Liberators
Author: Godfrey Raphael

Chapter 15
Pyotr Matochkin

Chapter Fifteen: Pyotr Matochkin

 

Sonolovichyrevko International Airport

October 14, 2008 0600 Rivymiyitevko time (0200 Krakozhian time)

 

The Antonov An-26 that landed on the runway of the Sonolovichyrevko International Airport was owned by the government of the Independent Republic of Rivymiyitevko, and the flag and seal of the Benin family painted on the aircraft's rudder and sides attested to that. Aside from the crew, only two people were onboard the Antonov: Konstantin Afanasiyevich Benin, president of Rivymiyitevko, and Dr. Pyotr Matochkin, a renowned Russian microbiologist who specialized in infectious diseases and biological warfare.

 

Matochkin was born on July 20, 1943 in Ufa, Russia, at the height of the Second World War. A near-fatal case of smallpox during his childhood had steered him towards a career in microbiology, and as soon as he graduated from the USSR Academy of Sciences, he was travelling around the world, examining new strains of disease and creating cures to combat them. But back in Russia, he was put to work in creating biological weapons that could be launched alongside the Soviet Union’s nuclear and chemical missiles. Upon the collapse of the Soviet Union, however, funding for biological warfare research was slashed to a bare minimum, and many of Matochkin’s colleagues had been pirated away by private companies with the promise of much higher pay. Only Matochkin was left of the original team, and he too was soon lured away from his laboratory by Konstantin Benin, who had given him a very lucrative contract for a year of working in the Sevenivov Research Institute.

 

“I hope that your time in the Institute would be worth your while,” said Benin as they stepped out of his Antonov.

 

“No, Mr. Benin, my only worry is that your people wouldn’t be able to understand my devilish algorithms,” replied Matochkin, and the two laughed like old friends.

 

“Speaking of your colleagues, Doctor, here they come now.” Benin pointed at a black Zil limousine that was parked beside another, larger limousine. Two men had stepped out and were walking towards Matochkin and Benin. The first one raised his hand and said, “Pleased to meet you, Dr. Matochkin. I am Dr. Ivan Movsarovich Bakhusov.”

 

Matochkin shook his hand, recalling that he was a senior when Bakhusov entered the Academy of Sciences. As he turned to face the other man, a smile crept into his face and he wrapped the man in a tight bear hug. “Mikhail Anastasovich Vebokov!” he said.

 

“Ah, Pyotr Ivanovich, it’s good to see you again!” Vebokov tried to return the hug, but his ribs protested under the pressure. “So, you’ve finally left the comfort of your apartment for a real job, eh?”

 

“Well, I had no choice, Mikhail Anastasovich. I’m the only one in our old division that could still understand those forty-year-old equations.”

 

“Well, it’s good to see that everyone has been acquainted with each other,” said Benin. “Now, I’ll be leaving you three here. Important matters await me at my desk.” He then got onto his limousine, which peeled out of the airport with astonishing speed.

 

“Being a president must be harrowing work,” said Matochkin as the three entered Bakhusov’s limousine. “I mean, he is younger than each one of us, yet he moves like my arthritic grandfather-in-law.”

 

“Yes, he does keep a busy schedule visiting the people and running the troops,” replied Bakhusov, sipping a glass of vodka.

 

“’Running the troops’?”

 

“You must be very isolated in that little lab of yours,” said Vebokov. “Krakozhia has invaded Rivymiyitevko. Now, you’re probably thinking why you were approached by Benin.”

 

“The thought had crossed my mind,” muttered Matochkin. He remained silent for the rest of the journey.

 

The Sevenivov Research Institute was a small, utilitarian five-storey building sitting in the middle of the Sevenivov Plain. It was shaped like a U, with parking facilities located inside the bend. Matochkin noted the presence of RIM troops guarding the facility, but only barely. “It seems that you have stepped up the security in this place, eh?”

 

Da,” replied Bakhusov, “but it’s only a contingency. Once we receive word of an impending Krakozhian attack, the Institute’s staff—that includes all three of us—would board a subway train that is connected to the Sonolovichyrevko Metro and head for safety in the Capitol.”

 

“Oh. But, Dr. Bakhusov, if I may, may I ask what my position in the Institute is?”

 

“Officially, your position would be ‘special scientific consultant for institutional affairs’, but between the three of us, you will help us create a germ weapon for Benin to use against the Krakozhians.”

 

“What? You can’t be serious!” But Bakhusov and Vebokov were already walking towards the Institute, and Matochkin had no choice but to follow them.

 

The three of them took an elevator to the fifth floor, where most of the hazardous materials used by the Institute were stored. Bakhusov swiped his identification card on a panel marked HAZARDOUS MATERIALS – BIOLOGICAL, and then he entered his personal access code. The door opened with a beep, and Vebokov went in, opened one of the lockers, and retrieved a glass jar with a layer of yellow powder at the bottom. “What is that?” asked Matochkin, very curious now.

 

“This, Pyotr Ivanovich, is the key to winning the war against Krakozhia,” replied Vebokov, holding the jar as if it were the Holy Grail. “Thiomargarita namibiensis, the Sulfur Pearl of Namibia, the largest bacterium in the world. And it’s not just some batch of Thiomargarita scooped up from Walvis Bay; this sample is from Lyuba the mammoth.”

 

Matochkin’s eyebrows rose in surprise. Lyuba the mammoth was the most preserved specimen of her kind to date.

 

“You have to ask yourself,” said Vebokov, “how did a bacterium native in the Namib Desert end up in a mammoth uncovered from the Siberian permafrost? As it turns out, there is a down-to-earth explanation for this. Ivan Movsarovich, do continue, please.”

 

“As you know, Dr. Matochkin, Lyuba the mammoth was discovered in the Yamal Peninsula last year,” Bakhusov continued for Vebokov. “Russian scientists removed these from the mammoth’s cheeks and stomach lining, which means that Thiomargarita was alive and thriving this far north during the Ice Age—“

 

“So, how did that become a biological weapon?” asked Matochkin.

 

“Ah, yes.” Bakhusov carefully laid the jar on a table before continuing. “It may not look like it, Dr. Matochkin, but this colony of Thiomargarita is actually infected by virus-like organisms similar to the smallpox virus. I have a theory that migrating animals brought the virus here, and then this virus was assimilated by the local Thiomargarita population, which thrived on the endemic mosses in the region. These mosses were then consumed by the mammoths, effectively infecting them with the virus. The hybrid, now a hundred times more potent than its contemporary counterpart, was ingested by the local tribes when they hunted the mammoths, and very early records from the Krav Empire tell of ‘a plague that swept the northern lands of the Rus’,’ and the symptoms recorded were similar to smallpox outbreaks in modern times, only these cases were much deadlier.”

 

“How do you plan to utilize this, ah, weapon?” asked Matochkin.

 

“Benin plans to release the virus via an aerosol form over Krakozhian troops. When we finally successfully weaponize this virus, Konstantin Benin would be assured of a victory. Now, why don’t we come looking for your room?”

 

Sevenivov Research Institute

1830 Rivymiyitevko time (1430 Krakozhian time)

 

Pyotr Ivanovich Matochkin ran as fast as he could.

 

He was not running away from the Institute itself, but from the madness of its so-called top scientists. He only had to see the pictures of the “test subjects” of the Thiomargarita-smallpox hybrid before he managed to excuse himself. Now, as he ran down the corridors of the Institute, he paid little attention to the janitor that was waving his arms and shouting his lungs out at him until he felt his feet fly in the air, and then he landed on the slippery floor with a loud thud.

 

“What did I tell you, Doctor?” said the janitor as he helped Matochkin to his feet. “The floor is still wet; you shouldn’t be running around here. Besides, what’s the rush?”

 

“I have to go, my friend.”

 

“Well, that’s an amazing display of restraint back there, Doctor. A lesser man would’ve fouled his pants by now.”

 

“No, it’s not like that. It’s about—wait a minute.” Matochkin grabbed the janitor’s face. “You’re Mikhail Dopov.”

 

“I’ve been told that a lot of times, Doctor, but I’ve never seen him before in my life, so I have no idea what he looks like, although I’ve heard that he is a handsome fellow.”

 

“No, it has to be! You fit his profile: muscular, insanely tall, leader of the Rivymiyitevko resistance—“

 

The janitor covered Matochkin’s mouth with his hand. “All right, Doctor, if it will make you shut up, I am Mikhail Dopov.”

 

Matochkin groaned from behind Dopov’s hands, and the man released his hold on him. “I don’t want to know why you’re here,” said the doctor, “but you must get to the Krakozhians and tell them that Konstantin Benin is planning a biological attack on them. The components of that weapon are here in the Sevenivov Research Institute.”

 

Dopov cursed. “I knew something bad was going on in here,” he muttered. He had infiltrated the Institute after being informed by the Krakozhian KGB that Rivymiyitevko was in the process of making its own germ weapon.

 

“Okay, Doctor, what does this weapon look like?”

 

“They haven’t created a releasing agent for it yet, but the virus itself is stored in a glass jar locked inside the biological hazardous materials storage in the fifth floor. And please tell your people to get me out of here as soon as possible.”

 

Just then, Bakhusov and Vebokov rounded the corner and saw Matochkin leaning on a janitor for support, not knowing that the janitor was Mikhail Dopov. “What happened, Pyotr Ivanovich?” asked Vebokov.

 

“I slipped, Mikhail Anastasovich, but it’s nothing to worry about. I’ve taken worse falls.”

 

Sevenivov, Rivymiyitevko

October 15, 2008 0005 Rivymiyitevko time (October 14 2005 Krakozhian time)

 

Mikhail Dopov checked out of the Sevenivov Research Institute at midnight, and he soon arrived at the apartment that he was renting five minutes later. Once there, he locked the door, turned off all of the lights except for a small desk lamp, took an empty piece of paper, and began composing his message.

 

FROM: AGENT NATIONAL

TO: IBKLASK CENTER

 

HAVE UNCOVERED POSSIBLE EVIDENCE OF ANVIL BIOLOGICAL ATTACK ON SICKLE. HAVE NO IDEA OF POTENCY BUT NEW CONTACT IS POSITIVELY SCARED OF RESULTS. CONTACT ALSO WISHES TO BE EXFILTRATED FROM INSTITUTE.

 

WEAPON LOCATED ON FIFTH FLOOR BIOLOGICAL HAZARDS STORAGE. CONTACT LOCATED IN ROOM 327 ON THIRD FLOOR. CONTACT IS RATED 5/5 AND SUGGESTED EXPEDIENCY OF OPERATION IS MOST IMMEDIATE AND URGENT.

 

DANGER FOR ALL SICKLE TROOPS IN ANVIL IS RATED CODE RED. DANGER FOR SICKLE IS CODE YELLOW. BIO-WEAPON IS A CERTIFIED REPEAT CERTIFIED THREAT TO LIBERATORS AND MUST BE DEALT WITH ACCORDINGLY.

 

HOPING FOR A QUICK CONCLUSION TO LIBERATORS. REGARDS TO THE REPUBLIC.

 

Dopov read the message again before encrypting it, which took all of thirty minutes. He then went to one of his guerrillas inside the building and said, “Send it.”

 

Krakozhian Committee for State Security (KGB) Headquarters

Ibklask, Krakozhia

October 14, 2008 2100 Krakozhian time (October 15 0100 Rivymiyitevko time)

 

Dopov’s message, now decrypted, was handed over to Chairman Timofey Andropov by his personal cryptographer. After reading the contents, he muttered, “Mikhail Sergeyevich, you witch, you’ve done it again!”

 

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