Sergei Primakov, a bear of a man with unkempt, shoulder length hair and beard that popped out at improbable angles from his double chins, was barely able to coax his lumbering frame into the tiny chair that awaited his arrival. The other chair in the office, a large and infinitely comfortable looking leather affair, was occupied by Sterling Landis, the Chief Administrator of Humber College and Primakov's boss.
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Landis watched Primakov contort himself into his chair, trying only briefly to hide his amusement. At well over six feet, Primakov was an imposing figure, one that the significantly shorter and much less well-built Landis would be nervous coming face to face with in a dark alley. But here, piled uncomfortably into the ominously creaking wooden chair, Primakov looked almost buffoonish, and Landis knew that here, in his office, he was in full control.
On his huge teak and mahogany desk, Landis had a single file folder with Primakov's name printed in neat block letters on the index. Landis made a show of opening it and casually leafing through the various papers it contained, apparently oblivious to the fact that Primakov was now sitting stock still, eying him suspiciously.
Primakov cleared his throat loudly, but Landis was not about to break the atmosphere just yet. Better to let him stew, the thought to himself with some satisfaction. For a moment, he felt like a cat playing with a mouse before dispatching it to eternity. Primakov cleared his throat again, and shifted in his seat, causing it to complain once more.
Finally, Landis decided he's played enough. "How long have you been here, Professor Primakov?" he asked curtly, his voice quiet but with a hint of nastiness in it, his eyes never wavering from the papers in front of him.
"Five years," Primakov answered in his typically heavy Russian accent. "You should know that, it was you who hired me."
"And so it was," agreed Landis. "And what was it I hired you to teach?"
Primakov raised his bushy eyebrows, immediately sensing danger in the line of questioning. "I am a mathematics teacher, as you well know. I teach number theory to a group of very talented graduate students."
Landis cupped his impeccably manicured hands in front of him and looked at his employee for the first time. "And so if I hired you to teach mathematics, why have you decided to teach theology instead?"
"But I am not teaching theology," Primakov answered. "I am simply pointing out the natural beauty of the number system given to us by God. I am simply trying to show the students the flawlessness of His plan as hidden in His mathematics. Is this wrong?"
Landis gave a noncommittal shrug. "It isn't wrong if you keep the discussions to the curriculum, Professor," he said smoothly. Then he tapped the papers in the folder. "However, I've had some disturbing reports lately that says you've been expounding some sort of apocalyptic, Bible-thumping rhetoric these past few weeks rather than sticking with the course outline." He lowered his voice and leaned slightly across the desk. "Is this true?"
Primakov inhaled deeply, defiantly meeting his employer's questioning glare. "You knew before I came here about my religious beliefs..."
"Which you agreed, in writing, to keep to yourself," cut in Landis. "I hired you to give three post graduate classes a firm grounding in number theory, not in the half-baked ravings of some ridiculous numerological cult."
"We are hardly a cult, Mr Landis," Primakov spat. "Our philosophy teaches us that God created a Ladder of Awareness, and that He placed us on the lowest rung. With His help and guidance, we will move to ever higher levels of awareness, until we finally ascend to His level and join him forever in His kingdom. As a means of determining our readiness to move upwards, He embedded in the number system a set of hidden relationships which can only be understood through the complex mathematics of number theory. By uncovering these relationships, we show Him that we are ready to ascend His ladder. He will send the Angel Gabriel who will blow his horn to destroy this world and create a new one for us. Those of us deemed worthy of succession will ascend to a higher plane of existence. Those He determines unworthy will be destroyed with the old world. I am trying to save the souls of my students by showing them the truth."
"That's what those nutcases who poisoned themselves to join the mother ship traveling with Comet Hale-Bopp a few years back believed as well, no doubt," Landis retorted. He knew immediately that he had struck a chord, as Primakov's sudden violent gesture caused him to totter precariously in his undersized chair. "And the leaders of Jonestown in the seventies probably told their followers the same tripe about getting to some ethereal next level. Well, they did get their followers to a new plane of existence, alright -- a dead one." He shook a finger at the professor, who was now visibly enraged. "And I'm not about to let something like that happen at this institution. We have a stellar reputation, built painstakingly over nearly a hundred years, and I will not let a religious zealot destroy it by filling the heads of impressionable young students with end-of-days claptrap."
Primakov jumped from the chair, which now abandoned all pretense of balance and crashed to the floor behind him. "It is God who will be destroying the weak and stupid," he exclaimed. "I am near to solving His equations, and when I do I will be one of those uplifted. I will not spend another second being belittled by the likes of you."
"Very well," interjected Landis. "I had no intention of entering a philosophical debate with you, Professor. I simply wanted to inform you that by spouting your religion to our students, you are in breach of contract and are therefore dismissed from this institution." He closed the file folder. "I'll be magnanimous and allow you the rest of this evening and the entire day tomorrow to clean out your office. Good day to you, and don't let the door hit you on the backside on your way out." Primakov left the room without a backward glance.
Primakov had already emptied his office by the time Landis arrived at work the next morning, and within a few weeks the busy administrator ceased thinking about the burly Russian professor and his off-kilter religious beliefs. Primakov was largely forgotten until one morning early the next term, when Landis was surprised to find an anonymous e-mail in his inbox that carried only the words: "I have done it -- Primakov."
At the moment he read the words, he distinctly heard a single, strident, trumpet note sounding somewhere in the distance, drowning out all other sound, freezing time itself dead in its tracks. It was the last thing Sterling Landis would ever hear.
Seconds later, the world shattered forever.