The Alpha and the Omega-March 1st, 1953 At first glance the man sleeping in the Kuntsevo Dacha was a wholly unimpressive figure. He was fairly short (something that surprised those who met him), with a pockmarked face, a visible paunch, and a withered left arm. But the minute he walked into a room it was clear that Joseph Stalin was a powerful leader. His courtiers hung onto his every word like God himself was speaking. Their fear was palpable, for at any moment Stalin could not only kill you and your entire family, but scrub you from the pages of history. At the moment however there were no courtiers fawning over him, no lists of the damned to be signed, just an old man sleeping off a night of revelry. The silence was broken when he awoke. Tremendous pain radiated across Stalin's entire body, like dozens of knives stabbing every part of him. As Stalin tried to rise his legs refused to budge. For the first time in a long while Stalin felt fear. He screamed, struggling to get every word out, “Get a doctor!” It was 10:00 in the morning and Georgy Malenkov was dealing with a mountain of paperwork. Ever since Stalin had withdrawn from much of the business of managing the Communist Party Malenkov's responsibilities had increased tenfold. As he was reviewing a request from the party branch in Sverdlovsk the phone rang. On the other end was Peter Lozgachev, the Deputy Commandant of Kuntsevo. Lozgachev spoke so rapidly that Malenkov couldn't tell what he was saying. “Slow down!” Malenkov ordered. Lozgachev caught his breath and said “Comrade Stalin has suffered a stroke. Please come down.” Malenkov asked “Is he okay?” but by then Lozgachev had hung up. About 15 minutes later Malenkov arrived at Kuntsevo, where he saw his ally Lavrentiy Beria. Beria was white as a sheet, pacing nervously, and occasionally muttering to himself. “What's the word on Stalin?” Malenkov asked. Beria gave him a long, hard look and said “He's with the doctors, and they're trying everything they can to fix him up. He was apparently conscious and able to talk, which they say is a good sign.” The doctors routinely updated Stalin's magnates on his condition, which seemed to be improving. Every time the doctors described an improvement in Stalin's condition Beria grew whiter, something Malenkov hadn't thought was possible. Finally around 5 in the evening a doctor walked over and said “Comrade Stalin's condition has stabilized. We're going to keep him under observation, but for now it appears that he will live.” “However,” and here the doctor became visibly upset, “It's unlikely that he will ever walk again.” The magnates looked at each other, joy and fear crossing their faces (except for Beria, who made no attempt to hide his dismay). There was only one question on everyone's minds: what would Stalin do next?