Copyright 2015 Atlas
English translation 2015 Ingrid Wolf
Cover art & illustrations 2015 Anastasiya Glebova
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At the strike he lurched and fell to one knee. A broken piece of spear stuck in his wound; he pulled it out and threw far away. Running a loathing gaze over his enemies, lifted his blooded hands to the sky as though asking: Why? As his lips moved, those around wavered and took a step back, but mortal weakness had already seized his powerful body. His eyes closed, his head dropped, then he fell flat on his back and soon breathed his last.
The artifact was not much to look at; a dry, petrified wooden thing spotted with rust. Plotnik sang like a nightingale, telling his friends of this godsend and its concomitants, which were not actually much to tell about. It was a summer practice at the archeologic site where the only adventure was to drink too much green wine and visit a disco in the neighboring kibbutz. However, given the ways and mentality of the locals, it seemed more likely that he simply invented this part of the story.
Masha, who grew even prettier during the summer, listened to this idle talk so trustfully and sighed with such admiration that Herod (born Igor Rodin) lost his temper and interrupted. “But how did you get it through the customs?”
He regretted this question immediately as they were presented with another story of the resourceful Max Plotnikoff and the customs officers. When the storyteller paused at last, taking a breath, no one uttered a word. The friends couldn’t help yielding to the exotic charm of the East, fantastic visions floating before their inner eye.
“So what is it?” Masha broke the silence, touching the artifact with her finger.
“A broken peace of the spear that killed the last of the Nephilim,” Plotnik replied mysteriously. His eyes glittered. “That’s the bomb, really!” he exclaimed with animation. Seeing his friends move away, he added, “Not a literal bomb, of course. Da bomb to the science world.”
“Wait, Max.” Herod cheered up at the word ‘science’. Science was his passion, his cross and his conscription; he would not yield a single inch of it. “Tell me the story from the beginning. Who they were and why were they killed?”
Plotnik gave a dramatic sigh, lamenting their lack of education, looked around demonstratively. There was no one in the department office, of course. Everyone had long left for home; it was only Herod, with his part-time job as a lab assistant, who stayed till late evening. “The Nephilim, or the Fallen, were the offspring of the angels who were cast out of heaven and came to live among humans.”
For a moment there was a pause. Then Herod stood up, annoyed, rattling his chair away, and Masha laughed. “Stop!” Plotnik snatched from the table an old scalpel they used for pencil sharpening.
Before the friends could understand anything, he smiled, looking at their confused faces, and ran the scalpel across his palm. Masha gasped. Herod shook his head and muttered through gritted teeth. Max left the scalpel, pressed the artifact to his wound and handed it to the friends. Blood was hissing and bubbling on the wood like a soluble pill in a glass of boiling-hot water. Very soon it was absorbed, leaving a barely visible trace. Max showed them the cut, no more bleeding and already crusted. He laughed at the surprised expressions of his friends and confessed, “That’s how I got it. It scratched me in the pit.”
Masha took his palm warily to examine the wound. Plotnik started to assure her that he was used to it and it did not hurt at all. This touching scene made Herod sick at heart. He gave a delicate cough, pulled the chair for blushed Masha. Turning to Max, he said resolutely, “Tell it!”
“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days—and also afterward—when the sons of God went to the daughters of humans and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.
The Lord saw how great the wickedness of the human race had become on the earth, and that every inclination of the thoughts of the human heart was only evil all the time. The Lord regretted that he had made human beings on the earth, and his heart was deeply troubled. So the Lord said, ‘I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them.’”
(Genesis 6:4-17, New International Version (NIV))
The cell phone revived at a wrong time as it usually did. Vibrating with a nasty, humming sound, it crept towards the end of the table, accompanied by the melodious tinkles of tubes. The lab chief raised his head from the microscope and cast a reproachful look at Igor. “Hello,” he said almost in a whisper, turning away.
“Herod,” Plotnik’s voice came from the receiver. “They won’t let me come to you.”
“Where are you?”
“At your office’s entrance.”
“Just a moment.”
He sidled up to the lab chief and begged into his white-smocked back. “Boss, may I leave for a…?”
The chief waved him away without looking back, mumbled through the gauze bandage, “You may, boy. But don’t linger.”
“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.”
(Isaiah 7:14, New International Version (NIV))
Plotnikoff stood there bored, leaning his back against the wall not far away from the entrance turnstile. His tan, and the easy expression with which he watched the girls passing by, marked him out among the institute folks.
“Why come here? You could meet me at the department.”
“You were missing, dear Igor”, Plotnik replied with laze. “No response to my calls, and time is running. How’s our business?”
Herod was embarrassed. “I told you it won’t be easy. The wood contains much mineral salts, but still I extracted the DNA. The replication was successful. The membranes formed, then classical mitosis…”
Max suddenly pushed himself away from the wall and peered into the eyes of his fellow who recoiled. “Are you frank with me? The stakes are high. I can see it. A great discovery and glory and success. Enough to make anyone giddy.”
“Stop that!” Herod protested. “If anyone is giddy, that’s you. We are not pros, and you refused to hire professional help. Now we have to do it secretly, in primitive conditions. You have no idea what a job it is — to create a human genome-changing virus from a cell!”
“Okay,” Plotnik conciliated. “Don’t get worked up. I was too hard on you. Just tell me in human words: what stage are we at?”
Relaxing, Herod confessed with a sigh, “At a deadlock, to be honest. I have a stable cell, but I’m at a loss what to do next. That’s beyond my knowledge.”
“That’s it,” Plotnik gave a condescending smile. “I have one little idea. Do you remember Masha’s friend? She works at Otto’s clinic. We need to prepare our material for IVF. All the rest will be done without us. Mother Nature will see to it.”
“In vitro fertilization!” Herod livened up. “A good solution indeed. What then?”
“First tell me when you’ll have the material.”
“Here you are. I carry it along.” Casting a furtive glance around, Igor handed him a corked test tube. “God forbid my boss ever see it.”
“That’s when you remember God,” Plotnik smirked. “Never mind. Soon we’ll become creators in our own right. Very soon.”
“I wish I were so sure,” Igor drawled. “So what next?”
“The fertilized woman’s egg is placed in the uterus. Then, as I told you, the nature does all for us.” Plotnik smirked as he saw his fellow’s eyes round.
“What?” Herod recoiled. “That… that’s no joke! Who would do such a thing?”
“Masha agreed,” Plotnik informed briefly.
“She said it would be her contribution.”
Herod turned away and was silent for a long while, in a tense reflection. “Well then,” he said at last in a husky voice. “If that’s her own decision… But that’s illegal. We’ll need lots of money.”
“We won’t,” Plotnik smirked. “I’m telling you: I took care of all! Masha told her friend she wants a baby to keep me. As the friend saw me, she promised her help.”
“What an asshole you are,” Herod said in a strange tone.
“A very promising one.” Plotnik winked. “Adios, old man!”
“His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.
But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, ‘Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.’”
(Matthew 1:18-20, New International Version (NIV))
“Hi Igor! Haven’t seen you for ages.”
“Much work,” he muttered without looking up.
“Do you despise me? Doesn’t really matter now, though. I had such a terrible scandal at home when it came to light. Dad won’t speak to me, but it was him who hushed it up. After that news story about the immaculate conception. I told them not a single word, trust me. It were the media who dug it up.”
“How do you feel?” For the first time since she entered, he looked up at her.
“Scared. You have no idea how scared I am.”
“There’s still time to fix it.”
“No,” she said firmly. “I must carry it through.”
“Carry what?” he yelled, losing temper. “It’s not even a human!”
“It’s my baby.”
“When Herod realized that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.”
(Matthew 2:16, New International Version (NIV))
“Hello! Plotnik, what are you doing? Hello, do you hear me? What’s going on?”
“Calm down. I never forgot you, see? Though you vanished for half a year. The preparation’s in full swing. Soon we’ll be famous.”
“Why did you lay it all out to the media? You’ve crossed up so many people. Let it be just me, but you betrayed everyone who helped us. That female doctor. And Masha.”
“Igor,” Plotnik said in a strangely serious voice. “She’s dying. Something wrong with the child. I hope you understand. In this situation, we must do everything to consolidate the result of our research.”
“Sorry. I thought you knew.”
“What a bitch you are, Max. I hate you. Where’s she?”
“In a private clinic.”
“We must help her.”
“It will kill the baby.”
“It’s not even human!”
“It’s our chance.”
The thing most abominable and adorable was the astounding smell. It made his head spin and his hands shiver, not with fear but with excitement and the memory buried deep in his mind, the memory of the red changing to carmine, setting and congealing, baring the porous liver that is ready to open at a light touch of his blade to present the world with a drop of true Angel blood…
“Good afternoon. May I help you? No, you can’t see her. Sorry… Hey! Stop! You can’t go there! Guard!”
“Here! On the stairs! Get him!”
“Three! Three! Attention! He’s coming up to you. Damn! He got me. What? No. Looks like a scalpel.”
“Attention, all patrols! There’s an armed attack on a maternity ward. All patrols immediately…”
“And now, dear listeners, we have to interrupt our broadcast for an emergency announcement…”
“That’s him! Hold! Oh, bastard… The door! Don’t let him to the door! Hold his arm! Press it to the floor! That’s it.”
The scared doctor froze, keeping his eyes on the shiny blade. “We did all we could,” he began, but his voice failed him. The doctor coughed and made another attempt. “Fortunately, the baby survived,” he said in a steadier voice. “You hear? It survived.”
The pearl glow spread all around, filling his being with mortal anguish. The crystal sphere of invulnerability burst, scattering icy powder. He understood everything, yet he thrashed in the hands of his catchers, unwilling to believe, when the abyss opened and the leaving love brushed him with its shroud.
“Kill it!” He jerked ahead with incredible force, pressing back the mob that held him. The rumble coming from his throat made the hands of the bravest men weak. “Kill!” It was no more a human voice but rather a roar, and many backed.
“He’s a Herod,” a voice came from the outside. “Who could come up with such a vile plan—to kill a baby?”
Rabbi Tsvi Shabtai commented on the discovery of which all the world is talking today. He noted that no one had relieved science of its ethical responsibilities. “The question here is: May we create a new life in a different way than it was prescribed by G-d? May we assume the rights of the Creator? I can only articulate the most general considerations. The fundamental issue is the aim. If we simply play on science when making our experiments, that’s inappropriate.”
1 Plotnik (part of Max’s last name, used as his nickname) is the Russian word for carpenter.