The Kindness of Strangers

From the Story Arc: There's No Place Like Home

Previous Story in the Arc: Address to the troops by Red Saviour (Tuesday, June 07, 2005)

Next Story in the Arc: Alone In The Dark by Althea Nagy (Wednesday, June 08, 2005)

(posted Wednesday, June 08, 2005)

Had the drip of the water been steady, she could have ignored it, and perhaps finally gotten sleep. A Fifth Column guard with a truncheon stood outside her cell, rattling the bars every time her eyes closed. Chained to the wall, she could do nothing more than silently repeat the half-remembered chants from her training in China as water dripped from a broken pipe in the ceiling. The stench of sewage burned her nostrils.

Her wrists were numb from the manacles. Her legs ached from straining to reach the ground and support her weight; her captors gave her the choice of dangling from her arms or balancing on tiptoes. Her proud CCCP uniform had been ripped at the amusement of the guards. That a gang rape didn’t follow was a surprise. She knew well what the conditions of prisons could be. She’d sent many of their comrades down the river.

With a clank, the cell door opened. Oberst Connor strolled in, nonchalant as a park visitor. He wrinkled his nose.

“You haff soiled yourself again, woman. Must we put diapers on you?” His mouth worked over the words like chewing gum.

She resisted the urge to point out that she’d hung on the wall for days on end with no respite. Instead, she clenched her jaw and stared at the man’s boots: immaculate, and steel shanked. Made for kicking.

The grunt at his side jabbed her in the ribcage. “Answer, schweinhunt!”

“Rodilsya… cherez… jopu.” She spit the last word out. The Oberst’s eyebrows raised.

“Charming, fraulein, but I assure you I came out of Mutter’s womb through the proper channels. Hit her again.”

The truncheon opened her cheek. She gasped at the pain.

“Hmm. That could become infected, jah? I would like to authorize medical attention, but my orders are clear.” He frowned and tapped his lips. “Leave us. Schnell.”

“Jahwohl, Herr Oberst.” The man saluted and closed the cell door behind him.

Oberst Connor leaned in close. His breath tickled her cheek. It smelled of mint. “My dear, you make this hard on yourself. You have had no food or sleep in days. Your body cannot take this kind of abuse.” His glance swept down to her torn shirt. “And a lovely body it is. I am sure you vill not appreciate this, but I have issued strict orders not to touch you. These men can be such animals, but a young beauty like yourself deserves better.” He reached out to stroke her exposed shoulder, then stopped. “I apologize. The order applies to me as well, though in another time I vould take you to the finest restaurant and ply you with diamonds. I am not a bad man.”

The Oberst reached into his jacket and produced a flask. “If my superiors learn about this, I vill be severely reprimanded for giving comfort to the enemy. But you, you are an enemy I respect. This torture, it is unwarranted.” He uncorked the flask. The smell of vodka cut through the stale air. “Please, take a drink.” He held the flask to her mouth, as if feeding a baby.

She pressed her lips shut against the mouth of the flask. She wanted nothing from this man. Yet the buttery smell of the vodka brought back so many memories of happier times, of home, of family… tears ran down her cheek.

“Quickly, please, fraulein. I take a risk here.”

She allowed a gulp of the vodka into her mouth. It was inferior, American made, but nevertheless her heart leaped with joy. It settled in her stomach like a blanket.

“Gut, gut. Tell no one, my dear.” He capped the flask. It vanished into his jacket. “I won’t lie to you and tell you I am your friend, because I cannot be. But I hope someday that circumstances allow us to share a drink again.” He smiled sadly.

“Sp-spasibo,” she whispered.

“Shhh,” he said. He punched her in the gut, not hard, but with an excess of movement. “That is for your mulishness, woman!” He announced loudly. “This will continue until you co-operate with us.”

The Oberst gave her a sad wink before he left her cell.

Perhaps, Red Saviour thought, perhaps I’ll let him live.

#

Natalya awoke with a gasp. She’d dreamed of her time in Council (then Fifth Column) hands again, and dreamed vividly. The dreams had gone away months ago, but Althea’s abduction brought them back in full force. Oberst Connor had lied to her from the start, for it was his task to manipulate a suitably weakened Red Saviour into swallowing their propaganda.

She checked her watch: she’d slept for half an hour, fifteen minutes more than she wanted. She stomped into the communications room to scold Bella before asking for an update and getting a sandwich. The stomach virus was gone, replaced by a ravenous appetite driven by the need to stay awake and find Althea Nagy, no matter what the cost.

Poor Thea, she thought. I won’t let them do that to you. I swear on Lenin’s tomb I will protect you.