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I must say everything happened too unexpected and too fast for me to fully comprehend the complexity and danger of the affair I got into. I still don’t understand it and frankly I don’t care. I’m one of these people who just executes the orders given to me without getting into further detail of how and why. I carry out orders without asking because I believe in the value and importance of that job for a greater cause. Especially if those orders come from someone I admire and respect like Vladimir the Lucent. I simply consider it inappropriate to question his decisions.

The first time I met Emin, he scared the living soul out of me. I was home alone, enjoying a lazy Sunday afternoon when someone rang the doorbell. I opened the door and there he was, the man with the darkest eyes I have ever seen. After getting to know him I realized that the perfect black of his eyes was due to them seeing so much evil throughout life and absorbing it into his soul. All that filth stayed there, behind the retina, in his memory, with no chance of ever getting rid of those images. But that first encounter with him sent a cold shiver down my spine and I even felt panic rising thinking I made a big mistake when I opened the door.

He immediately introduced himself and showed me his badge. That was the right thing to do because otherwise I wouldn’t have believed him. His openness and honesty from the first minutes calmed me down. We went to the kitchen and there he carefully explained the reason of his visit. I suspected that that visit wasn’t just a coincidence. In the past I made a few pathetic, small attempts of attracting attention to my persona, hoping the Scythian Secret Services would recruit me. But no reaction ever came. I was quite disappointed. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t need someone like me, someone who spoke eight languages, and lived in the West. So, when he mentioned that there was still a threat coming from the escaped betrayers and Nazis I interrupted him and said I wanted to work for them and be useful to the Scythe Empire. He was surprised and told me that that was what he came for, to ask me to join them in their mission.

That’s how our alliance started. Emin was my contact, the person I could turn to with all my questions and whenever I needed help. My parents would be taken care of as long as I was on my mission or in case something happened to me. They decided to stay in Scythia for their safety and for my own peace of mind.

Everything had to be done quickly because my stay in Tsargrad was limited to three weeks. I was supposed to get fictitiously married to one of the agents. After the marriage, we would leave together for Gaul. I was born there, so I automatically received the Gallic citizenship. If I were to get married, my husband, no matter his nationality, had the right to live with me in Gaul. Emin organized everything, including our first meeting with Volodja, my fictitious husband. We only had to appear on the appointed date and place for the marriage registration.

Our first encounter wasn’t supposed to be romantic but considering how much Volodja meant to me I feel sorry it wasn’t. Another regret I can add to the list of things that could but didn’t happen in my life. My mother liked him instantly. He reassured her I was safe with him. She didn’t know what exactly he would do in Gaul once he got there. She believed he just needed to get over the border to get in contact with his colleagues who were stationed there and exchange important information. She had no idea he was an assassin. And Emin didn’t inform me of his occupation either. I found it out later when we were in Gaul.

We didn’t get to spend that much time together on our own while we were in Tsargrad. There were always people surrounding us. The first day in Milky Way my mother and he did the most talking. I was just staring at him, occasionally receiving a quick glance back. He was polite and soft-spoken, coming off as a balanced young man in his thirties. He attentively listened to the concerns and advice of my mother, comforting her saying that he would take care of me and that we would be careful in Gaul. The next time we met was the day of our marriage registration. We invited some friends and family to celebrate the wedding and create the illusion of two happy young idiots who met each other recently and decided to tie the knot without further ado. Our first kiss was awkward, like the most things in my life, but weirdly enough I liked it. Despite the fact that nothing of it was real, that kiss was something I really enjoyed. I guess I was just curious to feel the touch of his skin on mine.

Emin rented a room in a nice hotel where Volodja and I went to after the party. We gathered all the receipts and photographic evidence in case the Gallic authorities would suspect something and demand proof of the legitimacy of our marriage. I was exhausted after dinner and went immediately to bed. Volodja slept on the couch.

He woke me up early in the morning. We had to catch our flight to Gaul. Our luggage was already packed two days before, so we left our room without haste and delays. We called a taxi to bring us to the airport. Our driver was a talkative Hay who told us non-stop stories of sunny Hayastan and occasionally congratulated Volodja with marrying such a beautiful young girl while winking at me through the rearview mirror.

As usual, the airport was crowded. After the long luggage check-in queue and the nerve-racking passport control, we had some time left before boarding. We found a nice, quiet spot to sit, looking out on the runway, with our backs turned to the other waiting passengers. Volodja brought me black tea, although I didn’t remember telling him that I preferred that drink. Emin had told him, or he found it out by himself. In the end, finding out information about people was his job. However, I really needed a cup of my favorite hot beverage, so I took it gratefully from him.

We sat in silence next to each other, staring outside, watching the diligent back and forth pulling of the airfield vehicles. We were finally alone but we didn’t talk. Although I really wanted to hear his voice, ask him things, tell him things about myself. But I just couldn’t bring myself to it, simply because I didn’t know how. In moments like these I despised Gauls more than ever because of the damage they did to my social skills. For as long as I can remember, I was always shunned and ignored, in kindergarten, elementary school, high school, college, at work, and even at the general practitioner’s. Despite being born there I’ve never been one of them. There was a time when I tried to make friends but in their chauvinistic, bigoted society there was no place for a Scythe girl born in their country. I soon learned to cope with my problems on my own, not expecting or receiving any kind of help or understanding from the community I lived in. The only friends I had were my parents and my brother. They were the only ones who gave me support and sincere love. With them staying in Scythia I had no one in Gaul to talk to intimately or share my problems with. That thought was terrifying. I had Volodja though, but I felt powerless to start even the smallest conversation with him because for years I was taught to keep my pains, my fears, and my doubts to myself.

But oddly enough, spending time in the lonely silence outside the social circle, I developed something of a sixth sense. I knew what was going through people’s minds. I felt their discomfort, I sensed their fear, I heard their thoughts. I could tell Volodja also wanted to talk to me, but something prevented him from doing that. Maybe that was just wishful thinking from my part but the fact he just sat there beside me drinking his coffee looking in front of him instead of at his phone revealed to me that he was glad to share the silence by my side due to an absence of conversation rather than occupying himself with some gadgets. That thought soothed me and I instantly relaxed, admitting to myself that I as well appreciated his tranquil company.

We found out we had three seats at our disposal when we were boarding. There weren’t so many passengers on the plane. Volodja’s seat was by the window, but he gladly swapped places with me when I asked him. As the plane was getting ready to take off, Volodja leaned towards me and said that I should catch on some sleep. He was right. A long and difficult day was lying ahead of us. The West hadn’t removed all the criminal sanctions they’ve imposed on the Scythe Empire. Several Scythian diplomats, organizations, and companies, including air carriers, were still forbidden to cross Western territories. That’s why there were no direct flights from Tsargrad to the Marshes. To get into the West, the Scythes were forced to travel through the Ottoman Empire. The tickets for those flights were expensive but that was the only option.

I was already drowsing but I could swear I heard him whisper “Finally, I get to spend some time alone with you, Sashenka” I instantly opened my eyes, but Volodja was already asleep with his backrest pushed down. I guess I must have dreamed of it, but I remember how it startled me to hear him calling me that way. I was used to hear people calling me Alex, only my parents called me Sashenka. Besides, in the West they didn’t know about the Scythe custom to use shortened versions instead of the official names. From that point on he always pronounced Sashenka with the same intonation, with the same soft whisper. I liked that. I dozed off again watching him sleep in the seat next to me, waiting for him to open his eyes and explain why he said that.

I dreamed. It was the first dream I had in a long time. Since the start of the Special Military Operation, I didn’t see any. I wouldn’t say I suffered from nightmares but usually I saw strange, crazy things that mostly amused me if I could remember them when I woke up. But that dream was a nice one. One of those dreams you wish continued forever. Volodja and I were at some party. We sat opposite of each other on a dance floor. People around us were having fun. Volodja smiled at me and judging from that smile I understood he liked me. That realization was peculiarly comforting and when the raspy voice of the flight attendant coming through the speakers woke me up, that nice, cheering feeling seemed to envelop me in its warm, awaking embrace. Volodja already sat upright in his seat and told me we would soon land in Constantinople.

The airport of Constantinople was recently reconstructed and expanded. We were supposed to go to the transit zone and wait there for our next flight, but we got lost trying to figure out the confusing signs indicating the way inside the airport. Somehow, we ended up in the chaotic duty-free zone with its many fancy shops and shiny spots. Volodja asked me whether I wanted to walk around or have a drink, but I refused. I was too tired for shopping and felt uncomfortable under the intense gazes of the Ottomans. Finally, someone showed us how to get to the transit zone. It was a long walk, but it was relieving to get out of the buzzing duty-free area. We found a silent place with no other people around, somewhere at the very end of the waiting space for transit passengers, with a small coffee shop nearby. We spent a quiet three hours waiting for our flight.

The trouble started when our plane landed in the Marshes. The Marshes airport was once again cordoned off. A woman told me the airport security found a bag with explosives in the men’s restrooms that morning. The building got evacuated. Just before we arrived, people were let back in through corridors guarded by the special forces. As we were passing through the security check, I got stopped by a Gaul soldier who told me he wanted to check my luggage. At first, I didn’t see any problem with that. I found it strange though that he wanted to see my bag in particular, but I was always quite easy-going on those inspections, especially in airports. But the soldier was leading me away further from Volodja and the waiting line, pulling me insistently by the elbow. Volodja was already on the other side of the scanners when he noticed I wasn’t with him. He violently pushed the passengers and security aside and forced himself back through the scanners to come to my aid.

I was panicking. The Gaul tried to push me into some backroom. I struggled to release myself, but he only tightened his grip on my arm. I screamed for him to let me go. Right then I felt Volodja grabbing my hand. He pushed the Gaul back and shouted in Anglo-Saxon, asking him what the hell was going on and why he led his wife away. Everyone turned their heads at their angry screaming and when the Gaul pointed his machine gun at us I heard scared, subdued gasps coming from the crowd. I saw security and other soldiers running our way and felt anxious thinking they would arrest us. That happened before, even with Gauls who dared to voice their discontent with police and military brutality against civilians. People got arrested without clarification. Oddly, nothing of the kind happened to us. To me it looked like it wasn’t the first time that particular trooper harassed women because his colleagues forced him to hand over his gun and led him away. We were told rudely to shup up and to get back in line.

I think Volodja was more shocked by what happened to me than I was. I was extremely disgruntled though, but not as much because of the sexual predator from the Gaul military as with the people surrounding us and the ill-mannered security guards. The passengers tried to cut us, giving us nasty looks when we didn’t let them. Someone yelled for us to get back to where we came from. They could see we were strangers, maybe some even suspected we were Scythes. The security shamelessly groped us as we were passing through the scanners for the second time, giving us condescending looks . I knew those looks. I’ve been receiving them since I was a child. They’d love to see us beaten and behind bars but there we stood. Two young attractive foreign people in nice clothes, who were so audacious to disobey their officers and disrupt the precious silence in their false society. I couldn’t hold back my anger and hissed in Volodja’s ear:

“No wonder someone always tries to blow up this place!” To my surprise I heard him giggle. A high, mean giggle I didn’t expect to hear from such a composed, serious man. He looked at me with a cheeky smile and whispered:

“What an angry little woman you are!”

But our unpleasant adventures didn’t stop once we left the airport. There was a direct train leaving from the airport to different destinations in Gaul. We were too late to catch our train because of the incident at the security check. We had to wait another hour for the next one. That platform was always empty, no matter the time I returned to or left from Gaul, that’s why I believed we would enjoy a quiet trip. But as soon as we went on the train I knew I was wrong. Our carriage was almost empty except for two passengers. One was sitting at the very end of it, the other in the middle. Volodja asked me if I wanted to sit on the second seat from the door. I agreed. No noises from the inside or the outside interrupted the serene silence inside the train. That’s why our small conversation, no matter the softness of our voices, reached to the very back of the carriage.

The guy who sat in the middle turned around to have a look at us. I knew instantly he was an escaped Borderlander. His bald shaven head was partly covered with Nazi symbols and Viking runes. Only his forehead and face weren’t inked. His sweatshirt was unzipped, showing a huge black swastika tattooed on his bare chest. He yelled something offensive at us. I couldn’t make out what exactly he said because I didn’t understand their dialect, but his intonation spoke volumes. The other guy, obviously a cowardly Gaul, decided to leave the carriage after he heard the Borderlander roar. Next, Volodja surprised me when he answered the Borderlander in his dialect, saying something very obscene, making the Nazi jump up from his seat and dash towards us. I grabbed Volodja’s hand, trying to calm him down because the Nazi was getting aggressive and there was no one around to stop the inevitable fight. Not that Gauls were brave enough to come in between, but still. Suddenly, the Nazi shifted his attention to me and started to call me names.

“Go suck some Western dick, that’s the reason why you came here!” I shouted.

“Shut up, you nasty Scythe whore!” with these words the insane Borderlander raised his fist against me. Volodja was just in time to prevent a full force blow against my head, which probably would result in my immediate death. Instead, I received the punch in my jaw as Volodja smashed his fist into his liver. The Nazi bent double from pain, and I smacked against the nearby train table. I heard they were fighting but couldn’t open my eyes, the strike to my head was too hard. I must have been out for some time because when I finally managed to open my eyes and struggled up, the Nazi was gone and Volodja walked into the carriage at the other end, closing the sliding door behind him. There was blood on his face, probably coming from his lacerated left brow. He ran to me when he saw me waggling from side to side, trying to hold myself up.

“Are you okay? Does your head spin? Are you nauseous?” he asked many other questions, trying to find out if I suffered from a concussion. He helped me to sit down and inspected my reaction to light with a penlight he took out of his pocket.

“What else are you carrying around?” I asked curiously. Volodja smiled.

“Are you sure you’re okay? We need to show you to a doctor when we reach your town.”

“I think I’ll make it until then. But I’ll go alone to the hospital. You can’t go with me. They’ll ask what happened and I’m afraid they’ll accuse you of it.”

“Okay, I’ll wait for you outside then,” he gave me a bottle of water and sat opposite of me.

“Where’s the Borderlander?” I suddenly asked, not able to hide the tremor in my voice.

“I knocked him out and dragged him outside, to a safe place under the platform. No one has seen me,” he replied looking out of the window.

“But what if he wakes up!”

“Don’t worry, he won’t. That other guy shat his pants when he heard the Borderlander and disappeared. The train attendant is somewhere at the other end of the train. We’re safe now.” He took out his handkerchief and leaned forward. There was blood in the corner of my mouth, there where the Nazi punched me. Volodja gently wiped it away. I cleaned his face with the sleeve of my cardigan. His eyes met mine. I don’t know whether he was still checking out if I was alright, but he continued to stare at me when he leaned back in his seat. There was confusion in that look. He didn’t let it show, but I felt he was nervous. Just eight hours ago he was comfortable and relaxed, walking around carelessly knowing he was safe in his own country. Now, he was on a mission abroad, but he probably didn’t expect for the change in mentality to be so drastic and the trouble starting as soon as we landed. I couldn’t tell it for sure, but I suspected that he experienced the same kind of claustrophobic feeling of desperation I lived with through my entire life in Gaul. It wrapped you up like an invisible cocoon, with every breath you took adding a new layer, pressing heavy on your chest until you realized you were suffocating. You were left with a small opening you could breathe through, taking in small sips of air. There was no way of getting out of that cocoon because every move you made pressed all the oxygen out of your narrow prison. I wanted to comfort him, but I had no idea what to say to a man who could knock out a Nazi and throw him under the train. I couldn’t find the right words. The best I could do was to warn him.

“Welcome to the West, Volodja. You have seen nothing yet.”


Submitted: September 23, 2022

© Copyright 2022 Al Ashcott. All rights reserved.

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