Heed the Warning
Mashka sat limply at her desk in world history class. Unlike her brother, she was not enthused about the topic, and was impatient to be finished with the credits. Thankfully, she was seated next to the window, perhaps the only reason she had not gone mad. It gave her a beautiful view of the campus, which was among the venerable buildings of old St. Petersburg. Something caught her eye in one of the garden trees. She wanted a closer look, and to her wonder, her vision suddenly improved. It was almost as if the tree was right outside her window. Her quick eyes caught sight of two robins making their nest while a breeze rustled their orange chest feathers. Her eyes wandered through the whole garden. She could even see the tiny pale sprouts peeking out of their beds.
She turned her attention to the windows on the other side of the green. After a little bit of harmless spying on the students and faculty, she noticed Chekhov reading a newspaper in the teachers’ lounge. She blinked, and once again, her vision improved, allowing her a closer look.
For the next few minutes, she sized him up, attempting to gain any insight as to who he was. After a quick once over, she began to analyse him. He claimed to be a professor, though she doubted he really was. His arrival and interest in her just as her problem was beginning to worsen seemed convenient at best.
His chest and shoulders were well built underneath his suit, though she questioned her own logic, 'I suppose even professors like to stay fit.' She found herself at a loss. There was nothing else of note about him, his hair that was just beginning to grey, he had a worn but not ugly face, and tall stature. 'He looks like dad.' That final thought immediately set off some red lights. If he resembled that man, he could only mean trouble.
On a whim, she glanced at her reflection in the window and her breath hitched in surprise. Her normal, blue eyes had changed to bright amber with thin, cat-like pupils. She clasped her palm against her face and tried to avoid panicking. As she forced herself to breathe calmly, she tried to relax her sensitive eyes. She felt a sensation as if strings were being removed from around her eyeballs and when she looked back at her reflection, they were once again blue. She smiled to herself. Just like Aleksei, she could learn control.
She glanced over at the distant window. Chekhov knew something about what she and her brother were going through. It was her turn to get answers.
Iosif walked through the door of his favourite lunch spot near the university and was surprised to see Maryja, sitting at a table against the left wall in the small sandwich shop. She had a steaming mug and an untouched pastry in front of her. She glanced up and looked him in the eye, and then turned her focus back to her lunch. He ordered his coffee and walked to a table nearby. He was about to sit down when she spoke up, “Iosif, would you join me?”
He shrugged assent, moved over to her table and sat opposite of her. After settling in, he asked, “Is something troubling you?”
She thought a moment on how to word the question. “You know something... something that makes me,” she paused, “different.”
He slyly dodged the topic, “How did you know this was where I have lunch?”
“This morning I overheard you speaking to Prof. Torchinsky about it.” she replied, suspecting the reason he had changed the topic.
“You would have been in class at that time, two doors down.” he replied matter-of-factly.
“That is what I want to discuss with you.” she said. “However, your knowledge of my routine is also slightly unsettling.” she added in a dubious tone.
Chekhov faintly smirked, “It seems we’re even then, since you seem to know mine.”
Mashka shrugged, not willing to go through the trouble of poking holes in his logic. “I heard your small talk, along with several other conversations in various parts of the building. But that doesn’t surprise you, does it?”
“No,” he conceded, “and I also know about your brother.”
She got a nervous tingling at the back of her neck and asked, “Then there are just two things I want to know.” She gave what she hoped was an intimidating glare. “Who are you, and what do you want?”
Iosif rubbed his neck, thinking of how to respond. “Your, let’s call them talents, for a lack of a better word, have been sought after for a long time by many people, some less virtuous than others. So that’s why I’m here.”
“So you‘re watching me?” she replied a little louder than she meant. She glanced around quickly to be sure no one heard then added in a quieter voice, “Creepy. And how do I know that you don’t fall into the ‘less virtuous’ category?”
“You have to trust me,” he smiled, with the same western smile that caused Mashka to cringe in irritation. “I am simply here to help you. And there is no spying. I’m just here if you have any problems.”
Mashka’s ears tingled, and for some reason she had an immediate feeling of distrust. “I did not ask for your help!” she retorted.
Chekhov leaned closer. “And what happens when you lose control? I assure you, you will lose control like everyone who is so talented. And if you deteriorate at the wrong time? You could be locked away forever as a freak.” As soon as he said ‘freak’ he saw her tense up, so he put on a more diplomatic tone. “We can help you. Teach you how to both manage, and fully develop your ability. Transform you into the butterfly you’re meant to be.”
Mashka gave him an icy stare. “I can control myself without your help. I have no reason to be extraordinary. I just want to be a good citizen, live a quiet life, and not cause any problems, talents or not.”
“It is not just your talents that could be a problem.” He saw her cock an eyebrow. He sighed, trying to find some inner inspiration, then continued, “As I implied earlier, there are far less benevolent people than me, seeking others like you.” Leaning back, he tried to reason with her, “You need to be careful.”
Mashka paused, pondering how she should ask her next question. “Are there any of those people following me now?”
“Why do you ask?”
Against her better judgement, she elaborated, “Because, sometimes I hear footsteps behind me that hurriedly shuffle to the side when I turn around. I hear the bated breaths of people, who will not move until I pass by or look the other way.”
Iosif allowed his eyebrow to twitch in admiration. She‘s good. “Considering that your talent, from what I can tell, is affecting your senses, this paranoia is a symptom, since you are more aware of your environment.”
“You didn’t answer the question. Am I being watched?” Mashka glared persistently.
He sat back and sighed wearily, “You are not being watched. I and a few others are the only ones who know about you.”
Mashka’s ears tingled slightly, and the sense of distrust gnawed at her gut, but she ignored it. “Who sent you? Some part of the government? Our politics might be different today. But they still are not overly affectionate, to people like myself.” She pulled out a necklace from which hung a golden Orthodox cross, ordained with diamonds in the pattern of a Star of David around its centre. “You understand my distrust, no? In the past, the government did not always discriminate between Jew and Goy.”
He smile was kind--, genuine even, confusing her. “I am with a private research association, no connections to the government, no religious or political motivation. Your ancestry is of no concern to us. We simply wish to give you a purpose, and protect you from those who might harm you.”
“I’m quite aware of my purpose.” Mashka stood up rigidly. “My life right now is my purpose! Finish college, find a job, and give my brother a chance at a future. The last thing I need now, are these talents or your help which are straight out of some second rate comic book.” She turned towards the door, but paused before walking away and said in a calmer, though slightly sarcastic, tone, “I am sure you have the best of intentions, but I have everything I need or want. Da svidanya Prof. Chekov. If that really is who you are.”
Iosif remained seated at the table. He considered going after her, but thought better of it. She needed time to think. “You have no idea who you are dealing with,” he muttered.