Part 59: Bonus Chapter 9: Alternate Ending - Martial Law
Bonus Chapter 10: Alternate Ending - Romantic Comedy
After the official overthrow of Vasily Karasov, Piotr Prokofiev was set to make a deal with a mysterious CIA agent. However, following their meeting, Karasov disappeared for a few days before showing up in the Hague for an international trial. What surprised everyone was that Prokofiev remained out of sight save one appearance at a bus station, and before they knew it the Coalition was leaderless.
Tresori Vilnov and Josef Nasarov picked up the faction's reigns and continued to shape the nation as a humanistic and socialist land, but Prokofiev had never contacted them again with revolutionary intentions. What had happened to the man?
* * *
Prokofiev rubbed his eyes, tired of the work and exhausted by the monumental undertaking that he and his revolutionary friends had exerted on Novistrana. Prokofiev had done it: Karasov was ousted, resigned his post, and Prokofiev was set to become the next President of the nation... but why was he still feeling so empty? It was as if someone had reached inside him with a large bowl and begun to drain his strength and willpower. Revenge had been exacted. Was that all that Prokofiev was truly aiming for, overthrowing Karasov?
He sighed, his thoughts drifting to the blond CIA agent he had met once again five days prior. The two had worked out a deal to send in foreign aid to the nation in exchange for Western friendship, and the woman had given him a little knowing smile, a smile that said she knew this was what Prokofiev was going to do...
Leaning back in his chair and taking in a deep breath, Prokofiev's mind momentarily flashed to the scene in the alley once again, but this time the two were flirting coyly, and with a teasing grasp he took her hand and playfully rubbed it over his goatee. The agent giggled, and with the giggle Prokofiev's fantasy was cut short. He couldn't spend time thinking about the Western woman's figure or her smile: he had a nation to run and a dictator to punish.
Picking up the five-day-old memo with a flourishing "you know who" as a signature, Prokofiev read it again. The agent wanted Karasov to be interrogated by the CIA, and Prokofiev still hadn't decided on what to do. Suddenly he realized what had to be done: Karasov would be interrogated, but the West would not keep him. The international community deserved to be brought to attention regarding Karasov's crimes.
Prokofiev picked up a fresh memo template, tested his fountain ink pen on a scratch sheet, then began to write a reply. The response would come within the same day, he knew.
* * *
The Novistranan National Archive - Piotr Prokofiev's Memo to Unknown CIA Agent: 09/05/1996
I hope I'm writing back to the right return adress. You never know with your kind.
I've thought about what to do with Karasov, but any way I take other than yours would be... unfriendly. However, our deal never included you taking Karasov and questioning him. As such, in the interest of friendship, here is my proposition.
You may question Karasov as much as you want in our cells, by our rules. My inner circle gets to be present during the interrogation, and while you may send them away at any time when you have to discuss something private, I will remain for the entirety of your time with him. He will not be hurt or otherwise "broken" during your questioning. Even a tyrant like him deserves better, and he will pay for his crimes in full with an international trial.
Should you agree to these terms, we can arrange for a meeting and I'll take you to him. Should you disagree, then Karasov gets on the first flight out to the Hague, without your interference.
Memos to Piotr Prokofiev - CIA Agent's Response: 09/05/1996
You drive a hard bargain, Prokofiev. I hope you know you're with the big boys and girls now. We don't play nice. The old KGB stooge deserves nothing less than a bullet in the back of the head after we get what we know out of him.
Still, it wouldn't be very kind of us to break our friendship so quickly. I've spoken to my bosses, and they agree with your proposition. Your national security might be at stake, so we'll even let you ask a few questions, too.
It's a damn shame you're letting him go to the UN in the hopes he'll be found guilty, though. I thought you of all people would have learned to trust no one. I presume you have a backup plan in case he walks? It would be disheartening if he were to somehow be found innocent...
Meet me at the Chersonesus Tea Shop tonight at 9 PM. You know the one. We'll talk there.
~You know who.
* * *
Prokofiev sat back in his chair, reading and re-reading the freshly-delivered memo his guard had handed to him. According to the guard, the lookout at the ground floor had been passed the memo by a woman wearing a trench coat and a large fedora to conceal her face, telling the lookout to pass the message to Prokofiev.
She had guts, walking into the lion's den to deliver the message, but part of Prokofiev felt a little sad: couldn't she have come to speak to him in person? Weren't they more than passing acquaintances now?
Whatever, he thought as he looked at a map of Berezina pinned up at a wall to his right. He got up and circled the location of the tea shop where he had first encountered the agent. Even then, even then he had felt something pass between them. Granted she had been holding a pistol at his side and teased him with hints of a new headquarters, but she had been acting a little flirty...
With a snap Prokofiev turned and walked back to his table, cursing his wandering thoughts. He was a revolutionary, damn it! He couldn't be concerned with any Western woman, especially not one that worked so closely with espionage. Sure, she was cute and had curves in the right places, but he had to be concerned with the welfare of the nation!
Prokofiev took his seat again and buried his head in his hands. What's happening to me?
* * *
Agent Natalie Baker had just finished delivering her daily report to Langley regarding Prokofiev's offer, sitting back on her leather armchair as she thumbed Prokofiev's memo. She had been living in Berezina for five years now, still in the same safe house the CIA had given her all this time. When she was out in the streets, she was nameless or went simply by "Natalia", but she never had a reason to do anything but keep spying on Karasov and developments in Novistrana.
When she was honest with herself, she really did hate this country.
There was nothing redeemable about it. A dictator-led nation of fear and oppression, a capitalist breakaway republic that was only defined by the ravings of a power-hungry madman in an opulent palace in the center of the state. The numerous factions vying for power were doing so for power's sake, not for any greater goal. It was a nation rife with revolution, but nobody had seized the opportunity to bring about meaningful change.
Until Prokofiev showed up, that is. Her fellow spook, a good man by the name of Jonathan Miles, was the first to track the Novistranan Coalition when they made a splash in Ekaterine, and when they took control of Pugachev, the Coalition suddenly became the CIA's best chance of seeing Karasov get overthrown. Both agents were detailed to follow them and assist them if Prokofiev was found to be willing to listen. And he certainly was, if he had to be pushed to do it.
When Baker first saw him at the tea shop, though, she felt her blood rush to her face, and it wasn't the Novistranan cold that did it. Prokofiev was attractive enough in the surveillance photos, but he had something attention-drawing to him in person, a presence of being and a strong charisma that made itself known whenever he acted. Perhaps it was his revolutionary movement that drew out that spark of leadership every human being possesses but barely taps, perhaps he had it all along. It didn't matter: Baker was taken aback by the man's rugged charm and well-meaning confidence.
After witnessing him get thrown out of the tea shop in his investigations, though, Baker realized that she had been staring at the man quite openly. She berated herself for being caught up in her emotions, but wasn't she also a woman? No matter: there was work to be done. She had to play the role of flirtatious secret agent to keep her mark guessing, and yet, part of the act was sincere. She had been speaking coyly, but also from the heart, when she pushed Prokofiev to check out the abandoned CIA safe house. She wanted him to succeed.
Future meetings went the same way, but Baker had been trying to breach the self-imposed wall of "spookiness" that most agents were trained to erect when dealing with their targets. She wanted to speak to Prokofiev openly and honestly, and for a moment, she did do that when she tracked him down to offer the deal. She had been amazed at what he had managed to do in a short three months, and even he seemed surprised at how she had managed to remain undercover and invisible while all the time keeping an eye on him.
And now the two were the links between international relations. Agent Miles had nothing to do with the communications. Prokofiev and Baker were the only two people who were keeping the U.S.-Novistrana talks open. There was something thrilling about that, even if Baker had acted the same way towards Dmitri Barkan and even Alexei Konstantino before both were proven to be unable to carry their movements to glory.
Baker shook her head clear, glancing at the simple plastic clock on the wall. Five hours to the meeting. She had better get ready and dress for success.
* * *
The bell at the door jangled as the door swung open. Prokofiev walked inside, patting himself down to get a little warmer and make sure his clothes were good. Baker was already there, dressed as she always was with her trenchcoat and long-brimmed fedora. When he walked in, Baker's eyes shone, but then she tipped her head forward again. They were on the cusp of a new government. She couldn't mess up here.
"Hello there," Prokofiev greeted the agent, his voice neutral. "I'm here to talk to you about Karasov."
"Glad you could make it, Prokofiev," answered Baker coyly, her smile widening. "Looks like we'll be... friends."
"That would be nice," answered the revolutionary before clearing his throat. He looked around the shop a little bit and saw that the owner was still not at the front counter. Prokofiev didn't fancy getting thrown out a second time in front of the agent. "How about we take a walk?"
"I'd like that," answered Baker, taking the lead and opening the door. Prokofiev walked out ahead of her, and she followed. The two began to walk down the patio of shops, most already closing for the night, and they remained silent for a while, each thinking their own private thoughts.
"So," Prokofiev said at last, working up the nerve to say something in front of the agent, but that was all he said.
"So," replied Baker, prompting him.
"Are my terms acceptable?"
"When do you want to interrogate him? We have him detained at the Secret Police headquarters."
"Tomorrow afternoon. I'll bring a friend. Let us in, won't you?"
"Sounds good," Prokofiev answered, dropping the business-like tone and warming up again. "How will we recognize you?"
"You'll know us when you see us," grinned Baker as the two continued to walk down the promenade in the direction of the street.
The two remained silent, walking forward and withdrawing into their minds. Prokofiev was feeling nervous about being with the CIA agent, but not because of the danger, but because he couldn't deny he was attracted to her. It had been a while since he had spent some time with a woman out of a revolutionary context.
Baker, on the other hand, felt warm and happy at being at Prokofiev's side. She felt drawn to him and began to see past the revolutionary nature, into the good man that Prokofiev was as proven by his desire to better the country. Now that Karasov was down, Prokofiev was set to take over the nation, but in a democratic form, she knew.
After a minute of silent, Prokofiev spoke up again.
"We still have some time before we reach the street and get a cab," Prokofiev pointed out.
"That we do," replied Baker, a sad smile on her face.
"Heh, that hat you wear really does bring out how good your smile looks," Prokofiev said after a few seconds, glancing at the agent and taking a chance. "You have a nice smile."
"Aw, thanks," Baker replied, her heart warming and smile widening. "That goatee of yours gives you a leader-like quality."
Prokofiev reached for his goatee, running his fingers over it thoughtfully and grinning. "I try to keep it looking good."
"Well, it's working," Baker continued, flashing her eyes at his for a moment, then dipping her head down again with a chuckle. "Goodness knows your country needs a new ruler."
"It won't be hard to be a better man than Karasov was," replied Prokofiev with a grimace. "It's finally time to put him to trial for what he's done."
"A man like him doesn't deserve anything more," said Baker. "You're far too generous to give him a chance to get away."
"I never said he'd get away," Prokofiev shook his head cryptically. "He'll be found guilty one way or another, no matter what."
The two were now on the sidewalk, cars zipping by them as Prokofiev flagged down a cab. One actually swerved across the street to pick up his fare, but he was already saying he did not accept roubles. A pirate cab.
Prokofiev opened the door and turned to the agent. "It was nice seeing you again, Miss...?"
For a moment, Baker considered simply walking away without answering Prokofiev as she always did, or perhaps just giving him her pseudonym to keep things aloof and distant. But while her brain was telling her to be rational, her heart was saying otherwise.
"Baker. Natalie Baker."
"All right, Miss Baker, I'll see you tomorrow," smiled Prokofiev as he took out a few American dollars to keep the cabbie happy. He roared down the street after being shown the bills, and Prokofiev was on his way home.
Agent Baker gave a little wave, then began to walk to her own home, her heartstrings tugged.
* * *
The Novistranan National Archive - Piotr Prokofiev's Date: 11/05/1996
I was quite impressed with the way you and your friend worked your magic on Karasov. He gave away a lot of details on his deals that we would never have found out alone. Thank you for letting me be present during the interrogation.
However, I'm not just writing you to thank you for your service. I was wondering if you would like to go out for coffee sometime? I know a good coffee shop around the corner in Lobachevsky Park, and they are still working despite the economic collapse. Maybe it would set our mind at ease to talk to each other about... things.
Memos to Piotr Prokofiev - CIA Agent's Response to the Date: 11/05/1996
I would like that. I would like it a lot. How about tonight at 8 PM? Just send me the address via a memo again.
* * *
Prokofiev checked his watch nervously as he paced the coffee shop again, having set down the small chocolate box he had bought a while ago. Baker was late by fifteen minutes. Had she been called away by her superiors? Had she just changed her mind? These questions raced through his head, and he figured that he may have been stood up like an idiot. And he had gone to the effort of wearing such a nice suit, too!
As he paced one last time, he saw a woman in a classy black dress, small black purse, and long-brimmed hat step out of a nearby taxi. Her face, however, was not obscured by the brim this time around. Prokofiev recognized her by the sheepish smile she flashed him before waving.
"Prokofiev!" she called out as she waved, walking up to him and shuddering from the night's chill. "I'm so sorry I'm late, I had to take care of some business, and finding a good cab in this town is so..."
"No need to apologize, Baker," grinned Prokofiev, then looked her over again appreciatively. "You look stunning tonight!"
"Heh, thanks, I tried," laughed Baker. "It wasn't easy finding a good clothing store open after what you did."
"Guess it wasn't a good idea to get a date going when the whole country's in the toilet, huh?" asked Prokofiev as he guided her to a nearby table under an awning, then pulled a chair out for her.
"Thank you..." Baker said as she took a seat. "No, no, life must go on, I guess, it doesn't stop people from having... fun."
"Yeah, you're right," grinned Prokofiev, taking his own seat, then as if suddenly remembering it, he gently pushed the wrapped box forward. "Here, these are for you."
"Oh thank you!" Baker replied with that coy smile of hers. Dammit, she had to know it drove Prokofiev wild to see her do that. She unwrapped the box carefully, then nodded appreciatively. "I love chocolates, Prokofiev. Aw, you shouldn't have."
"I wasn't sure what a Western woman like yourself would enjoy," Prokofiev shrugged apologetically. "All we in Novistrana have to go with are media stereotypes."
"It was a good gift nonetheless," winked Baker as she slipped the box in her purse, then rubbed her hand down Prokofiev's arm, admiring his clothes. "Wow, you look great when you're wearing a suit and not that vest-jeans combo you favor so much!"
"It's iconic, to say the least," laughed Prokofiev. "It's my lucky style."
"Hmm, lucky, you say?" grinned Baker. "How about we talk a little longer over some coffee?"
"I thought you'd never ask," Prokofiev smiled, calling the waiter over. "And please... call me Piotr."
"As long as you call me Natalie," replied Baker with a teasing shove.
Baker and Prokofiev talked for a long time, nearly four hours, giggling and laughing over everything except the revolution. It was a topic they had an unspoken agreement not to touch: they were here to enjoy themselves, just two people having fun and getting to know each other better in a city and a country where everything else had gone to hell.
Prokofiev was candid about his experiences and his youth, telling stories from his childhood and charming Baker with his wit and good humor. Certainly it had helped that he had succeeded in his revolution, or at least a part of it: he would never have thought of asking a woman out on a date if Karasov was still in power, certainly not a woman who worked for the West!
Baker found herself opening up to Prokofiev's charm, feeling his magnetic personality working its way into warming her heart and her mood. She began to confer bits of her own past and tell her own stories from her youth, even sometimes talking about past missions she had done for the CIA out of her own volition. It wasn't like Prokofiev could act on it: she had been well-trained to keep the details hidden and instead share the interesting aspects of being a spy.
As the night wore on and the two began to feel more at ease (and adventurous), the two began to confide in each other about their troubles, their dreams, and their goals. Prokofiev's troubles regarding the nation were obvious, but it felt good to get it out in the open with someone who wasn't so involved in the inner circle. Baker's troubles came as something of a surprise to Prokofiev: she wasn't happy with the CIA and she wanted to leave it to do something simple back in the United States, maybe a desk job or even farm work. She was tired of the cloak-and-dagger world, even if she was really good at it. It wore on a person's mind and frayed their nerves far too much for her liking.
When the clocks hit midnight, the two had just finished giggling over a few observations from the media and talking about the Lavanov-Churnyeav head-butting that had plagued Prokofiev's mind as a problem, but to Baker was hilarious. Maybe to someone on the outside having two trusted members bicker like old housewives was something to laugh about, but Prokofiev only now had the time to look back over the stress and admit it was funny. When their laughter subsided, Prokofiev offered to take Baker home, but she said she wanted to see what it was like being a revolutionary.
Exiting the cab minutes later and walking to the door, the two were quite aware of where the night was going.
"Would you like to come in for some vodka?" asked Prokofiev impishly, tilting his head suggestively. "My good friend Nasarov just got this crate from the distillery. It's quite fresh."
Baker nodded, a sly smile playing on her lips. "Of course, Piotr. I'd like that."
The two entered the Coalition headquarters together, whispering little details from the date.
* * *
With a start, Prokofiev awoke from the queen-sized bed he had been sharing with Baker last night. The sunshine peered through the window shades like faint wisps of light, weak enough to hazard a guess that it was morning already. Prokofiev was alone in the bed, but he took this in stride, figuring his companion was either busying herself with a cup of coffee or making breakfast. As he stretched and yawned, scratching himself after a particularly relaxing cracking of his ribs, he noticed the small note on top of Baker's pillow. Curious, he picked it up and began to read.
I'm sorry for writing this, but it was a mistake for us to sleep together last night. It was great fun, and I would do it again if I had the chance... but spending the night with you has compromised my status as an agent. I cannot stay around here or in Novistrana. It would be dangerous for me, and dangerous for you. I'm taking the first bus out of Berezina.
It was a shame that we met under such circumstances. Perhaps one day we'll meet again, but I'm sorry it had to be this way. Goodbye...
~Your little bird"
When he was done, Prokofiev's stomach was in knots and his throat threatened to snap his neck. He gave a quick glance around, but it seemed that everything was still in order. She hadn't just walked in, slept with him, and stole anything for her paymasters. She had left everything where it was.
He took a deep but rushed breath, his eyes scanning the ground for his clothes. There they were, in a heap at the corner of the room. He dashed to them and threw them on, knowing what he had to do. After grabbing the keys hanging on the hook next to the door and slamming it behind him, Prokofiev did not look back.
* * *
Dashing through the terminals and glancing rapidly over the itineraries and bus schedules to take place, Prokofiev struggled to navigate through the bus station of Berezina. A large and busy thoroughfare of travel, even in these times, it was packed with desperate, bored, and luckless Novistranans who were either abandoning Berezina to take their chances in other cities, or with citizens from these very same cities who had come to the capital hoping for work or a better life. It was chaotic, it was large, and it was not easy to navigate.
Where is she? Prokofiev thought with his heart in his mouth, out of breath from running and shoving through the masses of people. She hadn't left any clue as to what city she was going, and he didn't even know if she was still there. Why couldn't she have left just one hint...?
Prokofiev ran to one of the ticket counters, cutting off a very angry large woman and her two kids to speak to the surprised ticket salesman. "Excuse me, sir?"
"Hey, what's this now?" the large woman demanded, still gripping her two children with one hand and carrying a large suitcase with another. "Get back in line!"
"Sir, I need to ask you something quick," Prokofiev continued, ignoring the woman and desperately gambling with fate for a coincidence. "Did you sell a ticket to a white blond woman who wore a trench coat or a long-brimmed hat?"
"I did, but-"
"Back of the line!" the big woman demanded again, grabbing Prokofiev by the shoulder and tugging him back with a surprising amount of force. The visionary fell to the ground with a thud, and he looked up at the woman impatiently.
"God damn it, lady, just give me a moment!" He glanced back at the ticket salesman, still on the ground. "Where did she go?"
"Gate 5," the man pointed over in a direction all the way to the back of the station.
"Thanks!" Prokofiev answered, scrambling to his feet and running off. The big woman grumbled under her breath before marching up to the salesman for her ticket.
With a destination in mind, Prokofiev weaved around the people as if they weren't there, hope giving him the sensation that he was water flowing around rocks in a river and bypassing people easily. He still smashed into people unceremoniously, but with a quick "Sorry!" or "Excuse me!" over his shoulder, he mostly ignored these accidents.
It was at Gate 5, just as the salesman had said, that Prokofiev saw her: Baker was there, wearing her long olive-green trench coat and long-brimmed hat. She was just getting ticketed and boarding a bus with her bags...
Without pausing to think, Prokofiev leaped over the barricade and past a pair of stunned guards, who watched him clear the small fence with one tall leap. "Natalieeeeeee!"
As if in slow motion, Baker turned around and opened her mouth in mixture of disbelief and pleasure at seeing Prokofiev literally jump after her. Prokofiev landed on his two feet and stumbled forward as Baker caught him. The two nearly fell over with the carried momentum, but Baker was able to hold him up.
"Piotr, what are you-"
"It was a mistake to let you go without saying what I had to say," Prokofiev spoke quickly. "Ever since I met you, you've been on my mind, Natalie. Our date last night showed me that you are a woman of grace, beauty, and most of all, love. All throughout my revolution, I felt like I was empty, I was a man driven by rage and vengeance, hoping to bring forth some change in my motherland, but I also understood that I needed something more!"
"You there, stop!" a guard shouted, pulling out his truncheon and calling to his comrade after the shock wore off.
"Natalie, I can't let you go. I can't! You complete me. I... I love you."
As he said these words, the two guards caught up with him, restraining Prokofiev even though he did not fight back.
"Please, don't just go away like this!" Prokofiev called out as the two guards brought him back and aside at the gaggle of on-lookers. "I know you felt it too!"
Baker looked down at the ground, her mind racing against her heart for her decision. She knew it was dangerous to have gotten involved with Prokofiev so intimately, but she finally felt happy talking to him and in his embrace. He was right... the two completed each other.
Her mind made up, Baker left her suitcase where it was and ran to Prokofiev, embracing him and throwing off the guards who hadn't seen her coming. The two fell to the ground roughly, but they didn't mind. Planting one long kiss in Prokofiev's lips and then looking deeply into his eyes, Baker said the one thing Prokofiev needed to hear.
"I love you too."
* * *
The wind gently rolled the waves to shore as Prokofiev dried himself and took a seat. He had just come back from a relaxing swim, and Baker was there to greet him with a deep kiss and drinks in her hands.
After the incident in the bus station, Prokofiev had entered in contact with his inner circle to express his decision to resign as the leader of the faction, passing the torch on to Nasarov. He instructed his old friend to keep Vilnov in his employ and guide the nation as he thought best, knowing that his blood brother and mentor would guide Novistrana in its best interests. He felt like his mission was complete, he wrote, when Karasov was taken out of power and Prokofiev left the nation ready for a socialist revolution. But now was a time for the new, and for the working class and academics to work together to rebuild the nation without the violent revolutionary forces that brought them there.
Baker had submitted her resignation from spy work with the CIA, applying for a desk job as she wished somewhere back in Langley, but first asking for vacation time somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. Her bosses, happy with Karasov's overthrow and seeing a mission well-done, complied and bought her two tickets to the Bahamas. Prokofiev was invited without hesitation.
Now the two were in a little tropical hideaway, their pasts behind them and feeling fulfilled. They were happy and they felt like they had completed what they had set out to do. As Prokofiev lay back in his chair to take in some more sun in his pale-white but tanning body, Baker spoke up.
"What do we do now? About the future?"
Prokofiev opened his eyes and turned to face his lover with a wide smile on his face. She grinned at the expression, enjoying herself despite the severity of the question.
"Let the future bring what it will," Prokofiev answered with a glowing sigh. "For now, though, let us enjoy the present."
Nodding contently at the answer, Baker lay back in her own chair. Prokofiev glanced at the ocean's horizon, a simple smile on his lips. He contemplated the horizon for a while, thinking over his decisions, then lay back again as he fell in a comfortable sleep.