Rev. Jan's Fiction Extravaganza

The Puppets of the Script

Katrina Ilyovna danced.

Even the narrow confines of her room could not contain the joy, the exhuberance, that was present in her movements. She danced to the glory of man, the glory of herself -- but when she was reminded of the glory of the collective, she stopped. Her reminder was the cold, harsh visage of Vladimir Lenin, and beside him, Karl Marx. They glowered at her from the wall opposite her window, their inhuman faces painted on tattered sheets of cotton; they stared at ther as though all the sins of every individual had surfaced in her, in that moment. She looked coldly back at them for a minute, and then, with a bitter smile, continued to dance.

She was tall, slim, in a way that would make any other woman graceless and lanky; she moved with an ease, and yet a sharpness, that could only accent her height to a perfection of stature. She was so thin and fragile that those near her wondered to themselves why she did not break at any moment, like the long stem of a flower, but she had strength as well, and resiliancy. She would not be broken.

It was much later when her mother called her; it was time to eat, she said, and it wouldn't do for what little food they had to get cold. Every day when Irinya Tzaganov interrupted her daughter's dancing she hoped for some kind of reaction -- any display of emotion, be it the nod of her head or a sigh, anything to let her know that the girl could feel -- but always, there was nothing. Katrina submitted without a word, untying her slippers, silently removing her leotard, and once she was dressed, following her mother out of the room. Many times Irinya had reproved her for her reticence; even then the girl gave her no reply but a cool glance to acknowledge her statement.

While they ate, Irinya did her best not to scream. She knew better, now, than to try to engage the girl in conversation. None of her attempts at dialogue had ever blossomed, for the most Katrina would say was "da" or "net" when questioned. The longest sentence Irinya Tzaganov had heard her daughter speak since the death of her husband was thus: when asked whether or not she was happy, Katrina had looked at her mother as though perplexed, and said, "Why should I not be, mother? I am living in the most progressive and productive country in the whole world. I am surrounded by my comrades. Why shouldn't I be happy?" There was no reason for Irinya to think she was being sarcastic; her voice was devoid of irony, of any other emotion, for that matter, but nonetheless, it left her thinking that Katrina was as happy as she could be, considering their circumstances. She could not think otherwise.

Ilya Petrovich had been killed in the war when Katrina was thirteen. It was a nightmare for her, Iriya knew; the girl and her father had always been close, though she didn't know why. Ilya was a communist, just twenty- three when he and Irinya had married, and only thirty-six when he died. It seemed odd to both of them that their daughter, brought up under Communist principles and schooled in Communist behaviours, should be such an individualist, though most of the time they dismissed it; she never revealed her own beliefs to anyone but Ilya, and only then when she was angry. And besides, she would someday be a worker, a proletarian in their great society, and then she would understand the reasons for its greatness.

Six years had passed since his death; Katrina was still as individualist as ever, though she never showed it. Since she never saw it, her mother never thought about it... except for that one remark. It puzzled her to no end -- but now Katrina looked up at her, and announced, "I'm going out tonight. Alexandrei is taking me to the theatre; I should be back before morning."

Irinya's jaw dropped as she sought for words appropriate to express her surprise; there were none. She stared at the girl for a moment, her daughter, who had gone back to her meager dinner, her daughter who had never shown any interest before in men... and her daughter, who was seeing one tonight! "Who... who is he, Katya?" said Irinya, still feeling the thrill that had passed through her. "You have not mentioned him at all, you know... and I do like to know what is happening in your life..." Her voice trailed off; Katrina was staring at her, a polite, expressionless stare that nonetheless was quite effective.

"You would like him, Mother, if I brought him home. He is a member of your Communist party. He studies engineering at the Institute. He came to see the Company's new ballet, and afterwards asked me to go somewhere with him. I said yes."

"Oh," said her mother, still at something of a loss for words. "He is from a good family, then? Proletarians?"

Katrina shrugged. "I did not care to ask," she said, in the same empty voice as before.

"But Katya, how could you not care? Sometimes you are so thoughtless. Well, at least the boy has some political sense. What will you be seeing tonight? I do not know what you young people do with yourselves these days..." She broke off with a laugh that seemed too shrill, too forced, even to her own ears. Katrina was gone again; she sat staring at her hands, pale, white, long-fingered hands that begged to be held. Irinya Tzaganov wondered what her daughter would do if this Alexandrei tried to hold them. It surprised her only a little that she did not know.

* * *

Alexandrei Ilyich Nikitaev came for Katrina at seven thirty. He was of medium build, with hair the colour of wheat and eyes of blue, flecked with gold. He stood tall and erect, as though daring the world to cross him -- even though it had -- and had an air of elegance about him that even the cold Petrograd night could not crush. But now here was Katrina, who, even with her usual indifference to her appearance, looked more beautiful than her mother had known she could be, even when she was dancing. It was hard to tell exactly what she was wearing; all the lines led the beholder's eyes to her face, made more human by the fact that she seemed to have an interest in her surroundings. Irinya beamed with pleasure as she opened the door for Alexandrei, and then with pride as Katrina Ilyovna stepped out to greet him.

Alexandrei bowed. If he had been any other man, Irinya thought, the gesture would have been wasted on the girl, but she smiled, and held out her hand. Irinya kept her face composed as he bent to kiss it, his eyes fixed on Katrina's; inside, she wept with joy. She coughed politely, startling both of them, and told them it might behoove them to leave, or their show might start without them. Alexandrei gazed at Katrina; she nodded once, and, linking their hands, they bid Irinya good-night and left.

It was snowing outside; for a while, until it melted, Petrograd would cease to look as oppressive as it did; it would become instead a shining city of reflected light, but like that light, it was a mere illusion, a reflection of its people's hopes, and there is nothing to hope for but that which one cannot have.

This thought was only a vague impression in the back of Katrina's mind as she and Alexandrei were driven to the theatre. She was thinking instead of the man beside her. They had, in fact, been seeing each other for several weeks, though her mother thought this would be the first. She had initially met him after a performance, that was true enough, but they had seen each other before, at theatre engagements such as this one. There had been an attraction between them since the first time they saw each other, and it wasn't long before he approached her, his enthusiasm well-masked to others -- and completely obvious to her.

They sat, tonight, in the balcony, There were only six others to share it, all couples; they knew by what rules the space themselves. When the first act commenced, Alexandrei sought her hand; by its close, they had become as familiar with each other as Katrina would allow them to be. During the intermission, they stayed in their seats. When he kissed her, his lips trembling slightly, she knew that Alexandrei would tell her now what he needed to.

He looked into her eyes -- she could see how troubled they were -- and then he spoke. "I must leave," he murmured, so those around them could not hear. "There is nothing more for me to learn at the Institute, and nothing more for me to live for here but you. You must know, I would die for you, Katrina, but not here. Not without knowing freedom, not without being able to exist as I wish, as myself. I can't do that here. You understand, don't you?" She nodded in solemn, silent agreement, and he continued.

"I am going to Münich tomorrow, with others from the Institute. We are going to see their architecture, we are told. But not me. I will escape. I will become a real architect there, and make what I wish, when I wish. Katrina," he said, now taking both her hands, "You will come to Münich someday, with your Company. I will be at your performance; afterwards, I will take you home with me. And then we can live!"

The lights were dimmed, the stage brightened, and the final act commenced. Alexandrei could not see her tears.

* * *

Katrina stood at the foot of the stairs to their apartment. Even from downstairs she could hear her mother's dreadful coughing, and the moan, barely supressed, that followed it. She walked slowly up the stairs, anticipating another bout; none came, and she ran.

Irinya lay on her bed, her eyes closed, breathing shallowly. It was almost spring. Halfway through the winter, when wood had become scarce, they had lessened their use as much as possible, burning only one or two logs in a day, towards evening. And food, too, had become hard to get; they had to survive on Katrina's ration card alone, from the Company. Irinya was not surviving. "Tuberculosis," the doctor had said. Her mother hadn't told Katrina until a week ago, when the girl came home and found her slumped on the floor, unable to move a body so racked by coughing. Katrina had gone to the doctor then. "She has not gotten help?" he said. "Then she will die."

Now Katrina Ilyovna stood by the bed, holding a cup of hot tea out for her mother; Irinya shivered and shook her head. "It is too late, my little one," she whispered, so faintly that Katrina could barely hear her. She felt as though she ought to cry; why couldn't she? Because, she realized, it was a life worth ending. There was nothing more for Irinya. And with that thought, she felt the sting of tears on her eyelids; though there was nothing left, she did not want her mother to die.

Irinya Dmitrovna Tzaganov saw the silent tears cross her daughter's face. "My Katrina," she whispered. "There is emotion in you. Even we could not kill it, could we? I am glad." She paused for a moment, to regain her breath. "You must leave, Katya, soon. Before the rest of them do kill it. Go to Alexandrei, wherever he is; he is free, as you should be. It's not too late for you." She closed her eyes, wincing as another spasm of coughing took her. She looked up again, once, and repeated, "It's not too late..." Then she laid her head back against the pillow, and was still.

Katrina Ilyovna put her hands to her face, collapsed to the floor, soundless tears streaming down her cheeks; her only thoughts were of her mother's last words. There was hope -- there had to be...

* * *

"Come now, Katrina, can you not concentrate better?" Katrina stood on the stage, surrounded by the other dancers, and yet Sergei's only criticisms were for her. But she didn't care. It was the dance that mattered; not what he thought it should be, but how she felt it within her; not the critiques of the many, but the perfection she brought it by believing it was.

"Is it so hard to work with the others, for you?" he said smoothly, walking towards the group. It was parted by an unseen hand, leaving nothing but empty space between Katrina Ilyovna and Sergei Vladivich, leaving them to face each other, to air a conflict the others had felt rising for weeks. "There is so great a potential in you, Katrina; I would hate to see it wasted simply because you value your judgement so highly above others." He was mocking her, she knew, and from the hot misery in his eyes, where she could see his own battle taking place, he mocked himself as well.

She did not answer him, and could not do so; what was there to say? She stood, mute, at the end of a corridor of bodies -- perfect, serene, shocked bodies -- and watched as Sergei drew closer. His dark brows were knit together in what might have been taken as a frown if so many other emotions had not come as well. When he was within no more than two paces of her, he stopped, and crossed his arms. There he stood for a moment, gazing down at her with the slightest hint of a smile on his face. He was at once undeniably condesending, and completely lost, to her eyes; but then he abruptly sighed, and clapped his hands together, dispelling the tensions that had accumulated in the great room, leaving the dancers free to move. All but Katrina Ilyovna; she waited quietly in the centre of the stage, and Sergei stood in front of her still. Then he smiled, a real smile, and said, "You will see me after practice. Come to my dressing room."

"Da, koneßna," was all she said -- "yes, of course" -- not looking up at him for fear her eyes would betray the gratitude she felt. And yet he still did not move.

"Now, Katrina," said Sergei Vladivich, "we shall show you how to dance. Who are you?"

She gazed at him, perplexed, unsure of his intentions. He saw that insecurity, smiled to himself, and said, "You are young, are you not? Your lover had gone off to war, you see, leaving you by yourself until he returns. And then a letter comes for you: he will return soon. You are overjoyed." There was misery in her eyes. He continued. "This is who you are. And you are dancing for your lost love, who is not lost now; remember this when you dance. And you dance as though he were there with you; remember this when you perform, because now, he will be with you. I am your lover, from the letter; now you will dance with me. Just once, and just so you will remember."

With the astonished eyes of twenty upon him, he signalled the orchestra; the twenty quickly found their places, and he found his, in Katrina's embrace. And they danced. She would remember, now; how could she ever forget her lover's arms around her, his thighs brushing ever so lightly against hers, the warmth of his hands... and the unpresumptuous superiority of his every glance down at her.

When the dance was over, she ached to surrender to his embrace, to allow herself the pleasure of knowing him... and she knew he knew it; his smile was now almost cruel, deliberate in its gentle malice, towards her -- and towards himself.

The rehearsal, after that, floated by with dream-like ease; before she had time to recover, everyone else had left, gone for another night, back to their own lives, mundane after the fairy-tale they experienced on the stage. Even Sergei had vanished to his dressing-room; now it was up to Katrina to seek him.

She found him. He stood in the middle of the room, naked but for his tights; he didn't even look up when she entered. She said nothing, but hovered in the doorway, her eyes following the lines of the room. In the corner was an Oriental screen, painted in the sombre colours of a Chinese landscape; hanging over its edge were the articles of his clothing, tossed with careful precision. On the walls hung posters advertising past performances, some from before the Revolution, most from its aftermath. There were two chairs in the room: one a stiff, Victorian afrfair; the other, a davenport, battered with age and constant use.

Soon enough her gaze returned to Sergei; he stood as before, in the centre of a room that did not seem to be his. Only this time he was looking back at her, his dark eyes scrutinizing her figure openly. His hands remained at his sides, the long, well-formed fingers completing the perfection of his stature. His face was sharp, the angles cut into it as one would shape granite; it wsa framed by black-brown hair which curled up in the back. His eyebrows were full but not overly so; there was not a single strand that was not there for a reason, not a single flaw to distort the æsthetic frame.

Then their eyes met, not as they had before, but with as complete an honesty as was possible. They spoke of lifetimes of hardship, of disappointments, of suffering and, in extreme contrast, of pleasure, and of love. Katrina knew she could lose herself in those eyes; she had never even imagined it before -- but here it was reality. Because Sergei was herself, juxtaposed with a gender whose mind she could never know. And though his eyes spoke of a bitter hatred for the system that had reduced him to his sarcasm, they spoke also of a deep respect, and a deep affinity, for those who would fight it.

Before she even knew it, Sergei Vladivich was in her arms, his lips pressed hard against hers. She struggled for only a moment; her resistance served merely to provoke him further -- and then she realized she did not want to resist. "No," she murmured, her hands pressed against his chest. "Please, I can't..." For a moment he seemed not to hear her, and then abruptly, though with great reluctance, he dropped his arms and stepped away from her. It would be useless to explain, she thought; how could she justify her actions when she herself barely knew the motivation? She vaguely remembered, earlier...

"The dance," said Katrina, her voice nothing but a whisper. "How did you know? How could you know? Alexandrei..." Her words ended in a soundless moan, punctuated by Sergei's frown.

"The dance is as it was written, Katrina Ilyovna. We are merely the dancers, the puppets of its script." His voice was sharp, cutting, with the sarcasm; it bit into her like a blade. She whimpered softly, wincing as he stepped towards her again. This time, though, he merely took her hands, pressed them to him, and without looking at her, said, "Do you know, Katrina, we are to perform in Münich, not three weeks from today."

The words seemed not to come from him, but from Alexandrei; she could hear his voice again; he would be at the performance... she would dance for him... Her body was lost in the flow of the emotions that swept through her, and she staggered, kept from falling only by Sergei's capable hands. For only a moment he was astonished; that expression was replaced by something close to fear.

"Are you all right, Katya?" he said, holding her closer, looking down at her uneasily. She nodded, and gazed up at him with clear, bright eyes.

"Yes," she said, the excited serenity she felt tangible in that word. "More than you could know." He was perplexed, but said nothing; she would tell him if he was meant to know. Then he felt her arms tighten around him; he had hardly realized they were there before, but now... She lay her head against his chest, and said, so quiet he could scarcely hear, "Yes."

"Ah," he said, understanding immediately. He picked her up and carried her to the davenport, unlacing her leotard as he walked. At her throat lay a small red pendant; he wondered about it... but not for very long.

Afterwards she lay in his arms; once, she smiled. "You are a wolf, Sergei Vladivich," she said, stoking his dark hair. He grinned back, but said nothing.

* * *

"Münich... I am going to Münich..." The thought was constantly present now in Katrina Ilyovna's mind; a reminder that she must not lose sight of the man who awaited her there, that she mustn't let Sergei have too much... and a reminder that she could never stop herself from that. She had seen him every night since the first, and he had plans for her to move in with him soon: why should she stay all alone in her apartment when they should be together anyway? She could offer no objections, even if she had wanted to; he did not know about Alexandrei, and she would do her damnest to spare him that knowledge.

When there were only two weeks left until the Company left for the city, Katrina left her apartment to stay with Sergei. He had a room a city block away from the theatre they performed in, and when Katrina looked out one of the windows, she saw the building that she and Alexandrei had known so well. She stood there, motionless, until Sergei saw her; he put his arms around her waist, and whispered three words into her ear. She closed her eyes tightly, trying not to let him see her cry; he did, and turned her away from the window, taking her into his arms. He held her there until the tears subsided, and asked no questions when they did.

By the time they were left with just one week, it was no secret to the Company that they were sharing quarters, and though they were treated with something close to jealousy from both sexes, they did not care. It almost made rehearsals easier for Sergei; the women, awed that he had not selected one of them, obeyed his directions politely; the men, finally feeling that he was one of them, were happy to do as he said. And Katrina, though she did exactly what he wanted her to, was still the only one he would cast his critical eye upon, as though she was the only one worth his trouble. The rest wondered how she could take such savage remarks without rebellion; they asked her many times after Sergei left for the night; she never replied but for a shrug.

So their days passed; the nights were never the same. Though at first Sergei could almost feel her hesitation, she grew more enthusiastic with the passage of time, until the night before their departure. Katrina left the theatre early, without him; when he arrived home, he found her in their room, gazing at the ruby pendant which she now held in her hands. Her eyes were red and swollen; she had been crying; she did not look up when he entered.

"Katrina?" said Sergei. When she did not respond, he walked to the bed whre she sat, and knelt down, his hands on her shoulders. "What is the matter, Katya?" he asked gently. She looked at him then, with ineffable sadness in her eyes, though they were clear and bright, as though her tears had washed away any misconceptions she had held.

"I love you," she whispered, sounding awed at herself for doing so.

"I know that, my dearest," he said, holding her closer, but she tried weakly to push him away. She shook her head, her eyes avoiding him, and said softly, "I can't. Not now. Oh, Sergei, if I had only met you before... before Alexandrei... please, don't look at me that way, Sergei, don't... I'm not seeing him now, I can't. But if I go with you, to Münich..." Her last words were barely a whisper, as he gazed at her, his eyes reflection an odd mixture of astonishment, awe, and fear. And then he shook his head, closing those eyes, as though he wouldn't accept her answer.

"You will come to Münich, with me, no matter what," he said quietly. "There is no one to replace you, in the Company, or in my life. I cannot go without you, nor will I." This said, he kissed her once, tentatively, as though he was now afraid; he walked silently into the other room to light a fire.

Katrina sighed, put the pendant back on, and blinked back tears. She could not betray him. He could she ever have though she could just leave? She had tried not to love him, not to allow herself to think of him as anything but an accomplice, a stepping-stone on the way to Münich, and Alexandrei, but she hadn't tried hard enough. How could she have tried any harder? She did not know. And how could she stop? She couldn't.

The next morning the Company boarded the train. It was one thousand miles from Petrograd to Münich; it they were lucky, the trip would take them only a day... but they had planned for three. One never knew what to expect in the spring, when the tracks groaned with the heat expanding them, and mountain streams became virtual torrents of melted water. It was an unusually sunny day; only a few clouds marred the sky's perfection, and the Company chatted happily while they waited for the train to start.

And then, all were silent. A man, dressed in sombre greys with a red patch on his shoulder, stepped into their car. He looked about self-assuredly, inhaling one last time from his cigarette and crushing it under the heel of his boot. The woman sitting next to Katrina swallowed nervously and whispered, "I bet he's GPU. They've got to keep tabs on anyone travelling abroad, I've heard, and they don't trust us, and especially not Comrade Vladivich. He'd better be careful..." Katrina was sure the woman would have elaborated, given the chance, but the man looked in their direction, and she gulped again and shut up.

The GPU smiled, trying to be amiable in the presence of so many that feared him, and said, "I am Vassily Karinov. I hope you will not mind if I share your car? The rest are full, and they said I might sit here without harm." He got no answer from any but Sergei, who grinned and offered him the seat next to him.

Katrina's partner gasped and said, "He is so brave! Who but he would deliberately speak to GPU?" Indeed, even Comrade Karinov seemed somewhat perplexed, but sat down anyway.

Then the ancient engine jercked forward, and the whistle, shrill and piercing, sounded. Katrina Ilyovna experienced an electifying shock as she realized she was at last going to see Alexandrei again -- in what could only be a matter of days! It was only partially stifled by her view of Sergei, who sat a mere two seat in front of her. She tried not to think of the day when they would finish a performance, and he would go back to find her gone. It would not be pleasant for him, that much she was sure of, and did not want to be.

Katrina paid no attention to her seatmate, or the magnificent countryside sweeping past her. She was lost in herself, thinking only of Münich, and Alexandrei, and of the future. There was no "now" for her; now was a mere blur of partial recognition, while the future loomed ahead like a blank sheet of paper, with a thousand possibilities -- though she saw only one. She would leave the theatre after their performance, and see Alexandrei waiting for her, and they would live.

So absorbed was she in her hopeful future that she did not notice when the woman beside her went to sit elsewhere, and Sergei left his seat with Comrade Karinov. He stared down at her for a moment, comparing the look on her face now with that he had seen the previous night. He wished he could say something that would make her love him as she did her future; he could say nothing. Finally he grimaced, more at himself than her, and sat down next to her. Only when he laid his hand on her thigh did she notice him, and he tried not to notice the blush of red that crept into her cheeks.

"Sergei!" she said, halfway between a whisper and a shout. "Do you know where we are now? We are out of Russia!" She condensed her delight into an ecstatic murmur. "We should be free now, Sergei, we should be able to leap from this train and find ourselves in a place we can live as we wish! But we can't! We are held prisoner by your Comrade Vassily Karinov; what would he do if he thought we might be free?" Her last words became a moan of anguish, lost to all but Sergei in the steady hum of the train.

His dark eyebrows reflected his sorrow at her pain, her wish to be free. His was as strong, as lugubriously enthusiastic as hers, but he had no way to express it -- until he met Katrina. She had become his voice in a world that had long ago extinguished his own; her cried were as his own would be if he had dared to cry them; her pain was his own among those who had ceased to feel.

And the train sped on, into the night; the Company tried to sleep; some succeeded, others whispered excitedly, always casting careful glances at Vassily Karinov -- but he was asleep as well, as a cat might be, ready to wake as soon as the mice dared come out. Katrina Ilyovna and Sergei Vladivich were the only passengers who had the audacity to relax: they spoke normally and calmly -- or so it seemed to the rest. To themselves, they were as nervous as anyone planning treason should be. Their casuality was that of a mouse feigning felinicity; only to less-capable mice did they seem casual.

They talked long into the night, through Lithuania, and on into the dawn, and Warsaw. They spoke of the future, not of the past; of escape and freedom, not of submission and slavery. They would escape together, into the Münich night, thought Sergei; from Münich they would go to Brandenburg, then Paris. The GPU be damned; they would manage, leaving with the crowd that would no doubt attend. Katrina contributed very little to their plans after the escape; she would leave with Sergei, that was true enough, but where she would go after would be determined not by him, but by Alexandrei.

At eight o'clock the Company switched trains ar Warsaw; much to their dismay, Comrade Karinov stayed with them, explaining that he was also bound for Münich, and would probably even be seeing them there; after all, how many hotels were there in Münich? "Enough that he shouldn't have to use ours," another dancer muttered, to the agreement of the rest. "We all know who he is," said Katrina's former seatmate. "Why does he have to lie? I wonder how Comrade Marx would like his system now." There were some rueful glances at the GPU, and then the Company was again made ready to travel.

It was only three hours now until they would reach Münich, and though there was much activity on the train, as the chorus and winds and smaller strings practiced the difficult parts, time crawled past for Katrina. She found it increasingly hard to refrain from telling Sergei her true plans, especially since he was so excited, and when he spoke to her, she had to guard carefully her words. Sergei must know no more than she had already let slip.

Finally, after nearly thirty hours of travel, an excited clarinettist pointed out the lights of Münich, and the small groups that were still practicing finished quickly, urgently, not wanting to be the last off the train. Even Comrade Karinov looked mildly interested at the thought of the city, in its decadent, Capitalistic splendor. Katrina was more nervous then she would let herself admit; she and Alexandrei hadn't communicated in over two months; how was she to be sure he'd even be there? But as they pulled into the station, she saw a poster announcing the performance of the Petrograd Ballet Company, this week only.

Sergei smiled at her, and pointed to the sign. "We were expected, you know. How could I have left you behind?" For, as one looked closer, one could see the names of the composer, the principal violinist, the company leader... and her own name, Katrina Ilyovna Tzaganov. Her eyes opened wide with amazement, to Sergei's amusement, and she stared at the banner until the slowing train had passed it. Then she turned to Sergei, and, without, saying a word, wrapped her arms around him. He felt her shudder as the train stopped, and the rest of the Company poured out of the car. When she at last let go, there were tears in her eyes. Sergei smiled gently and dried those tears with a bit of red cloth from his pocket.

"Perhaps we should get off the train now?" he said lightly, indicating the fact that they and Comrade Karinov were the only ones left. Vassily looked bored, and was staring alternately at them and at his watch. Katrina laughed gaily and jumped up from her seat, looking mischievously at Sergei, who followed. Taking up her bag, she skipped through the car and to the door, pausing only a moment to wait for Sergei, and then they walked off the train, hand in hand.

The sun was bright in the sky, and it reflected off the tracks in either direction, and then off the white buildings around them. Even though Comrade GPU was not three yards behind them, Katrina felt more free than she ever had, more in-control, more ecstatic than she thought possible. Sergei squeezed her hand, and pointed first at the Company and then at Karinov. She understood, and ran to catch up with the group. They were boarding a bus that would take them to their hotel; Sergei and Katrina got on with them.

On the way she could hardly help up to point out excitedly every building she wanted to see, every street that looked interesting... and to herself, all the buildings under construction. Perhaps Alexandrei had designed one of them... She was like a child, so much that even Sergei felt buoyed by her spirit; the rest of the Company could feel the change in her.

Suddenly, they were at their hotel, as modern as she had ever seen. Katrina was enthralled. "It looks so... so perfect," she said, in an awed whisper. "I wonder who built it?"

Sergei shrugged. "Does it matter?" he said, mocking his own heart. "In fifty years, where will it be? Where will its architect be? Nothing lasts, Katrina, not even perfection."

Katrina stared at him, stunned and confused. "Why are you doing this?" she pleaded, not wishing to understand the forces that drove him to it. He said nothing, merely shrugged again, leaving her to cope by herself with the depression he had fostered.

At least, until that night. It would be their first performance in Münich, and to Katrina, possibly a meeting with Alexandrei. Every time she though of him her heart seemed to skip a beat, and her mind to reel with the knowledge that they would be together so soon. And then she would be reminded of Sergei, forced to think of the pain he would experience. Then she cursed herself and him for falling for each other as they had, and tried to comfort herself with other thoughts. But it always came back to him.

Finally it wsa six o'clock, just two hours before they would start. They were at the theatre, practicing on an unfamiliar stage, in front of props that had never been there before. Katrina was more nervous than she liked to think, especialy when they began the scene of her triumph, where she was to dance alone, for her war-gone lover. She couldn't concentrate, and Sergei let her know it, snapping at her more than once that she ought to be doung better; she knew how it felt. The rest of the Company tried to ignore that remark, though they burned with anger at his callousness; Katrina didn't seem to care. She was gone, had been since that morning, and was more so now. Sergei snarled one last time that he hoped she would do better that night, and dismissed them until eight.

* * *

It was strange, thought Katrina Ilyovna, sitting alone in the dressing room, how slowly time wsa passing, though she wanted it to go so much more quckly. How could she possibly wait ten minutes, when those minutes would last for all eternity? Then Sergei walked in. He threw his practice clothes over a chair, and jerked on what he would be wearing that evening, as the man who had gone to war. Then he turned to her; she sat, quiet if not a little frightened, on the chair provided for her.

"We will escape tonight," he murmured, striding over to her. He took her hand, and knelt down to kiss it. She winced, though he didn't see. "Tonight will be our last performance in captivity. Katrina, we will be free! Do you know what that means?"

He did not mean it as a question, but Katrina answered, her voice sounding strangely clear: "No. I do not know what it means." She looked at him sadly and said, "Do you?" Sergei Vladivich did not answer.

"Five minutes!" cried the stagehand. Sergei sighed.

"Now the show must go on, Katya, my dearest. Will you accompany me to the stage?" Katrina smiled faintly, stood, and offered her arm. She was dressed all in black, her face accented by the shadows under her cheeks, the bright red of her lips seeming incongruous with the rest of her sombre form. They walked together, in silence, to the stage. There stood Vassily Karinov. Upon seeing their surprised, upset looks, he grinned, and offered Sergei his hand in a gesture of friendliness. Sergei declined. The GPU shrugged, wished them luck, and wandered back to the wings.

Now they could hear the orchestra warming up in the pit; the Company was assembled on the stage, nervously shaking hands and giving good-natured commands to break legs. Finally, through the curtains, Katrina could see the lights go down on the audience, and the curtains began to rise. She tried not to let herself move as she scanned what she could see of the audience: there in the front row sat Alexandrei Ilyich Nikitaev. He saw her, and with joy in his eyes, smiled at her. She couldn't smile back, she regretted, but gave him a look that would perhaps convey the same meaning.

And then the orchestra started to play, and it was up to herself and her comrades to entertain them all. The dance began with Katrina and Sergei; they were together, surrounded by the other dancers, and then the man came and tore Sergei away from her. He was off to war, to die for his country if need be, and she was alone... until two scenes from then, when they would be reunited. For the time being, though, she was to dance by herself. Only Alexandrei seemed to exist; whenever possible she was looking at him, hoping that no one would notice... especially Sergei.

Suddenly her part was done; Sergei would dance his solo, at war; his character was to be wounded, the sole reason for his return home. She sat offstage, panting from her exertion, trying not to look at Karinov; he was still there. Instead she watched Sergei. He was elegant to the point of perfection, and knew it; and that perfection was not spoiled by his proivate confusion. His performance was flawless, leaving even Katrina spellbound -- though she knew him in acivities which were so much more strenuous than that which he portrayed on stage. When he was finished, it was all she could do to keep herself from running out to embrace him; as it was, when he "limped" offstage, she threw herself in to his arms and kissed him as passionately as she ever had.

Now it was her turn again, to dance the one she had tried so hard to remember. And who would she dance with? Who was she now? She did not know.

As she stepped out into the light of the stage, she again saw Alexandrei. He had never seen her perform this before. What would he think? That, she knew. He would see that she was dancing for him alone, she thought, and began the sequence that she'd had so much of a problem with before.

This time there was no problem. She closed her eyes, and imagined herself to be dancing with him, to be awaiting his return home. When she opened her eyes she could see him watching her, his eyes bright with what could be tears, his hands clutching the programme tightly. Before she even knew it, the dance was over; the orchestra was resting, waiting for the next movement, and she was walking calmly off the stage, the emotions she had tried for so long to grasp finally at home inside her.

Sergei was wiaiting for her; he, too, was crying. It was the first time she had seen him like that, she realized, as he stepped to her and held her in his arms. She felt him shiver as they kissed, and then he looked at her with a new light in his eyes. "One last act," he whispered, "just one, and you won't have to wait anymore." She burried her head in his arms so he wouldn't see her frightened eyes; then it was time for both of them to dance again. He dried her tears and his, and together they walked onstage.

This time when she saw Alexandrei, it was around Sergei; she danced in his arms; always, they were connected. And she tried not to see the jealousy that had found him, tried not to see the way his hands were now clenched together. She shuddered, a motion imperceptable to all but Sergei; he looked at her, concerned, when he could. But it was nothing she could let him know.

And then it was over. The audience was on its feet, she saw; they were getting a standing ovation. And now the Company lined up for a bow, she and Sergei linked together in the middle; when they looked back up, he drew her in for a kiss. What could she do but accept? Their lips touched, once, tentatively in front of the crowd, and then she looked for Alexandrei in the crowd. He was gone. She hoped he hadn't gone far; she had to escape to him.

Finally they were allowed to leave the stage. Waiting for them all was Comrade Karinov; he congadulated them on their outstanding performance, then let them know, quietly, that if they had entertained any thoughts of escape, it would be best for those to be abandoned. Katrina kept her face neutral, though inside she was shaking with fear; how could they get away from him? He certainly couldn't guard every exit, she decided, and hurried to the dressing room.

She pulled off her costume, changing into street clothes, and quickly wiped the makeup from her face, and undid her hair, shaking it out. She had to get out before Alexandrei left! Then Sergei Vladivich appeared in the doorway. He nodded once, and reached for her hand. She hurried towards him, and they half-ran out the door, hoping to reach the main exit without attracting the GPU's attention.

Miraculously, his back was turned to them when they saw him; he was leaning against a wall, smoking, his long grey coat flapping about him like a banner. The two of them rushed for the door, and then... was he looking?... they were outside. But they didn't stop. They ran down the sidewalk until they were well within the surge of theatre-goers. Then, at last, they allowed themselves to rest, and breathe the cool night air, air that, to them, smelled of freedom. Sergei laughed, his voice catching on the relief that he felt, and leaned over to embrace Katrina. As he did so, she saw Alexander Nikitaev. He wasn't looking at them; he stared into the sky, his face illuminated by the glow of his cigarette.

Katrina gently pulled herself away from Sergei, so she could look into his eyes. "I think my... my love, it might be best if we split up. Just in case Karinov comes looking for us," she said, trying to sound sure of herself. "We can meet, oh, at that café down there, after the bus has gone. Okay?" To her relief, Sergei nodded, and, giving her one last kiss, started down another street. Katrina headed straight for Alexandrei, after assuring herself that Sergei wouldn't see.

She was within two paces of Alexandrei when he turned and saw her. There could be no words to describe the elation that one saw on his face; he dropped the cigarette, carelessly crushing it out, and stretched his arms out to her. She said nothing, but stepped into his embrace, tears dropping down onto his coat. She wasn't aware of it, but he, too, was sobbing, and they held each other tightly until they could speak again, and even they, they could say nothing.

Then Katrina's heart skiped a beat: over Alexandrei's shoulder, she saw Sergei. He hadn't wanted to abandon her in a strange city, it seemed, and was following her... and now he stood motionless, his eyes wide with astonishment, and not just a little anger. He was about to turn and leave when Vassily Karinov came up behind him, and put a cold hand on his shoulder. Sergei turned, slowly; even from this distance, Katrina could see his face fall, and all the hope he ever had, leave his eyes. She gasped, drawing Alexandrei's attention to the scene behind him; he looked first at Sergei, then at her.

"So it's true," he said simply. "I had hoped that the kiss was just for show, you know, but if he's out here, too... Were you going to defect with him?" She could do nothing but nod, avoiding his eyes, straining to allow herself to run to her other love. Alexandrei noticed. "I suppose you don't want him captured, do you?" Again she nodded; he took her hand and they ran to Sergei's aid.

When he saw that she was coming he mouthed the word "Net," motioning for her to go. But she couldn't. Though she could see in his eyes that he would die, she couldn't leave him, not even to save her own life. Alexandrei could scarcely understand his own incentive, but he did understand the motivation that drove Katrina to the other man, and if they wanted to be together, he would be with them as well. If Katrina thought he was worth dying for, how could he respond with any less?

Karinov saw the girl coming, along with another man he did not recognise. He frowned, tightening his grip on Sergei's arms. Sergei winced; the GPU was strong! "So you weren't the only one with no mind?" growled Karinov. "Why you people leave I wil never know; what's so wrong with your life in our great country?" Katrina reached his side then, prepared to offer whatever she could for Sergei's life, but Karinov stopped her.

"Comrade Tzaganov," he said, tying Sergei's arms together and reaching for hers, "you realize, you two have made a grave mistake, for which he will certainly be punished. But it seems to meŇ" his eyes had an evil greed in them that Katrina hoped she misunderstood -- "that you are not the guilty one. So you will merely be taken back with us; you will not receive the fate of a traitor."

Alexandrei had also seen the look, and he didn't like at all what it said. "And what of me?" he questioned, stepping closer to Katrina protectively. "For I have done the same thing as my comrades, merely earlier." He took out his own GPU card, which Karinov eyed disgustedly.

"So you, too, Comrade Nikitaev, have thrown your life away? I find it hard to believe that a man of your status would do such a thing willingly; you were kidnapped?" It was not a question, and though Alexandrei glred at Karinov, he did not disagree. Sergei looked at his rival perplexedly; surely he would not throw his life away for a woman he could not hope to have?

Though Katrina was torn between them, it seemed that her choice was being made by Karinov. He was now guiding them, with impeccable confidence, through the crowds that had not yet dispersed; either they did not see them, or they didn't want to: not one person seemed to think that something was out of the ordinary, even when they should have seen the bonds that kept Sergei from escape. They were taken to a black car, shoved inside, and were driven back to the hotel. Once there Karinov and another man, the driver, escorted the three of them to Sergei's room, in silence.

As soon as the door was closed, Sergei's arms were freed. He rubbed his wrists, glaring all the while at Karinov, while the GPU busied himself with something in the corner. Alexandrei paced around the room, until he saw the closet, where Katrina's clothes hung with that of Sergei Vladivich. Then he stopped, winced, and sat down heavily on the bed. Katrina's heart ached for him, but she was being held by the other GPU; she could not go to comfort either of them. She sighed and bowed her head, her long hair falling over her face in a way that made Karinov stare.

He had turned around, and now Katrina could see what he had been playing with -- it was a gun. Its barrel shone in the soft light of the room, its appearance made more horrible by the way Karinov held it, with self- assurance, and a certain grimness, that Katrina thought could mean only one thing. She winced when he brought it to rest at Sergei's chest, and said, almost lightly, "So, how would you prefer to die? Before or after your Katrina Ilyovna... shall we say, submits?"

She heard a moan and with surprise, realized that it came from her. She quickly bit her lip, to keep herself quiet; how could she let him suffer more? It didn't matter what they did to her, then, as long as he didn't suffer.

Sergei had closed his eyes, and was now saying, dully, "She will not submit. Not to you." Before any of them could react, he jumped at Karinov, with the intention of knocking the gun from his hand... but he got no closer than he could have hoped: there was a horrid crack, and a flash as though the world were ending, and then Sergei was lying on the floor, a hole in his chest and another of its kind in his back, and he was dead. Katrina cried out with his pain; she would have run to his side, but the GPU was holding her, his huge hands gripping her arms with the power of a vice, and she couldn't get away...

Karinov stared at the body with mock sadness, and put away the gun. Looking up at Katrina, who glared back with eyes of flame, he said, "It's too bad he didn't know I was kidding." And he grinned, showing yellow teeth. Katrina howled at him, straining to get at the murderer, but the man behind her put one of his hands at her neck, and she saw nothing but black...

* * *

Katrina Ilyovna awoke in Sergei's apartment, wondering where she was and how she had gotten there. She recalled snatches of information: a train, many people, the flash of a gun, awakening on another train -- and being put abruptly back to sleep, and Alexandrei...

He was sitting in a chair across the room, she could now see, with a man in grey standing vaguely between them. The man saw then that she was awake, and walked towards her... it was Vassil Karinov, GPU.

"I see you have recovered," he said, sounding as amiable as anyone Katrina had ever known. But she knew better. She turned her face away, not wanting to look at the murderer, but he reached over and took her face in his hand, forcing her to look at him. "You will listen, my dear, or I shall have to report you for your treason. Now, you and Comrade Nikitaev have been brought back where you belong. See to it that you make no more plans to travel abroad, unless you enjoy disappointment. No more passports will be granted to you. Do I have your complete understanding?" Katrina nodded slightly.

"Good. You will be allowed to stay here with Comrade Nikitaev on one condition: you must never relay this story to anyone. We will leave you alone unless provoked -- watch your step. You will still work with your Company -- they know of your abrupt illness, so you need not tell them anything -- and Alexandrei will be allowed to go back to the Institute and complete his studies." He paused, to look at Alexandrei and see that he was listening. "Do either of you have any questions? No? Good. Remember what I have told you."

The man turned on his heel and walked out of the room. Katrina Ilyovna and Alexandrei Ilyich stared at each other, as though they were meeting for the first time; then Alexandrei stood up shakily and walked to Katrina's side. He leaned over, kissed her tenderly, and helped her out of the bed: she to was a little off-balance from whatever had kept her asleep.

"I want to see you dance, just one more time," he whispered, once she was dressed and ready to leave. She nodded, and together the walked from the apartment -- Sergei's apartment, she reminded herself -- to the theatre. Alexandrei sat in the front row, watching the dancers under the direction of a new leader. When rehearsal was almost over, she looked down from the stage to see Alexandrei completing a swift motion from his hand to his mouth, and in his other hand, a very small, yellow bottle. She looked away quickly.

He waited for her, after she got dressed, and they walked back in silence. She asked no questions about the bottle, and tried not to notice when he stumbled, once or twice, on the way home, nor when he dicided to forego dinner, saying that he was tired. She followed him into what might have been their room, and watched him as he crawled beneath the blankets; she took off her own clothing and crawled in with him. He looked at her questioningly.

"I want to be with you when you die," she said, very quietly, and though he winced, he denied nothing.

Sometime during the night, she noticed that his body was no longer warm, that his peaceful breathihng had ceased. And then she noticed the bottle sitting open on the nightstand, preternaturally bright in the moonlight. She reached out her hand, shook out two of the round objects into her hand, and, as she had seen Alexandrei do, swallowed them.

Before she went back to sleep, Katrina imagined herself as she had been in Münich, free, breathing the liberating air, and walked further down that road. At last, she would be free.

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