Catherine III

Part I

"Who shall call them from the grey twilight, the forgotten people?"

-Anastasia Romanov

Yuri Kostov sat in his office at the Kremlin, sipping a glass of tea, looking out his window. Below, on the bridge way entrance some local primary school classes were hanging their Christmas puppets on the brick walls that framed the main gate to the mighty fortress. It was a tradition that had begun the year that Communism had fallen.

Yuri smiled. His life had become peaceful in the last several months. He had defeated his nemesis, and was now able to rule his country as he saw fit. As he watched the happy children displaying their art with the help of their proud teachers, he felt satisfied. He'd taken part in the birth of the puppet tradition for Christmas at the Kremlin gates. It was the way that he felt Christmas should be. He believed that his way was best for his people.

Protests to bring back a Tsar had diminished, just as he'd believed they would. It was the beginning of Christmas season and his people were able to celebrate the holidays. This was because of progression not regression. He was the future, and the future was the best direction to set aim. To go back meant to risk giving up what they'd all worked so hard for.

No one would choose to return to the ancient ways. No one would choose to become a subject to a royal ruler in the modern age, where the most powerful countries in the world were democracies. He'd won. He'd kept Stacey Godunov out of the lime light long enough that she'd faded from the people's memories. She'd faded like a flash in a pan, into nothingness. It was his world now. If only she could be a distant memory to him.

Yuri sighed and checked his calendar. It was the day of the month that he hated most. One day each month he attempted to talk to Stacie. It normally ended badly. He looked at his watch and decided that he'd better make his monthly call before it got too late in Eastern Siberia.

Yuri pushed an old fashioned call button on his old intercom system. "Galina, it's that time," he said. "Could you place my monthly call to Mrs. Godunov?"

"Mr. President, Mrs. Godunov is waiting on line two for you," Galina's voice answered.

"You read my mind," Yuri said.

"I wish I could take credit for that. Actually, sir, she called for you," Galina's voice replied.

Yuri stared at the intercom. He suddenly got a sick feeling in the pit of his stomach. She had never called him before. Why now?

Yuri picked up his phone receiver and pressed the button next to the flashing green-yellow light. "Stacey, how nice to hear from you. I was just going to call you."

"Hi, Yuri," Stacey's voice answered back. "How's things?"

Yuri noticed raspiness in her voice. He wondered about her health. After all, he hadn't actually seen her face to face since the Yakut couple Lena and Maksim had picked her up from him in a field in Oymyakon over two years ago.

"You sound different," Yuri commented. "How are you feeling?"

"I'm fine," Stacey replied

"Good," Yuri lied.

"It's Thanksgiving in my world on Thursday. I would like to celebrate the holiday. The people here said that they would like to share it with me," Stacey told him.

"That sounds lovely," Yuri replied.

"Yes, it does," Stacey agreed. "So, what do you say?"

Yuri was taken aback a little and minorly confused. "What do I say?"

"Be a sport and come see what it's like to celebrate Thanksgiving," she replied. "You wouldn't be the first foreign head of state to participate, you know."

Yuri didn't answer immediately. He wasn't quite sure why she would try to make peace with him after all these years. She'd never had any interest in appeasing him. Everything she'd ever done that seemed to be in the name of peace had been a trick. He didn't want to fall for her false promise again. He was starting to feel like the American cartoon of Charlie Brown every time Lucy pulled the football out from under his kicking foot. Coincidentally, that was what made him think of the American Thanksgiving holiday.

He took a quick moment to think. Stacie had been marooned in Oymyakon, Siberia for years. There was nothing there. Most of the world, save for some climatologists, didn't know or care that the village even existed. Yuri couldn't imagine any way that she could be up to anything. Maybe Siberia had finally broken her like a cowboy breaks a wild horse. Maybe she had asked him to Thanksgiving dinner to make peace and be an ally like the pilgrims and the Indians in days of old. He was leery of it, but if he didn't accept, she would believe that he was scared of her. He couldn't have that.

"I believe that I can take you up on that offer," Yuri finally replied. "May I bring something for the meal? That is customary, is it not?"

"Your making the long trip out here is more than enough, Yuri," Stacey replied.

Stacey was so sugary sweet that Yuri knew she was up to something, but what could it be? He'd monitored her the whole time that he'd kept her in Oymyakon. Lena and Maksim had told him all of her activities and any contact that she may have had with anyone outside the village. He had loyal spies, good satellites and total control of the situation. He was as sure as he could be that she could not be plotting against him. She simply didn't have the means.

"Thursday?" he double checked.

"Can you make it for 2:00 p.m.?" she asked. "There's a vast time difference. Will it be too early for you?"

"That will be fine. I can adjust," Yuri told her.

"See you then," Stacey said. "Oh, and dress warm. It's a little chilly out here."

"I'll do that," Yuri replied.

When he hung up the phone, he ran several possibilities through his mind of plots Stacey might be planning. None of the scenarios that he envisioned made sense. She couldn't fight against him. The people of Oymyakon had nothing as far as weapons or anything that would be used for a military action. She couldn't attack him. He had vigilant body guards that would never allow a successful personal attack.

"Galina," he said, pushing the button on his old intercom again. "Could you get me Yvgeni at the Strategic Monitoring Center please?"

"As you wish," Galina replied.

A short time later, the call was transferred. Yuri snatched up the phone receiver. "Yvgeni, how are you my friend?"

"I am well, Mr. President," Yvgeni answered. "What can I do for you today?"

"I had a very strange call from my friend in Oymyakon," Yuri told him. "Has there been any unusual activity in that sector recently?"

"Only snow sir, and a lot of it," Yvgeni told him. "It is white and lifeless there. I saw a couple of reindeer herds wandering on their way south, but that was about it. It is sparse there at best. Would you like me to recheck the latest data?"

Yuri suddenly felt as though he was being paranoid. "No, that will not be necessary. I know the high quality of your work, and I have no reason to question it," Yuri said. "Thank you."

After he hung up the phone, he buzzed the intercom again. "Galina, I need you to arrange a transport for me to Oymyakon on Thursday."

"Why sir?" Galina asked. "Is the princess all right?"

Yuri rolled his eyes. If only his assistant would forget about her. "Yes, she is fine. She has invited me to a Thanksgiving dinner."