the Cybrid’s mind and central nervous system. The bloodstream took the poison to the far reaches of his body in the span of a heartbeat.
He put his hand on the back of his head.
“What? Why, why, Val?”
Kirill’s eyes looked confused. A glassy stare looked through Val as Kirill lifted his hands to his numb face. Val held Kirill to comfort him.
“Relax, darling. Don’t fight it. Rest your mind and let it take you away. When you awaken, you’ll be with your beloved Vika.”
She pulled him to her and held his face to her bosom. Val rubbed his back and soothed him as tremors began to rack his body. Weak coughs felt warm and moist on her breasts. Val spoke to him. She wanted him to know why he had to die.
“It was never about Cybrids and Dragons fighting for ownership of territory, my dear Kirill. The noble cause of freedom and equality perished in the avarice and violence. Killing for sport in the name of victory destroys any chance of lasting peace.”
Kirill tried to speak, but he could only manage a hushed groan. Val held his jerking head under her chin against the soft cushion of her bosom. A pained cry dripped from his lips like drool.
“No empire ever lasts, Kirill. The revolutionaries that rage against the empire consume their kind in the fire of their violence. They replace the corrupt and bloated government with one of treachery, seeking to destroy their past, they destroy their future.”
Val cried to herself at the sound of his dying groans.
“War and death never afforded a thread of dignity. Only those that never fought a battle dream of honor and glory. Why do you do it, my dear? Is the goal of men to have some statue of their likeness so people will soon forget the pain and horror that forged the bronze figure in history? The people worship their idols of glory, a glory that never existed on the killing fields.”
Speckled arms lowered the limp figure to the couch. Val lifted his legs, took off his shoes, and placed them side by side; toes pointed under the divan. She straightened his body and clothes with care and put a pillow under his head. Val took a blanket out of a small closet and placed it on him.
“Rest well with eternity, dear Kirill. Tonight your secretary and the chief guard will walk into the hands of the Dragons, and they will find out all they want to know about your plans and staff. Nightfall has come to the revolution.”
Kirill’s eyes stared at his assassin. His lips quivered as his life ebbed away like a low tide from the shore.
“They’ll disassemble your war and bring the errant Cybrids to heel. With balance restored between Cybrid and Dragon, a new generation with the blood of Dragon and Cybrid combined will seed the earth and it is this seed that will take us to the future. Hopefully, in peace, my dear.”
Val kissed Kirill and straightened his hair. She went to the bathroom in the corner of the office and straightened her clothes and auburn tresses. Nervous hands wiped tears and smeared makeup. She washed her face and reapplied her eye-liner and mascara.
Val fought back the harsh feelings of being a prostitute – the whore of Babylon; selling her body to war, her reason an ideology of change against one of desire for freedom and equality. She opened her arms and legs to her enemies for the price of their souls.
Valeriya Ivanovich, part Dragon, and part Cybrid looked at her face in the mirror and gathered her wits. If she could escape, she promised herself to make amends for what she had done. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, turned and walked out.
Dasha smiled and waved to Val as she walked out of the office.
“See you tonight, Val.”
“I’m looking forward to it, dear. Make sure you bring my big boyfriend with you,” Val winked and smiled at the grinning Dasha as she squirmed in her chair.
“Oh, Kirill is exhausted. He’s asleep on the couch. The poor man hasn’t slept well since Vika left. Don’t let anyone disturb him.”
“Oh yes, he’s been burning the candle at both ends for a while now. I’ll hold his calls and lock his door before I go.” Dasha promised.
“Don’t you work late,” Val chided as she walked through the French doors.
Val walked down the hall to the elevator and stopped at the guard desk where she greeted the ever vigilant guard.
“Ulan, I talked with Dasha. She is coming to my party, and I want to see her on your arm tonight. I have plenty of room for you two to spend the night if it gets late.”
Ulan smiled and hugged Val. Val hugged him back and kissed his cheek. This time, she meant it. His life and Dasha’s would change soon. She hoped after a brief time, for the better.
“Thank you, Ulan. I’ll see you in a couple of hours,” she breathed the words knowing she would never see him again.
Val turned and walked out and down the stairs. She stopped on the last broken step and looked straight ahead at the road. Her hand opened and reached out to her side. Nuru’s small hand found hers in the fading light of day.
“We’re you scared, my little warrior?”
“I am always frightened at nightfall. That’s when the dragons come and take you away.”
“There are no Dragons here, Nuru. Come, let’s go, sweetheart. I’ll bring you to your mother.”
Val walked down the sidewalk with little Nuru in tow holding tight to her hand. She stared straight ahead; chin held high.
Nuru looked up at his Goddess of Change, his auburn haired enchantress; the one that seeped into his dreams and whispered encouragement; be brave, be the hero of the revolution. He skipped along to keep up with her quick pace as her shoes clicked on the sidewalk like drumsticks signaling the start of a siren’s haunting melody.
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