was let through heavy oak panelled doors into the Ambassador's
office. They swung silently open to reveal a large room,
elegantly furnished. The Baroness sat behind the desk,
a barrier of dark, gleaming wood and brass, the epitome
of natural authority and understated class. She did
not look up when he entered, instead continuing to write
with a lacquered fountain pen, until her aide left and
the doors closed behind her visitor.
had been days when Vadim entered a room and everybody
looked at him. Not to be acknowledged, now, and then
almost ignored. He could feel his heart sink, sink deeper
from the not too elevated position it had climbed up
to. Felt it was useless, and he shouldn't have come.
de Vilde glanced up at last to acknowledge her visitor
at last, face devoid of any expression and the cool
features contrasted with the friendly purple and yellow
of a bouquet of flowers in a vase beside her. She studied
him in silence, nothing escaped the scrutiny of those
acutely intelligent eyes. She had not changed at all
since Vadim had last seen her. Grey hair still perfectly
coiffed, same pearl necklace, aged but finely manicured
hands, similar silk blouse and cashmere suit.
place made him feel even smaller, and he needed a lot
of strength to keep his shoulders square. A conscious
decision to stay upright, but his eyes down. He found
it hard to look around much. As if he was no longer
used to it. As if there was nothing left to see. Did
not meet her eyes, but knew she was looking at him.
Should be looking up, but found it near impossible.
take a seat, Mr Krasnorada." Indicating the chair
in front of her desk. An economic gesture, as polite
but curt as the deliberate us of 'Mr'. She had called
him 'Major', three months ago, had made a point of courtesy
The word didn't sting. It should have. But it had melted
away, the rank, whatever title, whatever part of him
had taken pride in that. Chastised. Too often. He wanted
to turn around and leave, already drained of the strength
that he had gathered.
sat down. It was an order, it was easy to follow orders.
Eyes glancing up to meet her gaze, at least touch it
before he stared at the polished wood again. Took his
hands from the rests of the chair and placed them on
his thighs, elbows tight to his torso. He didn't feel
at ease in his own body. It appeared too big to fill
out. He should have gone out to the sea, should have
cast it all off. It was stupid being here. He had nothing
to offer. Nothing to bargain with. Didn't have the strength
to bargain. Damaged.
waited a moment, gaze never wavering, before cutting
straight to the point. "Why are you here to see
me, Mr Krasnorada?" 'Here', an embassy that wasn't
her own in an office she had borrowed from her colleague
need to find Dan", Vadim murmured, then cleared
his throat, and repeated, because he wasn't sure it
had been audible. "I need to find Daniel McFadyen.
I need to speak to him." And give him a proper
goodbye, at least. Can't disgrace him, too, of all people.
Not like that. He felt the thought cut deep, surprised
at the amount of pain that caused. Surprised he could
feel that kind of pain now.
Baroness was watching him while her gaze remained dispassionate.
She studied the man, the gestures, each movement and
every motion he should have done - and had left aborted.
was hoping you would request this." She screwed
the cap back onto her fountain pen and placed the exquisite
object onto the marbled surface of the desk, placing
her hands together on top of it. Her eyes never lost
their steadfast gaze. "I am afraid Dan is not in
Europe, and while I am privy to his whereabouts, I feel
unable to satisfy your request at this stage."
that was a no. He could go now.
felt numb, and a raging pain beneath the surface. Deemed
not worthy. And who could fault her for it. He nodded,
as if understanding, but he didn't.
Krasnorada, do you remember the promise I made to you
three months ago?" Pausing, she waited patiently.
Passport. A job. No more freezing, no more running.
Getting up to work, and leaving work to go to bed. That
was what other peopled did with their lives. He didn't
want to live like a dog.
I remember." He kept his eyes down. Expected her
to say something like 'forget it', and didn't know how
to expect and prepare for it. They had played too many
games with him. He knew nothing. Could expect nothing.
They had kept him on his toes. Don't expect. Let it
all happen. At least look at her, he thought, and tried.
He was a beggar now, finally hit the last depth on this
way down. If she made him beg, he would. There was no
pride. He couldn't afford pride.
nodded once. "It is good that you remember, because
my words still stand. However, they are not a promise,
but a deal that I have to offer you." She stood
up, walked around the desk, unafraid of leaving her
barrier of gleaming oak, shiny brass and unshakable
authority. Standing close, in front of the chair, a
slight figure of an elderly lady, yet exuding natural
authority. "Do you understand, Mr Krasnorada? A
deal for both parts." Looking at him, waiting.
was smaller than he had thought. The moment she got
up, that moment he wanted to stand. It would be more
natural to stand. He looked up, met her gaze now, part
surprised, part feeling the walls get closer, not sure
if that was a good thing. He didn't expect anything
good in a place like this. But then. She hadn't been
unkind to him. Hadn't pulled any of the tricks of party
or KGB, functionary, nomenclature. Didn't mean she couldn't,
the sceptical part of him reiterated. And she prompted
him. That was easier than come up with words and thoughts
by himself. He could just respond. Nothing to lose,
nothing to win.
knows where Dan is.
something to win, then. It took concentration. "Baroness,
" Whatever you're asking. Whatever you want.
Nothing else to bargain with. The truth. Papers. No
longer running. Because he had no idea where he would
run to. "What is my part of the deal?" Not
more the nod and this unending patience. "We need
to know if you are still useful." Not 'I', but
'we'. "Three months ago, I would have offered you
to work for us, together with Daniel McFadyen. It would
have probably been a fairly straightforward process."
She paused, before explaining further. "'Us', you
must understand, Mr Krasnorada, is right now a non-further
explained entity. Let us call the 'we' simply 'I' for
the matter of simplicity."
shift, and she leaned against the desk with her left
hand as support. "As it is now, I need to find
out for certain whether you will not break under strain,
if you can still function, and if you are able to fulfil
the tasks that might be given you. Thus, you will be
sent to attempt getting through the SAS Selection, where
it will be ensured that you will be tested to breaking
point - and beyond. Make no mistake, Mr Krasnorada,
you will be tested." Her clear eyes rested on him,
expressionless. "If you are successful and satisfy
the requirements and thus instil the necessary trust,
you will be considered for the work that had been proposed
for a man with a military background like you, and a
leaning towards the renegade." Another pause, she
let the words sink.
eyes widened a fraction, then narrowed, to hide the
shock. Soldier. SAS. Mother and father and bastard brother
of spetsnaz. He felt curiosity, a touch of the mystique.
Tested. Useful. The words impacted on his mind, and
he could feel responses build inside him, responses
that had nothing to do with the leaden tiredness that
bound every muscle in place as if to mock the thing
he had been. Impossible. Work for the Brits, in a military
capacity. That was the closest he had ever got to treason.
are no longer KGB. Vympel. Spetsnaz. One big, gigantic
waste of time and money and effort now. His jaw muscles
tensed as he bit down on the bitterness. If he passed
the test, he could do things he was good at. Things
that didn't require much more than what he could do.
Had done for ages. Had been good at.
Baroness' voice cut through his thoughts. "I might
need another man who is able to act as alpha wolf without
backup from the pack. This is why, Mr Krasnorada, I
want you to truly understand what your side of the deal
will be and I want you to ask questions if you do not
believe you understand." Silence, she waited, looking
at him, allowing the time and pause to speak.
Return to being a soldier. Whom was he kidding? He could
never be a civilian. And never again serve the Soviet
Union. The bleeding, dismembered corpse that was something
else now, something he didn't understand. He had served
the Russian people. They required him no longer.
wanted to make one reservation. Never against his own
people. But they wouldn't be that stupid. He nodded.
"You need to understand, I was
part of the
Interior Ministry. We were under their command."
know." No need for explanation. No 'I read your
file', no nothing. Two simple words. "And you need
to understand that especially this, which could now
be construed as your weakness, will be tested. Interrogation,
confinement. Let alone physical fitness. Those men will
be out for your blood. You are forty-one, the ones you
are competing against might be twenty years younger.
Even if you successfully pass the physical tests, your
mental stability will have to be examined. Again and
again, and they will be out to break you." Another
pause, never a change in inflexion and tone.
He did the numbers. Correct. He was mildly astonished.
Somehow, life had just gone on without him. He remembered
the Colonel, hard as rock, the fucking bastard, what,
mid-forties? Back when he had been captain, and later
major. Long ago. Compete. The word made his face twitch.
Ridiculous. The odds were ridiculous. He was almost
used up, how much could there be left? Only to fail
again? Ridicule and hostility and
you are deemed useful, my part of the deal is a passport,
British citizenship, and the chance to meet and possibly
work with Dan McFadyen. If you are not successful, I
will personally ensure that you gain a permanent permit
to stay in the UK and permission to work, but no passport.
You will have a job, a place to live, and you will never
again have any contact with anything or anyone military."
Silence, allowing him time to truly grasp what she was
saying between the lines.
she had said one crucial thing. Work with Dan. Get a
chance to maybe tell him. Talk. The one unfinished business
he had to take care off. He'd jump through hoops and
do absolutely anything to accept the consequences of
what he'd done. He owed Dan at least the truth. Nevermind
a quarter million pounds.
you understand what I am offering you, Mr Krasnorada?"
groaned and closed his eyes. Could feel that protective
layer slip away. There was always the bullet. Always
the way out. A life. Or Dan. Civilian, or soldier. Dan.
Dan still was. Dan could do it with his fucked knees,
and fucked hand. How difficult could it be? Might not
be the strongest, or the fastest of the lot, but he'd
actually seen combat. Survived on his guts.
you. He kept his lips pressed together. Interrogation.
Stress. He didn't want to face that. He didn't want
to break and cry like a lost child. Didn't
mind's fucking you again, Vadim, he thought. Nothing
has happened yet. It's an offer - you try, and are rewarded
either way. That is the most generous deal anybody has
ever offered you. He nodded, silently, then inhaled.
"I will have time to prepare for the test, yes?"
Running, diet, weight lifting, push-ups. Part of him
already adjusted. Knew what he would have to do to succeed,
work on a plan. The last complex thought had been how
to get her to meet him.
of course." Somehow her voice seemed to soften
a little. "This is not a punishment, Mr Krasnorada,
this is a deal. A deal as fair as I can make it, for
both of us." Her hand moved slowly along the marbled
surface of the desk before returning to her lap.
weeks to train at the Royal Marines training centre,
then on towards the SAS training camp in Hereford for
the first part of selection. If you succeed, you will
go on to two further stages, and after that
remains to be seen."
Marines. SAS. If they even had an inkling of an idea
what he was - had been - they'd rip him apart. He was
glad that he didn't have to stand. Four weeks. He could
trust his body to get back into shape, enough so he
would have a fighting chance. Just a chance to not be
exposed as a fool. He nodded. Always another way. There
was no better option. There was no option at all if
he ever wanted to have a life again.
took a breath, her smooth flow of words was stalled
for a moment. "It is not my place to interfere
with affairs that are not mine." She looked at
him with increased intensity, "but I feel it necessary
to ensure that a friend close to me is not going to
be hurt unnecessarily any more. I assume you are able
to ascertain what I am saying? I might understand your
motives, the reasons behind your actions, and realise
that it seemed at the time the only option, but I want
you to understand in return the effect it had on this
friend of mine. Do you agree that you require to know?"
English appeared to grow more complex, and he was almost
guessing what she was saying. He had to understand how
much he had hurt Dan? Now comes the punishment part,
he thought. He looked at her, tried to meet that gaze
again. It's enough, too much already, he thought. He
had no words to justify it, no words to apologise, or
explain. Futile, even thinking about it. Those were
facts. He had run away.
to meet the man who Dan loves.
honour now. "Yes, I ... require to know",
straightened and nodded. There was a long pause, a silence
fit for a barrage of words, but she did nothing of that
ilk, just looked at him.
loves you and always will, but he is too broken right
now to see it." She began to move away from the
desk. "If you do pass the tests, then make him
turned and continued to walk out of the room where the
aide was waiting.
took that with an unmoved face. Too broken right
now to see it. It was the worst blow, somehow, and
with that, he was dismissed.
and dismissed. Left with a scrap of hope. Mercy.
could feel his chest burn like from a long, exhausting
swim, the one discipline he had loved and had never
been fast enough for. Exhausted. His shoulders ran out
of strength, and he leaned forward to cover his face
in his hands. Closed his eyes, hoped there was nobody
to see this, then again, cameras had already taken everything
else from him.
some time, he came up, inhaling sharply, deeply, like
a man who had just escaped drowning. Stood, wanted to
run and had no strength left to do it. He'd made a decision,
he'd follow through with it. As much as it scared him.
You deserve more. The feeling of obligation was bad,
a bad thing to carry around. Nothing that gave him strength,
only limited what he could inflict on what self-respect
he had left. Maybe he could tell Dan why, at least that.
What Moscow had achieved that Kabul had never managed.
that there should be a knock on the panelled doors,
but there was, and they opened slowly, long after Vadim
had stood back up. "Sir?" it was the aide,
perfectly mannered, "there are two gentlemen to
gentlemen, indeed. Two men in uniform, and green berets.
Royal Marines, at least not Military Police.
had to have known that he was going to accept the deal.
She had to have had faith in him.
was being escorted out of the room. Few words exchanged,
no necessity to indulge in pleasantries. The two Marines
were taking him straight from the office towards the
front of the building, where a vehicle was waiting.
was ushered inside the car, taken to the airport and
onto the next flight to Britain, the necessary papers
already waiting in the aircraft.
baggage', one way to allow a stateless former Soviet
Army Spetsnaz officer without passport nor affiliation
to enter the United Kingdom.
in the plane, Vadim kept watching his hands, head bowed,
elbows on his thighs, hands loosely folded. The sounds
and smells of the aircraft. Different from the Hinds,
of course, nothing quite like the beloved 'hunchback',
the closest approximation of man's dream to cross a
magical horse with a flying carpet, and tool of deliverance
in the wastelands. And of revenge.
kept his breath steady, remembered the Hinds over Afghanistan,
remembered the paras, comrades getting ready to cut
lines of support, take out convoys of the enemy out
in the wilderness. Remembered himself clutching a rifle,
ready to fight. He closed his eyes and rested his head
against the back of the seat. Now that all decisions
were made, he could rest. Sometimes he thought he had
never needed rest. Ten years ago, he had hardly ever
slept. A different man.
loves you and always will, but he is too broken right
now to see it.
He couldn't think about it. That hurt, that hurt badly,
and it didn't make any sense right now. Nothing of it
did. It seemed paradox, and he had dropped out of philosophy
classes because he found it hard to battle problems
that had no solution. He crossed his arms in front of
his chest and willed himself to relax. And sleep.
plane eventually landed near Lympstone, South Devon,
the Commando Training Centre. To Vadim a place like
any other, and the first camp he'd ever been to in Britain.
Once an enemy, and now?
was taken out, made to wait while papers were sorted
in the guard room, an armed guard standing beside him.
It seemed to take a suspiciously short while, as if
they had known he was going to arrive. Then a different
man appeared, a new face amongst unknown ones, gesturing
to the guard to get back to his position.
Krasnorada, follow me to the medical centre for your
initial check-up. We have been waiting for you."
He'd said it. They had known. Seemed the lady had had
more faith than she had let on.
watched, then turned to look who was following, didn't
think they would. But used to having handlers around
him. He nodded to the man, following. Couldn't help
studying the place, lines of sight, state of the buildings,
uniforms, gear. Took in all the information, felt how
his brain returned to processing all the data, mulling
it through and storing it away at the same time.
name sounded strange spoken in English, he kept thinking
that. He'd always feel strange, never at home. Never
again at home. She had arranged all this, and it seemed
like a processing line, people that would work on him,
many against him, probably most, and in the end
only thing of this strange country that he knew apart
from the language.
was treated with a pronounced disinterest that appeared
studied. Lack of curiosity, just British laxity or deliberate
attitude? He was being glanced at by some young recruits
that were passing as they marched in a straight line,
getting drilled into perfect tin soldiers.
Provo Sergeant was taking him past the NAAFI shop to
a bungalow towards the East of the camp, a plaque announcing
it housed the medical centre. Letting him inside, he
spoke a few quiet words with a nurse, who looked fresh
and far too young in her starched uniform. She nodded,
left the room, to return a moment later with the announcement
that the Medical Officer in charge was ready to see
the newcomer, and that he requested to see him alone.
Provost raised his brows but refrained from questioning
the superior's decision. Officer was Officer, commissioned
by the Crown. He gestured for Vadim to step into the
examination room. "You will be given your clothes
glanced at the Provost, not sure about protocol, assumed
it was strange or different, then nodded. Clothes. That
should mean sports kit.
room itself was as uninspiring as any medical centre's
room could ever be. White. Plastic chair, table. Steel
instruments, grey linoleum floor and partially tiled
walls, the rest painted in the obligatory MoD magnolia
white. Skeleton, charts and medical books on a wooden
shelf in a corner. A desk, a chair in front, and a thin,
grey-haired man in his early fifties behind it. Glancing
up over rimless spectacles. One hand on a very thick
file on his desk, the other indicating the plastic chair.
eyes slipped off the tiles, didn't like tiles, and knew
too many reasons why. Quick glance over the other man,
then his eyes rested for a moment on the file. Now,
that would be his. Where on earth could they even find
that much medical information about him?
am Dr Williams. Please sit down."
sat down, answered that gaze, then looked again at the
file. How much could they know? How much was
there to know? "Yes sir." Sir, not comrade.
Oh, the protocol. Wrong country. Wrong army.
things first. How much English do you understand, do
you need me to speak slowly?"
competent. Weak on slang." Vadim was a little surprised
they even considered that. Speak slowly. A strange notion.
doctor nodded. "I need to check a few facts. Your
name is Vadim Petrovich Krasnorada? Tell me your service
history in the Soviet Army, your rank, number and deployments,
to the best of your memory." He opened the file.
confirmed his identity, told the short story; military
and athletic career, both one, two ways to serve, officer
academy and then, later, a full move away from sports
and into the military. He stalled for a moment before
he said the word Vympel, kept his eyes down when he
said Interior Ministry. Nothing he should be saying,
nothing he was a part of anymore. Deployments, missions,
duties. Kill the Afghan president. Prepare the country
for the invasion. Behind enemy lines, as if the fucking
enemy knew its own lines or as if those were actually
lines and not a jumble of improvised bullshit. Rattled
down the deployments, Afghanistan was one haze of heat,
hard to remember it all, he did remember meeting Dan,
remembered the need and the rare encounters. Forced
his mind back. Debriefed his life. Some model soldier's
life. What medals he got and why. That one was easy.
He remembered the official praise and paraphrased it.
Valour. Above and beyond. How he'd climbed the ranks.
Insanely high ranks in spetsnaz. Major.
listened to himself and thought he should be proud,
confident. Long list of achievements. Disgraced and
kicked out of a crumbling place, with barely his body
intact. No alternatives, no options, no way out. He
thought he'd give it all to still have Katya and the
children. Still have Dan. He fell silent, all that felt
meaningless, children's games, pompous titles and strange
adventures in a wild and strange dream land.
Medical Officer was listening attentively, sometimes
ticking an item off on the file, then turning a page,
listening once more, occasionally writing in the margins
and making notes, adding and verifying. Finally, when
Vadim finished, he looked back up, nodding.
Major Krasnorada, you have had a most distinguished
military career." The doctor gave respect where
respect was due, even though it could only last a moment.
Major was once, now nevermore.
you can see, we have a fairly substantial file on you.
Our agencies have been busy and understandably so."
He spoke distinctly, easy to follow. "Rest assured,
some of what is in this file is entirely confidential
and only accessible to me or another Medical Officer
should you be transferred. We are under the Oath of
Hippocrates, as you might now. Thus some of the information
I have access to and, consequently, questions that I
will ask later will remain between you and me in my
capacity as Medical Officer in charge of your health."
He pointed to a separate file, secured in an opened
didn't trust the oath. Everything committed to paper
was a potential trap. As long as ranks and authorities
were involved, a potentially deadly trap. And the thing
that sat on the desk in front of the medical officer
looked like a whole field of landmines. The bridges
behind him had long since burnt, and before him: this.
His eyes trailed to the separate file, the one that
might be even more dangerous. He had no idea how they
could have amassed so much information. It seemed unlikely
that the Ministry had given them all this. But if they
had, he was as naked as he could possibly be. He nodded,
confirming he had understood. Hoped it looked like acceptance.
Nothing he could do about it, but it struck him in all
the wrong ways.
need to verify occurrences after you were taken and
charged by the KGB. You must understand that while the
physical examination will bring much to light, we need
to assure ourselves of your mental stability."
The doctor paused, turning another page in the file.
Another page, for Vadim, another life, and the end of
everything he had known.
The word Manke had used. Mental stability. Vadim didn't
feel strong, knew he was much worse for wear, worse
than in Afghanistan. There, at least, he had been part
of something. Belonged. Lead. Had something to work
for. His family. Dan. Home. The rush to fight, to kill,
to survive, get drunk, get laid. All of this was gone
now, and he didn't even have the strength to miss it.
probably thought your training was bad, he could
hear the KGB officer say. They were only testing
the machine, then. But I will understand how the parts
work. And putting it back together is not, repeat, not
a factor in this. Do you understand?
nodded again, but his mouth was dry. That was it. He
felt like a bag of disassembled parts. Pieces of something
more complex, more fragile and less reliable than an
AK-47, scattered around in the dirt, and in pitch darkness.
me, what was done to you during imprisonment. Physical
and mental interrogation techniques? Mode of incarceration?"
The doctor adjusted his glasses, the look on his face
neutral. "I am not here to force you through a
trauma, remembering. I am here because I need to know."
complete terror and despair defied words. Impossible.
Vadim wanted to get up and walk out. Knew that that
was a common response. Shame, fear.
first, they warmed me up." Preliminary beatings.
was beaten by a group of men." And kicked. Punched.
Face, groin, ribs. Concrete floor, cold and wet. Tied
were instructed to be hard on me."
the spetsnaz. Those dogs can take pain.
session. Build rapport with the prisoner. Ask him whether
he's uncomfortable. Establish the rules." He could
feel everything drain from his voice, his face was cold.
was told I would be charged with treason and told to
sign a confession. It was untrue, and I didn't. Treason
means execution." He inhaled. "Then they became
unpleasant. Started to play
mindgames. Told me
they could make it easy, or not. All my decision. They
would walk out with the confession, no other option."
He looked at his hands and could see they had become
they tried to break my pride." And they did, eventually.
man knew me well. Knew too much. Used it all. I
was then put under strain, sensory deprivation, sleep
deprivation, interrupted by beatings. I was disoriented.
I was cold." He paused, then understood the doctor
might not know what all this meant, what the procedure
was. "That was in the Lubyanka. That's the KGB
prison in Moscow. They told me I wouldn't be kept with
other prisoners." Because I would enjoy
that too much. The shower, the knife fights.
vanished in a hole. Nothing in there, just managed to
lie down. Couldn't hear or see a thing. I don't know
how long that lasted. Solitary confinement. I was talking
to myself a lot." Singing. Remembering. Speaking
to dead people, dead soldiers, dead family members,
people that never existed. Going insane, knowing it,
feeling concentration slip away. Remembering Afghanistan.
Dan. Remembering everything, every kiss, every bite,
every glint from a blade. Using up his mind, using up
the memories, sucking them dry to not die of thirst,
until they were pale. Until I thought I could no longer
remember what sun on skin tasted like. Everything was
darkness and concrete, including my body and soul.
think my ribs healed in that time." Purely mechanical
tensing of muscles, thoughts of having to be able to
move, maybe fight, when they came. If they came. The
fear they had forgotten him. The only acknowledgement
from outside was the food. Not a word. No way to measure
time. Lost track of time every time he tried.
have no idea when I signed, but I did." Vadim swallowed.
"That was the hard part. I was transferred out
of the Lubyanka. The trial was complicated."
was fairly sure he hadn't collaborated, but had had
a carnal relationship with a man called Dan. Hard to
remember his smell or what it felt like. Had been asked
about dishonourable conduct. Had denied it. Had been
asked whether he had had sex with a man. Had admitted
that. Nothing dishonourable about it. He was pretty
sure he had remained adamant about that. Nothing shameful
told me I'd get executed for treason." And the
relief. The sheer, sweet, blissful relief. He had been
had a visitor. My father. It wasn't easy." How
old the man had become, how easily he cried, how he
had tried to keep the accusations away, but they were
in every movement. Treason. KGB cleaning out house.
How things had gotten so much worse, things happened
in Moscow, bad things, inflation, nobody knew what was
happening, treason, the KGB had mocked him for bringing
up a degenerate that took it up the ass from an enemy.
Vadim could picture that, but all his father had said
was whether the KGB had told him the truth. Yes, they
had. Those were facts. His father couldn't understand
that, but touched his hands and cried. Execution was
the fairytale. Brave effort, so useless, so human. At
least Dan had survived. Told his father he wouldn't
suffer, and it was true. Dying was easy, living was
hard. Reduced the old man to tears again, felt embarrassed
because he knew the bastards were watching, eager for
blood. Told his father to go home. Washed, shaved, then
waited for execution.
should have died in Afghanistan. What point was there
to come back. Tin coffins were a much cleaner option.
Better men than he had died. He was sure the KGB shared
brought me into a tiled room, made to kneel in the centre.
The doctor was so drunk he could hardly stand."
And I only hoped he'd be sober enough to be able to
tell death from life, that was his only job. The official
was there, looking disdainful, like he considered it
all to be a complete waste of his time.
was waiting and had my hands tied, and then he
an envelope out of his pocket and opened it, unfolded
a piece of paper. While I was sweating like an animal
and felt my body panic. Thought I would throw up. Leaving
this life like that, throwing up. He stepped close,
the paper in his hand, and dropped it in front of me,
stepped back, looked at me. I bent down and read what
was written. Execution aborted. Weeks ago. A retrial
for lack of evidence.
told me there was a retrial. I was brought back."
then threw up in my cell.
execution. It didn't make sense to do that. It was about
how much they despised me."
facing death like a spetsnaz. He wished he could have,
but he was just an animal scared of death. One life,
nothing after that. He just couldn't believe there was
anything, any sense, rhyme or reason.
swallowed, looked at the doctor. "They kept me
in solitary prior to the trial. Told me it wouldn't
make a difference. I believed them. I wanted it to be
and done with, with no memories left to keep him sane.
hadn't been able to follow most of the re-trial's proceedings.
Too complicated, too convoluted, he was too tired and
exhausted after being brought in. People were shouting
and interrupting each other, and he was answering questions.
Often, he couldn't remember. Just simply couldn't remember.
he was a degenerate. But not a traitor. He could remember
moments when he had wondered whether he could leave
and go away and be something else, but the Russian people.
They deserved better. They deserved his love and loyalty
and service. He thought he said as much while being
questioned by the judge. Lots of noise from the onlookers
at that. He was accused of manipulation. Nothing manipulative
about it. He had long ago stopped doing things for orders
and superiors. Knew the only good thing about Russia
were her people. Stuck to it. Last bit to cling to.
Owed himself that much. The only thing left in his weakened
thing he knew, two years sentence for dishonourable
conduct and what amounted to corruption. Wasteful management
of resources. They made him responsible for every rifle
that failed to show up between being brought in to Afghanistan,
and being pulled out. How ironic. They had made those
two accusations stick. On top of deviant sexual behaviour.
back to prison, dishonourable discharge, no pension,
no bonuses, his military career wiped out, no rank.
A disgraced former henchman. He knew the real criminals
in prison would like that a lot.
transport got diverted, they drove a long time, first
by car, then train to St Petersburg, then car again,
and he never arrived in prison. Instead, he was made
to step out in the snow, and told to walk to that gas
much open space around him. It was cold.
he didn't argue.
Medical Officer had sat throughout and listened with
patience. Not a single interruption. Nothing except
neutrality. Calm, steady, making notes and moving paper
with faint rustling noises. He waited a long while in
silence until he finally nodded. "I have information
about the re-trial in the confidential file."
sordid details and accusations. Russia was no longer
ruled by the KGB, but run by corruption. The doctor's
hand rested on the additional folder. "You were
let out close to the Finnish border on 24th December
1990. Three months ago. I have information on your whereabouts
in Sweden and we were able to verify the details."
nodded. He wondered whether Manke knew, whether they
had called him. And the Russian teacher. And everybody
else he had spoken to. Good, swift, clean work. Took
only a few phone calls, but still.
Officer closed the main file, pulled the confidential
one on top. "You are an extraordinary case for
the British Forces, but you will be treated the same
way as everyone else. Consider yourself a new recruit
regarding the examinations." He gestured to an
adjacent door. "Go and take a shower, you will
find everything necessary there. Leave your clothing
nodded again, vaguely relieved it hadn't been that bad,
up to now at least. Recruit. That meant physical examination.
Well. Yes. He didn't look forward to it, but he'd been
there before. More than once. Nothing in the man's face
or eyes or posture spoke of disgust. Not even compassion.
Vadim wasn't sure which of the two would have been worse.
doctor pointed to a glass vessel. "Make sure to
hand a urine sample in before the shower." With
that Vadim was dismissed for now, and the Officer stood
up to gather the instruments to be ready when he returned.
a while since Vadim had pissed into a glass vial. Paused
for a moment, wondered about the stuff that had been
injected into his body, all the nice cocktails, from
the 'vitamins' during his first career to the entirely
self-inflicted stuff he'd used to bulk up, and then
the stuff that was supposed to be 'medicine' but that
made him dizzy and blurred his speech. Well, that last
bit had clearly not been recreational.
stripped, stepped into the shower, shower gel, hot water,
plenty of it. Couldn't quite relax or enjoy this, but
kept the thoughts away. Towelled himself down. Was aware
of the scars on his back that would stand out in white
against the reddening skin. Did the man speak Russian?
it matter? He found a razor and shaved. His hair was
too long, he felt dishevelled, hoped for the buzzcut,
hoped to get them to shave it even shorter than what
he'd seen so far. Hair too short to grab him by. Long
hair is for bitches. He remembered laughing at that,
once. Towelled his feet, stepped into a pair of flip-flops,
and left everything on a pile. The clothes he'd worn
in Sweden, the towel. Left the shower again, felt the
cooler air hit his skin. Fresh.
Officer looked up from sorting his instruments. Surprise
clearly written across his face at the sight of the
stark naked man. Caught himself, gestured for Vadim
to come closer to the examination table and to sit down
certainly efficient." He remarked dryly, seemed
he'd never encountered anyone before who hadn't come
back out with the towel or at least a hand covering
didn't understand at first, but when he did, he lowered
his gaze. A life in sports and communal showers. Now
that he mentioned it, it was embarrassing that he didn't
feel embarrassed. Everything was so complicated. First
going through the usual tests. Lung function, reaction
speed, ears, nose, throat check. The dentist will take
care of the teeth later. Blood for tests including STDs
and HIV and other infectious diseases. An assortment
of jabs, genital and rectal examination, and in addition
a tissue sample for substance tests." He waited
for Vadim to sit down.
went over the list in his head. His lungs were first
class. Capacity far above average. Reaction speed solid,
never any trouble with his senses. The teeth were alright
apart from two splintered molars from a few fights.
Two crowns kept them together. HIV. That AIDS thing.
He'd never much thought about it, he knew Dan had, but
that stuff happened to other people. And it was more
likely when he did things that he usually didn't. Swallow.
Take it. He didn't. And Dan was clean, mostly for lack
of opportunity and maybe brazen balls to take what he
wanted from anybody else. Or did he? He assumed there
were no other encounters. But what did he actually know?
Substances. Well. He might actually find out what the
KGB had injected. Something to soften him up.
I want to check the scars and epidermis."
nodded. His skin. Too tender, too scarred, and too easy
to burn. The whole story written on his surface. The
torture, the cutting - and why did he never consider
the scars part of the torture? - the dust that had settled
in the old sunburns and scarred him more subtly. Afghanistan
had hated him, and that feeling was entirely mutual.
Officer began the examination. Making notes on a clip
board. Checking out the round scar in the hollow of
Vadim's throat, then worked his way along the body.
Noting down the numerous sun burns that had gone more
than skin deep. His expression never changed, his professional
efficiency never wavered. It was obvious that he had
been on active service, seen the battlefield and dealt
with injuries that no civilian could imagine. He started
to check out the back, and even though Vadim could not
see it, there was no change in his mien. Working his
fingers along some of the pronounced ridges of the cutting
on the lower back. The touches felt neutral, and Vadim
only briefly tensed when the man touched the word on
am not too happy with several of the scars. The tissue
has hardened and cracked in places, I can see they are
quite old and partially neglected. That needs to get
sorted first of all." The Officer turned to the
desk and made a note on another pad, before looking
at Vadim. "While you are in camp, the nurse will
apply a salve every morning after breakfast. Be in the
medical centre at 0730 hrs. You should continue with
the treatment indefinitely, whenever you can."
Reaching for the stethoscope, "I appreciate that
some places are difficult to reach, perhaps you will
find someone to assist."
did raise an eyebrow, finding with a hint of surprise
that irony had survived the KGB cellar, and bit back
a comment to the end of that being a terrific pickup
line. 'Want to oil my scars? I've got a nice one right
down there. The doctor said I need help'. He shook his
head and pushed the thought aside. He'd make do. Always
had. "Yes, sir." Nice and simple order, one
ritual, one fixed point established.
The Officer nodded, made another note and pushed his
hand into Vadim's muscles, pulling skin taut between
fingers and working his way in this manner up the arms,
across the shoulders, down pectorals and abdomen. "Muscle
atrophy, but beginning to recover." A couple more
notes, before fixing the stethoscope to his ears. "I
will hand a diet plan to the Mess chef. You require
an abundance of protein and additional vitamins. The
wastage had been fairly substantial, but the last few
weeks seem to have put some substance back. Five meals
a day, at least. I will see that it is timetabled into
had known that, but the word sounded bad, spoken aloud.
Atrophy. He had withered away. Deeply narcissistic personality,
Konstantinov had said. He was mute, merely nodded. Back
to eating like there was no tomorrow. Eggs, meat, lots
of good stuff, just to keep the machine running, the
harder he worked, the more fuel he needed to stuff down.
Beef jerky. Some people swore by it. Nuts.
the cool metal onto Vadim's chest, the doctor looked
down at the stethoscope. "Breathe deeply."
Thoroughly checking out lung function and ending this
part of the examination with a satisfied nod. "Very
good." The note in the file was short, no need
for further examination. Another instrument from the
table and then he stepped close, looking at Vadim's
face. "Eyes right ahead." Working through
an examination of eyes, nose, ears and throat. He took
his time, but was immensely efficient.
for the blood tests."
offered his left arm. "That vein likes rolling."
A nightmare with a nervous nurse. One of the afghankas
had nearly suffered a nervous breakdown after five attempts
to pin that vein.
watched his blood fill the plastic tubes, colour coded,
thought it looked fairly dark, what a stark red in this
place, hand was a lose fist, kept alternating pressing
and releasing it. He looked into the man's face, wondered
about his emotions, maybe conclusions, found himself
wondering about somebody again. Shouldn't. That file
held enough information to destroy him. Make him or
destroy him. And despite the evidence, he could trust
nobody. If this man decided he wasn't fit to go through
this, it would all be over. He needed to succeed, but
it was not in his hands. Control issues. Another term
of the KGB. They had skinned his mind and shown him
what lay underneath. Nothing of that had been particularly
pretty. Kept silent, but did wonder. Wondered about
why a man would join the army as a medic. To kill, yes,
but to mend? Why?
tube was filled after the other, carefully labelled
and placed into a stacking holder. Calling the nurse
from another room, the Officer handed the vials over
without a word, since she already had her instructions.
Some of the tests would take a few days, but no reason
not to start the training straight away.
reaction tests, the small hammer came down every time
on the perfect point, and this note, too, remained short,
and so was the brief nod. "Good." The medic's
glance fell onto Vadim's feet, taking each in turn between
his hands and checking ankle bone, heel, instep and
each joint. Glancing up over his spectacles while pushing
his thumb into the ball of the foot, bones moving beneath.
"Do you ever experience pain when walking?"
Those feet were obviously worn, but something seemed
to have caught his attention.
wanted to draw in his toes; thought of the other examination,
just a few months that he nearly lost some bits and
pieces there. Losing toes fucks up the ability to run.
Even so, they looked everything but pretty. Just what
too much walking in combat boots, the whole para business,
the mountains and then everything else had done to his
feet. "After about sixty kilometres or so",
he murmured. "Depends on the terrain."
did draw a reaction, a short, immensely dry laugh. "Forty
miles? Most soldiers half your age wish they could say
is a big country. Plenty of walking." Oh, he had
loved his forced marches. Vadim smirked, oddly pleased
to have drawn a reaction.
quick note, then reaching for the box with rubber gloves.
"Stand up and cough when I tell you." Waiting
for Vadim to comply while the glove was pushed onto
his right hand.
stood, looked straight at the wall opposite. Nothing
personal, just a touch from a rubber glove. Like the
touch from the stethoscope disk. He coughed, obediently.
The hint of irony grew in his mind. Now, bend over.
Just glad his antics had never lead to any injuries
there - but they had to know that about him, the fact
he had sex with men. Had had. Been a while.
Officer was as thorough in checking the genitals as
with anything else. "Good." Examination done,
another note. Nothing abnormal. "Turn around and
bend over. Try to relax." No inflexion in his voice,
it seemed to make no difference to him if he knew that
a man had had anal sex or if he wasn't aware. What difference
did it make? To all intents and purposes, each of the
recruits he had examined could have had a penis inside
the rectum. Or a finger, or fist, or a foreign object.
He'd been a subscriber of "The Lancet" for
too many years to be surprised by anything.
lube onto his fingers while Vadim turned, he didn't
show even the mildest interest in any of this. Bodies
were bodies. He treated them all alike. Movements economical
but smooth, the intrusion efficient. Checking the prostate
and colon, pausing for a moment while pushing the other
hand onto the abdomen. Pressure points meeting inside
and out. "I need a tissue sample." Explaining
what he was doing came automatic by now. Had found it
helped the examination.
still closed his eyes. If anything, it was unpleasant,
but he still relaxed. He could do that, that was easy.
Could feel both hands move and prod, pressure, the man
was strong. Tissue sample. Whatever. Just the fact the
man knew what he did, had done, the fact he knew about
it and there was no denying, no smoke screen, no marriage
in his papers to protect him, to make that thing unlikely.
He could feel his stomach tense, breath halted while
this was going on.
behind Vadim, but the finger did not leave the rectum.
"There will be a short pain, try not to get startled."
Wouldn't do to have the examinee jump all of a sudden.
Cool steel taking the place of the finger, an almost
seamless exchange, and the sensation of moderate stretching.
in Vadim's face. He actually blushed. Oh fuck. He wasn't
eighteen anymore. He had seen conscripts faint when
they carried their blood samples to the next stage in
the mustering. Perfectly human, perfectly normal. He
was capable of more responses than he had thought he
moment." The doctor's voice again. A few seconds
before the sample was taken, a swift snip, too negligible
to cause bleeding. Another second and the instrument
slid out as well. "Done."
was that. So easy, just a job like many others. Sample
labelled and enclosed in a tube, ready for the nurse.
"You can get dressed. A pile of clothes is on the
chair in the corner." The glove taken off, thrown
away, then water and soap, washing hands. "Come
and sit back down when you're dressed. I want to have
a word with you before you see the dentist."
breathed again, stayed turned away to give his skin
the chance to unflush. Shouldn't have flustered him
so much. He didn't want to show that it had affected
him like this. Got dressed in the sports kit that lay
there, neatly folded, it fitted, of course, and he wondered
what that 'word' would entail. But if he had failed,
there was no reason to send him on to the dentist. Everything
was about repairing the damage, and assessing how much
was left. How much of a special forces soldier remained.
felt his scalp crawl but refrained from scratching or
rubbing it. Gathered himself, forced himself to focus,
be awake and responsive. Sat down and looked at the
Officer nodded at him, a hand on the now closed file.
"It looks good so far. Obviously the results of
the blood tests are not available yet, but I am satisfied
with the state of your body. Remarkable for the amount
of abuse it has taken." He paused, "I will
recommend that the training is started straight away.
You will struggle more with regaining endurance than
strength, but the basis is there."
both folders to the side, confidential and official,
then folding his hands. "Do you have any questions?"
inhaled deeply, deeper than he had dared to breathe
for a long time. He looked at the folders, then back
to the man. Had, absurdly, begun to trust him, maybe.
He didn't expect anything cruel from him, anything volatile,
and that meant there was something that he could feel.
Liked the doctor in his businesslike way. Always good
to have professionals around. He thought about the question,
assumed it was more than formality.
realistic is it? Realistic enough for them to give him
a shot. His age. He remembered the major, back before
they had stormed that house. That man would be absolutely
lethal at fifty or sixty. "No, sir. It was perfectly
then I will only give you one word of advice, before
you're dismissed." The Officer stalled, hand moving
on top of the folder, "since I have obviously read
your confidential file," hand moved to the specs,
took them off and rubbed over his eyes. "I am aware
that this advice is most probably superfluous, but I
give it to you anyway. Your homosexuality is confidential
right now. Keep it that way."
Majesty's Armed Forces. Exempt from the Sexual Offences
Act, no decriminalisation of homosexuality. Illegal.
Unwanted. Court, trial and Administrative Discharge.
doctor nodded, "As I am sure you will."
inhaled again, kept the breath inside his chest. Fucking
model soldier, apart from that one flaw.
are a smart man, well above average. But what you fail
to understand is that you have been victimized. The
glanced up to meet the KGB officer's eye. They had dug
deep, and they knew about it. After all the other unpleasant
surprises, they couldn't have harmed the old man. Couldn't.
He wanted to ask whether the man was alive or free or
both, but he couldn't betray that much interest. It
would harm them both.
assume you were plied with what you mistook as affection."
Konstantinov folded his hands. "He probably told
you you were something special. These predators can
wear many masks. But that strategy would work best with
your deeply narcissistic personality."
voice wavered between 'you are to blame for a fair part
of that' and 'you poor bastard' and neither sounded
genuine. Vadim tensed, could feel the words slip under
his skin like parasites. Predator. Special. A poisonous
mix of truth and lies. How could it matter anyway. More
than twenty years ago. In a world where people were
more interested in his weight, height, body fat and
his best times of the week, one person had actually
touched him. Plied with affection. What an ugly way
to speak about desire and trust.
you would fall victim to a man like that - one who abuses
his position of trust to satisfy his appalling urges."
Konstantinov shook his head. "The most disgusting
thing is what he did to your mind. No doubt telling
you this twisted thing was completely acceptable. Understandable,
again. That is the way the human mind protects itself.
We assume that we had control over an incident and blame
ourselves if it was an adverse experience. Sometimes,
we convince ourselves that is was not negative at all.
In the words of the famous German philosopher: What
doesn't kill us
KGB officer smiled. "You fell victim to a paedophile,
the lowliest form of sexual predator. We can only guess
how many boys he abused. But we can study the consequences
very well on you. You have become a predator as well,
seeking your pleasure in the pain and weakness of others.
It's his fault. He taught you these things. And you
were too weak to not follow his example. This will stop.
with affection. All lies. Everybody lied. One to torture
him, the other to fuck him without resistance. All lies,
all subterfuge and manipulation, and the thing he'd
had with Dan as dead as the obsession. Vadim looked
to the side, felt raw and pained inside, felt dirty
and used and brainwashed and didn't know what he felt.
Or could even feel. If he could only have been the man
swallowed hard, could feel his mind shift, as
intense as a hallucination. He blinked and looked at
the doctor. "I
didn't plan to
in any kind of
Officer looked up, surprise in his face. "I don't
understand?" Placing the specs back onto the bridge
of his nose. "Surely one's sexuality is not a matter
closed his eyes. The things he couldn't do. And the
things he could. The KGB officer had believed it was
something he had learnt. Been trained to respond to.
Been deluded into believing that was okay.
always a decision", Vadim said, voice without any
depth. "I can decide to leave it." Mind over
matter. It had been a while since he had felt any real
desire. It had gone stale and sour like blood in a corpse.
"That means, I haven't
" Oh fuck, did
he have to tell him that? "Engaged in any
homosexual activity in the recent past."
decision?" The Officer pondered the statement,
a slight nod and definite interest. "In a way,
perhaps, but leaving one's nature? It will find ways
to make itself known. A medical fact, and facts is what
I am interested in." Silence, the hand wandered
back on top of the files. "I studied your file.
I know what you were accused of and with whom."
Pause, "it is none of my business if you have or
if you have not engaged in active or passive homosexual
activities. You are not a member of the British Forces
and never will be. Your sexuality is yours, as long
as you keep it private."
are a predator, just like the man who poisoned you.
We will not place you in general custody with the others.
Chances are you will enjoy it too much. And you can
be sure that you will never again be in any position
of authority or trust with any Soviet citizen or soldier.
We can only guess what you did to your male child. Why
your token wife left you.
felt the pain constrict his throat. "It's a decision",
he repeated. "That means
control." Unlike Kabul. Unlike whole fucking Afghanistan.
Unlike every day and night in the fucking Soviet Army,
getting high on combat and adrenaline and the occasional
rape. Until that stopped. Dan. "Nothing to worry
about, Sir. I have
learnt the lesson." I'd
rather shoot myself in the head than touch anybody here.
am not worried." Calmly, scrutinising, the doctor
seemed to see more than his words let on. Paused once
more until he added as an afterthought, "and your
decision is wise, as long as you are under control."
Another studying look, and then the dismissal. "The
dentist is waiting, and the barber. You will meet your
PT instructor after lunch in the Mess." Dismissed.
The nurse was already waiting.
nodded and got up. Felt he owed a salute, but he was
no soldier, just a hopeful piece of flotsam that had
somehow found its way here. Not even that. A Soviet
army salute was not appropriate either. He could feel
sweat under his arms, hoped he hadn't appeared like
a nervous wreck. He only hoped he could forget the interrogation
one day. The pit of darkness in his soul, and that of
Konstantinov. "Thank you, Sir."
nurse took Vadim to the dentist, who did checkups and
some work on a few instances of cavities, proof of the
neglect. Then the barber, shaving the hair in a No 2
all over. A few millimetres, giving the perfect buzz.
Then the Provo Sergeant again, waiting for him after
the nurse had given Vadim a protein shake and some vitamin
felt already tired, exhausted after all the examinations.
Remembered, took in as much as he could, grateful for
the privacy and grateful that he wasn't alone, and grateful
his head was clean and shaved again. He did exactly
what was asked, took the protein, the pills, eager to
comply to the rules that were set down. Life became
simpler again, the jumble in front of him gradually
turned into stark lines without shading. Knew he'd fall
into a routine and that was the way out, the way to
Provo took him along the edge of the parade square towards
the Sgts and WOs Mess and its half dozen rooms that
were used as transit accommodation. The room was small
and narrow, but luxury compared to a cell. A window
at the far end, along the right wall a bed, and a partition
that separated a wash basin from the rest. Along the
left side some shelves and a built-in wardrobe. There
was bed linen folded on the bed, waiting to be put on,
and a couple of towels, stacked beside the basin. A
can of shaving foam, a pack of razors, toothbrush and
paste, a fresh bar of soap and a bottle of shower gel.
Not much more a man could need.
was told that lunch was in five minutes downstairs in
the Mess, before the key to the room was handed to him.
The Provo accompanied him back downstairs, towards a
large room with a lot of silver ornaments, medals, display
cases, pictures of former glory and paintings of victories
and defeat. And a line of NCOs to be fed.
queued up with them to get his food, which looked much
better than standard fare in the Soviet Army and positively
delicious to what had kept him alive, yet didn't smell
as good as the cold marinated fresh salmon that Manke
had decided he had to try. He sat down near his minder,
concentrating on eating slowly, thoroughly, filling
up his stomach and getting calories down. Watching the
place from the corners of his eyes.
people were glancing at him while talking, but none
addressed him directly. Lunch was uneventful, the Provo
remained mostly quiet, it seemed Vadim was a non-entity
as long as he hadn't proven himself yet in something.
Perhaps in time.
after lunch Vadim was taken to the gym, where the Provo
knocked on the door of an office, then gestured him
inside before leaving. Time to meet the PT instructor.
man who walked up to Vadim stood with legs braced, arms
crossed in front of his chest and grinned. A packet
of solid muscle, strength and stamina. Condensed in
about 5'5", reaching to no more than Vadim's shoulder.
The PT instructor grinned broadly, "I'm Smudge
and I'll beast your Russian arse." Teeth gleaming
in that toothy grin. "Best get started."
met the man's eyes at the promise. Beast my ass,
he echoed inside. Just one of many. Wasn't much of a
challenge these days, anyway. Swallowed that moment
of bitterness again. Victimised. Too easy to let people
trample all over him. Just don't resist. Don't even
twitch. He'd come a long way.
straightened, drawing from his height, kept his face
even. No smile, no scowl, nothing. Wouldn't admit he
believed the man could make him throw up all that food
before dark. Fumbled around to find the bravado he had
stored away somewhere in his mind. "You are welcome
to try." Didn't feel it, didn't believe it, but
he knew this species of soldier came without pity or
grinned, oblivious to any signs of discomfort in that
Russian giant. He didn't do 'subtle' and couldn't read
between lines. What-you-see-is-what-you-get and what
Vadim would get was intensive PT of gigantic proportions.
To Smudge's mind, anyway.
will try. Trust me, mate." He laughed, appeared
to be constantly on the move, without even moving. More
energy than a rubber ball. Smudge pointed to the long
track bottoms. "Did they give you shorts? If not,
happy to go for a gentle jog in those?"
eyes flickered over the man's body, the constant motion
had a way to make him restless, and next to the man
he felt - and probably looked - like a plodding juggernaut.
He checked the laces on his shoes, and the laces that
kept the track bottoms in place, then nodded. "Perfectly
jog, my arse. Five miles for a starter. But slowly,
and Smudge would run each and every one together with
Vadim, and he'd do each and every exercise as well.
Fair was fair.
after the food Vadim felt more like resting, truth be
told. But what he felt meant absolutely nothing, and
the sooner he got back into the habit, the better. Setting
himself into motion again, he found a steady pace, one
that felt familiar, but had to slow down further when
he could feel his pulse shoot up, and cursed under his
breath. This would be hard work, much worse than he
had thought. Steady was all he managed, he had no idea
what his body could do or would do, and that made him
insecure. His body the only thing he had always really
known, and now it felt like a log of brittle wood.
the run, he was drenched in sweat, felt sick and weak,
but it was a start. Part of him felt good, right on
top of the discomfort. A good long time when his mind
had been completely empty, after he had shed the initial
worries. No fears, no second thoughts, and most of all,
no echoes and no memories. And the bliss of a hot shower.
He made his bed half-asleep, had no idea whether the
Brits did it just like the Soviet army, hadn't done
this himself for a long time, last time on some exercise.
He didn't remember, and the memory didn't sneak up on
him. He dropped into the comfort of starchy sheets,
and a proper mattress and slept without dreaming.
next morning was the first of a series of perfectly
regulated days. Not a single minute without schedule,
and most of that spent with his PT Instructor, who had
been seconded to one-to-one physical training. Smudge
was a human rubber ball and bundle of good nature, nothing
that could shift his humour, not a thing that seemed
to annoy him. Always that grin and never out of breath.
morning started at 0630 hrs, shower, washing, ablutions
and shaving, then down to breakfast in the Mess at 0700
hrs. A selection of the good old cholesterol laden British
fry-up, sausages, bacon, mountains of eggs, toasts and
fried bread, with steel canisters filed to the brim
with baked beans, grilled tomatoes, heaps of mushrooms
and hash browns. Porridge to go with it and several
cereals, coffee, tea, milk in abundance. He'd need it.
a trip to the Medical Centre where the nurse was waiting,
applying the medication to his scars. The Medical Officer
glanced in, nodded and vanished and by 0745 hrs Vadim
had to be back in the gym where Smudge was already waiting,
boxing a few rounds on one of the sand bags. The day
started with a one and a half mile run, pushed to complete
under eleven minutes, then swimming, something that
Vadim's PT Instructor did not indulge in, just watching
him do the leaps. Not once did Smudge blink at the sight
of the scars across the back. They didn't make sense
to him, except for the one: that man had been tortured
and survived the ordeal.
0900 hrs it was time to dry up and get dressed, ready
for general PT. It consisted of a couple of hours of
stretching, machines, weights, jumping and circle training.
Smudge accompanied Vadim all the way. At 1100 hrs the
cooling down session began, consisting of climbing up
ropes, hanging from others, getting from one to another
and finally jumping over hurdles and and then more stretching.
By 1200 hrs it was time for lunch.
in the gym beforehand, then back into sports gear that
consisted of polo shirt which he had to wear when in
the Mess, since collarless clothing was not allowed.
His sports kit had been chosen well, black and unobtrusive
with the best trainers that were currently on the market.
Seemed the MoD, or MI5, or
whoever else was responsible
for this - if anyone at all - had not spared the expense.
hrs brought sixty minutes of calm and the chance to
catch a few winks, before it all started again at 1400
hrs, with several rounds of boxing sand bags and sparring
in the ring. Smudge had the greatest fun, it seemed,
to try and get one over the giant Russian, laughing
when getting hit, and dancing around like a small monkey
on steroids and adrenaline. 1500 hrs time for another
round of PT, this time gentler, stretching exercises
that built up to another go at the weights, when at
1600 hrs it was time for the run. Smudge started without
additional load, five miles at first, then building
the next day to a fuller bergan and ending the week
with thirty pounds of gear in his bergan and on a ten
mile speed march.
was at the end of the week. Vadim woke up suddenly,
thought he must have been screaming because his throat
felt raw, that had to have been what woke him up, his
own scream, and he wanted to curl up and die, a desire
more wretched than throwing up in training. Not quite
there, but PT was a pain, a constant pain that was building
up. Just didn't have that kind of stamina anymore. Smudge
seemed to know exactly how far he could push him, and
always got him to do more, stretch further. He wanted
to, was desperate to succeed, but it hurt like a bitch.
Like he had been given the wrong kind of tool to do
it with. The flesh was all wrong, and the mind knew
and remembered it wasn't that hard, really.
room suffocated him, he got rid of the blanket, wet
with sweat. No surprise, but even the mattress was sweaty
and it smelled bad, the kind of unhealthy sweat that
was panic, not exertion.
sat up, brought his feet down, rubbed his face. Shit.
His mind raced around, frantic, his breath tried to
catch up, heart pounded like a raccoon trapped in a
trashcan. He stood and wiped the sweat off, stared into
the darkness. He could move in here. Nobody would beat
his mind whispered. You can never know when that door
opens and they come for you. The Brits don't do that.
You can never know whether you are dreaming or awake.
You can never know when you are safe. You are never
shook his head. Paranoia. Mind out of control, the fear
out of control. He knew it and it still affected him,
still made him scared. Light. The room was under control.
The room inside wasn't. Fuck you, Vadim, sober up. Fucking
don't freak. You are fine. You haven't been better in
long as they allow you to
shook his head again, got dressed, fiddled with the
laces, sports kit. He'd do some running. Aching muscles,
whatever, just get out of here.
know about the Hippocratic oath? I am responsible for
your health, and you can talk to me.
file. The secrets. The debriefing. Shit. But maybe that
man could help. He left the room, headed for the doctor's
quarters. Of course he knew where the man was. He'd
done his recce, part of him had stored the information,
and it just came back. Knocked on the man's door. It
was four in the morning. But he needed help.
Williams had been asleep in his quarters in the Officer's
Mess. Enjoying the spacious room and the peace and quiet,
away from social demands of an ambitious lady ex-wife.
The first knock shook him out of his slumber, the second
one made him rise, voice rough with sleep, searching
for his spectacles. "One moment, please."
He knew that no one would dare wake him if they did
not have a very valid reason. Found specs and dressing
gown, he wrapped himself in the dark blue terry cloth
garment and walked to the door, unlocking it.
he was surprised at the man who stood in the doorframe,
he did not show it, not even at 4 AM. "Good morning."
A friendly, sleepy smile.
returned that smile, felt sorry, suddenly, already felt
better, wanted to turn round and leave and let the poor
man sleep. Kidding himself.
am sorry", he said, focusing on speaking English
and not Russian, but he was sure he had screamed in
Russian. Of course. The KGB's native language.
am asking for something to help me sleep, Sir."
He stepped away from the door to appear not threatening,
when he wanted to barge right through the door to be
inside and out of sight of any potential sniper. His
neck crawled with the fear there had to be a sniper.
Must be. Was impossible not to.
that was nightmares. Should be
Yeah, right. "I hope I didn't wake anybody."
you don't know what you dreamed.
Officer cocked his head, fully awake within a few seconds,
suddenly alert. "No, don't be sorry. That's what
I'm here for." He looked behind him, back into
the room. "Wait a moment, I get the keys for the
surgery." True to his word he left the door open,
allowing a glimpse into a fairly big room with bed,
table, chairs, television, desk and a small fridge,
all nicely furnished, before he returned with the keys
in his hand.
me, if you woke anybody important with a scream you
would already know about it." Dr Williams closed
the door behind him and locked it, a drily amused smile
on his face. "Let's go and have a cup of tea while
I think about the best way of approaching the sleeping
problem." He started to walk along the corridor
and towards the back exit, inviting Vadim to come along,
who followed. "I find that tea is a good remedy
for just about everything, especially at four in the
reached the medical centre within a few minutes. "Sit
down. I'll get the kettle." The doctor's movements
when making the tea were as precise and economic as
they were during examinations. "How are you getting
on with PT?" Glancing at Vadim while pouring the
think I am getting back into it", Vadim murmured,
sitting down and watching the older man make tea.
reports that I am getting are very positive."
praise lifted Vadim's spirits, while there was the voice
that said the man was reading reports about him. Who
was writing those? And on what grounds? He should be
more careful, try harder. "That is good to hear.
I am glad." Positive. He could do it, was meeting
expectations. He felt his shoulders relax and listened
to the boiling water.
should fix the tea, that man was a senior officer. Knowing
how those had their tea had been a crucial skill at
some point in his career. No career. Homosexual officer,
what a joke. Crime. They had told him they could extend
his sentence infinitely, just for homosexual encounters
in prison. If they even let him out to meet other prisoners,
which had been more a threat than something he could
have looked forward to. There was this story about Afganets
looking out for each other, checking and making visits
in prison if they got into trouble. They had organised,
or something. But nothing towards him. Maybe it had
still stuck, the thing about treason.
can't remember what I dreamed." Vadim glanced up.
"It would be easier if I did. If I knew something
was hunting me, or I was falling. But it's all dark."
doctor nodded silently, brought milk and sugar over,
then the cups of tea over. One placed in front of Vadim,
the other on his side of the desk. He sat down, quietly
adding sugar to his tea while creating the special atmosphere
of doctor and patient without saying anything at all.
No reports on the desk, no paper, not even pens. Nothing.
Just two men and two cups of tea.
Williams took a sip, studied Vadim for a moment. "I
can give you a sleeping aid for the acute period of
the next few weeks, but they will neither work after
that nor will they be beneficial." Silence again,
looking at his tea then back up at Vadim. "In the
short term, however, they will ensure you function throughout
the night." A man who had nightmares and screamed,
such a man would never get through any tests.
That was really all Vadim wanted. Function like a machine,
because that way lay redemption. No, wrong word. Peace.
He cleared his throat, felt it still sore. He must have
screamed badly. He warmed his hand on the tea, started
to tip it against his lips and breathed in the warmth,
then took a small sip, savouring the heat.
doctor added, after several more sips of tea, "I
have been working with men who experienced solitary
confinement." An invitation without the slightest
the doctor knew. It made it easier, to think that that
stuff had happened to others and that they had been
talking to this doctor. That man wasn't a beginner,
would, might, could understand. "I guess they were
screwed up as I am. In my head, I mean.
The body functions. But my head doesn't. Not when I'm
alone." Oh shit. That was the point. The core of
it. Solitary confinement had taken that one thing from
him, being comfortable with his own company. "I
mean, asleep. It's like ... sharks moving under the
up' is perhaps not a medical term, but I would agree
with you. Solitary confinement for prolonged periods
of time causes the feeling of dysfunction. It is similar
to sleep deprivation, the mind does not get a chance
to calm without the influence of outside stimuli."
Those long, elegant surgeon's hands were resting on
the desk. "You are not alone in what you are experiencing.
Solitary confinement causes the mind to turn into itself,
like a cancer tumour, eating itself and thinning resistance
by projecting every thought into a size, ten times bigger.
Like an echo building and reverberating throughout the
mind." He smoothed a non existent speck off the
handle of the mug. "Your mind has forgotten how
swallowed hard, closed his eyes, fought the fucking
tears and thought whatthefuck, I can't break down and
cry like a four year old. He brought his head back up
and smoothed his features, forced his eyes to not cry,
breathed. "I just don't want to think. Tried to
shut it down, but it doesn't work like that. You can't
ignore your mind. It is what does the ignoring. I
don't know. I can function, Sir. I want to."
a moment of panic again, like he was pleading with the
KGB officer. I want to be good, I never committed treason,
I swear, I promise, I will never
the tea, fought the panic back down. Down. Nobody will
harm you here. He might write a report. Or maybe he
would consider it a mercy if he testified against him.
"They knew what they were doing. How to target
me. They tried several angles, but they thought with
condition, isolating me was the way to go.
I know why. I even know how. But I'm still in that place."
Officer listened attentively, nodded. "You do remember
what I told you. Whatever happens here, between you
and me and whatever you tell me, it remains confidential.
There will be no reports that are seen by anyone. This
might be difficult to believe for you, but it is true.
I am bound by my oath of confidentiality." A long
pause, "You see, they were professionals, just
as much as you and I. I am a doctor, you are a soldier,
they are torturers. Highly developed. You stood no chance."
nodded, sipped his tea. No chance. Outmanoeuvred in
his own mind, his own emotions, trapped within himself.
"It's not an option, Sir. Failure, I mean."
Living with that somewhere in a foreign country, trapped
again. There were always ways to end it. He'd succeed,
here, in training and selection, or failure to calm
your mind?" Dr William's gaze was intense but kind.
think they are the same thing", murmured Vadim.
He tried a smile, and it came out sad and only a shadow
of his former smiles. "If I get through this, I
have a place. A ... life." Breathe. Don't cry.
Just breathe. "If I don't, there's nothing. I
checked my options, I don't want to
that." He looked towards the door. He should make
an excuse and get away, get out of here.
doctor slowly shook his head. "No. I am afraid
it won't be that easy" Quietly, "I understand
what you say, but getting through this will not exorcise
the demons." He leaned slightly forward, "but
it would give you a chance to find a way to live with
those demons side by side." No miracle cure, no
promise, except, "and I'm here to help you get
nodded. And why? Because it was his job? Possibly. That
might be enough. It could hardly be the hope to wrangle
another five years of killing and work behind enemy
lines out of this body that had its clock ticking. Five
years when he could have fifteen or twenty from somebody
without all the trouble. "A fighting chance is
all I need." Don't tell anybody I talked of suicide.
But it wasn't in his hands. He drank more of the tea.
"Thank you for this."
Williams nodded, opened a drawer in the desk and took
out a key. Stood up and walked to a medicine cabinet
behind him, which yielded a packet of diazepam. "Take
one, no more. It will help you sleep without screaming."
He pushed the packet across the desk, looking at Vadim
with that small smile. "I have insomnia. I might
be quite glad for an interruption at night." Inviting,
took the pack, checked his watch. Five. He wouldn't
find any sleep tonight. Maybe tomorrow. What to say.
"I seem like a
meek person, doctor, but
don't be mistaken. If you offer, I will take advantage."
He stood, exhaled deeply. "Thanks again."
Dr Williams raised his brows and pushed the specs back
into position. "I consider you anything but meek.
I am not easily fooled nor mistaken." He nodded
slightly with a small smile, dismissing Vadim back into
the night with the most polite manner.
pills helped Vadim sleep and kept the nightmares buried.
If he had nightmares, they didn't wake him, and his
mind felt less brittle. He didn't struggle as much with
exhaustion, it was only physical. He never grew close
to anybody - they didn't seem to acknowledge him much,
the Brits, apart from when it was necessary, and it
was just as well. The only men that mattered were the
ones giving orders and putting him through training.
He worked hard, mostly because that was the best way
to not think or feel anything. Time ran past without
reason, or fears. Sometimes, there was a turn of phrase,
a sound, a face that reminded him of Dan. The way these
Brits 'took the piss', as Dan would have called it.
men were closer to Dan than to himself. Primitives,
by any Russian standard, brutes, most were men that
had had no chance in life and no perspective but to
become soldiers and learn how to fight and kill. The
common British soldier was a creature of foul language,
crude humour, and as unsophisticated as they came. The
PT trainer was a perfect example. But that made them
easy to handle. These men lacked the refinement to understand
what he was. They shrugged, and didn't give a damn.
the weekends, Vadim continued with PT. Never left the
barracks for the town and pubs that lay beyond, stubbornly
continuing to work out and eat and sleep, like he had
in the forest in Sweden. Cleaning up. A forest. A head.
It was really the same. He found it hard to sit down
and think, and he discovered another thing. He couldn't
read. Back before all this, words he read on the page
had echoed in his mind, he had heard them, felt rhythm
and flow like breath, had seen things in his mind. He'd
been able to feel words, clever puns had made him laugh
out loud, and that was just one of the things that books
had given him. Now, they remained marks on white. He
understood them, but they never penetrated, never once
sunk into him. Sparked nothing. He stared at a page,
and read, and then suddenly realised he had no idea
what he was reading. Or what the text was about. It
wasn't exhaustion. He tried again and again, but it
remained the same. His mind couldn't hold onto text.
Words did nothing now, like his mind had become blind,
like he could see nothing anymore. The numbness crept
even into that place in his mind that he'd never thought
anybody could touch. Something as basic and primal as
sex - but even that was dead these days. Just like his
mind didn't stir, nothing happened in his body, a most
disconcerting observation. He knew, remembered it, but
nothing happened. Sex was not an issue. Had moved so
far away. His body didn't feel pleasure, no arousal,
he didn't see any beauty in the men around him.
loss of reading was more profound though, the pleasure
lasted longer - used to. What did give him a strange
kind of pleasure were the conversations with Dr Williams.
The man was erudite, civilised, well-read, and, on top
of all that, wise. Vadim began, against better experience,
to believe that this man kept his Hippocratic Oath seriously
indeed, and there was an odd feeling in the room when
they had tea, talking. Vadim felt almost sane on those
evenings, and he wondered whether the doctor did enjoy
the company, too. He made an effort to not be glum all
the time, didn't want to drag the man down with him,
felt that he shouldn't pour it over that man's feet
like vomit. Still, sometimes he did talk, said more
than he wanted, laid himself bare like that, and the
next day he was appalled that he had exposed himself
that much, but there was never punishment, never chiding,
like the doctor could be trusted, and his English tact
forbade to take advantage of what he knew. Indeed, Vadim
could forget those embarrassing things the man knew
and share the company. In this place, the greatest gift.
meticulously prepared him for the PT test, so meticulous
in fact that the test, when it came, felt like nothing
worse than Smudge on a non-generous day. Vadim felt
in control, pushed himself and easily knew he didn't
have to give his utmost, just trying hard was enough.
He was relieved when it was over - the Royal Marines
seemed pleased, maybe also pleased to see him go, finally,
and take up neither space nor effort, but these men
lacked evil. This was a formality to them. Smudge was
more openly pleased, however, giving him a string of
abuse that betrayed he'd done very well indeed.
another shower, Vadim was called to the doctor's office.
Williams was sitting behind his desk but got up when
the door opened. The specs were in his hands as he was
rubbed the bridge of his nose where a red depression
had formed. He smiled tiredly at Vadim. "I believe
congratulations are in order." The specs went back
onto his nose before holding out his hand.
looked at the hand and felt the odd urge to embrace
that man, just a flash across his mind that was still
abuzz with what passing meant, and what would come next.
Eager like a fighting dog, all of a sudden. Instead,
he relaxed and took that hand, held it for a moment.
"You look tired?" It was meant to be just
a stating of facts, but became a question, as his intonation
twisted up at the end of the sentence as if driven by
a life of its own. He looked towards the desk, assumed
that that was his fault.
doctor chuckled quietly as he shook Vadim's hand before
pointing to the usual chair. Busying himself with making
tea, unasked. It had become a comfortable routine, and
he seemed reluctant to disturb it, even though it was
within office hours.
can't fool you, can I?"
I used to be in charge of men, was what Vadim wanted
to retort, but he didn't feel the lightness. Some questions
didn't need answers, and Brits especially reacted strangely
when taken literally.
kettle was switched on and tea bags dropped into mugs.
"It's the joy of getting older, I'm afraid. A long
time ago I had a shoulder injury and it was never quite
the same afterwards. Has turned into arthritis and,
as it happens, it kept me awake last night." Dr
Williams shrugged one-shouldered, while glancing at
I see." It seemed strange that doctors got wounded,
too. Vadim tried a small smile, it seemed natural with
this officer. The man's dry humour allowed it. "You
know about mine. How did yours happen?"
long time ago." The doctor smiled wrily. "A
very long time in fact. I wasn't always sitting in a
nice office and I wasn't always commissioned. I started
out my Army career as a medic, attached to an infantry
regiment, and believe it or not, but we do sometimes
get wounded on duty." The kind look in his face
told Vadim that Dr Williams believed he did know. His
patient had seen enough enemy action in his life. "It
wasn't half as spectacular as a bullet or shrapnel wound
could have been, I just broke it in a fall from a helicopter."
bit like Dima. Dima had been a hard bastard, though,
probably a middling high officer by now, in case Afghanistan
had let him live. "Wounds don't have to be spectacular
to hurt", Vadim agreed.
Williams shrugged again, one sided. "At least being
awake meant I could read up on some medical notes last
night. There has been quite a bit of research recently
about the Falklands war and the effect it had on our
soldiers." The kettle switched itself off and the
doctor poured the boiling water into the two mugs, carrying
them over to the desk, before getting hold of sugar
and a pint of milk.
Not as bad as the American cluster
Grenada. But I can't say I know much about that war."
many do, it was a very British affair, and we are dealing
with the psychological fall-out in a very British way
as well." Fishing the tea bag out of his mug and
onto a saucer, Dr Williams added some milk to his brew,
"please, help yourself." Indicating the condiments.
"I am tasked to do a final medical exam on you,
but I believe in having a civilised cup of tea first."
a British way. Vadim wasn't sure what that meant. He
figured he could just as well get used to the British
way of tea. Maybe the sugar wasn't as bad when he added
the milk. He stirred the mix and let it sit, not too
eager to try. "What is the psychological fall-out?
You won that war. It's not like Afghanistan, where we
grew too tired to carry on."
breath caught. Suicide. The way out. It seemed far away
today, further than it had been, but he was always aware
of it. Always thought he should have a gun, just in
case. Just to make sure it would work. He peered at
the man, but the doctor was taking a sip, concentrating
on nothing but the tea, it seemed, while staring into
a void. Not caught, then. Not exposed. Not discovered.
Dr Williams lifted his eyes he looked tired. "It
is now over nine years ago and the suicide rate of Falkland
veterans is rising. No one has paid sufficient attention
to the whys and wherefores. No one, until recently.
I happen to have caused a bit of a stir with a paper
of mine the other day." He took another sip of
tea, "It is time we properly study the consequences
of battlefield action and related trauma."
are doing work on that? Suicides
It made sense. Vadim had seen more than one suicide.
More than one that deserted that way. Nothing new. Some
just couldn't deal with it. But veterans - those had
gone through and come out alive.
Dr William's answer was simple. "I am a medical
doctor, but many years ago, in fact at the time when
I was out of duty with the broken shoulder, I decided
to go down both paths, and I am a clinical psychologist
as well." Setting the mug down, he nodded at Vadim,
"and in that vein, I would like to tell you, and
be absolutely certain about this, that I you may call
me whenever you wish. Do you understand me, Mr Krasnorada?
When I give you my contact numbers I want you to be
utterly clear about the fact that whenever you feel
like talking to me, or if you believe that it would
be advantageous for someone else to talk to me, I will
be there and listen and, if I can, give my advice."
He paused, as if he wanted to add something but never
brow darkened and he looked at the man, unblinking.
The doctor knew about these thoughts. He knew about
what was going on inside him, and he'd never told him
the extent of that, not enough to appear like somebody
who had nothing left to live for. Why? If he walked
out that door, he'd stop being the man's responsibility.
"You're a good man", he murmured, eyes lowered.
"Much better than I am."
doctor merely shook his head. "We are all good
and bad in our own ways. It all depends on our
circumstances. You, Mr Krasnorada, you are alive and
fighting for a chance - I would call that being a good
man." He paused, both hands around the mug, "And
I want you to have that chance. Call it professional
interest, if you like and if it suits you best, or strike
it up to my naïve wish of keeping one more life
while so many are lost. Whatever it is, don't think
I am altruistic. We are all driven by our own needs
and wishes, and mine is being a good doctor, for the
body and the mind."
it a German who said that even altruistic deeds are
selfish? It makes us feel better to do good." Vadim
shook his head. "Philosophy."
The officer wondered, "it usually is."
Nietzsche." Smiling, Vadim looked at all the books
on a shelf behind the desk. Medical reviews, no doubt.
He'd never have thought this man contributed to that.
But there was something bookish about him, academic.
"Do you have enough material to make me a case
you want me to make a case study?" Dr William's
voice was quiet.
snorted. "I enjoyed Afghanistan. I don't dream
of the things I did. My mind withstood the time there.
The deaths and the futility. I did many things that
would give other men nightmares, but I believed in what
I did. I don't feel I did wrong. I sometimes feel something
regret. Like I could have
to something bigger, done my country
honourable. But I'm not intelligent enough to be a rocket
scientist, or a cosmonaut, or, you know, created art.
I'm not a poet, not a dancer, and I even failed as an
athlete. The only thing I didn't fail in was being spetsnaz,
and even that could be argued, with my
way it turned out." Vadim inhaled deeply. "It's
not the war. The war didn't break me. The KGB broke
my mind. That's nothing like being a veteran. I don't
know how you can help other soldiers with my sorry example."
stood, felt sudden agitation run through his body, felt
ashamed, should have kept quiet, but knew, at the same
time, that the doctor had seen him in a worse state.
"But if you can
and if you have enough material
I guess you might, I don't know
doctor sat calmly through all of Vadim's agitation,
still calm when he shook his head. "I was not talking
about veterans who suffer from battlefield situations.
I was talking about trauma. It comes in many guises
and for many reasons." He paused, looked up to
where Vadim was standing. "Do you believe you are
the only one, Mr Krasnorada? The only man or woman held
in captivity and systematically tortured under the pretence
of war, or espionage, or betrayal, or any of the reasons
a power - any power - could come up with?" His
hands uncurled from the mug as he peered above the rims
of his spectacles. "Amnesty International would
not be such a prominent institution if you were."
inhaled, pressed his lips together, like he had to keep
a scream from coming out. Felt like drowning again,
knew it was his mind that fucked him again, that dark
coiling mass of vipers and that was only what he could
see. "Yes. Use what you have. Call it
don't know. A gift? I don't know these people, but I
know you. If it pleases you, if that allows you to do
" He motioned to the medical journals.
Williams nodded, standing up as well. "Thank you.
I will do what I can with the knowledge that I have.
Sometimes all it takes is one voice to call out loudly
and be taken seriously." He walked around the desk,
glancing at Vadim's untouched cup of tea, before looking
at the man himself. "Now, Mr Krasnorada, may I
ask you to undress so that we can conduct the final
exam before you are taken to Hereford?"
miss him, thought Vadim, as he undressed and the man
checked him over, pleased with the state of his muscles,
how he had recovered. Vadim didn't tense or flinch,
didn't feel embarrassed. That man knew everything about
him that mattered, and the thought was so very strange,
that that was actually a good thing.
all the other soldiers who'd been accepted to SAS selection,
Vadim was taken to Bradbury Lines barracks by military
transport. Hereford, a quiet and sleepy town that could
have fooled anyone into believing that the last thing
it housed was the SAS regiment. The only indication,
once turning off a small side lane leading into the
countryside, were red and white barriers and a sign
in light and dark blue that sported the sword of Damocles
in flames: the famous winged dagger. Above the emblazoned
sign were the words 'Bradbury Lines' and below it '22nd
Special Air Service Regiment'.
wasn't asked by the guard to show his ID, an ID he didn't
have, when after a few words with the driver they were
waved through to the unremarkable looking compound.
It was a shabby place, and nothing that anyone would
have expected in association with the Regiment. A far
call from what Vadim knew about Delta, or any of the
American outfits. Americans always thought money was
a replacement for taking things seriously. Good kit
always expected to neutralise bad planning and bad leadership.
this was the place where they created arguably the top
special forces in the world. Men that got the job done.
Men that could stand toe to toe with spetsnaz. Like
Vadim got out of the Landrover, an MoD policeman pointed
him to the training wing to check in, a cluster of several
wooden buildings that had seen better days a long time
ago. Only a few people were in uniform, and none of
them was wearing an SAS beret.
there, they pointed him towards a long, dark corridor,
where he reported to a major. 'Reporting for selection',
was the term. He didn't know how much the man knew,
but wondered that 'only' a major was in charge of this
place, and wasn't it strange that he'd shared that rank
once upon a time? He remembered that the ranks in SAS
were low, and Dan had never got beyond Staff Sergeant.
a little later he was billeted in one of the rooms and
had been issued with his kit. SAS bergan, waterproofs,
maps, compasses, emergency equipment that including
a 24-hour ration pack. Other guys were around, too,
Vadim saw how they introduced themselves to each other,
but he stayed aloof, remote for now. Most of them seemed
very young, very eager, aglow with the mystique of SAS.
were all here for one thing, to become part of the world's
top special forces, to be a part of the Regiment, the
Special Air Service, to become a blade and to gain a
share in the glory. All of them, except one: Vadim,
who almost felt like an impostor.
Welsh mountains were not far away, and while Hereford
seemed to be the sleepiest, most uninspiring place anyone
could imagine, it was the Brecon Beacons that were calling
from a distance. Those mountains that would have to
be tackled for the first leg of selection. The landscape
looked picturesque from a distance, but over the years
the Beacons had claimed many lives, military and civilian.
Unlike the SAS hopefuls, most of those victims had been
poorly equipped, not catering for the rapidly changing
weather conditions. Like other inhospitable places,
like Iceland, weather could change rapidly and there
had been snow in July and a blizzard in August.
listened to the stories, how an experienced officer
had died from exposure once, in the seventies, and others
barely managed to come back alive. A little piece of
wilderness in a small, small country that bred very
strange men. Men like Dan.
checked through his kit, and the mountains had to be
the reason why his bergan had a 24hr ration. These guys
didn't take any chances with the rough terrain, even
if they were far less imposing than the parched moonscape
sat on his bunk, thinking, bergan at his side, while
the young guys milled around. There seemed to be a few
men in their mid-thirties, they looked hardened, wiry,
paras, Vadim reckoned. Two were especially boisterous,
and a couple of the young guys clearly had seen too
many bad action films, talking about it all the time,
bragging, but the young voices shaking with anxiety
and the need to succeed, because they believed they
had what it took. And were utterly terrified of the
possibility they could be proven wrong.
these men, Vadim figured they were being observed, probably
from the first moment onwards. Whenever he'd done training,
selection, and assessment, he knew which type made it.
The grey man. The one that wasn't neither the loudest,
nor the most visible. It was the man without profile,
the one that adapted, that had the camo in his skin
and changed like a chameleon, becoming all but invisible.
Flow like water, he thought, wasn't sure where that
came from, maybe Musashi, maybe Sun Tsu, or one of his
accommodation was grotty, the buildings were arranged
in spider style around an ablutions block. They were
nothing but wooden huts without the chance for any privacy.
Soon it was time to get sheets and blankets for the
bedding, and the men showed their varied skills in making
up their beds.
stuck to the drill from the Soviet Army. He doubted
it would be that different. He could see who bothered
and who knew how to do it. There was pretty much nothing
to do until 0700 hrs. Nothing, except for a large meal
in the cookhouse, where Vadim continued to watch and
listen. Nobody got out of his way to make contact and
that was exactly how he wanted it. Still conscious about
his accent, and the less he spoke the better. Staying
away, apart, watching for those watching him, and just
eating, breathing, and watching.
chow, many of the guys went into town for a couple of
pints and a portion of chips before coming back for
an early night, while others were glued to their kit,
assembling and reassembling, strumming with nervousness.
Vadim did isometrics to work on his muscles, went for
a nice long run once the food was halfway digested,
then had a long shower, late enough that nobody bothered
him. Enjoying the heat in that run-down place, and figuring
there was nothing he couldn't deal with. He had already
passed all these tests, had already been stretched to
the limit. Had actually seen a long and nasty war. How
bad could it be? Dan had passed this.
next morning didn't come too soon for many of the hopefuls,
who had been tossing and turning throughout the night.
Up at 0600 hrs, fed by 0630 hrs, everyone was out on
parade by 0700 hrs. Dressed in the standard combat uniform,
the British flag on the left sleeve and their regiments'
berets on their heads. Including Vadim, who had been
giving the Royal Marines' beret, crest and badges, so
that he wouldn't stick out like a sore thumb.
tough looking Major came out of the building, the sand
coloured beret of the SAS on his head, strolling out
in front of the assembled lines of almost two hundred
soldiers. Addressing the assembled men, he stressed
the fact that the 22nd regiment would not try to impose
discipline from above, since they expected every soldier
to be disciplined enough to do this for themselves.
That meant if they were given instructions regarding
timing, they were going to meet them. All men on selection
were to be equal, no matter which rank they held in
their units. Officers and non-commissioned, it made
no difference, on selection everyone was alike. He went
on to explain that each day they were going to put details
on the training wing notice board and that it was the
men's responsibility to read them and to follow them,
thus knowing everything they needed to know for the
following day. Any serious misconduct would result in
the perpetrator being RTU'd and minor misdemeanours
would be fined, the money to be used for a piss-up at
the end of selection. Tough luck to those who didn't
finished his address by explaining that there were only
two ways to fail the first stage of selection: by withdrawing
voluntarily, which included injury, or by failing to
make the times allowed for completing a march during
the test phase of week four.
interesting approach no doubt, Vadim pondered. Nobody
would whip them through, they had to motivate themselves.
That created people that thought, planned, and had initiative.
And a basic level of commitment. Vadim was aware he
stood out, and tried to become even greyer. He ranked
among the tallest ones, and was among the broadest ones,
too. Definitely the oldest. Being invisible wasn't easy.
So he'd just mind his own business.
of the DS staff came to the front, carrying a clipboard.
He instructed the men that they were going to run the
BFT, the Army's Basic Fitness Test, which was nothing
more than a one and a half mile run, to be finished
in under eleven minutes.
figured only a cripple wouldn't make it, or a drunk,
or a junkie. When the race begun, he moved into the
leading group, but didn't make his way to the front.
Stayed grey. Completed with hardly breaking a sweat,
and nobody else seemed to have suffered much, either.
week, from then on, was an endless succession of gym
work-outs, classroom sessions in basic map reading and
several medical lectures on first aid and how to look
after oneself in a hostile environment, particularly
in the mountains. Vadim followed enough to not draw
attention, but was amazed that SAS started from zero
and allowed that much time to put together the new guys.
It made sense, in its way, and it did give him more
time to work on the stamina, for runs in boots and uniform,
and those runs were getting longer. The circuit training
in the gym went on without seeming to ever stop, and
Vadim's body shifted to meet that demand. Somewhere
in the nerves, the little things that were not bone
and muscle, somewhere there was a memory of what it
was like to be tough and near indestructible. His body
remembered, and seemed to ponder things, ingraining
lessons and movements, saturating himself in strength
and resolve even during the breaks that were filled
with lecture upon lecture.
week was obviously designed to thin out those who had
never really had full intentions to make it through
selection, but merely to boast to their mates that they'd
given it a go. The first week also gave to those who
stayed on the basics of surviving in the mountains,
skills and endurance that was needed for soldiers who
had not come from the ranks of Paratroopers, Marines,
or one of the Infantry units, where tabbing long distances
and map reading under pressure were almost daily occurrences.
special. Hardly noteworthy. Vadim's mind fully concerned
with measuring his own progress in the fitness area,
keeping his mind focussed like memorising movements
as if for any competition. He'd fenced a hundred bouts
in his mind without getting up, now he was sitting there,
in his chair, running and marching and 'surviving' even
when listening to a lecture. Listening, above all, to
their version of English, and their terms, turns of
phrases, about 'birds', and 'bints', and whatever they
called things. Feeling into the language, mimicking
it in his head, speaking nothing aloud, but thinking
to himself in English. Not the English of their literary
masters. That gutter trash English that would mask him,
and make him another shade greyer.
the end of week one it was time to get into the mountains
and get real. That Sunday, the trainees paraded outside
the Training Wing with their bergans, belt kit and packed
lunch, boarding the trucks for the first time, to head
into the Welsh mountains. The day's training was part
run and part orienteering exercise, to sift more of
the dead crop out of the bunch. Each of the soldiers
had six checkpoints to find, an easy task for anyone
with knowledge of map reading. The run, though, was
different now. Only over eight miles, but the terrain
was hilly and wet, with a fast pace set by the DS. A
group of about thirty men managed to stay close to the
DS, while everyone else lagged behind, unable to gain
enough points that were needed for this exercise.
held on, 'brought up the rear', the last in the top
group, watching the others, having found a pace, while
his feet and legs and most of all hamstrings remembered
mountains, and sliding half-controlled down. Every now
and then, he glanced over his shoulder, but the terrain
made it near impossible to keep eye contact with the
guys behind. It was misty, the kind of heavy thick mist
that was the closest thing to rain, the ground heavy
and saturated with last night's downpour. A bitch, but
still nothing special. Another test run, another prod
at resolve, nothing else. Obviously created to make
the blade-to-be wonder whether this was actually what
he wanted to do for the rest of his maybe very short
life. Vadim looked around, that green and grey desolation,
that special smell of this country, the way the mist
settled on his face and hair and hands, his throat,
and thought this was really Dan's country. Just as wide
and generous, in a way, a way that made him breathe
freer even when he was up on the ridge gulping for breath.
was not all, though. The next day the real test after
the first week took place. It was the infamous 'Fan
Dance' march across Pen Y Fan. Set up as a race, it
proved to be a no-nonsense tab with a 40lb bergan and
a distance of 14 miles up, across, and down the other
side and back again over the highest peak in South Wales.
men were split into two groups of equal size, one on
either end of the mountain, supposed to meet halfway
in the middle, which meant that neither group had an
advantage over the other. It was either a steep climb
at the beginning, or a more leisurely-looking incline,
but since each group had to do each end at some stage,
it did not matter where to begin.
group got the 'easy end', the DS told them to just 'hang
in there', whatever that meant, Vadim thought probably
take it easy and steady and keep the strength for when
it mattered. The rocky surfaces were the bitch, traps
for hands and feet, mostly. And injury meant RTU, or,
in Vadim's case, worse. Returned to the trash heap.
stuck to the DS, again in the middle of the group, not
too eager, no reason to risk anything. Anything more
than he already did. Steady would do it. This was just
a mountain. The DS ran off at a blistering pace, and
Vadim got the impression that, like Smudge, he probably
did this for fun, or at least enjoyed this so much that
he could just as well do it only for fun. He wondered
what these guys did if they needed to stretch themselves.
Run a marathon in combat boots, bergan on his back,
kept up, stuck to the guy as if his life depended on
it, saw how he negotiated the territory, and took his
clues from him, while keeping his head down, not cursing,
not bitching, not cracking stupid jokes. Waste of energy
could see the mountain in the distance, part of it,
and the misty weather had held; the top was covered
in mist, hard to tell exactly what was ahead. Uphill,
he adjusted the straps on his bergan, shifted the weight
up high on his shoulders to not have to drag the bitch
behind him, and kept mostly upright.
they reached the top, and figures were moving in the
mist, fast, following their own DS. The others ran at
them at full pace and Vadim realized that they'd try
and make them budge off the path. Both would cost strength,
losing room up or down, didn't matter, and when Vadim's
turn came, he stood there and gave the guys coming towards
him his best, baleful stare, hands open, shoulders squared,
ready to fight. That made them not try it, and Vadim
returned to his pace, feeling an ache creep up from
his legs that told him he'd used up his immediate reserves.
it got worse on the way down. At that speed, with that
rough terrain, every uneven rock hit his lower back.
He could feel his teeth rattle, and the disks between
his vertebrae, and his knees started to hurt from the
strain, too. He gave his details to the DS at the turning
point, needed to remember for a second, too rushed to
think very clearly at that stage, wanted to finish the
run, not stand and do this.
steep climb from the other side was a real ball breaker
with the added nicety of one false horizon after the
other. He got to the top, again bathed in mist, hurting,
breathing hard, when he saw figures in the mist, moving.
That was his group. The last leg. The last bit. Vadim
gritted his teeth, forced his body to keep relaxed under
the strain, to keep the breath flowing freely, and began
to run in earnest, to get back as soon as possible.
He wasn't quite sure how many points he had and how
much he had scored so far, but giving a little extra
now would be good. He only stopped after completion,
dropping the bergan and laughing, breathlessly. "Stupid
fucking mountains", he muttered to himself.
the 'Fan Dance', twenty-three men jacked it in and seven
were injured, and in total, at the end of the first
week they had lost sixty-two of the original number
of hopefuls. Either through injury or voluntary withdrawal.
Vadim's room, two bunks remained empty.
then on the men were no longer purely fighting for themselves,
but those who remained in week two were split into small
groups of ten to fifteen men to spend their days walking
over the Brecon Beacons.
evening, several of the soldiers took the opportunity
to check out the pubs in Hereford, while others stayed
inside, for the umpteenth time checking and re-checking,
packing and re-packing their bergans, allowing the anxiety
to grow. Vadim stretched, and ran, and did isometrics
to the point when he had got rid of the pressure they
were starting to build in him. He wouldn't be broken
by that kind of strain. He'd had too much of it. Compared
to Afghanistan, this was a five star holiday with fitness
anything, he regretted that he could feel the fact he'd
been out of it for a while. Ten years ago, he'd have
passed with flying colours without hurting afterwards.
He saw the nervous and miserable guys and wasn't sure
how to break their tension. They wouldn't listen if
he tried. He wasn't their officer and he couldn't tell
small stories to keep the morale up. He didn't connect
to these men, not like he had connected to Soviets,
his troops, Lesha, Dima, and the others. Platon. The
kid would be just as miserable if he were here, in this
situation. And nothing to do, for him, except be the
guy that wasn't actually here, that wouldn't truly become
visible, fighting the battle in his mind, like going
through the motions in fencing.
next two weeks saw an increase in pressure, which kept
on relentlessly and grew in demand. All of the men had
to be at the trucks at 0600 hrs each morning for the
two hour drive into the Welsh mountains, while never
being told in advance where they were going or what
was to be expected of them.
In Afghanistan, things had been improvising so long
that Vadim didn't actually care. It was to screw their
minds and keep them flexible, breaking out of the routine.
Vadim wholeheartedly agreed. Spetsnaz exercises were
a worse bitch. Being told they'd only go out for two
days and then something went 'wrong' and they had to
fight for two weeks. That was far worse than being left
in the dark.
only information they received was given the night before
on the notices in each accommodation, which detailed
what kit was to be brought for the next day. It would
always be the bergan with 40lb weight with one extra
item: a drill rifle, which added more weight and was
always to be carried at the ready. The men were not
allowed to sling the weapon over a shoulder or to stuff
it down the side of their backpack to carry it more
comfortably. This made sense, and made all this feel
more natural to Vadim. He fell back into the other mind,
the one he'd used for combat, for patrol, and couldn't
help but look for places and angles of attack. Sniping
country. All this was wide open. He had to reign in
his mind and remember this wasn't actually war, not
truly, no casualties. But it came back, like the lion
resurfacing somehow, sensing the air, tasting dust that
wasn't there. Senses more alert than they'd been for
ages, melting away the dull lead that had covered him,
and it was like coming up for air.
it being April, each morning, when boarding the truck,
it would rain and be miserable and cold. The clever
ones would get their sleeping bags out, pile on top
of each other in the back of the trucks and grab a couple
of hours sleep in the warmth of their doss bags. The
others, who couldn't be arsed, would sit in the cold
on the benches, shivering throughout the ride, while
their strength and determination got further sapped
with every day, ground down by the physical and mental
strain. Vadim, though, sat there, rifle on his knees,
sleeping bag around his shoulders, minimizing exposure,
and resting while being alert. That half-sleep, half-rest
that he'd cultivated in enemy country.
the trucks stopped it was hard to get out from beneath
or within the warmth, knowing that the day was going
to be a repeat of the day before and an even more painful
one at that. The rush of cold air, saturated with water,
attacked every part of a man's body the moment they
climbed out of the sleeping bag, but once they'd jumped
off the truck, jarring bruised joints and blistered
feet, it was time to get the first grid reference and
were several shades of pain, the dull, throbbing, stiff
pain that seemed to forbid movement, and the creaky,
reluctant pain when Vadim actually did move. But once
he got moving, that pain warmed up into a strangely
comforting sensation that became part of the body like
an arm or a leg or the damned bergan.
they set off, the DS called each man, asking for the
exact location, expecting to be shown the correct spot
on the map, before proceeding with the first grid reference.
Taking a compass bearing, Vadim and the others tabbed
off as fast as they could to get to the checkpoints
and go through a set routine. Some of the checkpoints
were in specific locations, like a bend in a river or
a certain rock formation. Others were in the middle
of nowhere with a DS tucked away in a small tent, huddled
in the warmth with a hot cuppa, communicating through
a partly lowered zipper in the tent while noting down
each man's details. They were expected to rattle the
data off, no matter in which condition they were. Vadim
felt bitter envy at the tea, and yet strangely enjoyed
stretching himself like that. He could still deal with
this, still had a heart left, still more spirit. Not
winning was the goal, at the moment, it was not
faster a trainee was on each day's run, the better their
chances of getting onto the first truck that went back
into camp. If the vehicle filled up fast, there was
a chance to get into the few bath tubs by piling straight
in, dropping bergan and kit beside the tub and soak
luxuriously in the hot water to ease the pain in muscles
and joints. Vadim rushed faster just for that comfort,
while part of him mocked himself for that primal response,
but after being wet and half-frozen, nothing was like
a hot bath. Just the easing of pain was delicious.
scran in the cookhouse it was time to find out who hadn't
made it that day, as the DS on duty went from room to
room, telling the occupants if they were still in or
if they got either a warning or thrown out of the course
immediately. Each time it was quieter in the rooms after
the DS's round, until the rumour mill started up once
again, with most of the men wondering aloud who was
going to get binned the next day. Vadim didn't move
a single muscle when it was somebody else's name - and
he didn't expect for his name to come up. He was doing
alright. Unless he got injured, he'd be alright. Most
guys were at breaking point, he could smell it, see
it in their eyes, and see some were hanging on with
sheer balls, while their body already rebelled.
end of week two saw another murderous timed march: 14
miles through Radnor Forest in Southern Wales followed
by 21 miles the very same night, across the peaty bogs.
The pain was keen. Worse than keen. Stumbling across
this forsaken, nightmarish landscape, falling, getting
back up again, all the time cold and miserable. Vadim
hated the country, hated the cold, and it seemed almost
a good idea to stop and not be bothered, why put himself
through this much pain. At his age? After so many years
out of it? He still went on, pushed the thought away,
worked, he'd get there and if he'd crawl, he'd get there.
lot of the hopefuls gave up that night, several with
fractured legs and twisted joints, while Vadim was just
completely fucked afterwards. He felt every single month
he was older than thirty, every day, every hour and
wondered, without true emotion or connection, how Dan
had made this. What had driven Dan through this, what
motivated a man for this? What had driven him?
three started in a similar way as the one before, now
with even less men, since a third of them had been binned
or withdrawn voluntarily. The weather took a sudden
turn for the worst, with blizzards in April, snow and
plummeting temperatures, which made the terrain even
more treacherous than before. The men were told to buddy
up with two or more others, to cut down the risk of
getting lost and to ensure if someone were to take a
bad fall and get seriously injured, there would be help
at hand. Vadim didn't take the initiative, could see
them gauge him, knew almost certainly what they were
thinking - he'd made it this far, so he was tough, but
still he hadn't become 'matey' with anybody, so he was
the last one to 'buddy up', which didn't cause a stirring
in him. Made sense, and he wasn't too keen on this,
either. He'd prefer to be on his own, pull his weight,
do his part, but still keep a low profile.
of course, were slower in such hazardous weather, but
the only way to gauge one's time when coming off the
mountains in sleet and snow, was to judge how many others
were already waiting in the truck.
that week, some men were in agony because of their feet
that were covered in blisters, Vadim could see the bloody
socks clinging to their feet. He'd stuck to keeping
his own dry, wear two pairs of socks, and he still had
calluses from Afghanistan - and kept them. Leaving his
feet to hang out of the bath when he got a soak and
took meticulous care of them all the time. Feet can
kill you, as the officers used to say in training. Even
the toughest guys couldn't ignore their feet falling
apart. Marching was bad enough, and the weather, and
the strain, but blisters? They made the difference.
end of week three saw another ballbuster of a day and
night tab, this time over snow covered bogs and across
the mountain ridges, which resulted in several more
men dropping out before test week started.
of the hopefuls could imagine that there was possibly
anything worse that could be asked of them, but test
week started on Monday and was a series if marches similar
to the ones before, but longer and with more weight.
They culminated in a murderous 43 mile march while being
forced to keep off roads and tracks, not allowed to
buddy up with anyone else. While every man was on their
own they were also still against the clock. This was
when Vadim felt he was getting back into it, mostly
by seeing how much better he did than the others. Finally
on his own again, with just his thoughts, and his breath
misting in the ice cold air.
first march was 12 miles with 35lb bergan, the second
14 miles with 40lb weight, the third 17 miles with 45lb
and the fourth 12 miles with 50lb and only a sketch
map as guidance. The harder they pressed Vadim, the
more he responded to it, simply no other way, despite
the aches. Like everything, one got used to abuse, to
torture, and whenever he thought he couldn't carry the
rifle for a single mile further, he thought of that
first week with Dan, busted up, heat-dazed, choking
on the weight of his own arms. And somehow, there was
another mile in him. Somewhere.
fifth and final endurance march was 43 miles carrying
55lb. The men had between eighteen and twenty hours
to complete it. They were tabbing within a points system,
and the more points the safer their survival on the
course and the completion of the first stage of selection,
which would allow them to go onto the jungle phase.
Vadim chose to ignore the word jungle. He knew plains,
forests, mountains. He had no idea about jungle.
last march was the final breaking point for several
of the hopefuls, who gave up or got injured in the foul
weather, or who did not have the stamina to continue.
In the end, out of the initial almost 200 men there
were only 35 left who had made it through the first
stage of selection. Vadim among them.
next part of the course Continuation Training, a build-up
period that lasted four weeks before all of those who
had passed the first stage of selection were taken to
Belize and into the jungle phase, which took another
handling was taught, everything that was being used
in operational theatres around the world, as well as
lessons on tactics, basic living and surviving in the
jungle. All the time the gym continued to be as demanding
as before. The men learned drills for patrols of teams
of four, which would carry out tasks such as sabotage,
reconnaissance and laying automatic firing ambushes.
In such small patrols the emphasis was on laying down
continuous fire while breaking contact with the enemy.
Direct confrontation was to be avoided at all costs.
In other words: Unlike the Americans who'd dig in and
fire for all they were worth, SAS learnt to run away.
stuck to the book as if he'd never been trained differently,
only changing things and adapting his own experience
when he could get away with it and when his tricks were
actually superior. Still laying low and keeping his
focus on gym and stamina, knowing it would likely only
get harder, and he needed every bit of preparation -
not allowing himself to wonder what would come after.
They seemed harsh, but generally fair, not cruel, no
bastards, it all proceeded with a straightforward no-nonsense
approach that appealed to him. Even without him wanting
to, Vadim started to almost
believe in all that,
started to accept that all ranks were equal and other
ridiculous ideas the Brits sometimes held. No wonder
Dan was such an irreverent bastard.
patrols carried out live firing drills in patrolling
ranges that had been cut out of woodland. Targets that
popped up in different distances, which they had to
hit by firing two rounds, then getting down to cover.
When the DS, still a constant attendant, shouted 'stop'
or 'change' another man would become lead man of the
four-man patrol. These drills were carried out endlessly,
teaching the hopefuls more about weapons than they'd
probably ever known before, apart from Vadim. He'd trained
with those weapons, and it took only a refresher to
re-familiarize himself. Everything else was still second
nature. Eerie, how much it actually was part of him.
drills were a part of the routine as well, which meant
that within each patrol every man had to get to know
the other very well, to be able to rely completely on
each other. They had to make sure everyone in the patrol
was proficient, and most importantly safe, when carrying
out those drills. And if any personality clashes showed
up once they had reached the jungle, it would be too
late for the shit not to boil over.
classroom sessions continued throughout the month, numerous
lectures and tests on jungle related subjects, such
as hygiene and safety, medical techniques, signals and
Morse code. Even a crash course in languages, which
was purely designed to test the candidate's academic
ability: SAS was not just highly trained killers, but
clever highly trained killers. While three didn't
make it, Vadim found this the easiest part of the lot.
He knew his Morse, he knew enough in several languages
to get by. And he was amazed to learn that hardly any
Brit spoke anything but their gutter trash English.
What did they spend their time with in school?
the strangest thing was that the one or two Brits that
actually did well in languages seemed to be almost self-conscious
about it, as if they had to apologize
unease that betrayed that these guys didn't consider
education a worthy or even honourable thing to have.
32 men left from the original 191, all of the hopefuls
and a number of DS staff made their way to Belize, to
enter the jungle phase. The small Central American country
faced the Caribbean Sea and was one of the many former
parts of the British Empire. Each patrol, consisting
of four men, was to live, sleep, eat, exercise and survive
together, with one DS attached to it, who would always
be somewhere, observing, but never where the men might
were flown into the country, taken a further way in
by helicopter, before the men were let out to march
the rest to the camp in the very midst of the jungle.
The air was so thick that Vadim had to drink it, and
he was soaked in sweat the moment his feet touched the
ground. His heart pounded so hard that he felt dizzy,
as his body struggled with the heat, and he was half-dazed
as he followed the others through the thick vegetation.
Needing all concentration just to keep walking despite
his body rebelling against the humidity and the heat.
took five hours to reach the point where they met their
DS. The sun could hardly be seen through the thickness
of the leaves, but its effect was felt keenly, as the
patrol had to stop every fifteen minutes to drink. Vadim's
pulse had transformed into a pounding headache that
made him miserable quickly. He suspected several of
the others didn't feel any better, and hoped he'd adjust,
but he also suspected that it would be especially tough
for him, being the oldest. And however much he drank,
sweat just kept pouring out of him, trickling down his
neck, his temple, his throat, and all he could do was
wait for it to be over, while marching.
to the briefing, it would take them a week to get used
to the territory and the climate, and then it was another
three weeks to go. They learnt how to survive the hostile
environment, how to put up pole beds that kept the body
off the ground and thus away from dangerous wildlife,
and were introduced to a wide variety of insects, snakes
and other animals. They had to realise what was edible
and what would prove poisonous.
all of this the patrol had to constantly remain tactical
with the only mode of communication allowed was whispering,
while weapons and webbing were to be worn at all times.
Each morning, at least forty-five minutes before dawn,
they had to stand to, which meant getting up in total
silence, getting out of the dry clothes, zip them up
in a plastic bag and putting the damp and cold kit from
the day before back on, no matter how hard or uncomfortable
it was. The kit was packed away without making any sound,
before each man had to move to a certain guard point,
standing at attention, guarding the jungle, face out,
until daylight approached. At some point, it stopped
being hell, and was merely tough. Vadim learnt to understand
the men he was 'out on patrol with', and it wasn't all
that different from patrol in Afghanistan, if in a worse
environment, if anything could be worse than the mountains.
of the days were spent on ranges, live firing while
under constant pressure and scrutiny from the DS, never
quite knowing where he was. He might be hidden close
by, while the patrol was standing to in the light of
dawn, observing if each and every man was silent, meticulous
and fitting into the group; or he might be standing
by during the firing, ensuring that each man would fit
into the Regiment, since it operated in small numbers,
often behind enemy lines.
of the men had obvious leadership experience, just the
kind that people looked to for decision-making, and
Vadim stuck to his resolve to remain invisible. He wouldn't
challenge that position of authority, it would mean
too much scrutiny, even if he had the feeling the other
guy assumed he might - being the oldest of the lot.
But Vadim fell back into the ranks, never questioned,
even when he was fairly sure the guy was improvising,
sometimes offering a piece of advice, which seemed to
be taken as a challenge, but Vadim remained completely
non-aggressive. At some point, that guy started to listen
to him and would look at him when giving what passed
for orders, and Vadim would be the first to do as told,
which relaxed everybody. Quite likely the guy had no
idea why Vadim was doing what he did, and Vadim didn't
clue him in, instead filled the position of the second-in-command,
which was ceded, and expected of him. Once that was
settled, the patrol got on perfectly. A smooth, small
machine that worked without a hitch, without a flaw,
and Vadim began to enjoy it. He was close when any of
the guys was struggling with something, never asked,
always perceptive, always ready to lend a hand. He felt
like the invisible strings connected with him, around
him, and were at his disposal. Leadership by example,
without becoming the actual leader.
stress was a constant, like the pouring sweat. Exhaustion
taxed them heavily, heat and humidity made every movement
anguish. On patrol, they always had to keep off track,
pretending there'd be enemy ambushes or booby traps,
so that they continuously moved through primary jungle
whenever they had to be at a certain location. It could
take up to six hours to move five hundred meters.
intense. When it got too bad, the heat, the humidity,
living and feeding like an animal, only speaking in
whispers, Vadim paused, breathed, and thought of times
when he had broken down. How he'd broken under Dan,
how Dan had nearly killed him, and he'd betrayed himself,
his unit, his country, his family, only to not die in
that horrible, messy way. This then, this jungle, was
only half as bad as that, he could stand the wearing
down, the chipping away, he knew he had more strength
than that. He'd been there. He'd broken before, had
been set, and healed. Recovered himself. This was bad,
but it wasn't breaking him. He could see the stress
flicker in the other guys' eyes, though, and while they
were lying in wait, breathlessly whispering, he could
suddenly feel a shift. The guy's name was Chris or something.
Christopher, Vadim reckoned, and suddenly Chris' dirt,
sweat-streaked face distorted, and Vadim could just
feel this was the most that the man could bear. A quick
glance around, then Vadim crawled over, swiftly, touched
Chris' shoulder, and could feel the man vibrate under
the strain like a steel cable close to tearing and whipping
around. The man's breath was fast and became irregular,
shallow, quick, hyperventilating from the stress. If
he freaked, that would be bad - Vadim couldn't tell
whether the DS was watching or not, but he assumed he
caught a glance from the leader, then looked into wide
stress-diluted pupils, could just see that the man was
about to scream and bolt, and grabbed him by the shoulder,
speaking in whispers to him, calming him, reminding
him how far he'd come, told him to breathe, fucking
in and out, while the rest of the group held the position
and kept their heads down.
was a huge battle, fought in silence, the man's self-control
against the overwhelming desire to scream, to escape
this slow torture, escape the infernal noise of the
jungle, all those birds and insects, and eat like a
human again. With concerns beyond staying fit and watered,
and Vadim suddenly felt the man's hands on him, around
him, pulled into the desperate embrace of a man who'd
come too fucking close to breakdown. Despite the fact
that he didn't want to touch anybody, he understood
this was different, comradeship, and the man clung him
to draw strength from him.
you knew what I've done to the likes of you, thought
Vadim, and patted the man's back, kept speaking in a
whisper, while the tension built up as if Chris was
about to break into tears, doubtlessly at the limits
of endurance, while Vadim told him to keep breathing
and that they were comrades, and all would be good,
just a little while longer.
Chris pulled himself together, and Vadim pulled back,
but stayed close to the other. He had no idea what the
DS would make of this small episode. They never knew
when they'd blown it, or if they'd blown it. There was
no set of rules to cling to, and Vadim assumed it was
all about seeing them perform as a team under pressure.
Their leader did well, and Chris, despite that small
episode, was an exceptional soldier.
kept at the man's side, watching him - and the others
- for any sign of mounting stress, for any indication
of break-down. All the time performing his tasks, working
as hard, if not harder than anybody else, feeling strangely
responsible for these younger men. Like he'd felt for
Platon, but without the embarrassing, vicious, destructive
needs. He had no needs. For all intents and purposes,
his body had stopped to desire and was just a machine
these days. Under control. No control necessary. He
didn't see anything attractive in any of the men, not
the way that he used to feel. He could work with them,
and touch them, and be touched, and it was nothing,
held no meaning, no double edge, nothing that would
spill blood. It was a relief and he caught himself smiling
for no other reason but the fact that, for once, in
that half-light, noise, stress, sweat-drenched heat,
had turned into weeks and the pace of the course increased
as did the pressure. None of the men knew how they were
doing, as it was impossible to judge. While the DS was
always somewhere, at the most unexpected places, he
would never let on how well any of the men conducted
themselves. Neither were any of the patrols aware of
how their mates were faring in the other patrols, since
they never met each other until the very last day during
the breaking up of camp which saw a squadron sized 'attack'
on an enemy camp, which came as a shock and a relief,
as the pressure mounted and then exploded. Vadim fell
immediately into age-old reflexes, fighting hard and
giving no quarter, expecting no quarter - this had become
war, the war against fear. He wouldn't be afraid anymore.
they made it out of the jungle, and were picked up by
trucks, including their kit. Vadim found it impossible
to relax just yet, expecting another attack, an ambush,
nerves still taut with stress, but nothing happened
on the way back to the army base.
men in his team exchanged stories with the others, Vadim
merely listened, having nothing to tell, keeping his
own counsel, and people moved away, gave him space,
as if he belonged and yet didn't belong. They must have
caught his accent, thought Vadim, refusing to speak
more than a few words at any given time, and knew that
the others caught how unnatural that was. And despite
all the bragging and the nervous laughter, no one had
any idea if they had passed or failed. The results of
the Jungle phase were going to be announced when they
had returned to Hereford, but Vadim was confident. His
mind was still intact, more so than it had been before,
like the machine just came back under pressure, assembled
like an assault rifle. Under fire, under pressure, not
something one thought about. Only lacking the parts
that could cause trouble. If anything, improving the
back in Britain and in camp, all 32 men were gathered
in a lecture room of the Training Wing, eagerly awaiting
the results. They had got back the previous night, few
of them finding much sleep, too desperate to know -
whereas Vadim slept like a stone, knowing he'd given
all, hadn't frayed under pressure and likely performed
best mentally. The only thing they could hold against
him was his refusal to take command and control, but
he doubted they knew he had been an officer. Or maybe
guessed it, but had no inkling of an idea he'd been
spetsnaz. The odd pride in that accomplishment was still
there, and he had to hide it among these children that
had never been drilled the Soviet way.
that Wednesday morning, the Officer in Command read
out the list of failures, telling the men to hand in
their kit. Out of the 32 men who went into the Jungle
phase, only 11 remained. Vadim's patrol had lost Chris,
the soldier who had almost had a nervous breakdown,
and the leader. Despite being an experienced man he
had taken on leadership without leading fully, dependent
on another's approval. But Vadim, Vadim had made it,
and the remaining 11 men were told to report for the
start of the Combat Survival phase at 0800 hrs sharp
the following Monday after several days of rest.
was stunned to see those two men go, joking, but clearly
shattered about their failure. A sudden barrier went
straight through the group, creating two factions. That
of those who had made it and those who had failed. The
atmosphere was poisoned with envy, regret, the guilty
feeling of triumphing when mates were left behind. It
was an eerie feeling and Vadim forced those men out
of his head. They were casualties as far as he was concerned.
He'd not made them fail, he had done what he could to
support. These were gone now, history.
paid a visit to the doctor, where he got some antiseptic
tinctures for all the insect bites and leech wounds,
it was a miracle where insects could bite and
suck blood, and he half-amusedly expected some kind
of nasty fever to hit him. Checking his weight, he had
lost a good one and a half stone, his face looked completely
different to how he remembered it, but he still didn't
look half as bad as straight from prison.
the fact that he swayed on his feet, he forced himself
to clean up what he could and give himself at least
a proper shave now, which took forever, and reminded
him suddenly of Dan. In his half-apathetic state, he
could imagine Dan standing behind him and steadying
the blade for the shave, maybe mocking him for it, in
a tender way. Vadim stared into the mirror, could almost
see Dan, almost feel that body's heat close, those strong
fingers on his wrist. His vision suddenly blurred and
he put the razor down, set both hands onto the basin,
fingers splayed to support him, and hung his head.
Dan was the reason for all this, but Vadim wasn't quite
sure now how. Why. Or even what. Dan deserved the truth.
He had repeated that in his mind, over and over and
over again. Dan deserved the truth.
eyes burned and Vadim drew a deep, shaky breath, knew
he needed to calm, to steady himself, there were always
eyes watching. He could almost see part of the DS in
the undergrowth, a silhouette, a rustle, a smell, all
deliberate to let them know he was there. He caught
a real motion behind him and shook his head, wiped over
his face, saw Chris suddenly appear. Bergan over his
shoulder, looking at him, and Vadim looked back, speechless.
he still didn't speak when the Brit dropped his kit
and pulled him into a tight, matey hug. "You'll
make it", Chris said, voice rough. "Thanks,
man. You deserve it - six months, and we'll have a beer,
nodded, oddly glad for the touch himself, glad that
Chris had accepted it and had his sights set on the
Chris grinned, if pained, and lifted the bergan back
up on his shoulder, stepped back and waved, then headed
barely managed to not peel the skin off his face with
the razor, too tired now to be remotely coherent. Sleep.
Food. Recover. Allow his body to heal and his morale
to build up again.
was silent in the barracks during the next days. Most
guys were sleeping or eating, and even the boldest and
most ingenious didn't manage to combine the two, try
as they might. Vadim found it hard to set his priorities
during the first two days, then later food became more
important. Anything that wasn't brackish water and some
hapless wildlife was a delicacy. And that included the
British ruined tea and the heavy, fat-dripping fare
that kept these men together.
morning saw not only the 11 remaining men from Selection,
but 39 others at the start of the Combat Survival course,
because the course was open to all branches of the Armed
Forces. It took place in the vicinity of the Regiment's
barracks and the 50 men were once again split up into
groups of four men per patrol, to be taught over the
next month how to live off the land, trap and hunt game,
and build and live in makeshift shelters that were constructed
from pieces of wood and found material.
learning phase took three weeks, a steep curve for those
who never had to survive in the wild before, and those
were most, with Vadim one proficient exception. Compared
to what spetsnaz did, this was a walk in the park, but
Vadim felt he could use that walk in the park only too
well to heal and recover, put some of his weight back
on and supplement all this with running, isometrics
the last and fourth week the patrols were be out in
their four-man groups, let loose on the run to survive
off the land for five days while being chased by a hunter
force that consisted of paratroopers aided by hunter
dogs. Fugitives who did not get caught during the five
days of evasion and survival were to get themselves
captured and taken away for a 36-hour interrogation
before that test started they were stripped naked, which
made Vadim impossibly queasy, but it was worse when
they were physically checked, every orifice, and he
had to remind himself that nobody could tell he was
gay, and that he hadn't taken part in any homosexual
activity. Of course, the scars would be noticed: the
one close to his balls, the Cyrillic letters down his
back. They could read he had been tortured once, but
he answered no question, allowing them to check his
body and shutting everything else down, fear, shame,
doubt. It was about finding any goodies that would make
the five days easier.
man was given an old army trench coat, a pair of boots,
a small tobacco tin containing a couple of wire snares,
a condom for holding water and other bits of survival
equipment, as well as a rough sketch map of the area,
and a bin liner.
was desperate to avoid getting caught, because the punishment
was severe. Those who did not manage to evade capture
were kept in an open pen, no matter how bad the weather
was, and kept in a stress position for four to five
hours. After that they were released to carry on as
before until the inevitable final interrogation. It
was crucial to avoid early capture to conserve mental
and physical strength, or breakdown and failure during
the final phase was all too possible.
carefully considered the odds. He didn't want to take
control of the four man patrol, at the same time he
didn't trust the leadership of that pretentious fuck
who was too keen to show that he knew everything and
certainly didn't want to hear any kind of dissent. That
one hadn't been an SAS hopeful and hadn't made it through
Selection so far, so there was no glue to keep them
together, and Vadim lost him and his crony at the earliest
opportunity. Staying together was not part of the game
he and Andy (that was probably Andrew) covered a lot
of ground, as much as humanly possible, using all tricks
Vadim knew and Andy seemed fine with that, every now
and then grinning at him and speaking in that strangely
musical dialect that Vadim had learnt to distinguish
as Welsh. Just speaking his vowels differently, less
flat, and actually half-rolling the 'r' which to Vadim
sounded like a much prettier form of English.
night, they were sitting together after a long, long
march, and Vadim still felt restless, staring up to
the stars trough the branches of the tree, suddenly
seeing Andy's teeth gleam.
He nodded towards Andy.
are you planning?" Andy pulled a little closer
to whisper. "You are thinking."
Vadim grinned back, with irony. "I'm just tired
me about it", whispered Andy. "Fuck those
gave a toneless laugh. He liked the man. "What
are you ready to be punished?"
it involve giving those guys a hard time?"
Vadim grinned, suddenly enjoying this. "It does.
They are paratroopers. Paratroopers are arrogant bitches.
I have an idea where they are going. I'm planning to
teach one a lesson."
know we're still supposed to hand ourselves in?"
Vadim shrugged. "But it would be a change of pace
to hunt instead of being hunted. What do you say?"
laughed. "You crazy fuck. I like it. Let's go."
paras were confident. Driving men before them like sheep
did that to their egos. Vadim moved in a circle, flanking,
with Andy unwavering near him, giving support and pulling
every trick in the book. Vadim knew it was madness,
he did expect a sound beating to follow that stunt,
but at the same time, he could feel his mind fray under
the stress of being hunted, not finding much rest if
any at all, and he figured he needed to change something,
win the initiative. So, he flanked, Andy helped by laying
a trail for the fucking dog, and they attacked straight
in a thicket, grabbing man and dog and carrying both
off, tying up the bastard dog, and administering a sound
beating to the struggling, panicking para, for the fun
and the hell of it, the best way of stress relief. And
vanished before the guy's comrades found them.
was an altogether different game, with the hunters concentrating
on Vadim and Andy, and Vadim told the Welsh guy that
he should break away and cover his own ass, but Andy
had nothing of that, telling him he was only around
to learn some more tricks.
hunt was elating, especially as they managed to repeat
the stunt. Pure reckless energy, blood pounding with
fierce joy at how dangerous they were, and Vadim found
himself staring at the man, the comrade, suddenly realising
he felt a careful, watchful desire, a dull ache more
than the raging fire of years ago. That troubled him,
troubled him a lot when he watched as Andy slept for
just an hour, on the run, barely catching the absolutely
necessary rest and sleep, always driven on by Vadim's
resolution to not get caught. The KGB had caught him,
nobody would ever again get him alive. And the fact
that this man shared the danger, the stress, formed
a bond that he had not expected.
time ran out and they still hadn't been caught. Andy
high-fived him, stood up from their hiding place and
stretched, for once not afraid to move out into the
open. "Let's go, then." Checking the map for
the place of rendezvous, the march back was far less
straining than the actual hunt, and Andy seemed fairly
light-hearted, whereas Vadim felt dread impending. One
thing to be caught, another to hand himself in. But
that wasn't prison, wasn't bad, just another test. The
final test, he hoped. Only that kept him together.
a queer bird", said Andy.
know." Vadim looked sideways at him, this man had
grown close in the last five days, felt like a brother,
or a comrade, trusted him on some level, and wanted
him, which neutralised the trust. He didn't want to
touch him, and did. He didn't want to wonder about him,
and did. "But I can't tell you."
shrugged. "Whatever. You just don't strike me as
from me, that's not a bad thing." Andy gave another
laugh and slapped him on the shoulder. "Let's see
whether those fucktards break us, eh?"
were gathered in one place, where they were promptly
blindfolded, and, Vadim supposed, separated. For a moment
he feared for Andy, which distracted him from the fact
that he'd normally fear for himself, but that strange
closeness ran deeper.
was stripped again, and there was again dread, didn't
actually think anybody would even consider rape, but
felt so fucking vulnerable with that blindfold. Worse,
it brought him right back into prison and he could feel
himself panic. They made him wear some kind of loose
pyjamas and once covered, Vadim focussed on fighting
that fear while he was taken into a place that was ice
cold and filled with a deafening 'white noise'. Nobody
spoke a word as he was prodded into a stress position:
standing up facing a wall with legs and arms wide apart,
then at some point, later, difficult to keep track of
time, they forced him down into a squat position with
legs bent and arms pulled behind his head, which hurt,
but gave him the pain to focus on. It was cold, and
seemed to grow colder every minute, and the white noise
made it hard to concentrate at all, a steady pressure
on his nerves. Then it was time to change into another
position and Vadim fought hard against the panic, knowing
they couldn't actually harm him, couldn't actually torture
him. But the fear stayed, gnawing on him, whittling
his resolve away.
concentrated on reminding himself of the rules. They
had been briefed about what they could and couldn't
do. Absolutely not signing anything. That was easy.
Vadim had signed one confession, he wouldn't do it again,
certainly not in a few days or hours worth of whatever
they'd throw at him. They could only give name, rank
and number, and the response for everything else was
"I can't answer that question". But the first
part posed a problem. Vadim didn't have a number. He
didn't, technically, have a rank, either, and giving
his name meant that they could find that out. Vadim
Petrovich Krasnorada wasn't exactly the most British
he wasn't sure about the rules for lying. He could make
an identity up, but he had no idea what methods of checking
they had. He didn't even know how many digits that number
was supposed to have, and he didn't feel ready to face
any jibes at his nationality - and the lack of it. It
was too fucking obvious what he was, any more clues
and it would scream into their faces.
left him with the second option - go hard-assed all
the way. 'I can't answer that question'. That was important.
Not being a smartass, not allow them to rile or confuse
him, keeping his wits together. He kept repeating that
sentence in his mind, in English. I can't answer that
question. Over and over, imprinting it in his mind,
using what he knew about psychology: imagining it in
bright red, Latin, letters, imagining it sung, spoken,
screamed. He busied his mind with finding variations
on the sentence - what would it smell like? If it was
the title of a song, what would it sound like? That
calmed him down, kept his mind away from the fear. If
he made this test, he'd be okay. He'd be alright.
several hours in the ever-changing stress positions,
Vadim was hauled up to stand and led into a room where
the blindfold was taken off. By now, the sentence was
firmly ingrained in his mind, and he felt strong, bolstered
by the simple trick. He wouldn't forget this, not even
if they actually went tough on him.
a table in an otherwise completely bare room sat a tall
and skinny man who was glaring at the 'prisoner' through
small metal framed spectacles before lowering his head
to start writing something down.
what he was writing was a mystery. Impossible they knew
anything yet. If they knew, he would have been reading
the file. So what was the man writing? Probably a shopping
list. This was designed to show the man was in control
and had authority. Fuck him.
was left to stand at attention for at least ten minutes
before the man spoke again in a sharp, clipped voice.
know why you are here."
So do I? So what? This is an interrogation course. You
play interrogator, I play prisoner, and I could snap
your scrawny neck before anybody could stop me.
looking up, the interrogator continued to write while
talking, no mean feat, unless it was the shopping list,
after all. That thought amused Vadim. Milk, porridge
Special Forces, you cunt, and I know that you are a
Paratrooper, because your mate has told me."
that no mate knew anything about him. Vadim had never
left anything open, not even to Andy, who, hopefully,
was smart enough to not step into any similar trap.
Strictly speaking, he had no mates. But they assumed
he'd had, and that was certainly right for everybody
else. The paratrooper stuff was amusing, even though
Vadim felt a momentary impulse of "oh shit"
- that had always been his cover, that and 'military
you better admit to it, or you make it hard for yourself,
you pathetic piece of shit."
jaw muscles tensed as he looked the man squarely in
the face. No question had been asked. He didn't have
to answer, so he wouldn't answer. He was only mildly
curious whether the man would bring on more heat, or
this was already the extent of it.
pen came abruptly down onto the table as the man stood
up, once more glaring at Vadim, a glower that was returned
in equal measure. "Don't you try playing games
with me, we know everything already. That mate of yours,
he sang like a bird and you," a spindly finger
pointed at Vadim, "you're nothing but horseshit
and a waste of breathing space."
no question. Vadim raised half an eyebrow to see if
that would rile the interrogator, and did his utmost
to combine curiosity, obedience and a back-handed challenge.
surprising speed, the man came from behind his desk,
flying towards Vadim, where he started to yell abuse
right into his ear, insulting him in every manner imaginable,
down to calling his mother a whore. Vadim stood there,
staring straight ahead. Merely tensing his shoulders
and keeping the large, red letters in his mind, trying
to shut out the voice like the roar from a tank or artillery.
the man never asked a question.
insults seemed to take forever, before the interrogator
got the guards to take 'the piece of scum' away.
was again blindfolded and hoped they didn't notice that
the blindfold scared him, worse than the interrogation.
It shut out most things he could concentrate on ...
then they brought him back into the ice cold room with
the white noise and once again he was put into a stress
position, this time kneeling with his arms behind his
head and shoulders pulled back as far as it was physically
possible. His every move continued to be watched by
the guards and if his arms dropped down even a tiny
bit they were immediately brutally yanked up without
anyone ever uttering a word.
shoulders hurt, his back started to hurt, and he remembered
Dan doing this to him, the rope had choked him, and
he'd been in peak physical condition, much better than
he was now; on the other hand, he was thinner and less
muscled now, more wiry than he'd ever been, which worked
to his advantage, at least he kept telling himself that.
pain didn't stop, his back knotted up, radiated out
into every limb, and he had no idea how long it took.
It was a cold miserable place, and his mind started
to respond to the white noise. It caused more than discomfort,
real, true pain, and the guards weren't exactly gentle
when they pulled his arms up again, which felt like
they tried to dislocate his shoulders. This made his
weak shoulder hurt, the one that had actually been dislocated.
Mountain. Dan. Heat. Heat dazed, stumbling through rocks
with his legs tied. He knew that had been worse, but
he'd been thirty then, and not used up, not fucking
broken. The breaking had happened later. He shifted
again, but every movement was agony with the tensed
up muscles. Remembering what had given him respite once,
and hoping he didn't break the rules. He moved his head
in the direction where he assumed one of the guards
stood, and murmured "I need to piss." Wondering
if they'd force him to do that into the pyjama trousers
... likely not.
was yanked up again, which made him grit his teeth,
and taken to the loo, which, above all, allowed him
to roll his shoulders and stretch his legs. Bliss. He
had no idea whether he hit the urinal or whatever it
was, but didn't actually care. Took his time - every
tiny thing counted, every moment that lessened the stress.
These guys wouldn't take it far. They wouldn't. They
adhered to some kind of rulebook, and that was their
back again. Waiting took a long time, with no food nor
water and several more painful positions, one of them
where he stood facing the wall with legs and arms outstretched
in a search position, while holding himself up by his
fingertips. The noise grinding on the nerves and the
stress wearing on the body. The interrogation wasn't
actually the hard part. The interrogation was a walk
in the park. Firstly, that room was warm, and secondly,
his body could recover, but most importantly, these
didn't leave him alone with himself, wondering, doubting,
but gave him an enemy to concentrate on.
they took him out again, he was led into a different
room, which seemed unlike the earlier interrogation
room, similar to a hospital ward. Once the blindfold
was gone, Vadim saw a small round man with a red face,
bloated like a pig, and a nurse in fully starched uniform,
who had to be in her fifties and was sternly looking
at him with a large syringe in her hand that seemed
more designed for a horse than a man. He didn't believe
they'd put that into him, no way. He looked the nurse
over, dismissively, from head to toe, then smiled softly
at the syringe. Needles? A common fear, but this was
exaggerated. He had plucked rubbery leeches off his
skin for weeks. Syringes at least were hygienic and
name!" The man barked, who was dressed in a white
coat with a stethoscope around his neck, hands sheathed
in rubber gloves. Nice touch. The gloves alone promised
another body cavity search. Vadim thought they should
have done this as a dentist's room. That was an even
worse fear for most.
though spoken as an order, this was the first proper
question. Well. Time to give them something for their
can't answer that question." Softly, to downplay
what accent he had left.
is your injury." Narrowing his eyes, the man came
closer, forced to look up as he barely reached to the
height of Vadim's shoulders.
can't answer that question."
are here because you are sick. You have been reported.
So, don't take me for a fool, where does it hurt."
was amazed they considered this little mind game effective
enough to intimidate somebody who'd gone through Selection.
It was bizarre more than funny, this guy probably acting
on some film featuring evil Nazi doctors and assuming
that would faze him.
can't answer that question."
up!" The man barked, "Why are you here? Louder!"
shit. If he didn't answer, that was admitting a weakness,
and that would allow them to home in on it. "I
can't answer that question." Somewhat louder, throat
tight because he knew he wouldn't pass for native. And
that made his accent probably worse.
pathetic little weakling." The 'doctor's' face
got redder as his voice rose. "We'll find out anyway."
He waved to the nurse who came closer, now with a clip
board in her hand, pen poised. "Take all your clothes
hesitated, eyes briefly meeting those of the nurse,
but her stare was fixed without any expression onto
him as the 'doctor' continued to shout out his orders.
"All your clothes."
stripped, his guts tightening. The Cyrillic on his back.
The scar even closer to his balls. Fuck. He should never
have allowed that, should never have allowed to be marked
like that. While Dr Williams was too polite to comment,
good manners were clearly not necessary in this room.
He only hoped both these Brits followed their country's
time-honoured tradition of complete ignorance regarding
any language that wasn't English. Dan was an exception.
A very exceptional exception. He straightened and stood
there naked, forcing himself to stare straight ahead.
nurse was making notes throughout, then walking slowly
around Vadim, as her pen scratched over the paper, and
he felt his shoulder blades moving closer together as
if his body was trying to protect itself from her stare.
His body was tense, muscles taut, and he suddenly found
it hard to breathe. This stopped being funny.
nurse had not said a word while the man sat down at
his desk, as he took over the clip board. The nurse
stepped into Vadim's back and he had to resist turning
around, or glancing over his shoulder with more effort
than he could mask. The tensing of his stomach muscles
was only too visible. "Closer." The 'doctor'
expected Vadim to stand right in front of the desk.
"Legs braced." Vadim closed his eyes. They
wouldn't. Would they? How far could they go? Obeying,
though, but he knew he betrayed stress now.
interrogating 'doctor's' fleshy hand moved right between
Vadim's legs, cupping his balls and pressing upwards
while squeezing, hard. Vadim further tensed his muscles
and he felt like jumping and staying completely still.
No comment on the scars. It meant nothing to them. Nothing
Ordering, while the hand gripped even harder, as if
the 'doctor' tried to fist the tissue back into the
body, making Vadim breathless and nearly choking the
cough inside. Fucking hurt. He didn't want the guy touching
him. Medically yes, whatever, but this went over his
capacity to ignore. Hurt.
first response was to snarl and tell him what the fuck
he thought he was doing, another part of him wanted
to crawl back as deeply into his skin as possible, and
those conflicting urges gave way to a sentence written
in red letters all over his mind.
can't ..." bear this, "answer that question."
Vadim tensed more, expecting to be kicked or hit now,
shamed and humiliated.
are bringing this onto yourself." The 'doctor's'
fat face was sweating now and the anger made his face
over!" The command was sharp as the man stood up
once more, hands on the desk, leaning forward so that
his face was close to Vadim's. He could feel the spittle
spray as the 'doctor' shouted out, "are you a liar,
then? If you don't tell us where it hurts, I assume
you are a liar, and we hate liars." The voice got
even louder, yelling into the other ear, "do you
know what we do with liars?"
over. Like any of the sick games in the army. Vadim's
disbelief vanished, his heart raced and he began to
sweat. They wouldn't. Throat so tight he was unable
to speak, unable to protest, clinging to that sentence,
the one thing he was allowed to say. You're bringing
this upon yourself. "I can't answer that question."
Needed to speak it to mask the fear that was clawing
hands, much smaller than the interrogator's, were suddenly
on Vadim's bared arse, roughly manipulating muscles
and flesh. It didn't matter they didn't go any further,
Vadim's whole body tensed into immovability, eyes closed,
sudden tension nauseating as his stomach jumped into
his throat, gagging him.
your legs, you useless, sorry excuse for a soldier!"
The man yelled at the top of his lungs, right into Vadim's
are. Vadim believed they would, his mind lurched, and
he opened his eyes, forcing the memory away of being
helpless and outside his body, of the animal fear that
they had drilled into him. He stared at the man,
whose beady eyes narrowed, with hatred and fear raging
inside, so intense, his mind was blank, while the 'doctor's'
face twitched. But Vadim obeyed the order, mostly because
he had no strength to resist. Knowing in his heart they
could and they would, and there was nothing he could
do about it. No resistance. No mercy. Teeth clenched
to not scream at the bastard.
hands remained on his arse, the sensation of rubber
digging into clenched skin while moving quickly, as
the 'doctor' shouted at him once more, "what is
your name, scum!"
can't answer that question." I can't. Because if
you make me speak, I'll rip your head off. I'll kill
both of you. And get done for murder.
do you hurt, loser!"
Vadim repeated the red sentence, the one that felt like
a dentist's drill and tasted like bile. "I can't
answer that question!" shouting on the last
two words, brought too close, anger and outrage replacing
the fear, fully. They would do it, and then he'd kill
them. Life was simple now, a place of simple choices.
Endure, or die. Kill, or die inside. Again.
pressure behind him increased, a body came close, too
close, pressing against his own while the 'doctor's'
eyes flickered to a spot beyond Vadim, when suddenly
the door flew open and two guards came marching in without
a word. The presence in Vadim's back vanished that very
second and before he knew what happened, they slipped
the blindfold over his eyes. It was tied and his arms
grabbed and pulled into his back as the guards pushed
him forwards, away, to move once more, while not a single
sound was uttered by anyone until he had reached the
door and the 'doctor's' voice was heard a last time,
yelling after him, "you'll wish you had answered
my question, you sorry excuse for a man!"
struggled for a moment, wanted to turn round and go
at the fat bastard's throat, but the guard held him
and he knew they'd drag him away and give him a beating,
just because he'd been disrespectful, but everything
was better than having a body press against him, getting
What? What had that actually been?
once more into the freezing cold and darkness. They
threw the pyjamas at Vadim and untied him, and he dressed,
burning with shame and fear, just expecting to be kicked
and beaten up, knowing he'd get badly injured in the
process. That would RTU him, which meant nothing, exactly
nothing, because there was no unit, no life, no nothing.
He would have crawled into some space, protect his guts
from the onslaught - which never came. They made him
sit and forced his hands onto his head, legs stretched
out in front of him so that he sat in a very upright
'L' with his elbows wrenched back behind his ears. The
white noise was deafening and the cold kept creeping
into his body and every bone, as they changed his position
after an hour of wrenching him back every time he threatened
fear became a dull dread sometime during that hour and
the adrenaline burned out, leaving him completely exhausted.
He wondered why the guards had come in. Did the 'doctor'
have any way of alarming them? Did they think he'd flip?
Did the bastard actually read him so well? Was he that
easily read? The position was agony, exhaustion turned
into the desperate need to sleep, as all thoughts blurred
and the red sentence blurred with them. He had no idea
anymore what he was doing here, or why, just wanted
to rest and sleep and be safe. He was hungry and thirsty,
thirsty enough for his kidneys to hurt, but above all,
he wanted to sleep.
isolation went on for hours, until he was finally pulled
up from one of the stress positions and once more walked
into yet another room. If it could be called walking.
His body seemed to be numb, he hardly felt it, hardly
felt anything at all anything in his body or mind, just
moved with where he was dragged.
room was so hot, the heat descended like a suffocating
blanket. When they took the blindfold off him Vadim
struggled to straighten up and stand to attention. He
was presented with a middle aged man, distinguished
looking, with grey temples and dressed in a fine suit.
"Please, at ease, man."
slumped slightly, grateful for that small kindness,
but at the same time his hackles rose at the man's appearance.
He didn't like this, didn't like it at all. Too much
like Konstantinov. Too much like any twisted father
figure he'd ever had. Different approach. He was so
gentleman steepled his fingertips together and let his
pale grey eyes rest on Vadim. Pulling his thin lips
into a fake smile, he sat and merely regarded Vadim
with a scrutiny that did not seem to miss even the tiniest
thing. And Vadim had no strength left to be grey, didn't
have the strength left to resist much.
is your name?"
was wrong to speak, even if it felt like a relief. It
would be over if only he spoke. "Can't
Vadim shook his head. "That question." Wanted
to add "sorry", or a "sir", but
was too tired to bother and knew he wasn't allowed to
say anything else. And if it killed him.
see." The man leaned back in his chair, looking
Vadim up and down. "Is that because you don't understand
the question? We can get you a translator if you'd like."
Another thin-lipped smile, "if that made it easier
for you. Would it?"
accent. Fuck those bastards for working it out and fuck
himself for betraying it. Vadim's guts twisted and coiled
again; the man likely knew what language he usually
spoke, or had spoken, back in the days when speaking
had meant something. His eyes fixed on the interrogator,
he was too tired to react to the bait. He wouldn't be
here if he didn't understand English. And that of the
man was polished and educated - which made him fearsome.
Vadim breathed, deeply, and forced himself to study
that face, every line around the eyes, then the eyes
themselves, tried to see the viciously destructive intelligence
that had bested him
the type Konstantinov had
harboured. He wanted to defend himself. He really did.
"I can't answer that question." Evenly, and
this time not even slipping on that "I", that
Russian didn't need and frequently omitted. He didn't
speak Russian, and would never again speak Russian.
or won't?" The interrogator blinked once, taking
his time, as he studied Vadim's face. He seemed to take
in every bit of fatigue, every twitch of pain, each
line of exhaustion, and Vadim looked at him and studied
the intelligence behind those eyes, perceptive, awake,
rested, and intent. Four bad things.
me where you come from."
can't answer that question."
are you here?"
can't answer that question."
can't answer that question."
gave you the orders?"
can't answer that question."
is your name?"
questions came in rapid succession, as fast and precise
as a machine gun, and Vadim forced his mind to blank,
knew he had to answer, and answered by clinging to the
red sentence that blurred, but was still readable. The
man's stare was hard to bear and he looked at a point
to the side, near the temple, concentrated on one hair
that stood away, hardly noticeable. Not even think any
of the answers, not in his state, no, no thinking, obeying
without giving in, without taking a single step back.
There was no room behind him, just a cliff.
can't answer that question."
do you come from?"
can't answer that question."
can't answer that question."
sent you here?"
can't answer that question."
old are you?"
can't answer that question."
were you born?"
can't answer that question."
you like something to eat?"
can't answer that question."
is your name?"
can't answer that question."
and on and on, again and again, in a never ending barrage
of questions, designed to trip up and confuse the weakened
mind and to wind their way into the victim's brain until
his resolve broke down. Vadim struggled against it,
keeping to the one sentence that was just as monotonous,
just as bad, but still was his only sanctuary. He had
no idea how long the game lasted, he was tired and confused
and felt weak and pathetic, everything blurred, while
the interrogation went on, seemingly endlessly.
after an eternity, the man stood up. Nothing had ruffled
his countenance and even now, when he pushed a piece
of paper and a pen towards Vadim, his voice sounded
exactly as it had done throughout. Never raised, never
altered. "Very well, then. In that case sign here
and you can go."
hand raised - and clenched. Wrong. Trap. No.
the confession, and it will all be over. That is what
you want, isn't it?
looked at the paper again, couldn't even read what was
written on there, if anything at all, then looked at
the man again. He wanted to sign, but Konstantinov would
have won again. And he had no points to give away. He
shook his head, once.
the man's pronunciation betrayed upper class and education,
"can't you write, man?"
can't answer that
question." Vadim watched
impassively as the interrogator picked up the pen himself.
"Here, let me help." Pushing it into Vadim's
hand, which refused to close around it, like it was
a glowing coal. He'd never again sign his life away.
Never again. No way.
a few crosses will do. Just go ahead and sign and there
will be food and drink waiting, and sleep." The
interrogator even pulled his thin lips into a pale smile.
Treating him like an imbecile. Vadim dropped the pen
and shook his head again. Instead stared at the red
sentence in his mind, tried to make the words larger,
nail them all over his mind. Whatever insult. Whatever
man stood for a moment, searched the face in front of
him, before he nodded to someone behind and beyond Vadim.
The next moment he was grabbed by hands that held his
arms as the blindfold came over his eyes once more.
He hadn't noticed anybody else in the room and this
came as a shock, again, but he didn't struggle for long,
just an instinctive reaction.
same routine, the same room, the same noise and the
same ice cold air, as well as the same positions of
pain and utter discomfort which went on for several
more hours. He had no idea how long it took, tried counting,
tried anything, too exhausted to do much more than think
of things he'd learnt by heart, like the pledge back
in the Soviet Army days, to serve his country with honour,
but that burnt his mind. He recoiled, disgusted and
shocked that he would fall back onto something he'd
cursed so often, pledges he had broken, and that had,
ultimately, broken him.
memory he groped for, each one was wrapped in barbed
wire, and he kept repeating old army songs in his head,
because he couldn't remember much poetry, or literature,
spending the time while his mind underneath panicked
like a frantic rat in a burning cage. It would never
stop, he was back in the Lubyanka and it would never
stop, and he had to tear his mind back into the present,
with a supreme act of will.
had no idea how much time had passed, or would yet pass,
and how many more interrogations. He wasn't sure he
could take a single one now, not now, not ever. Thought,
with what felt like desperate irony, that it was good
that Chris had been sent home to his unit - if the tension
in the jungle had nearly made him break, he didn't stand
a chance of coming out on the other side of this one.
when Vadim thought he could not take any more, and when
his body threatened to collapse under the strain of
pain and exhaustion, he was hauled back up onto his
feet once more.
entered the warmth of a room but it took a while, during
which he stood as best as he could to attention, before
they finally took his blindfold off. In front of him,
draped over a chair, was a highly attractive, dark-haired
woman, dressed provocatively in an elegant gown with
a low neck, revealing an exquisite cleavage. And, as
she shifted with a smile on her beautifully made up
face, long, shapely legs came into view, matching the
rest of her perfect figure.
The. Fuck. She could have been from Mars, or anything
else that didn't make any sense. Vadim didn't get why
she was here, thought for a moment they'd taken him
into the wrong room and this was for the officers' entertainment.
look exhausted." She smiled, "they must be
treating you terribly." Her voice soft and warm
with a most pleasing Irish accent, as gentle as her
dark eyes, as she pointed to a chair close to her. "Would
you like to sit down?"
can't answer that question." Saying that didn't
make any sense, but at least it had become a reflex.
He had no idea what this meant. Or why. Then, staring
at her and the way she sat there, he realised that probably
every man out there had to find her irresistible. She
showed enough to be that, at least to every red-blooded
male. Only, he wasn't.
She pouted, "oh dear, what a shame, and I would
have so liked to have a chat with you." Shifting
once more, she stretched out on the chair to reveal
the full length of her leg and most of the swelling
of her breasts as she leaned forward.
eyes rested on that leg and he thought they were nicely
toned, she must be running, or maybe dancing. The lithe
way she moved spoke of dancing, most likely. A prostitute?
me at least, do you find me attractive?" She smiled
warmly and enticingly, as she slowly moved to stand
that didn't make any sense. Like asking him what he
thought of the décor. He looked at her and measured
the body. Pretty. She was. Softer than Katya, but a
Damascene rapier was softer than Katya. Still, it didn't
make any sense. He glanced at the door, wondered when
the guards would take him and bring him to the proper
room. But maybe it wasn't a mistake. And she had asked
a question, nonsensical as the chirping of a bird, but
a question. "I can't answer that question."
really." She walked around Vadim and leaned close,
softly speaking into his ear. "I'm not joking,
do you find me attractive?" Her hand rested on
his arm as her body pressed gently close. The warmth
of her skin heated his own through the thin fabric of
the pyjamas, cold from endless hours in freezing conditions.
was nice. The warmth. Really nice. Somebody who didn't
shout at him. He liked that voice, yet another variation
of English, throaty, cat-like, a nice, pleasant touch,
and he soaked up her warmth. Oh. Again. Question. "I
can't answer that question." Didn't want to tell
her she was pretty, but not quite his taste. Women didn't
tried again, and with every trick under the sun and
every bit of charm that she was capable of. Cajoling
and smiling, asking and touching, but all she ever got
in the end, was "I can't answer that question"
until she got annoyed, her tone suddenly turning sharp
and abrupt as she took a step back. At the same time
the door opened and two guards entered the room, remaining
close to the wall without interfering.
off, please." Impatiently waiting as she tapped
her high heeled foot, her hands on her slender hips.
"Come on hurry up, if you can't talk to me then
I want to see how big you are. Or can't you talk because
you have such a small one? Hm?"
one. Small one. Whatever. Vadim again began to strip,
dropping the top first, with no emotional response.
It was an order, so he did it. He was like an automaton
now, with his mind only awake enough to stick to the
sentence, the rules, and nothing else.
Response. "I can't answer that question."
Stepping out of the pyjama bottoms. Obedience. He was
still cold, exhausted, ready to collapse, but at the
same time, these tests were the only thing that stood
between him and real physical pain.
laughed as she stood before him. "You aren't big
at all, are you? In fact, you're the smallest I have
ever seen and here I was, believing that such a big
man would have a big cock. Far from it." She took
a step closer, "tell me, or maybe you are a girl?
It certainly is small enough for it."
can't answer that question." It was absurd in a
way that some dreams were absurd, nothing got close,
he glanced warily at the guards, then at the prostitute,
then suddenly realised they didn't know he wasn't interested
in women. Not even this kind, certainly not this kind.
He gave her a smile at that thought, wondered how many
of the others had responded to her and knew he was immune
and they didn't know the first thing about his weaknesses.
continued to insult him, in every way imaginable. His
body, his manhood, questioning his very being, asking
questions that only ever received the same answer, until
she finally called angrily to the guards to take that
faggot out of her sight, leaving Vadim just enough time
to gather up the pyjamas before the blindfold once more
descended over his eyes and he was marched out of the
That was about right, but he'd been called that so often
and laced with a far worse punishment, and he was too
tired to care. Okay, they might know that now, and knew
he wasn't British, but they were still trying to get
a grip on him. That was good. The past started to blur,
the other interrogations became one, moved away, became
black and white and sepia. Hard to remember, when all
he wanted to do was sleep. Maybe a few more hours. Half
a day. He didn't care, it didn't matter, as long as
he stuck to that sentence.
was taken back into the white noise of the freezing
room and made to put the clothing back on before he
was forced to stand on his tiptoes, arms stretched out
over his head and against the wall, supported by his
fingertips. Pain. Tiredness. His mind washed out, merely
holding on, muscles tight, as if shortened, and weak,
beginning to cramp up again, tremors passing through
his body that might be early warnings of cramps, or
shuddering from the cold. He idly wondered whether Dr
Williams had had any idea what he was sending him into.
Vadim didn't know what was going on, whether they talked
about him, whether they felt he was doing alright, and
at this point didn't even care whether he'd made it
or not. Nothing made much sense, nothing was important.
half an hour later, he was once again taken out of the
ice cold room and was guided through one of the many
corridors, when suddenly his blindfold was taken off,
still in the corridor itself. This made him tense, now
expecting that beating that he'd been feeling hanging
over his head, but no real fear, more a feeling of "let's
get it over with", but he reached a room where
the door was wide open, warmth and light coming out
of it, as well as voices.
But he was past caring.
A man's voice at Vadim's side, and the next moment a
person stepped into his vision. The Officer in Command
of the training wing, in uniform and with a black armband.
That meant something, something important, like a different
set of rules.
are you feeling alright?" The OC asked, as one
of the DS staff, who had been working closely with Vadim's
patrol, came out of the room, carrying two cups of coffee.
can't answer that question." Looking at the OC,
ignoring the DS, he'd kill for a cup of coffee, or tea,
or whatever. Vadim wasn't expected to make any deals,
sign anything, accept anything. Not even something hot
to drink. Ignoring the bastard, and concentrating on
the man in charge.
course," the OC nodded as the DS flashed a brief
grin. "Remember me, Krasnorada? I am OC Brighton,
and this is DS Stafford." Pointing to their black
armbands, with the way he spoke it was clear that Vadim
was not the only one who could not snap out of it. "Remember,
when we are wearing black armbands this means it is
frowned, dug around in his mind, his memories, something
about dogs and jungle and the dark shadow of a man,
glimpses, and a first meeting somewhere
beginning of training. "I can't
just to make sure he didn't fail on the last leg. Looked
into that man's face like a wild-eyed savage dragged
from the forest. Krasnorada. They knew his name. They
would. Nobody else had called him that. Maybe a different
authority. Maybe it was true. But the risk of failure
was too big. He glanced around, checking for the guards
that would keep him under control, drag him out again.
Wanting that coffee so very much.
36 hours are done. Relax, Krasnorada, it's over."
The DS was stepping aside while holding out the cup,
drinking from his own as he kept Vadim under careful
scrutiny. He wouldn't have been the first man who flipped
at the end.
reached up for the cup, hand clenched again in mid-motion,
nothing in his body seemed to know how to respond. Was
he really allowed to drink? There was no cruelty, no
pressure, but even the woman had changed faces quickly.
Shaking his head, then reaching for the cup, with the
dread that alone condemned him as surely as picking
up a booby trapped dead comrade.
over," the OC repeated once more as they made way
into the warmth of the room that had nothing in common
with any of the interrogation rooms. It was simply an
office that Vadim even recognised as he'd been in there
repeated Vadim, not quite grasping it. No more stress
positions. Black armbands. There weren't, like, dark
blue to fuck him up, they were the black thing. They'd
told him that that was different rules. The old rules
stopped and evaporated. He was dumbstruck at the sudden
freedom to speak, or think, and the only thing he wanted
was to sleep. "What's
Bleary-eyed and dog-tired. "Sir?"
did it." The OC smiled and nodded once more. "Well
done, Krasnorada. Good man."
nodded. Done. Over. The last test, selection done. "Thank
thank you, Sir." Still bewildered, he gave a smile,
idiotic in its relief and openness as he dropped his
guard, mostly because he didn't have the strength to
keep it up.
OC patted Vadim's shoulder and he could have patted
a wall for all the reaction that Vadim showed. "Now
get that coffee down your neck, then off to the cookhouse
for some grub and get yourself checked over by the medic,
just in case." He was about to leave the room.
sir." Vadim wasn't sure what else was expected,
but following that order seemed like a good idea. He
took a sip from the coffee, which tasted good, and hot,
hot was the main thing.
sleep, man. Sleep for as long as you like." With
that the OC turned and walked through the door.
nodded. "Yes, sir." That sounded like the
best order in the world. Disoriented, but at least free
to walk and speak, even if he didn't make any sense
anymore, he followed the orders in the exact sequence
they had been given. Finished the coffee, which made
him aware just how fucking cold he was, then managed
to find the cookhouse, still in the flimsy pyjamas,
emptied a plate of whatever it was - he never truly
remembered what he ate that night, only that he grabbed
some more food on the way. Then fell asleep waiting
for the medic and hardly woke as he was prodded and
checked, just blissfully sleeping, eventually waking
up enough to walk, in whatever direction, and miraculously
ending up in a bed. Even his bed. Whether the DS had
somehow steered him that way, he didn't know. Didn't
remember a thing after all this.
days later, in very different surroundings and a very
different country, Vadim was asked to wait in an elegantly
furnished ante room at the British embassy in Dubai.
There was tea in a fine china set beside him on a small
table, as well as an arrangement of biscuits, all laid
out on silver plates and painted porcelain. The refinement
of the place a stark contrast to the thousand places
that his body ached. He'd slept on the plane, blissfully
unaware, but mostly coherent. He still felt like a week
or two of nothing but sleep and food.
had made it, which was good, and there had been the
traditional piss-up, even though Vadim wasn't SAS and
would never be. Lacking the main things that were needed
to be part of the Regiment, like, being born in Britain
and being a member of the British Forces, but he was
still invited to share in the beer frenzy and the bragging.
Only he kept mostly silent and listened, but felt a
strange pride when Andy told the story with the paras
'getting it'. Still, he had to leave, and did, didn't
give a reason, just told Andy he had to "move on",
and Andy called him "strange" again, and "mate",
and Vadim walked out, hurting in an odd way that gave
shook his head, stared at the porcelain. He did not
have to wait long before the ambassador's aide returned
to take him to the Baroness' office, where she was waiting,
standing, hands clasped in front of her and appearing
far taller than the petite lady truly was.
Krasnorada, I am glad to see you again." Perhaps
she was, perhaps she wasn't. No way to tell from the
carefully guarded but immensely polite face.
bowed. "Ma'am. I'm glad to be here." Honest
would hope so." She allowed herself a brief smile
as she gestured elegantly to the leather settee, and
he obeyed and sat down. Still mentally too exhausted
to fear, as if all of that had been used up and drained
away. She was no threat. She played fair. She could
still destroy him, though.
herself down onto the comfortable leather chair in front
of the settee, she looked at Vadim and took her time
doing so. Vadim looked at her, too, meeting that gaze,
then turned to the side with a half-smile, trying to
be polite and not stare.
am impressed with your performance." She finally
said, "and will of course uphold my part of the
deal." As if by magic, her aide appeared again,
carrying a document folder which she took from the young
man who duly disappeared. The large doors hardly made
a sound as they closed behind him.
a deeper understanding now", Vadim
murmured, which would have sounded more honest in Russian
- English somehow made this sound empty, like the worst
of his reports. "It was
Trying to find a way to explain what he felt when all
the thoughts still hadn't properly settled.
nodded. "I have here the documents required for
your passport, which will be ready as soon as your photograph
has been taken." The Baroness opened the folder
on the low table between them, pulling out a wad of
papers. "All you need to do is sign." She
looked at him and a brief smile ghosted across her face
as she laid a silver pen in front of Vadim. "And
you shall be a British citizen."
looked at her, then at the pen. Just a signature away
now, a life, and not that miserable stolen existence
somewhere in limbo. A place where he could be part of
something, anything. Like Andy was, or any of the other
SAS guys. Like Dan. Changing sides. He took the pen,
enjoying the weight, the fine craftsmanship and care
that had gone into it. Ceremonial. His eyes flickered
over the document, found the dotted line. Vadim Petrovich
Krasnorada. In Latin letters, writing appearing somewhat
unwieldy on his first name, but already smoother on
his father's name. And fluid on the last name.
she said after a pause, looking up with that familiar
half-smile, "this is settled, then." Standing
up, she held out her hand. "Welcome to the United
Kingdom, Mr Krasnorada."
stood and took her hand, carefully, dazed, but more
pleased and relieved than anything else. "Thank
passport will be with you in a few hours, until then,
you are my guest." She seemed suddenly aware that
something more important than even the documents had
not been touched yet, and she raised her head, looking
straight into the pale eyes in front of her. "As
for the other part of the bargain, we need another man
in the Gulf. Saudi-Arabia, Iraq, Kuwait. You name it,
we need you."
nodded. "They say it's still interesting there."
small pause during which she folded her hands once more.
"Are you still willing to meet Dan McFadyen again?"
"Willing is not the word, Ma'am. More
desperate. "Determined. I need to speak to him."
And it made his heart beat faster. He'd wanted to tell
Dan that he felt nothing anymore. But somehow, on the
way, that old muscle in his chest had changed its opinion.
Something, somewhere, even though he couldn't pinpoint
it. Like something had healed, or been opened, or he
simply could feel again. "And if I
you and repay you some of your kindness, I'd be honoured."
Again, the naked truth.
Baroness inclined her head. "In that case, Mr Krasnorada,
your flight will be soon." She bent down to gather
the documents and to put them back into the folder,
carrying it in her hands. "As soon as possible."
He didn't have much, and had left nothing behind. He'd
needed to be kitted out, but assumed there were ways
to do hat. The Gulf was close, why even bother and return
to the island when he could just travel on - soon. Maybe
rest a little more, at least get rid of the aches and
that numbness of his mind that spoke of the exhaustion,
but after that, he'd be ready. "Maybe
week, Ma'am, or ten days, and I'm ready."
nodded, "I am afraid I have to leave you now but
you shall not lack anything while you are my guest."
Walking towards a smaller set of doors on the other
side of the room, she stopped before she reached them.
Turning back, as she had done, a few months earlier,
"And don't forget, Mr Krasnorada, do make him see."
bowed again. "I will make him see." It would
all turn out well in the end. He wouldn't disappoint
Dan again, and, for once, fight side by side. Repaying
him his trust and love, and all the good things, and
maybe it would be as it had been. There