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Fiction

Paranoia

The Third Component: Part III, Chapter 31

Alison Christy 24 May 2009

www.lablit.com/article/506

Editor's note: We are pleased to continue the weekly serialization of The Third Component, a novel by Alison Christy: a scientist at loose ends after earning her PhD sets off to Russia in search of a missing piece of her family's past.

Part III. Chapter 31

Facultative Crypsis: Camouflage by Rapid Physiological Color Change Gives Insight Into Visual Processing of Predators

Anna dangles her legs off the side of the boat and watches the water glide rapidly by under her feet. The soft wind stirs her hair and keeps most of the bugs away, and the sun is warm and pleasant. It seems like she should be able to push herself away from the boat and fall forward into the swirling water without getting cold or wet or lost. But instead she just watches her shoes suspended over the green river.

She hears someone approaching and looks over to see Frank’s shoes, as he sits down beside her and throws his legs over the side of the boat too.

“How’s it going?” he asks.

“Fine,” she shouts back, over the boat’s motor. “It’s peaceful.”

“I was just talking to Dima,” he says. “He said that they had another American visit Krolosk just two weeks ago. Michael Perch’s mother.”

“His mother?” Anna says.

“His mother came to Krolosk to look for him, because apparently Dima’s daughter, Mariya, had Perch’s baby, and she found out that he’s been sending them money for the last four years.”

Frank smiles like he thinks he’s proved something about Michael Perch.

Anna looks out across the water, silently. Well, she did assume that a woman was involved. So now it’s a woman and a baby. She can’t be too surprised.

But if his mother came to the island, then Michael Perch might also be there. If he isn’t there now, then he might return. How long could he stay away from his own child?

A new story is playing through her mind, one in which Michael Perch would take the same path she took, through Tomsk and Kolpashevo, staying with friends along the way, trying to get back to Krolosk and his child without attracting any attention. What a perfect place to hide, in the middle of a river in the middle of nowhere. In Siberia.

She should never have gotten her hopes up about Michael Perch. She should never have been so certain he would be there when she didn’t really know. It was a good hypothesis but that’s all it ever was. She knew better than to hope for results; she had learned better the very first time she worked in a lab as an undergraduate. She used to stand by the gel box, watching her samples run with her fingers crossed, hoping for positive, exciting, publishable results, until Professor Jonsdattir came by and told her to stop it.

“Luck won’t make the world exist in a different way,” the professor told her. She was a large, motherly woman, with gray roots and big glasses. “Science is about nature showing you what’s going on. Luck has nothing to do with it.”

You couldn’t have an expectation for your experiment, she said: it is what it is, and if you find yourself hoping that it will be a certain way, you can miss what your data are really telling you. Your data, she said, will always tell you the truth.

Thinking about data, she looks over at Frank’s little smile, and something else occurs to her.

How does she really know that Michael wasn’t in Kolpashevo?

Maybe Frank hated him enough to keep him from her; maybe he wasn’t telling her everything that the women in the Ethnographic Museum said. Maybe he hadn’t asked them the questions he said he had. Or maybe the women had lied to Frank; maybe they thought he was a spy, too.

Or maybe he was a spy.

His indistinctive looks. His empty apartment. His way of showing up unexpectedly and disappearing just as suddenly. The way he listened to the old men in the cafeteria. The way he was always there, like the frog in the moss. The way he always found her, wherever she was.

They must have a pretty poor opinion of us, if they think we would send you as a spy.

Maybe he didn’t want her to look for Michael Perch, because he was looking for Michael Perch himself.

Or maybe he was after her, because of her grandmother, insinuating himself into her life while she was in Moscow, telling his friends to monitor her, to trail her: he said I should show you the Tretyakov Gallery, you must let me treat you to a Moscow tradition, come with me to Gorky Park. Following her to Tomsk. Following her to Krolosk.

Frank’s feet, hanging out over the water, seem large and strange and sinister. The sun has retreated behind a cloud, and goosebumps rise up along her arms.

“Are you cold?” he asks her.

She doesn’t know anything about him. She doesn’t know anything about any of them – Marina, Sasha, Dakota, Yulia – she only knows what they told her.

“Maybe a little,” she says.

She pulls her legs back up onto the boat and stands up. She walks away. But they are on a boat, in the middle of a river, in the middle of Siberia, in the middle of Russia, in the middle of nowhere, and she has nowhere to go. She walks to the other side of the boat where Dima is talking with one of the other men, and finally she goes down into the hold.

It is dark down there, with a little card table and a tiny bed draped in a woven blanket. She sits down on the bed and shivers violently once again.

Maybe he’s been watching her this entire time. Following her, in Moscow, on the train, through the streets of Kolpashevo. Taking notes. Thirty-year old Caucasian woman, claims family escaped Latvia. Knows too much about Michael Perch. Intend to find out what exactly she knows. Subject buys postcard. Subject enters museum.

When Frank comes down a little later she pretends to be asleep, with her knees curled up to her chest, on top of the blanket. She hears him say “Anna?” very softly, but she doesn’t move, and she listens as he leaves again, back up the creaking metal ladder to the surface.

**********

When the boat approaches the island of Krolosk, Dima comes down and wakes her; he says he didn’t think she’d want to miss seeing the green island in the distance.

“I’m sorry,” she says in Latvian. “I was very tired. It is very hard to sleep at night when there is always sun.”

“Of course,” Dima says.

Anna follows him out of the hold, rubbing her cheek, trying to remove the lines imprinted there by the patterned weave of the blanket. She avoids looking at Frank, who waits at the front of the boat, and she talks to Dima in Latvian while she watches for the island.

“I have told your grandmother Laima that we are bringing you,” Dima says. “She will be waiting for the boat.”

Your grandmother Laima.

From a distance she can see a small group of people standing on the bank of the island: the children of the village, Dima says, holding a banner that reads Welcome Friends in Latvian. Anna waves and waves as the boat approaches, and the children wave too, shaking the banner in their excitement.

{Continued next week}