Episode 32“A warrior is free to be a hero and pull off daring do and the soldier is irresponsible if he does it.”
-C.J. Cherryh-8:17 AM January 12, 1988, Somewhere in Southern Uzbekistan
Kelly checked her weapon one last time as she approached the wounded soldier on the ground ahead. He was cradling an injured leg and moaning loudly, crying out for help, he didn't seem to notice the two squads of Marines approaching him.
She had a bad feeling about this "Miller, be careful alright? I don't like this" she said to the Marine closest to the wounded soldier.
The young Private rolled his eyes slightly "yes mother, whatever you say" he said sarcastically before returning his attention toward the wounded man "it's okay man, take it easy, we're here to help" said Miller to the stricken soldier who still didn't pay him any attention, he still just moaned and repeated the same cry for help.
Something was not right, it just felt... wrong. It was possible that this poor bastard was just in shock, that he had already lost too much blood to think clearly, but still she didn't like the feeling she kept getting in the back of her mind.
Snow crunched under her feet as she took cautious steps forward and a frigid breeze chilled her to the bone. Deep orange sunlight cast dramatic shadows across the area as the sun rose above the eastern horizon, despite the desolation it actually created a pretty picture of the landscape. This did not assuage her creeping concerns though.
She returned her attention toward the wounded soldier who repeated his cry for help once again, then looked at the ground around him. She noticed that there was a considerable lack of not just footprints, but of any sign that the snow had been disturbed in the slightest. How long had he been laying there?
Horrible realization dawned on her like being hit by a truck. Her heart started pounding pitcher plant
she started to bring her weapon up to her shoulder. Another voice cried out from elsewhere "everybody take cover!" it was Sergeant Brasseau.
Time slowed to a crawl as weapons fire rang out. Suddenly the wounded soldier disappeared, replaced by the bloated nightmarish visage of a bozorg pitcher plant. Private Miller screamed out in pain as one of it's spindly limbs had shot out and impaled him through the chest., he clutched at it as he went to his knees.
Kelly had managed to bring her own weapon to her shoulder and took aim at the creature's corpulent torso. She was on one knee by then and squeezed the trigger, her weapon bucked against her shoulder as it spat out a four round burst at the horrible creature before her.
The pitcher plant spasmed and convulsed as the bullets ripped through its body. Soon it had collapsed into a mass of broken and shattered limbs amidst a puddle of its own black blood "everybody take cover!" someone else shouted in warning.
Kelly didn't need to be told twice, she found a sizable rock and threw herself behind it just in time to hear the loud popping noise of the creature's bloated abdomen exploding. A sharp, abrupt cry of pain echoed across the desolate landscape and Miller's own cries were suddenly cut short
Silence fell upon them once again, the only noises were the faint howl of the wind and the quiet sizzle of whatever it was that was being dissolved by the pitcher plant's corrosive secretions.
Kelly picked herself up again, taking a brief survey of the area, trying to ascertain the damage that had been done. Two gelatinous masses of blood, bone, flesh and whatever they had been wearing or carrying at the time now lay where Private Miller and another unidentified Marine had once been "everybody sound off!" shouted the Sergeant.
After two voices failed to respond, it was quite apparent that they had only lost two Marines that time, they had been lucky, she had once seen a pitcher plant take out an entire squad, and heard even worse stories from elsewhere.
She took a breath as she replaced her partially empty magazine with a full one. Ever since entering enemy controlled territory, the bozorgs had been nibbling away at them by little bits and pieces. It might not have been the catastrophic bloodletting that they had suffered that horrible day back in November, but it was almost as bad.
As they started to move out once again, her thoughts drifted to Nikolai, she wondered where he was and what he was up to.-4:06 PM January 14,k 1988, Balakovo, Saratov Oblast, RussiaAt last
thought Nikolai as he stepped off the bus and breathed in a large gulp of frigid air. He hefted his bag over his shoulder and started to head down the sidewalk in the direction of his apartment building...
Pausing for a second as he pondered that last little idea, he suddenly realized that the only connection that he had to that place was Ania, there was nothing else for him there, it was no longer his home. It was merely a place that he had lived for a certain part of his life. He wondered what that meant for him and the next twenty minutes.
As he walked down the street, it was kind of cerebral, almost like a dream. There was so much less traffic on the street than he recalled, only the occasional bus or truck passing by, there were no cars. He had heard that strict gas rationing had been instituted, even the Americans had made similar moves.
One of the tenements that he passed on the right had half of its windows either broken or boarded up even though last he remembered seeing it, all of the windows had been intact. A group of men and women were huddled around an oil drum with a fire in it, they paid him little heed as he passed by. They were far too concerned with keeping warm to pay much attention just another passer by.
A group of children played football with a ragged that was missing all of its outer patches. He envied them; despite the squalor apparent in their ragged clothes and the even more ragged looking ball they were playing with, they seemed to not have a single care in the world. There was no sign of the haunted look in their eyes or body language that he saw in so many of the soldiers he had served with and that he saw in the mirror when he woke up in the morning, he hoped that perhaps this war would be over before any of them grew old enough to have to fight in it, he didn't think that there was much chance of that happening though.
After passing yet another group of people huddled around yet another fire in an oil drum along with two cars that had been parked so long that the air had run out of their tires and their paint had faded and chipped with rust showing through in spots, he turned a corner and spotted the building he was looking for.
It looked smaller than he remembered last, then again just about everything in the world looked smaller than he remembered, and just like everything else it looked less vivid, less colorful, and less full too. Some of the windows in it also were boarded up or broken, the paint on it was looking a little more worn than he remembered as well.
He ascended the steps toward the main entrance of the building. The double doors leading into the main hallway on the ground floor were clearly broken, the screws attaching them to the hinges had finally given out, one door had been wedged open while the other simply leaned against the door frame pathetically, the glass in its window was shattered. He at least remembered that those doors had seemed like they were about ready to fall off the hinges when he had left, he guessed that nobody had bothered trying to fix them yet.
It was dark inside, the fluorescent lights which had cast a sickly green illumination on everything weren't working. He paid the darkness little attention as he made his way past the two sets of elevator doors which both had "OUT OF ORDER" signs hanging on them, he would have to take the stairs then.
He was a little thankful that such was the case, he was at least partly dreading this reunion, despite going over what he would do and say a thousand times since arriving back in Russia, he still didn't know what would happen when he finally came face to face with Father. And even after all that he had been through, he still feared the man.
As he ascended the flights of stairs, each step seemed to get a little steeper, and his bag got a little heavier. The dread in the pit of his stomach was getting stronger too. He paused as he came to the floor that was his destination and he exited the stairwell into the hallway. He looked down the corridor, blankly staring.
The lighting was dim in there too, with only about a third of the ceiling lights actually working. It was just barely enough to make out the dingy and stained carpet on the floor. It was almost as cold in there as it was outside and he could make out the faint odor of urine, Although a little darker, dirtier, and a little colder; it wasn't that much different from what he remembered.
After another minute or two of just standing there gaping, he took a deep breath and moved forward again. After less than a minute of walking he reached the door to the apartment, he turned and faced it, he knocked three times.
She scrubbed hard all over her body as the lukewarm water washed over her body. She had felt dirty and wanted desperately to feel clean again, she didn't even care when she ran the washcloth over her bruises from when Father had beaten her earlier that morning.
He had been drunk again when she had gotten home from school, and after smacking her around for a few minutes he told her to take her clothes off in front of him. He hadn't actually done anything else to her, he hadn't gone that far yet, but she had been disgusted all the same.
It had started back when she had turned thirteen, and she noticed him looking at her in a different sort of way, a way that had made her feel uncomfortable. Then there were the times when he grabbed her in ways that also felt wrong, and then three weeks ago she caught him peeking into her room while she changed her clothes. Each time it had made her feel disgusted and dirty. She cried herself to sleep each night, as much as she hated him, she had long since stopped caring if he saw or heard her cry, she didn't care about much anything lately.
Suddenly there was a loud banging on the door "Ania..." the rest of the sentence was lost in a bunch of drunken slurring, not that it mattered what he said. The door opened and in he walked clumsily, her heart skipped a beat this is the time that he finally does it
she thought with a sense of grim resignation.
A large, fat, grimy hand gripped the side of the shower curtain clumsily and pulled it aside, some of the shower curtain rings popped free from the rail as he did so. She gasped in fear as she saw his beady, dark eyes staring at her lustfully. She did her best to cover herself up, but it was a hopeless gesture.
He looked her up and down "don cofffer yerselllfff up you uselesssss slut!" he shouted angrily and he smacked her across the face hard enough that she slipped and fell onto the tiled floor of the shower stall. As he looked down at her, his expression twisted into a sinister parody of a smile.
"Thadds all yoooooouuuu're good for! Being naged on your back!"
He knelt down next to her and she could smell the horrible combination of vomit, body odor, and booze. She almost wanted to vomit herself. In stead she looked up at him, hate filling her eyes, she didn't care if he beat her for it, not anymore, not after what he was about to do. She would probably even laugh at him as he did, knowing full well that he couldn't hurt her any more than he already had, that every time he struck her, he might as well be pounding his fists into a brick wall for all the good it would do him.
"Ohhh, sssssssooo you thinggg you're gonna gggiiiiivvvvveeee me that attitude will you!?!? I'll magggeeee you ssssorry you ever looooggggeeed at me thadd way!"
Father raised his hand in preparation to strike her when the sound of three loud thumps reverberated throughout the apartment. He turned his head to look back in the direction of the sound "somebodddy at the fugging doooor" he said to no one in particular and it looked as if he might actually leave to go see who it was when he turned back to face her again "fugg him! Whoever he is, he can come baggg lader" he said with a tone of annoyance.
He had let his hand fall slightly during the distraction, so he raised it up again, but then the mysterious visitor knocked again, this time louder. Father slurred out a couple profanities as he turned his head once again "go the fugg away!!!" he shouted. This only seemed to encourage the visitor even more as three more knocks could be heard, these sounded as if they were about to force the door from its hinges "fugging... shove mmmy boot up his ass..." Father grumbled as he clumsily picked himself up off of the bathroom floor and headed back out of the room. He stopped briefly before exiting and turned his head to face Ania "don efen thinnnkkk about moooofing!" he said to her, then exited the room.
As much as she despised him, hopelessness had gripped her too thoroughly, she merely lay there crying to her self quietly.
Nikolai knew that Father was home, what else was a pensioner with a drinking problem to do all day but stay at home and drink cheap vodka?
So, despite the fact that he got no response the first time he knocked, he knocked again, harder. When he heard the sounds of someone drunkenly cursing at him from the other side of the door, he knew that he had been right, but he continued to pound on the door anyway, just in case Father had still decided to try and ignore him until he gave up and left.
His persistence paid off when he finally heard the sounds of someone on the other side of the door "fugging asshole" he managed to make out.
The tension in Nikolai's muscles ratcheted up even further as he heard the sound of the lock on the door being worked on. After a few seconds the door creaked open slightly and the strong odor of vomit, alcohol, and persperation hit him in the nostrils like a smack in the face. The light was dim inside and he could clearly make out the form of Father's face.
There was silence there, Nikolai wasn't sure if it was due to his father being surprised at seeing him, or just that he had nothing to say to his son. After what felt like an eternity, Father spoke "I wondered how longgg b'fore your worthlessss assss would come crawling back here" came his greeting.
Surprisingly, his father's insults actually helped to lessen some of the tension he was feeling "it's good to see you too Father, is Ania here?" asked Nikolai.
Father's eyes narrowed "sh- she- herrr worthlesss ass is in the shower waaasssstingggg wader... goodfornothing bissshhh, come baggg lader" he managed to slur out as he started to close the door again.
For a fraction of a second, Nicolai almost did just that, but something made him change his mind. He placed his hand up against the door and planted his foot on the floor just inside the doorway "heyyy! I'll breagggg your fugging foot off in the fugging doooooorrr!" protested Father and Nikolai almost pulled pack reflexively, but he realized that Father was pushing with all his strength and yet he had little problem holding it open.
"I think I'll wait here for Ania to get out of the shower."
With that, Nikolai gave a stiff shove and managed to push the door about halfway open. The sound of feet thumping clumsily against the floorboards indicated that his father had struggled to keep his footing as he was pushed back by the door. Nikolai then entered his old home.
A quick survey of the apartment showed that it was as pitiful as he remembered. It was illuminated by a single lamp without a shade on it, the bulb flickered and wavered as if it was about to burn out any second. From what he could make out, the carpet was stained and dirty and was getting worn thin in some spots, water stains marked the ceiling, and empty vodka bottles littered the floor. It was only slightly warmer than it was out in the hallway, and the already unpleasant odor of Father was now joined by the musty smell of mildew.
Finally his eyes fell upon his father, and suddenly so much of the fear and apprehension that he had felt leading up to this moment melted away. Father was only about average height, stocky, slightly balding head, a pair of hideous pinholes for eyes, and an ugly pockmarked and unshaven mask of a face. Dressed in a stained and grimy undershirt and pair of dark brown slacks which looked like they hadn't been washed in days if not weeks, he looked as pitiful as any of the most pathetic people he had seen in the refugee camps in India and Pakistan, only chubbier.
Was this the frightening tyrant that he had feared for so much of his life? The vicious monster who had tormented his entire childhood?
Nikolai almost wanted to laugh.
Father stared at him silently agape for a couple seconds before regaining his composure "fugging fine, I ought to bbbeeeaaaattt you for that one, buuuutttt fuggit" he said as he slammed the door and headed for the tattered and faded armchair at the center of the room.
Nikolai almost smirked at that last little bit. To think that there was a time when such a threat actually frightened him.
Picking up a half empty bottle off the floor on his way to the chair, father began the apparently difficult process of sitting himself down in the chair "ssssooo, did your keeeeeppppers in Mmmmmoscow get tired offfff you succckkking offff their generosity like a parasite!" he said condescendingly.
It was then that Nikolai noticed that his father's shirt wasn't just stained, but it was wet, and so was the thin crown of hair around his head Ania is in the shower- no, that couldn't be
his heartbeat quickened at the thought "you said Ania is in the shower? Is she okay?" Nikolai asked suspiciously.
Something flashed behind father's eyes, was it panic? Or something else? Nikolai didn't know for sure, but he was starting to get a sinking feeling in the pit of his stomach. He dropped his bag on the floor and started to head for the hallway and the bathroom "perhaps I should check on her, see if she's alright" he said.
Father clumsily tried to get himself out of the chair as Nikolai reached the doorway, but only wound up going to his knees on the floor "don yoouuu g..." his father tried to say, but Nikolai ignored all the rest as he headed down the corridor toward the bathroom.
He could hear the sound of the water running, but the door was open "Ania? Are you alright?" he asked aloud, there was no response, but as he got closer he thought he could make out the faint sound of someone quietly crying "Ania?!" he almost shouted it this time. The crying stopped.
His heart racing, he almost sprinted the last couple steps to the doorway; when he looked in, he saw his sister trying to pick herself up off of the bottom of the shower stall, the curtain had been partially ripped off the hooks and water had spilled all over the floor. His eyes went wide with shock as he looked at her. She was naked, and normally he would have averted his eyes immediately at such a sight, but something drew his attention.
Someone who had not known Nikolai's family might have assumed that they were just the result of an unfortunate slip in the shower, but Nikolai knew better. He had heard no sound of such a fall, there were bruises in far too many places for it to have been just from a simple accident, and the look on her face was not that of someone suffering from simple physical pain.
Nikolai managed to pull himself out of his shock and entered the room, and as he did so, Ania walked out to meet him, but stumbled and started to fall. He almost leaped across the room and managed to catch her before she hit the floor and wrapped his arms around her tightly.
She started to cry again. Looking around quickly, Nikolai found a towel hanging on the wall, he reached over and grabbed it, then wrapped it around Ania's narrow frame "it's okay, I'm here now, you're okay" he started to comfort her.
"You fugging piece of ssssshiiiiiddd, both of you are sssssooooo pathedic!"
Father was standing in the doorway, a furious look on his face. Nikolai looked up at him for half a second, then turned his gaze down toward Ania, she was staring up at Father, a look of both terror and hatred in her eyes "Ania?" whispered Nikolai. She looked at him. He stared back at her with a questioning look in his eyes.
He didn't know for sure what had happened just before he had gotten there, but he thought he had a good idea. She knew what he was asking, even without him speaking the question, after a second she nodded, confirming his fears.
For the first time since arriving, anger began to burn through his thoughts; a deep, hot, vicious anger. He gave his sister one last reassuring look, nodded toward her, set her down on the bathroom floor, and then picked himself up to face his father "Ania, go get dressed and get your things" he said, then looked father right in the eye. She obediently picked herself up off the floor and started putting her clothes on.
If it were possible, Nikolai's eyes would have burned a hole right through his father into the wall behind him, and he caught another flash of that same something behind those tiny little eyes of his.
Whether it was fear or not, it quickly passed and now father was making that same sinister grin he always made just before pounding on one of his children. For the first time, it didn't frighten Nikolai.
"Yoooouuuuu- You thing I'm avraidddd of you?!?! Yooouuuu thing I believe for a second any of tthhhadd buulllshidd they printed in Pravda about you? Nothing but lies for the party. I know bedddeeerrrrr. A wwwwaaaassstttteeee of spaaaasssseeee ligggge you is toooo much of a cowardddd to fight like a reaaaalll man...."
Father trailed off in a string of drunken profanity, it didn't matter though, Nikolai wasn't listening anyway.
Just as the last bit of cursing came to an end, father made his move. Nikolai had been expecting it long before it had happened, he just needed to see what form it would take.
It was a clumsy swing, so much so that Nikolai thought Father would trip over his own feet in the process. He easily knocked the blow to the side and responded with a strike of his own. Stepping forward, he threw a stiff left hook into father's ribs, drawing out a sharp grunt of pain. Then he swung down with a swift chopping motion into Father's neck followed quickly by a sharp upper cut into his chin.
Father cried out as he stumbled back and fell onto the floor, his tiny little eyes stared up in absolute fury as he struggled to pick himself back up "you peeeessssseeee of shiiiiiiiiidddddd I-"
In spite of all that had just happened, father seemed genuinely surprised by Nikolai's sharp response, he stared back speechlessly. Nikolai suddenly started to laugh, Father merely looked up at him bewildered.
"You want to hear something funny? I just realized it myself."
He paused for a second, as if expecting a response, but didn't wait for one "after all the horrible, nightmarish things I saw over there. All the death and pain and suffering. After all that, you know what haunted my dreams the most? The thing that kept me up at night more than anything else?"
Again, another pause, and again he didn't wait for an answer.
"It was you, it was always you. And yet here I stand looking down at you; a pathetic, broken down drunk, who beats on his own children to make himself feel better. You know something? If I didn't hate you so much I would probably pity you."
He laughed again. His father merely sat there in silence, a look of total confusion on his face, after a second he looked as if he was about to throw out another one of his insults, but Nikolai cut him off "I'm leaving here and taking Ania with me. You are not going to stop me and you will never try to contact or see either of us ever again, is that understood?" he said as if he was talking to an errant child.
Father opened his mouth as if to speak, but again Nikolai cut him off "if that didn't get through to your dim-witted alcohol clouded mind, then perhaps this will-" he knelt down and met his fathers gaze, his stare was pure ice "-I've killed people, I've killed bozorgs, and I've survived things that would have killed better men than you, so don't think for a second that if I see or hear of you ever coming near either one of us that I would even let death itself stop me from ripping out your intestines and strangling you to death with them" he said in the most flat tone he could manage, and for the first time in his life, his father was staring back at him with nothing but complete and total terror in his eyes.
Nikolai knelt there staring into his fathers wide eyes for about a minute longer in silence, when he was convinced that he had gotten the message through, he stood back up and saw Ania standing there fully clothed. She wasn't looking at him though, she was looking at Father, pure searing hatred was in her eyes.
What happened next took both Nikolai and his father completely by surprise.
Moving so fast that she was almost a blur, Ania threw herself at Father. She cried out in sheer fury as her arms lashed out. She pounded and scratched and kicked and pounded some more. Father cried out as much in shock as in pain. Nikolai was so taken aback by it that he merely stood there and watched as his little sister unleashed all her anger and rage on her father. Somehow she had managed to get a hold of an empty vodka bottle and was now swinging it like a club. It made sort of a high pitched thumping noise as it slammed into him. He let out more cries of pain which were joined by the occasional popping sound of bones breaking.
Finally, after he didn't know how long, Nikolai grabbed his sister who struggled at first, but quickly relented as she realized who it was that was grabbing her. He picked her up in his arms and carried her into her room where he quickly threw as many of her possessions as possible into a suitcase. Then he led her out of the apartment and down toward the steps, the whole time she didn't say anything, she merely breathed heavily. It wasn't until they were on the bus that she started to cry again, and this time it wasn't quiet and shallow like he had heard before, but deep, fully voiced sobs in stead.
He didn't care if anyone else on the bus could see or hear them, he merely held her tightly and did his best to reassure her.
"It's okay, I'm here now, I'm so, so sorry I wasn't there for you before, but you don't have to worry anymore, he won't hurt you ever again, I promise."-7:28 PM January 19, 1988, Sioux Falls, South Dakota
Private Benjamin Stokes stepped around an overturned car; a Hyundai hatchback, he thought. He almost jumped when he heard the distant sound of artillery going off. He nervously swung his weapon left, then right, then back the other way.
Fear had been his primary companion since they had pushed into bozorg controlled territory. Ambushes befell them sometimes a half a dozen times a day, sometimes they didn't see a single enemy for days on end. When they didn't find bozorgs, they often found bodies, sometimes civilians, sometimes military. Horribly mutilated and cut to pieces, they had been strewn about wherever they were; entrails smeared all over the ground, arms and legs broken and severed and left scattered here and there. Sometimes there weren't even whole bodies, at least not that anyone could tell.
They found fingers and toes, hands, severed heads, bits and pieces of flesh and bone and brain matter, sometimes they couldn't even tell what they were, just that they had come from a body. It was like the bozorgs were fucking with them, deliberately trying to freak them out. Whatever the case, it was working on him.
Then there were the noises, they may have been even worse too, they heard them all the time. Weapons fire; all too often cut short, screaming; sometimes human, sometimes not, sometimes starting out as the former and changing into the latter, sounds both indescribable and horrible.
The sounds were with them all day long, and they haunted his nightmares. Sometimes he would hear them in his sleep and awaken to realize that he had been hearing them for real, other times he would wake up to find that they were only part of his own nightmares, he didn't know which was worse.
The scuttlebutt was terrifying. Stories circulated of bozorgs that could look like people, invisible warriors that wiped out whole squads and sometimes whole platoons, things that came right out of the ground to swallow up men and sometimes even tanks. This wasn't American territory anymore, it wasn't even human territory anymore, he
was the alien invader.
Someone screamed off to his right, and he swung his weapon around to aim at any possible threats coming from that direction. He didn't spot any, and so his eyes darted left and right, looking for something that was about to reach out from the shadows and disembowel him, but nothing presented itself. More screams could be heard, and some weapons fire this time too.
Something moved in his peripheral vision and he swung his weapon over, letting loose a burst of fire, but there was nothing there, or had he just missed-
His thoughts were cut short as a bozorg wraith decapitated him with a single swift motion of one of its scythes.
Ten minutes later, not a single human was left alive there as all ten of the wraiths had swept over the platoon and killed every single person that they saw. -8:23 AM January 24, 1988, Palmdale, California, United States
Nikita Mamedov was once again taken aback by just how cold and dreary it was out there in southern California as he stepped out of the van. He had always thought of the place as a scorching desert at all times of year, but really, it seemed no different than Moscow in the fall(as far as the weather went anyway), if a bit warmer.
His train of thought was interrupted as he spotted the cartoon character at the top of the large building they were being led to. Suddenly he was reminded of just where they were.
He'd read reports, heard rumors, even imagined just what went on in this place, and here he was; about to walk right through the front door.
They were ushered into the main lobby of the building as more vans started to pull up, undoubtedly loaded with passengers from around the globe. Once the group with Nikita were all inside, they were greeted by an attractive young woman in a nicely tailored suit “good morning, and welcome. If you will all follow me this way, we have refreshments waiting for everyone” she said in almost unaccented Russian.
As they progressed down various corridors, being given a cursory tour of the overall facility, Nikita couldn't help falling behind the group as he stopped to marvel at the paintings and models of various different aircraft.
Ever since he had been a child, Nikita had wanted to be a pilot in the Red Air Force. He adjusted his thick glasses on his nose, reminding himself of the reason as to why he had been unable to achieve a career as a pilot. So, rather than give up, he had decided that the next best thing was to design and build planes even if he couldn't fly them.
A hand reached out and grabbed him by the shoulder “come on Nikita, stop ogling the artwork like dirty pictures” teased Mikhail Pogosyan.
Nikita nudged the hand away “alright, I'm coming” he said with a chuckle.
After about a half hour they found themselves inside an aircraft hangar, in one corner of which was a partitioned area with a series of tables and chairs. Along one wall was a row of eight sleek black aircraft, each neatly aligned on display. Nikita's heart almost skipped a beat when he gazed upon them and he had to stop himself from drooling as he was led toward his seat.
Ever since he had seen the first few grainy photographs of them he had always been enamored with these planes. Above all other aircraft, these ones had a certain malevolent beauty that other designs lacked. He read GRU reports, he studied each and every photograph he saw, and devoured every piece of information he could gather on these planes, and yet he had never; not in his wildest dreams, believed that he would be allowed to get this close to one, and now he was going to be working with them in person.
The woman gestured toward one of the tables “please have a seat, and help yourself to a glass of water, servers will be by shortly to take any orders you may have for drinks” she said cordially.
Nikita found a chair and seated himself, he also noted a pair of headphones sitting on the table next to the glass of water in front of him, there was a pair in front of each chair “if you would like to make use of our translator service, please feel free to put those earphones on” she said in that same friendly tone. Already knowing English quite well, he decided not to bother with the headphones.
“Well, isn't that something. They brought in people from Mikoyan and Tupolev too. I am impressed” said Mikhail, surprised.
Indeed, it was quite remarkable that they were bringing together personnel from the three highly competitive Soviet Aircraft Bureaus for one project, and he was seeing parties being brought in from France, Britain, China, and about a dozen different countries on top of the American and Russian groups. It was a true sign of unprecedented international cooperation, the likes of which anyone had seen off of the battlefield.
A half hour later, all of the various groups of engineers had been assembled and seated, and a group of Americans filed into the hangar, sitting down at a row of seats at one side of the partitioned area. One of the Americans; an older gentleman with silver hair and a dark suit approached the microphone stand in front of the row of chairs. Picking it up he held the microphone up to his mouth “good morning and welcome to the Lockheed Skunk Works. I am Ben Rich, the head of this division” he said.
“If you will look around the room, you will see the foremost minds in the field of aeronautical engineering. There are no under-qualified people in this building”
“We have been brought here by the Governments of the United States, Soviet Union, and just about every other nation on the planet to take these-” he gestured toward the row of planes there in the hangar “aircraft and make them faster, more reliable, cheaper to build, more maneuverable, and much more deadly. We have been given eighteen months to do so.”
There was another pause, this time he smiled “and I say that we will get it done in one year, let's get to work ladies and gentlemen.”-9:23 AM February 2, 1988, White House Situation Room, Washington, DC, United States
“Alright, I have to give a briefing to the president in less than two hours, so let's make this brief and simple, what is the overall situation with regards to Mexico.”
John Marsh looked out over the assembled group who were still silent, each person seemed intent on waiting to see who would make the first move. Finally someone broke the silence by clearing their throat, it was General Norman Schwarzkopf; commander of American forces in Mexico “well, there is no sense in beating around the bush here. I've got barely twenty five divisions at my disposal at this point, and I don't need to tell you that that won't be nearly enough should the enigmas decide to start moving. We need more feet on the ground, plain and simple” he said grimly.
The Secretary of Defense took a deep breath “I was thinking along the same lines, we need more troops and we have to pull them from somewhere-”
He was cut off by General James Lindsay “I cannot stress enough the need we currently have for as many troops as we can get right now” he interjected.
The Secretary shook his head “I understand where you are coming from General, but we just don't-”
“Need I remind you that things in former enemy controlled territory are a complete mess. Surely you have read the reports. We've got these new tactics of theirs, the shape changing 'pitcher plants' they've been using, the 'booby traps', and those roving bands of invisible assassins of theirs. We've been suffering upwards of twenty percent casualties since shifting over to the offensive. We haven't been able to draw their major ground forces into a large scale battle, they just sit there inside the infested area under cover of whatever anti-nuclear defense they have. We don't dare send troops out there in anything less than platoon strength, not if we want to see them again. You can't be-”
“I'm well aware of the reports you've been sending in General. And yes, I agree that the situation there is far more difficult than we had hoped for, but we cannot deny the threat that the enigmas represent. If they decide to start mov-”
“Whenever that may be. The truth is that we don't know that they will even try to advance over land at all, and this so called offensive may not come for years if it ever comes at all. It-”
“I'm well aware of the possibilities before us General, but you know the numbers just like I do. Whenever they do decide to make a move, without a considerably larger force there, we will be doing nothing more than sending several hundred thousand men and women to their deaths because we do not have the numbers to match theirs. We've given you and your counterparts in Brazil and Afghanistan months to make progress, and you have all done admirably under the conditions, but the time has come to make tough decisions. Of all people, you should be able to understand that.”
Marsh gave the general a stern look in the hopes that he got his point across “are you telling me that I have to continue to press this offensive with a considerable reduction in my overall combat strength?” asked the General indignantly.
Marsh's gaze did not waver “I'm telling you that when I brief the President, I'm going to suggest that we cease all offensive operations in North America and depending on the positions of our allies, in Europe and Brazil as well” he said flatly.
“And just how high will the butchers bill be after you are done talking with the president?”
“The specifics still have to be laid out, but it will probably amount to something in the neighborhood of fifty divisions in each theater, maybe more, maybe less-”
“That's nearly a third of my full combat strength, you can't seriously-”
“I can and I will General. Although, as always, the final decision lays with the President. Now; before we move forward, do you have anything further to say?”
Silence hung in the room, General Lindsay stared back at the Secretary of Defense with a mixture of anger and frustration. No general likes admitting defeat, but he knew as well as everyone else in that room what the situation was, after a minute he took a deep breath “no, that is all” he said finally.
With a nod, Marsh moved on to another subject “alright, now to the situation in the air.”-10:23 AM February 12, 1988, Bilma, Niger
Private Jean LaFarge stood at attention at the end of a line of other soldiers, and the hot desert sun was beating down on them. Sweat was running down his forehead, it wasn't entirely due to the heat.
“Well, it appears that after a somewhat late start we have finally begun the process of turning you lot into a group of proper soldiers!”
The Turkish sergeant; his name was Tabak, stood before the group of assembled Nigeriens, his accent was just barely noticeable. Someone grumbled some kind of complaint just barely below an audible level. Jean cringed, expecting the sergeant to jump down the other man's throat and pull his lungs out through his ass. He was both surprised and dismayed when the response was considerably more understated than that. The sergeant merely smiled at them, it was a sinister smile, one with enough ice behind it to cool the entire desert to a frozen tundra.
“Ah, you all have made the mistake of assuming that you are soldiers. That amuses me, so I'll forgive you for not showing proper respect, besides-”
He started to approach the line of men “you'll learn soon enough not to FUCK with me!” he shouted. The look in the sergeant's eyes and the tone of his voice gave Jean a bit of a shiver, despite the heat out there.
Sergeant Tabak stopped less than a meter in front of one of the men further down from Jean and stared at him, Jean did not envy him. After an awkward minute or two of silence, the sergeant started making his way in Jean's direction, he could almost feel the relief in the man that Tabak had chosen to scrutinize while his own dread grew at the thought that he was next.
“While you and the rest of the men in your so called 'army' have been running crowd control in South America and Iran, the real soldiers have been fighting the most brutal war in human history against the most horiffic and destructive opponents you can imagine. YOU will soon be joining them, but I have good news.”
He stopped directly in front of Jean, and turning sharply on his heels, the sergeant turned and faced him. He could practically feel the weight of the man's stare pressing into him “I am here to turn you sorry group of failures into proper soldiers!”
“But don't worry, I realize that the kind of life of a real soldier is something new to all of you, so we'll start with something easy. Therefore we'll do a nice and easy ten kilometer run. Let's get started, I want to be finished today's work before midnight”-8:17 PM February 14, 1988, Leningrad, Russia
Junior Sergeant Ivan Chernov sat nervously in a small room, a bright light shone down upon him and the table before him, illuminating him starkly. Sweat dripped down his forehead, partially from the heat generated by the bright light, and partially from his own nervousness. Clutched in his arms was a rather thick envelope; he held it tightly, almost as if it was about to jump out of his grasp and run away of its own accord. The rest of the room was dark and shrouded in shadow, making it hard to make out any details beyond himself and the table before him.
When the door opened, he almost fell out of his chair “relax comrade Chernov, it is just I and the gentleman you came here to see. There is no need to get upset” came the voice of one man, he recognized the voice from when he had first come there.
The source of the voice stayed behind Ivan, never walking into view, meanwhile another man in a dark grey suit walked around the table and sat at the chair on the opposite side of it, he never leaned into the light, keeping his features obscured by darkness.
There was a moment of tense silence, then “alright junior sergeant, why don't we get down to whatever it is you have for me then eh?” asked the other man, the one he had come to talk to.
Ivan shook his head nervously and gripped the envelope in his arms more tightly “no, I said that I wanted to talk to you and no one else” he demanded.
There was another moment of silence, then the man in front of him made some kind of gesture that he couldn't quite discern, then Ivan heard the sound of the door opening, and then closing again as someone exited the room.
“Very well, now can we continue?”
The voice had a hint of annoyance in it, but not overly so, Ivan finally nodded nervously “al- alright” he said as he finally took the envelope in his arms and laid it out on the table “my brother-in-law; Anatoli Nasenko told me that he went to school with you at the 401st KGB school here in Leningrad, he also worked with you at the fifth directorate. Said that you were a good man and someone who I could trust” Ivan started to explain.
The other man sat back in his chair “ah, yes Anatoli, I remember him. How is he doing these days?” he responded.
“He's dead, he and his wife were killed in a bus accident last week.”
There was silence in the room for a moment “I'm sorry to hear that, I hadn't been informed. You have my condolences” came the response, it almost sounded genuine “but, I still don't know what this has to do with why you are here” he continued.
Almost as if on cue, Ivan began to open the envelope "my posting is at a munitions depot not far outside the city, I handle record keeping and inventory. I'm quite good at my job" he said, a hint of pride creeping into his voice.
He slowly pulled a thick stack of papers out of the envelope "a few weeks ago I spotted a discrepancy in the records regarding several crates of high explosives" he started to explain as he pulled a stapled packet away from the rest of the stack. Flipping through a few pages, he came to one with a highlighted entry on it "this was a shipping manifest from a year ago, and this-" he pointed to the highlighted entry "-is an entry for three crates that were delivered as part of the shipment, the contents are listed as twelve thousand kilograms of composition C explosives, take note of the crates' serial numbers" he explained, the nervousness in his voice seemed to have given way to something more intent.
Ivan laid the packet down on the table and slid it toward the man on the other side of the table who did not take the packet in his own hands, quickly he pulled another off of the stack and flipped to another page with yet more highlighted entries "this is an inventory that was taken about three weeks ago, and if you look here at the entries next to the crate serial numbers that designated the explosives, the contents now read as socks, mind you that the location is the same as before. They are being stored in a warehouse meant for the storage of high explosives and munitions" Ivan reached for yet another packet and opened it to a page with more highlighting "this inventory was taken a month before that one, it too reads as three crates of socks, after doing some thorough looking, I had to go back to October of last year to find an entry that matched the shipping manifest" he concluded as he produced another inventory list from the stack.
The other man sat silently at the other side of the table and looked at the pages before him, he picked up the latest inventory listing and examined it "perhaps an error?" he hypothesized, although the skepticism in his voice had a slight hint of something else.
Ivan shook his head "I thought the same thing at first, but the inventories taken prior to October all listed those crates as containing explosives-" he took another couple stapled packets and tossed them onto the table "-but the thing that really got me suspicious was the signature on each inventory" he reached over and picked up the second most recent packet. Flipping to the last page, he indicated the signature there "until a month ago, the inventory of that warehouse was handled by someone other than myself. A Junior Sergeant named Olansky, he recently died due to a burst appendix. The fact that no one has bothered to check on this inconsistency until now is almost as worrying to me as the fact that twelve hundred kilograms of high explosives has gone missing" he said with a nervous laugh.
The other man continued to examine the documents "you've found something else" he said. It was a question as much as it was a statement.
"That's right. I asked my commanding officer about it afterward and he agreed to look into it."
There was a brief pause, then "three days later he told me to forget all about it, he seemed pretty scared too" Ivan said with a nervous sigh "and I probably would have too if not for the fact that while I was waiting for him to get back to me I decided to check on any shipping manifests for items leaving
the depot between the times of the inventory taken in October and the one right after that, there were three major shipments. However, only one of them involved items stored in that particular warehouse. It was shipped on October nineteenth and had a destination with our front line forces in Uzbekistan. Included in that shipment were three crates with identical serial numbers on them, the contents are listed as socks."
He produced another packet, this one with a different layout of the figures on each page "Now, I am just a clerk, I don't know for a fact what exactly happened out there, but I've heard the rumors, and the idea of missing explosives showing up in Uzbekistan in late October started giving me a bad feeling, so I called up Anatoli."
There was a pause.
"Two weeks ago he contacted me with a file containing a bunch of shipping manifests from ammunition dumps all over the front out in Uzbekistan-"
Resting his head in his hands for a moment, Ivan took a deep, ragged breath before continuing "three days later I heard that he was killed in a bus accident along with the rest of his family" he said slowly as he returned his attention to the document before him. He flipped forward until he reached a page with some more highlighted entries "this is a shipping manifest from one of those munitions dumps, it shows a delivery that includes those three serial numbered crates as well as another fifteen from other depots all over the Soviet Union, they are all listed as containing socks" he said with a slight tone of finality.
The other man reached across the table and grabbed the shipping manifest, after a brief silence he spoke "socks..." he said quietly as if in thought, then a moment later "are there more?" he asked.
Ivan let out a brief, humorless chuckle "I have shipping manifests from twelve different munitions dumps around the area over the course of approximately a month preceding the big operation in November, I counted a total of just over a thousand crates delivered, all listed as containing socks. Now, since each crate is also listed as holding the same number of socks, I think it could be safe to assume that they all contain a comparable amount of explosives, which would indicate nearly half a million kilograms of explosives in all" he said gravely.
Again, silence hung in the room. Ivan finally spoke after another moment "Why would someone do this? What could anyone gain from it? I just- just don't understand" he said exasperated.
Vladimir Putin finally leaned forward into the light "that
comrade, is an excellent question."
Received: from !usgshost!arpahost!obnet.workhub.centloc.gov([186.112.383.124])
date: tuesday, February 16, 1988, 3:38 PM
subject: anomalous readings from minnesota
I was wondering if you had a chance to read the most recent take from the teleseismometers in the midwest from the past week, because we've been getting something of interest.
Now I know that we've been seeing vibrations coming out of Minnesota much like all the other Bozorg infestation zones around the world for months now, but just last Thursday we started seeing what at first looked like a marked change in those vibrations, however after taking a closer look we realized that we were getting an additional set of seismic activity over top of the old kind which is still there. Most interesting about it is not so much the change in the vibration itself, but rather the fact that it appears to have a surprisingly wide hypocenter which appears to be an elliptical region nearly one hundred fifty kilometers in diameter.
I've sent a message to Tommy Drake over in Keyworth to see if they've been getting similar readings in Europe, but he hasn't gotten back to me yet.
So, please take a look at the readings for me and let me know what you think.
All the best,
Tony-excerpt from the journal of Dr. Willard Maye PHD, dept of Art and Archaeology, Princeton University"February 19, 1988,
I know that I and the rest of the staff here have been incredibly ecstatic about reaching RMA-1; I know that I was as surprised as anyone else that they turned out to be more than anomalous readings on the GPR, but I feel the need to record another find in my journal for posterity, for although it may lack in sheer profound scale, its implications may be just as great if not greater than those of the RMAs.
Last week we managed to uncover what at first appeared to be little more than another small sized building near the city center which from all signs appeared to be a government administration or perhaps religious structure. The building itself did not appear to be very unique in and of itself, however what we found inside most definitely was.
Located at the center of the one-room building was what appeared to be some kind of iron table, and atop that was the remains of yet another unfortunate soul who seemingly had been 'crucified' with sizeable metal spikes driven through his arms and legs. The very first thing that I noticed that didn't quite fit with previous such finds was the fact that the table was made entirely out of iron, whereas most Antarctican furniture is made either of stone or wood or a combination thereof. Additionally there was the set of armor and weapons that were discovered shortly after the table in the same building not far from the remains.
The armor and weapons were of particular note due to the artistic style of the carvings on them as well as their overall design which is very inconsistent with anything else that we have discovered here in the city, almost to the point that I would almost be willing to hypothesize that they originated with another culture altogether almost based upon that alone(although I don't really need to).
The craftsmanship of the armor is of particularly exquisite quality; reaching a level of detail so fine that I have never seen its equal from any other culture including here in Antarctica, although the acts depicted in the chest plate are of a particularly gruesome and violent nature which in fact is quite a similarity to that of Antarctican culture, the overall composition and style of the engravings has a flow to it that is very distinctive from anything else that we've found to date.
The sword is additionally well made with intricate carvings adorning the full length of the blade, the grip, the hilt, and the pommel. The blade itself is also of particular note for the fact that it is so well forged and honed that if I had to guess, I would swear that it was made with modern machine tools.
Both the sword and the armor were forged with what at first glance appears to be silver; in fact chemical analysis reveals that it is in fact silver, but it displays characteristics which are wholly inconsistent with silver itself. Its electrical conductivity is far less than it should be, coming in just slightly higher than led, it weighs far less than it should, with a density that is more comparable to that of ice, meanwhile its tensile strength is more on par with that of high grade steel. Despite the fact that all evidence points to these artifacts being here at least as long as everything else in the city, there is virtually no sign of aging or corrosion, as they appear to retain a luster as if they had been polished only yesterday, in fact the only signs of damage to the sword or armor are scratches and gouges that appeared to have been sustained in combat.
Most interesting of all however is the fact that the 'silver' reacts to magnetic fields far more strongly than it should, as it starts to vibrate and slightly increase in temperature seemingly spontaneously in the presence of one. This however is somewhat enigmatic, since while it does react to all sources of magnetic fields, it seems to react to those generated by iron the most, even when compared with fields generated by other sources, no matter how strong or weak it is in comparison.
Normally, any such results would be in keeping with much that we have already unearthed here in Antarctica, but while most lab results regarding already unearthed Antarctican artifacts have been consistent only in their inconsistency, the lab results regarding this particular find have been thoroughly consistent in the more conventional sense.
The remains themselves are an entirely different matter altogether. Their enigmatic nature is apparent at first glance. The bones themselves possess a faint metallic sheen which I've learned is the result of trace amounts of the same kind of metal that makes up the sword and the armor. The fully assembled skeleton itself appears far more elongated and slender than would be considered natural on a human body, in fact the exact measurements of the bones are far beyond the range of normal human proportions, and would seem to indicate that when he was alive(and if he was truly human), the subject most likely suffered from some form of disorder such as giantism, yet all lab results have so far returned no results indicating any presence of hGH in the bones, much less any excessive levels.
The teeth are the next most obvious anomaly, as they are quite sharp. At first I assumed that this was the result of filing as some societies are known to do. However, the size of the teeth would indicate that they must have been abnormally large before being ground down, and in fact, closer examination shows no signs of any of the scoring or abrasion associated with filing, which would indicate that they grew in this way naturally.
Additionally, upon slightly closer examination, it has been revealed that the number of bones in the skeleton are inconsistent with typical human anatomy. There are twenty nine vertebra as opposed to twenty-four, there are two more ribs than there should be, six more teeth, and each thumb has an additional joint.
While we have uncovered plenty of human or human-like remains which have considerable abberations or mutations that differentiate them from standard human anatomy, this is something different even from that.
Finally, something else I found striking was the reaction that I got from our 'administrator' when he heard of the find. So far he has seemed to have a sort of detached fascination with everything we have found so far, almost as if none of this is new or unique to him. I would almost go so far as to venture that he expects us to find these things as absurd as that sounds. However, when I informed him of this particular find he actually seemed generally surprised by it, like he thought it wasn't even supposed to be there. Yet, after my initial report on the remains and accompanying artifacts, his surprise merely turned to something more akin to blithe dismissal.