Matryoshka: Prologue
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O5-8 opened the door to the observation deck, brightly lit by a clear morning sun. The observers on the 86th floor had a clear panorama of Manhattan, still buried in snow from the storm passing through the day before. A healthy crowd of men in business suits and women in fur coats were clustered along the concrete wall, peering down at the skyscrapers, posing for photographs. O5-8 scanned the wall, narrowing his eyes against the sun as he spotted a white haired man in a long, black coat standing by the southeastern corner, apart from the crowd, looking up into the sky. He picked his way among the crowd, weaving amongst tourists and businessmen.

He took a place next to the man, and tried to figure out what it was he was looking at. Whatever it was, it was too close to the sun, the glare threatening to blind him. O5-8 settled for a view of the East River, the tiny barges below steadily moving up and down the blue line winding between the endless expanse of the city blocks.

"I'm pleased that you heeded my note." The old man kept looking upwards as he spoke, his deep voice tinged with a Moscow accent.

"You picked a fine place to meet, in enemy territory." O5-8 selected a cigarette out of his case. "I had always envisioned this group as more of a committee, you know. Thirteen men with a common purpose." He lit his smoke as he continued to study the crawling ant-barges eighty stories below.

"The naiveté of youth." O5-13 idly scratched his head in thought.

"How are we going to survive if Two and god knows who else is working against me?"

"Two isn't working against you. He simply doesn't care what you think." O5-13 sighed. "He's been waiting for something like this for a long time."

A crowd seemed to be gathering at the other end of the observation deck's eastern wall. O5-8 turned to face the deck now, leaning his back against the concrete. "Sending a mission to Soviet territory without my knowledge, activating assets, ordering the decommissioning of an anomaly? What else is it but a challenge?"

"Oh, it's a challenge," replied O5-13, "but not to you. Like you, Two sees the world as organized into a series of clear, identifiable factions. And like you, he is wrong about that."

O5-8 let a stream of smoke pass his lips. "The world seems to be shaking itself into two very clear factions, if you ask me."

The older Overseer laughed. "You may be right. And it may very well be happening within this very Council."

"That's an odd observation, coming from you. You're surely aware of the rumors about your loyalties."

"I am the Subdirector for Eastern Eurasia. Only a fool would think I had no ties."

The crowd at the other end of the wall was murmuring. O5-8 glanced over briefly at the increasing commotion. Too many bodies were in the way to discern much of anything.

The younger Overseer frowned. "I'm beginning to think it was a mistake to meet you here."

O5-13 looked over at O5-8. "That mindset will serve you well. The day may come where that is true, but I assure you, it's not today."

O5-8 shrugged. "So what do you recommend? How do I call off the mission? The personnel are already in Poland."

"Call it off? No, no. You're sitting in a good position right now. If you meddle, you waste resources stopping a Foundation initiative, and you concede Site-7 to the Soviet Union. You diminish yourself to the rest of the Council."

"And I tip my hand. As well as yours."

The hint of a smile crossed O5-13's lips. "The best advice comes with a dose of self-interest."

"So I can't act against a mission that I didn't authorize and don't like. How is that a good position?"

The old man turned his face back to the sky. "Two is gambling. He's ignoring factors that would usually make him hesitate, because he sees an opportunity. It's blinding him, and the mission is likely to fail."

A flash of light pinged O5-8's peripheral vision. He glanced over, light glaring from a gold wristwatch. He saw a single person above the fray now at the other end of the wall; a silver-haired man in a gray suit, standing on top of the wall, facing the air. The noise had coalesced into various entreaties not to jump. The man didn't seem to hear them. Sirens started to echo, far below.

As O5-8 was about to step away, he felt O5-13 gently hold him in place, his gloved hand on his arm.

"Never mind that. It's been a long time coming," the old man said, casually waving the scene off. "Use your contacts to keep tabs on the mission. Be ready to pick up whatever pieces are left after this. And pull the snare that Two has set for himself at the right moment."

Thirty feet away from them at the other end of the wall, a gasp went up from the crowd. O5-8 looked over again. The man was no longer on top of the wall.

O5-13 turned up his collar against the cold. The hand on O5-8's arm now patted him on the back.

"Time to go."

The two Overseers walked back toward the elevator, passing unnoticed against a stream of onlookers rushing to see what they had missed, several in police uniforms, a dull roar of excited chatter and word already sparking between the assembled visitors as salacious details, real or imagined, filtered away from the wall and out to the world.

As the doors of the elevator closed on the two men, the car to themselves, O5-8 faced his colleague.

"Who was that, anyway?"

O5-13 had removed his gloves, slender fingers laced together, cracking his knuckles.

"A piece with only one possible move left. The rest you'll read in the papers this evening."

The arrow above the elevator door steadily swept to the left. Seventieth floor. Sixtieth floor.

"I'm sure I will." O5-8 put his hat on. "I appreciate the information, Thirteen. Though I suspect you're the one who should be thanking me, in due course."

"If you play it right, we'll both be pleased."

The two men rode the rest of the way down in silence.

The doors opened. A line of police had cordoned off access to the observation deck, and the two Overseers passed through a mostly empty lobby on the way to the main entrance. Before heading back out into the world, they shook hands.

"Udachi," the old man said. "One believes that you're the man for this job. I'm inclined to agree."

"Auf wiedersehen," the younger man replied. He held the handshake for a moment longer. "If the time comes, Thirteen, you'll need to push me yourself."

O5-13 felt the younger man's firm grip tighten just a little. He smiled, broadly. "I know, Eight. I know."

The Overseers pushed out onto 5th Avenue, taking their leave as they went in separate directions. Down the street, a man freshly arrived from the city coroner's office read off a time as he looked at his watch, an assistant scribbling notes next to a crumpled mass, hastily covered in a sheet. The red stains were beginning to bloom.

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