Author: Guede Mazaka
It was an old, ugly piece of work. The Soviets had always treasured efficiency over aestheticism, and it showed. Brutally harsh angles, dull colors, and unimaginative lines. Even the principles of aerodynamics hadn't managed to salvage the train's appearance.
And it suited Alec.
He'd done a good deal of the restoration and the refurnishing work himself, memorizing the inner parts and pieces of the train. Walking its steel until he'd taken the groans and the creaks away from the ghosts of its makers, whom he could still glimpse outside every window. Callused, bitter-faced men and women, hardened to the brittleness of the charcoal with which they fed the steel foundries' maws. They pressed close around their few surviving offspring, lingering about their work because it'd been all they had been permitted to have. No life, just rivets and sharp edges and smoke in the lungs.
That had been where Stalin's successors had erred, believing they could permanently eradicate the sins of desire by simply removing its external sources. The wine, the women, the fine clothes and good food-those weren't fountainheads. Those were merely fixations, results instead of causes. Desire came of itself, whether it had a target or not. Man was desire, and work was a means of achieving it. Every swing of a hammer, every stamp of an iron mold, they'd all been a secret step towards what the workers had really wanted: death.
They'd been beaten to dirt, and that had been the only choice they still remembered they had. It was different for Alec. He held the memories of all the roads he'd bypassed and of all the doors at which he'd stopped. He knew exactly where his steps could go, and where they couldn't, and where they wouldn't. When he laid in expensive wood paneling and rich carpets, he wasn't moving towards death. He was making the train into life. He liked the irony of that, outside Old Russia, and inside New Jazz. A perfect reversal of himself.
But the phantoms of the past still stayed, dragging their fingers over black steel bones, scratching their nails down grinding gears. A constant reminder that however well he dressed, somewhere in the back always lay a white and black wasteland, stark and still, and a red mist rising over the grave.
Had James ever felt that? Or had he completely managed to forget from whence man came, and from whence he would return?
Alec wouldn't put it past the other man; his old partner always had been exceptionally good at the art of deception. But still…so many days and nights, and had James never realized anything?
Touch Alec's face, and it was touching the corpses of his forefathers. Stroke down his arms, rub thumbs in the hollows of his palms, and it was chafing the cold hands of his foremothers. Hold him down and tear the scream of the wounded from him, then mercilessly drive in and in and reenact the rape of spring, suffer the deaths of little children. Gather him close, and offer the false warmth that preceded betrayal. Had James truly done all that, and never once grazed the ancient vengeance nestling in Alec's heart?
Perhaps not, if it had simply been another aspect of the job. Bad luck for Bond, then. Because Alec wasn't one of F. Scott Fitzgerald's gray men. He wasn't even one of the Soviet soot dolls, mechanically going from factory walls to coffin shell. He was a man who saw beyond the pounding toil and hearkened back to the oldest profession of them all. And he didn't mean whoring, though the thought occasionally came up during his darker moments. He meant killing.
Blood on the hands. Red on the tracks. It took more effort than most people understood, stealing breath. Even more to hold onto it.
Alec stood in the engine room of the train, mechanical life thrumming beneath his feet, and prepared to return a particular piece of warmed air to its owner. So James would truly know what the fruits of labor were.