Viktor is running. He is by the river, in the cold, and there is snow falling, and he is wearing sweatpants and a heavy shirt and he is running.
“Viktor,” says Yasha, in his mind. “Why do you run from me?”
He feels her pain, as she feels his fear. She is a cat, a superintelligent telepathic cat, with beautiful tortoiseshell fur and magical powers. She shares an empathic bond with him that she exploited, seven years ago, to enlist him in the KGB.
“I cannot bear it,” he thinks.
The air is heavy in Viktor’s lungs now. The gunmen must be close, but he cannot hear them. He cannot see them. There is only the reassuring presence of Yasha in his mind.
“I chose you because you are special,” says Yasha. “You thought that you were nothing, that you were unimportant, but I awakened the Talent in your mind and showed you that you could be a vital servant of the glorious communist state.”
The thought is a purr. It was her proudest moment, finding him, awakening him, showing a poor and beaten child named Viktor that he could be something more.
But “I cannot bear it,” thinks Viktor.
His leg is bleeding, little pinpricks, as if slashed from afar by distant claws. He is slowing. He cannot run forever, not in this snow, not in this cold, not while the cat carrier of the men sent to kill him contains the agent of the Light who is his eternal bonded companion.
“You can come back, Viktor. No one wants to kill you. I chose you for a reason. You’re special, Viktor.”
“It is not right to assassinate for our state,” cries Viktor. “To kill. To torture. To cast our own citizens away!”
There is gunfire. It misses. Most bullets do.
The voice of the cat in his mind is confused.
“The targets for assassination are chosen by the wisdom of the crystal unicorns,” Yasha says. “And it is the Dryadine, the great blooming benevolent trees, so vulnerable, so wise, that choose the unworthy for the gulags. Even your own father, Viktor, who hurt you so. You must believe in them, Viktor. They are the hand of Light.”
“It was bitter,” admits Viktor. “Even if he hurt me. He was my father. It was bitter to know that he was worthy of nothing more than the gulag. It tainted me. It tainted me—“
“Oh . . .” cries the cat. “Oh, Viktor, no, it does not—“
There is a shot. It grazes Viktor’s neck. He is stumbling now, and finally falls flat into the snow.
“Viktor! Viktor! Don’t die. Don’t die. We can still bring you back.”
“This is our paradise,” says Viktor. “Yet it is corrupt. I think the Shadow has touched us, Yasha, in our willingness to yield control over the means and results of production to the glorious animals of fantasy. It is as if by turning ourselves to the service of the creatures of the Light we have forsaken our humanity, forsaken our ideals, forsaken even the principles of the Revolution, and lost the Spark that makes us good.”
“Oh, Viktor,” says Yasha. “Viktor. That cannot be true.”
“Has not the Light ever been the foremost instrument of the Dark?”
“The communist revolution was inevitable in the presence of disaffected workers and their magical animal companions,” whispers Yasha. “Marx has shown it! And the abundance created by our misunderstood-vampire-run factories are its greatest proof. Viktor, Viktor, it cannot be a wrong!”
But Viktor’s eyes are closed, and his breath is slow, and he is somewhere very far away.
“Viktor! Viktor! Do not leave us,” Yasha mourns.