Alice Russell

I first met Alice Russell while I was testing the viability of carfentanil gas for crowd control in a secret, underground laboratory somewhere outside of Zheleznogorsk in the former USSR. I was on my lunch break and feeding the hamsters we were breeding for the tests. I wasn’t happy about the whole deal and was pretty sure that the tests we were conducting were outside of the realms of morally justifiable actions.

Cute little guys, aren’t they? said a female lab technician I hadn’t seen around before.

Don’t get attached, comrade, I said.

Who’s attached? she asked. I could eat one of these guys in a sandwich and still want seconds.

I laughed, I’m pretty sure these guys get put in the vending machine sandwiches.

I wouldn’t joke, she said, the truth is something I try and hide from down here in the dark.

You and me both, I laughed. She wasn’t laughing.  

So much death, she said, barely above a whisper.  Her hand was on the glass of the holding tank.  I had been in the USSR long enough to know when to keep my mouth shut, and this was not one of those times.  

What’s you’re name?  I asked. I haven’t seen you here before.  

I’m Sasha, Sasha Vasilyevna.  

That’s not you, I said, keeping my voice quiet.  She looked at me, too quickly.  

Of course, she said, see.  She showed her identification badge.  I looked, but I didn’t have to.  

That’s not you, I said, because Sasha is my wife.  

The next moment was a blur of motions that left me on the floor, her on top of me, knee to my throat, gun to my head.  

No, wait, I said, I want to help.  

Help?  She asked.  How can you help?  

I know why you are here, I said.  My arm was pinned to the ground, but I could point with my finger.  The hamsters, I said.  Her laugh was unexpected.  

You think I risk my life for hamsters? Think again.  

I’m just a technician, I said. I don’t know what goes on in the rest of the building.  

She tore my identification badge from my chest.  Will this get me below?  

No, I said, I don’t have clearance.  She cocked the hammer of the gun.  But, I said quickly, I can get you down there, Just, first, tell me, what have you done to my wife?  

She lowered her gun.  She’s safe, she said, you don’t have to worry.  

I know, I said, springing forward, pinning her arm to the wall before she could bring the gun up again, because I have no wife.  We struggled, the gun between us, she managed to bring the muzzle towards my face, but I was deft enough to eject the magazine.  There was one bullet in the chamber, she fired, but I was already spinning behind her, I pulled her arm down and around, knee in the small of her back and took her to the ground.  

Who are you? Really? I asked, breathlessly.  

I’m no one she said.  

Your name, I shouted.  An alarm began to sound.  

They call me Russell, she said. Alice Russell.  

I was stunned.  The singer?  I asked.  

The same, she said.

I’ve been following your career since I first heard Hurry on Now from your debut album Under the Munka Moon(2004).  

Alice looked at me in desperation.  Please, she said, help me. I could hear running footsteps mingling with the alarm bells.   

Hurry, I said, kicking open a ventilation cover, down here.  We threw ourselves into the air duct and slid down the shaft into the darkness.  

If you aren’t here for the hamsters, I said, why are you here?

I came here to rescue someone dear to me.  She kicked open a panel and we dropped to the corridor below.  The alarm was pounding our ears.  Alice looked at her watch which displayed a map of the complex.  Down here, she said, and we ran through a maze of identical tunnels until we came to a barred door.  Alice slipped her card in the reader and the door hissed open.  

It’s about time, said a voice I recognised.  

Neil?  I said, my voice wavering.  

Father! cried Alice, hugging the man inside.  

How’s it going, bud? said Neil Cassady.  

We must get out of here, said Alice. Which we did, and we’ve been friends ever since.