|It was an unseasonably hot autumn day. The sweat was running freely down Anatoly Marichev's forehead. It irritated the skin where his thin wire framed spectacles bit into his face. They were the same style of spectacles Trotsky had once worn.
Anatoly was crossing an overgrown meadow that skirted a belt of thick green forest. Grass seed simmered in the heat, tickling his nose as he breathed in the rich warm air. The woods here had been impenetrably thick until a natural catastrophe had thinned them in the latter part of the 19th century. His grandfather had adventured in the woods as a boy and he still spoke of them as a fantastic haunted place.
Thin young trees were everywhere but occasionally Anatoly passed through a strip which had escaped the great fire, where huge trees hung thick and green with age. As he walked through them he felt the weight of these ancient woods, their slow vegetable indifference to mankind.
He adjusted the big burlap sack hanging from his belt. The sack was heavy and Anatoly felt a certain fierce pride.
At breakfast his grandfather had glanced up from ha his book - an account of Einstein's general theory of relativity - and had said disparaging things about Anatoly's talents as a mushroom hunter. But today's hunt had been a success. It was the best time of year for mushrooms in Russia.
Tonight he would prepare them for supper perhaps just giving himself time to linger for a drink of brandy after the meal with his grandfather. They had yet to conclude their argument about Lysenko.
After their traditional argument he would say goodnight, the old boy would retire upstairs, and Anatoly would invite Ludmilla over.
His grandfather was too deaf to hear the metallic clamour that Anatoly's bed made vvhen Ludmilla visited. Or too tactful. And the following morning he observed the absurd ritual whereby the girl would creep out of the house in the early morning returning to join Anatoly and himself for breakfast as if she had just dropped in after an early morning walk. Was that sharp old mind deceived? Anatoly doubted it.
Stepping into the cool garden of the white house, Anatoly turned a corner and found his grandfather carrying glasses of hot tea out. One of the glasses his grandfather handed to a small man sitting in the shadow of a blossoming tree.
The small man looked up. He was wiping his brow with a red handkerchief of some unusual material, but he seemed quite composed and serene in the heat. In his lap was a straw hat. He wore a cream linen jacket of a slightly unusual cut. Altogether, thought Anatoly, he looks like an Englishman. An academic or intellectual of some kind - the small man's eyes had a piercing quality, as if a fierce intelligence was constantly shifting behind them, peering out and weighing up the world. In the shadow of the tree, with the smell of late blossom blowing through the garden Anatoly found it oddly diffcult to determine the colour of those eyes.
'This is my grandson, said old Pietia by way of introduction. 'But he looks old enough to be my son, observe the bags under his eyes. That is because of his joyless life. He is a relentless scholar. God knows how he ever found such a pretty girl. Still, he is very bright. Very like his father.' The old man frowned, a shadow crossing his face.
'That was a terrible thing,' said the Doctor.
'Yes. To lose a son is terrible. But millions suffered the same tragedy in those years.' The old man stirred his tea and looked sadly across at him. 'Do you really think they are foolish enough to begin another world war?'
'People keep asking me that question,' said the Doctor, sipping his tea.
'You would think that one world war would be sufficient for anyone,' said old Pietia, shaking his head. 'How is your tea?'
'Delicious,' said the Doctor 'And what a beautiful garden to drink it in.' This is a very fertile land A meteor crashed here the year I was born. It was always a legend in our family The explosion and ensuing fire were huge. The beautiful forest was scarred. Thousands of trees burned. But they grew back quickly The whole area is fantastically fertile. The local saying is that the meteor ploughed the earth for us bringing rich soil to the surface Just think. A huge stone, falling from the sky to set the night on fire. They say all the horses in the area went mad. It must have been an extraordinary sight.'
'Loud, too,' said the Dodor sipping his tea.
'Here,' said Anatoly These are some of the mushrooms I gathered in the woods today. The good eating ones.'
The Doctor opened the bag and inspected the mushrooms. 'They look delicious. Thank you Anatoly.' He glanced up from the bag. 'I believe I've read about a local delicacy called the toad-back.'
They are not particularly good for eating.' Said Anatoly quickly. He had taken a sample out of his pocket where he'd kept it carefully wrapped in a clean handkerchief. Now he gave it to the Doctor.
It was an odd looking mushroom. Its mottled cap had bright slashes of green and purple on it. And it gave off a pungent smell not unlike liquorice. The Doctor placed it carefully in his pocket. 'Thank you.' He got up from the garden chair and picked up his umbrella. 'I'd best be leaving now.'
'Must you go?'
'I'm afraid so. I have a train to catch.'
Pietia hopped to his feet. He took the Doctor's hand and shook it firmly as they crossed the lawn. Thank you for the warning my old friend,' he whispered as they walked out of earshot of the boy. 'I will have to explain to him later But I will convince him we must leave.'
'The sooner the better'
Ludmilla Serebrennikov was a black haired beauty with level blue eyes that flashed behind a pair of round spectades. The same sort of spectacles that Anatoly wore. When the couple kissed their glasses dattered together and had even been known to become entangled.
Ludmilla's gaze was deep and intense because she was hopelessly short sighted. In fact without her glasses Anatoly knew this beautiful girl was as blind as a bat. He chuckled now as he thought about it.
'What?' said Ludmilla, touching his face She had a soft husky voice that made Anatoly think of the kind of strong summer honey whose sweetness burned the tongue.
'Is that all you are taking, Anatoly?' She pointed with her toe at the small leather satchel that lay on the lawn beside her own knapsack.
'You should see Grandpa's bag. It's even smaller. He spent, I think, all of five minutes packing it.'
'It was very clever keeping your savings in diamonds instead of gold.'
Anatoly knelt and opened his satchel. He took out what looked like a handful of milky pebbles. He offered the uncut diamond to Ludmilla but she shook her head. 'Put them away for heaven's sake.'
Anatoly casually poured the diamonds back into the bag and shut them in his satchel. 'More portable than gold,' he said. 'And just as effective as an international currency. Grandfather isn't dim.'
'None of your family are dim. But where is he? Is he ready to leave?' Anatoly smiled, 'Pietia's ready. He's inside, saying goodbye to the house. Just killing time. We could have been gone hours ago but we had to wait for you, my chipmunk.'
'Where are your notebooks, Anatoly? I didn't see them in your satchel.'
'I left them in the laboratory.'
'But all your work is in them.'
'It is also in my head.'
There was a creak of wooden steps and old Pietia came out into the bright garden carrying a thin briefcase on a strap over one shoulder. He joined the young couple in the shade of the tree.
'Finished saying farevvell to the house, Pietia?' Ludmilla smiled at the old man.
'Indeed It took somewhat longer than I expeded. I had to be thorough. It was a very fine house and our family has flourished in it.' The old man sighed. 'But now we must turn our face to new horizons, new adventures. The open road beckons.' He stared out towards the dusty road beyond the hedge A look of concern suddenly crossed his face. 'It still baffles me who could have reported us to the govemment,' he said.
They all heard the distant clatter of approaching engines. On the road a car and a lorry were approaching dust rising behind them in the warm autumn sunlight.
The truck rattled to a halt outside the house and its tailboard instantly swung down. Half a dozen soldiers tumbled out. They slapped dust from their clothes and reached back into the lorry where a seventh soldier handed rifles out to them. Anatoly and his grandfather stared in surprise as Ludmilla ran down to join them.
'There they are!' shouted Ludmilla, pointing. Anatoly and his grandfather turned to run and the soldiers raced off in pursuit, stumbling through the roadside trees clutching their rifles. Ludmilla heard the familiar voice of the colonel ring out. 'Just four of you!'
The last three soldiers froze and turned reluctantly away from the chase. They came back across the lawn and returned to the lorry where they began to argue about unloading something.
'Will your men catch them?' asked Ludmilla.
'Of course we'll catch them,' said the colonel.
'We can go inside while we're waiting. I can show you the laboratoy.'
'There is no need to see the laboratory,' said the colonel.
'Fine. Just detail two of your soldiers to me and I will arrange the packing of the equipment and notes.'
'That won't be necessary,' said the colonel. 'We have had a decision from the scientific specialists.'
'What specialists?' said Ludmilla. 'They know nothing about science.' She frowned with growing anger.
'In any case, they have not deemed your boyfriend's research sufficiently interesting.'
'Interesting? His research is brilliant.'
'Then perhaps it was your description that was at fault.'
'But I made it perfectly clear. I can't believe those idiots don't see how important it is. Bureaucrats!'
'I'm afraid it is too late to express your views on this matter, comrade.' The colonel turned to face her 'My orders are to burn the laboratory to the ground.'
'This is madness.'
'Perhaps. Or it might make perfect sense.' The colonel wouldn't meet her gaze. 'Perhaps the specialists feel some things are too dangerous to remain in existence.' He wouldn't look Ludmilla in the eye.
He squinted up at the bright blue autumn sky then turned and shouted at the three soldiers by the truck. They hurried across the garden and into the house. They were carrying large tins and Ludmilla could hear liquid slopping in them.
From the direction of the woods a sudden cry echoed through the dense green. The colonel smiled. 'We've got them.'
At least let me take a few thing from the laboratory,' said Ludmilla.
'Help yourself,' said the colonel, suddenly relaxed and jubilant. He was already hurrying over to the edge of the woods.
As soon as he was gone Ludmilla picked up Anatoly's satchel, abandoned when he had fled.
Ludmilla looked around. She took out the bag of diamonds and put them into her own knapsack. She swung it across one shoulder and hurried towards the house.
Indoors it was cool. Sunlight shone on the wooden floor of the veranda as she swept through it to the summer house and Anatoly's laboratory.
The hexagonal room stank of fumes. the soldiers were already splashing their tins of kerosene on the floorboards as Ludmilla hurried in. She began hastily scooping up the notebooks full of Anatoly's handwriting.
When she was certain she had all of them she scooped up a small tin box. The reek of kerosene drowned out the distindive smell that normally lingered around the box.
She hurried out of the summerhouse, the soldiers smiling and nodding at her politely as they poured their kerosene. Now that she had everything under control Ludmilla felt relaxed and almost sleepy. All the important matters had been attended to.
When she went back out into the garden she saw Anatoly and old Pietia being made to kneel by the rose beds. She ignored them, turning away to look at the burning house.
There was a sudden loud thud of combustion. Ludmilla watched the summerhouse go up explosively in flame. There were two gunshots from the garden but she hardly noticed them.
The house burned remarkably quickly. As the dry wooden walls caught black smoke began to pour into the air. Clouds of sparks showered down like red needles.
Ludmilla opened the small tin box she'd taken from the laboratory. A smell like liquorice arose powerfully into her face. The mushrooms inside the tin were dried but you could still make out the disinctive colourings, like a toad's back.
Source: Doctor Who Magazine #221