[identity profile] krasnogorje.livejournal.com
Hydrogen was the most abundant element in the universe, so there was a great and cosmic irony in waiting nearly three weeks for the shipment to arrive on Utrov's transport.

With the flip of a lever there was liftoff in the form of a colorless flame, and disbelieving laughter. No need for two fuel tanks or a complex ignition system; hydrogen reacted violently with oxygen.

It was a funny little element. One asocial proton and a lonely orbiting electron.

It was also the lightest element in the universe; seven percent lighter than helium, and burned brilliantly at the centers of stars all across the galaxy.

For her purposes, though, it reduced the weight of her weapon by fifty-some kilograms and made gravity an obsolete boundary. Hydrogen didn't simply defy the laws of physics, it spat in their face and called their collective mothers a whore.

All it took was a good start from a fair distance, and Katerina ran up the side of the Main Wing like a spider up a plaster wall, hovered in mid air for a few moments like an indecisive butterfly looking for the perfect flower, and dropped onto the roof of the building.

A few months of tinkering in room 307 produced a hydrogen-fueled jet pack with a shortened wingspan and increased range. With it came improved mobility and implementation of new technology from the West -- a thin, body-skimming flameproof suit replaced asbestos and vulcanized rubber and was more effective at regulating the wearer's core temperature; a gold-leafed face mask with a built in respirator eliminated the need for a heavy smoked glass helmet.

The Fury hadn't invented a better mousetrap, but rather, a better cat.

The woman turned and ran across the roof of the Main Wing, up and over the ledge, bridging the gap to the Administrative Wing in one impossible jump. The landing was a little rough, and she only caught herself at the last possible moment to avoid tripping and landing most unceremoniously, sprawling on the roof.

She was upright and nothing was on fire, so that was good.

Thrusters deactivated, she collected her thoughts and pulled off the expressionless mask that lent itself to nightmares about Venetian demons. The day was overcast and smelled like rain, but her view thus far had only been bronze-hued.

With a sound of pondering, she pulled a small notebook and pencil from the breast pocket of her suit and began scrawling a few notes, pacing back and forth as she wrote, murmuring to herself as though no one was watching.


Aug. 16th, 2008 05:50 pm
[identity profile] hajimenoippolit.livejournal.com
The day passed in slow silence. The pall of presence just out of sight never lifted, a haunting by the living. There was a point that even Polya could tell not to press.

That night he and Nika parted ways with the nod that was becoming habit. Polya couldn't find the words to ask if he was going to be all right.

There was a bond between him and Isaev deeper than Rakitin could comprehend, the severing of it even more so.

As they had learned to when given no strict direction, his steps took him toward the range. It was better to do something productive when weariness began to register.

A false positive, for some time yet. It was surprising how little a body really needed.

He crossed the base, passing soldiers like ghosts.
[identity profile] taras-oleksei.livejournal.com
"We're here," the army pilot called back to them, yelling over the rumble of the helicopter's rotors.

Taras Cheslavovich Oleksei raised his head, blearily.

"Khorosho," he muttered.

He sat between Ilarion and Anya, hunched over, broad uniformed shoulders curled inward, arms folded in front of him and pressed against his stomach.

It had been a very long flight.

They'd arrived at the army base outside of Leningrad just before nine in the morning and boarded the military helicopter. It had clamshell rear loading doors that opened into a cargo area large enough to hold a MVD sedan with room to spare, though it was empty. Apparently, they were the cargo.

The hold was clearly not meant for passenger comfort, or for long trips, for that matter. They sat on a thin metal bench that folded down in the front of the cargo area, which was unheated.

Taras had never been in a helicopter before. He hadn't been prepared for the sensation of flight, which had seemed to vibrate straight through him, shaking him to his core.

He'd spent the first hour of the flight puking into a bucket in the back of the hold.

The second hour, he'd spent dry heaving until he was exhausted. Taras had rinsed his mouth out with vodka and went back to the bench to sit down. Anya had rubbed his back and murmured comforting words, then gave him some hard candy from her purse, like a mother.

After that, he hadn't puked any more, which he considered a point of pride.

Taras knew you had to take it where you could get it.

Ten more hours and four stops to refuel later, he still felt like he'd been beaten from the inside out with brass knuckles.

Conversation had been sparse. Ilarion had seemed preoccupied, while Anya read a pocketbook novel with a small flashlight she had in her purse. Taras thought he might have dozed fitfully, waking up disoriented.

Ahead and below, he could see a few scattered lights through the darkness through the canopy windows in the cockpit, faint signs of what passed for civilization. They circled the base once.

He wondered whose brilliant idea was it, to put a military base out in the middle of the Urals.

Taras straightened in his seat, squaring his shoulders, tugging his MVD cap down low on his brow, shading his mismatched mongrel eyes.

The helicopter hovered, then started to descend.

"All right," Taras said, breaking the silence. He had to speak loudly to be heard, and his voice sounded a little raw.

He turned to look at Ilarion.

"How are we going to play this?"
[identity profile] hajimenoippolit.livejournal.com
Rakitin's path took him to the range by rote before he had consciously set a course. It was a place open to anyone at any time, and thus of interest to few at this hour. Anonymity could be found in the steady report of gunfire.

Rakitin was in a mood to hide in plain sight.

He had left the wounded soldier to sleep, exhausted from the attempt to dig into his recalcitrant memory. For as little as they had ended up having to show for it, he had played along gamely, with remarkable resilience.

It was a stark contrast to other mystery Rakitin was embroiled in. Here, instead of a man hiding his true nature from the world, was a man whose nature hid from himself. It was a kind of honesty by default, to have nothing over which to construct lies.

For as much as it could be said that any man ever knew himself.

Let alone another.

Rakitin faced straight forward as the pattern of bullets subsumed him.
[identity profile] krasnogorje.livejournal.com

Dmitry Grigoriev gave a shiver and raised the collar of his fireproof jumpsuit to stave off the cold northern wind.

Ever since Magadan and its punishing chill, he loathed the winter and the wind that bit at his cheeks and turned them rose-red.

The peppered pertsovka that gently blurred the edges of his senses heated his blood and offered some lasting heat against the Russian night.

He wasn’t sure where he was going as he walked along the still tarmac, vaguely aware of the red lights blinking lethargically on the distant radio tower and the tap of his boots on the concrete.

The sky was clear, and glittered with distant stars, hazed by the lights of the Grad.

Katerina could call the constellations by name, but they were abstract and upside down to Deimos.

It was pleasurable to wander around in the still night without objective or the burden of a flamethrower weighing him down.

Anything could happen in the dark.

Not so long ago, he stalked the streets of Moscow on similar cold, clear nights, under a ghostly full moon. Those memories seemed faded as a weather-worn photograph, slowly tearing away from the nail that held it fast against the back of his mind.

If he wasn’t careful, the northern wind might very well carry it away from him, and only a rusted nail would remain as proof that there ever was such a dark photograph pinned there.

Ahead, a pair of guards huddled together for warmth and possibly more; their conversations stilled as he passed.

His pulse stirred as he thought of them, lovers without names, hushed gasps and desperate cries, pressed up against a wall or crouched behind a truck.

He wanted to turn around and confront them and make a lewd offer they couldn’t refuse, but he kept walking, pulled along like the needle of a compass swinging wildly to point at unseen magnetic fields.

In his periphery vision a figure moved under the halo of yellow from the sodium lights, and Dmitry Grigoriev turned and followed.

[identity profile] eyes-adrift.livejournal.com
Aryol looked down.

He sat cross-legged, hunched over slightly, arms crossed over his thighs. His stomach hurt. Maybe he'd eaten too quickly, or too much, or maybe the dough had been too rich. He didn't know.

The major had called him sick, he remembered. It had been the night before, after he'd confessed about who Kasya was to him.

Aryol tugged idly at one of his bootlaces.

"How does something like that happen?" he asked.

It was a moment before he looked up.

He hesitated, then met the major's eyes.

"Was he born sick? Or did something bad happen to him? Or did no one ever tell him that it's wrong to kill people, and he just doesn't know it?"

Aryol looked down again. He gave his bootlace a sudden yank, and pulled the knot free.

"I mean, that would be pretty messed up, because normal people know that. Would you be able to tell it was him, if you met him, just by the way he acted? Or would he seem normal at first? Or could you look him in the eye - "

He glanced up.

"...and tell something was wrong?"
[identity profile] hajimenoippolit.livejournal.com
They said a new day was a clean slate.

It might even be true, if you could move all the other ones piled on top to see.

As luck would have it, it was Captain Irinarhov watchfully trailing Rakitin through the courtyard to the lab this morning. Rain was falling, making visibility poor, and he was sticking close. He hadn't said a word.

Not that that was unusual. It was one of the characteristics that, in any other situation, would have tempted Polya to keep a close watch for raindrops to pass through him.

He had to accept that Irinarhov was a solid and living man, whatever might suggest otherwise.

However much easier it might have been, otherwise.

Entering the outbuilding was the sudden cessation of the pressure of rain, and the withdrawal of its noise to the distance of roof and walls. Rakitin remained by the door, shaking droplets from his hat, until it closed and dampened the rest of the sussurrus.

"Captain," Rakitin said, as the newborn silence was drawing breath. "May I have a word with you?"

Mess, cont

Jan. 2nd, 2008 08:00 pm
[identity profile] hajimenoippolit.livejournal.com
Rakitin stared at Liadov, his stomach clenched into a ball of ice.

Slowly, as he studied Nika's expression, he realized something.

Someone was striking derision and a wall of cold rejection, someone was where they weren't wanted, and it wasn't Polya.

How strange.

In the wash of relief and something else (acceptance? No, that was absurd), he felt an undercurrent of sympathy for the supply captain.

For the first time, it occured to him that he could play along.

Polya looked met Utrov's eyes and smiled a little, shyly.

The secret was shared, after all.

"You know, I think he does."


Dec. 17th, 2007 08:27 pm
[identity profile] hajimenoippolit.livejournal.com
Life went on.

Heat and noise, startling after the cold open space of the courtyard, enveloped Liadov and Rakitin as they walked into the mess hall. It was a little early yet, and the building was half full of soldiers boasting, arguing, laughing. It was easy to slip under the surface, though Ippolit was peripherally aware that he still merited a few odd looks. He was used to that.

It was an opportunity to recover from the inquest, and Rakitin was grateful. Isaev's calm stare had been as disorienting as Irinarhov's forgiveness. The interview had been bad enough, but it hadn't disturbed him to this extent. Rakitin hadn't been been given that quality of fear by a man's mere presence since...

...since a long time ago.

The chill was leaching from his mind, now, with the awareness that the case had taken a temporary reprieve. Nika seemed relieved as well.

The corpse would be as dead in the morning.

Rakitin felt some of the tension ease from his shoulders. The day was done. It was unlikely the rest of the evening would provide any especial trials.

By the time they took their places at the accustomed table, Polya had regained the equilibrium to find it all darkly funny. Some days it was as though someone had written half a tragedy and half a farce and thrown the pages in the air.

"So," he said to Nika conversationally, "I hear Molokov's replacement came in today."
[identity profile] utrov.livejournal.com
If anything could be said about Captain Vasily Kirilovich Utrov, it was that he never backed down from playing along with a joke.  When the helicopter had hit a patch of rough air and his travelling companion had gotten agitated he'd wondered only half frivolously if that would be on his epitaph, but things were calmer now.  They'd reached an understanding. 

"That's right," Utrov said with affection.  "I don't bother you, and you don't kick me through the wall.  We get along just fine, eh?"

His companion snorted softly and rolled her eyes. 

She wasn't the kind of individual you expected to run into on your first day of serving as supply officer for a remote outpost.  It just went to show, you never knew.

A shift in the pitch of the cabin signaled that they were descending.  She didn't like it.  Utrov got a glimpse out the window of forest and a structure that must have had 'ominous' written on the blueprints next to the dimensions before he turned back to the primary concern.

"It's all right," he soothed, patting the 'cargo' on the shoulder.  "We'll be on the ground soon, and all you'll have to deal with is whyever the hell somebody sent for you in the first place."

She didn't find this amusing, but didn't try to bite him.  The satisfactory state of relations continued until they touched down. 

Utrov opened the door and jumped down into the sunlight, turning back to coax the other to daintily disembark.

"Somebody order a horse?"  he called.
[identity profile] krasnogorje.livejournal.com

Time was a very precious commodity. Finding himself with hours to spare, Iosef immediately gathered his violin and bow and set out for the hallway outside of Volgin’s office in the Main Wing.

Io went the first time to tempt the Colonel’s temper because he found it altogether thrilling in ways he could never hope to understand. He returned the second time for the quiet praise that the first impromptu serenade had received.

What started as an attempt to annoy and provoke had somehow switched gears in the flame solder’s mind. He felt something akin to remorse for the provocation as he stood in the deserted hallway once more.

The Blue Danube only brought secretaries to come and stare with awe and approval, and gasps of delight, and much appreciated applause. No one came forth from Volgin’s office; not for the Blue Danube, or the Gimn Sovetskovo Soyuza, or even for Eine Kleine Nachtmusik.

Io spent a good ten minutes scowling at the door from behind his respirator, as though sheer force of will alone would bring the Colonel out from hiding. There was nothing, the lights were off, and Yevgeny Volgin was certainly not home. It was foolish to think will alone could coerce him to appear on command.

So Iosef eventually retreated to the yard, disappointed with the world, and left the office workers to their dull paperwork.

It was a beautiful spring day, clear and blue. The snow had all but melted away, and the illusive promise of warmth drifted on the breeze.  The sun was pleasant and gentle on his face. 

A seemingly abandoned truck was all the invitation he needed. Climbing onto the hood with violin and flamethrower was a difficult task, but one that was overcome with ingenuity and creative wiggling.

A pair of GRU regarded the gas-masked violinist with hesitant curiosity, until he began to play for them. A sweet melody to match the kind disposition of the early spring day.

Ode to Joy seemed to match the mood set by the clear, light hearted day. It translated well to a solo piece he thought, shutting his eyes as the notes flowed from the violin, took flight, and fluttered away on orange and black butterfly wings.

It wasn’t long before he had another crowd gathered around. Among them, he recognized the German Major, but there were others who were unfamiliar to the flame patrol Lieutenant.

It struck him just fine, and he smiled.  Strangers were always welcome to listen.

[identity profile] nikanor-liadov.livejournal.com
Nika left mess intending to return to his quarters.

It was nice out, for winter, however, and he lingered on his walk, crossing through the tank yard, occasionally gazing up at the night sky.

A blanket of stars, a dark bright blue, illumed from behind by unseen, uncast light.

He assumed Rakitin was right behind him, but he had yet to see Polya disembark the mess hall, or hear his companionable shout.

Perhaps Polya had business to attend to, like the nights he'd been privy to what Liadov had not.

Rakitin was ostensibly GRU now, and no longer objective and uncompromised, as far as Nika was concerned.

If in fact he ever had been. It seemed Rakitin's wandering eye for unguarded cock caused him to lapse in common sense. He'd said himself he could take or leave the KGB, in no uncertain terms that left Liadov fairly stunned at their utterance. Once, men were sent to the Gulagi for years for telling a single joke about the government- and here was Ippolit, boldly declaring dissatisfaction with his agency.

And then, this blase admission that he intended to jump ship for Volgin's outfit- well, Rakitin was either supremely brave and confident, or hopelessly naïve to think his kit and bags weren't bugged. Or his teeth, for that matter. Maybe he was more of a renegade than Nika had surmised.

It didn't change his feelings for the man, but it did mean he had one less uncontaminated soul to rely on in this corrupt outpost, if it came down to an issue of justice that conflicted with GRU wishes or politics.

He sighed.

Best not to think about that. Not until it came to it- if it did.

The stars were never-shifting, everlasting.

Nika smiled at them and shook his head.

"Men are fucking imbeciles," he whispered to them, confidentially. "And I foremost among them."
[identity profile] krasnogorje.livejournal.com

The Kalashnikov was feather light and unfamiliar. It felt alien in the dusky shadows before nightfall.

His heart beat unmercifully in his chest like a caged animal dangerous and desperate to escape. Deimos was acutely aware of his pulse, a dull roar of blood that surged through his brain, made everything in his sight tinged with red.

With every breath he drew, he quivered, staring down at the lifeless body that sprawled before him. One of the reinforcements sent up the mountain to help secure the pass. A friendly kid with bright eyes that seemed enamored with the entire world. Too young and in love with everything to mistrust the dark stranger with the flame thrower who suggested they should go behind the storage shed and do for each other what good comrades did in private.

“You’ll be fine, Pasha.” Dmitry mumbled, mostly for his own benefit as his numb fingers struggled pull the zipper of his pilfered camouflage jumpsuit. “A bad headache tomorrow. I could do worse to you…” He held his breath as his eyes wandered over the near-naked body at his feet. “I could think of so many things to do to you…you and I…”

A bright trickle of blood snaked its way across the boy’s forehead, tinting shorn ashen hair rosy. It glimmered in the beam of the flashlight.

Deimos dropped to one knee beside Pasha. Holding his breath, he leaned in close enough to hear the soldier’s breathing, deep and slow, as though he were in a pleasant dream.

“Iosef patrols this sector.” His words were scarcely above a ghostly whisper. “He’ll find you in ten minutes, take good care of you.”

Pasha made a small, broken noise.

With a gentle hand, Deimos cupped the boy’s chin with careful adoration, and licked the blood from his temple.

Salt and copper. Dmitry smiled, satisfied with the bitter taste on his tongue.

“I do thank you for the use of your uniform, and for making everything so easy for me.”

The flame soldier stood, reeling as his head swum with adrenaline. It had been too long, far too long. It was intoxicating, made him delirious, made his prick surge with blood.

Laughing carefree, he pulled the black balaclava down over his face. The perfect image of an innocent GRU soldier, he started down the mountain path with one final look to the rock crevice where he stashed his gear.

“Nikanor Liadov…” He breathed, tasting the name.  It was sweet as honey on his lips, with Pasha's blood fresh in his mouth. “Where are you hiding tonight, Nika, my love?”

[identity profile] leshovik.livejournal.com
They stepped out of the pathologist's outbuilding and into the crisp and cold afternoon air, which held the weighted promise of snow.

Leshovik liked that. It felt cleansing.

He glanced at Aryol, who was looking at him with an expression Leshovik hadn't seen in a long time, like the way he used to look at him when they first met, back when Aryol thought he was the greatest guy in the world.

That was before Aryol had gotten to know him.

Then Leshovik hadn't seen that expression anymore.

But the way Aryol looked at him now was like that, the way he'd caught Aryol looking at Lynx a couple of times. Aryol had a lightness to his features, bright soft eyes and a sunny smile that was all for him.

Aryol stepped close, and slipped an arm around Leshovik's waist, nuzzling his face against Leshovik's temple before pulling away. The contact was as brief as it was tender and impulsive, and it made Leshovik feel ridiculously warm.

"You made him happy," Aryol told him, still smiling. "That was nice."

Leshovik reached out, and tousled Aryol's hair fondly. "Yeah, well, don't tell anyone. I don't want to ruin my reputation for being a dickhole."

Aryol laughed.

Leshovik still had no fucking idea what was going on with Lynx, but it didn't matter as much now, not when the man had looked him in the eye and tacitly admitted that yes, there was something. Something personal, important enough to make him torture a man with sharp, ruthless efficiency. Something greater than a mere assignment.

Before that, the lie had been sitting hard and cold between them, like bringing a rifle to bed.

Leshovik looked around, and spotted Niotkuda, who leaned casually against the side of the building, smiling, but not at them, looking like he'd been laughing to himself. Codec, maybe. Leshovik hailed him, and they walked over.

Niotkuda pushed himself away from the wall with the lazy grace of a natural athlete. Leshovik admired the smooth, indolent motion briefly, finding that it really did remind him of the way Lynx moved.

He blinked, and thought that there was something sort of fucked up about all of this, though he couldn't quite put his finger on it.

"Sorry about that," Leshovik said, gesturing back at the outbuilding apologetically. "Took longer than I thought."
[identity profile] hajimenoippolit.livejournal.com
Rakitin stared at the results as though he could burn through them.

Not just arsenic, but cyanide as well. And, still, something else. As if killing someone one way weren't enough.

Whoever had devised this was a twisted little bastard.

It was some kind of animal venom, that much was certain. Originating from any of the dozens of deadly creatures that made the woods and swamps around Groznyj Grad their home. Or anywhere else in the world. Whoever the bastard was, Rakitin wouldn't put it past him to drag a toad from its home on a muddy river bottom in South America just to make a poison more difficult to combat.

The adversary was growing into a presence in Polya's mind. This was a direct contest, in its own way, with someone who would go to any lengths to hurt the Colonel.

That aspect was more unfathomable than any mysterious toxin.

Slowly, Rakitin was drawing closer to the answer. He wouldn't lose. Just as long as it wasn't too late.
[identity profile] leshovik.livejournal.com
Air kissed the back of Leshovik's neck, as cold as a lover.

They emerged from behind an escarpment and took a jagged scar down to the footpath below, managing to scatter a minimum of dust and debris in their wake. Even he and Aryol were sweating from the cross-country trek carrying their rifles and over thirty kilos of gear over rugged terrain; they hadn't wanted to chance the path that led to Groznyj Grad until the last possible minute, just in case they ran into a patrol.

Lemsky lagged behind. Leshovik hadn't particularly wanted to leave the little fucker at his back, but Lemsky obviously didn't have the physical training or endurance they did, and had struggled to keep up.

Vindictively, Leshovik pushed a hard pace, stopping every so often to glare at Lemsky, goading him on with a bluesteel gaze, sparing him the lambasting only because of the need for stealth.

In some ways, Leshovik missed the cave already. It had been simple, there.

Aryol shot him looks every so often, his gaze pointed and piercing. There were times when it felt like his spotter could see right through him. He had in the cave, Leshovik knew. Aryol had known something was wrong, though at the same time, hadn't understood.

It had been all Leshovik could do to hold it together, then, to keep packing like there wasn't an icy lump in his chest threatening to spread into a burn. A couple of times, he'd caught his hands trembling and had nearly lost it, but the thought of showing weakness in front of either Aryol or Lemsky had pulled him back from the edge.

The forced march had been good, though. Focusing. He'd had to expend so much energy walking that he hadn't had the concentration to get worked up about Lynx.

It had taken on a surreal quality in his mind now, almost like a nightmare, the kind where familiar people became the apotheoses of their own exaggerated traits. Lynx as destroyer, god of a vengeance so detached it was inhuman.

The wound still ran deep, even though his mind shied away from it, now.

He signaled Aryol to stop so they could wait for Lemsky to catch up. They weren't far from the Grad. Just around the switchback path, and they'd be in sight of the main gates.

And the men who guarded them.

Part of Leshovik still thought this was crazy, masquerading as assassin-killers rather than the assassins they were, but trust Lynx to come up with a plan that defied ordinary expectations.

Trust Lynx, he thought, a bitter slash of a smile ghosting his lips.

Problem was, he did.

He brushed his hand across his right ear, slotting Lynx's in-between CODEC frequency.

"Longshot to Lynx. We're outside the gates."
[identity profile] leshovik.livejournal.com
“Target,” Aryol whispered to him. “Sector D, from TRP I right sixteen, add sixteen.”

They lay in wait on the rooftop, side by side, nearly touching; close enough to share warmth, twinned slender figures with rifles, wearing balaclavas and night camo.

Aryol peered down at the building through binoculars, rifle tucked behind him, while Leshovik adjusted his Dragunov minutely, and brought the target in view.

There. A large man, massively broad-shouldered and impressively tall, silhouetted in the window, vulnerable for the moment. The interval of opportunity for the shot ticked off in fractions of seconds.

“Target identified,” Leshovik replied, and checked his mil-dot reticle, with smooth, mechanical precision.

He had done this with success fifty-two times before. Only twelve misses. Not that he was counting those.

“Two point five mils,” Leshovik said.

“Roger that.” Aryol’s voice was crisp, steady and precise. “Dial 300.”

The kid was a good spotter; the best he’d ever worked with, in fact. Utterly calm, never made mistakes. He also had the uncanny aptitude for spotting a target, and that took more than just good eyes.


The target was still moving, and would soon pass out of sight, but he remained hyperfocused on the moment. Everything else faded save for Aryol’s voice in his ear, his rifle, and the slowly moving target.

“Wind from right, 9.6 klicks per hour. Mil one-quarter.”

“Roger,” Leshovik whispered, and made the final adjustment to his rifle.

He was aroused. It always happened, right before he took a shot in the field, when it was real and it counted.

Usually, he went for the spectacular kill. The carnage, as Lynx had called it. He liked to think about the people who pissed themselves upon seeing the body – or rather, what remained of the corpse’s grey matter, splattered on the wall.

But this time…something about what Lynx had said stuck with him, and he went for the quiet kill at the back of the head, brain-stem; immaculate, they called it, if you did it right, one clean hole that bled out, and left a pretty corpse.

I’ll show you fucking art.

He took the shot.

The bullet traveled at supersonic speed, so he saw the result before he heard the pop and echo of the silenced round.

Clean hole through the window, but a spectacular explosion of brain tissue and bone fragments from the top of the target’s head.

“Christ!” His breath caught in his throat, but he performed the follow-through by rote, and chambered another round. “Did I – ”

“You got him.”

“I didn’t mean to – ” he broke off again.

Aryol looked at him, but only for a moment as he stowed away his binoculars. “Come on. We need to get out of here. You didn’t mean to what?”

“Nothing.” He pulled back, slinging his rifle around his shoulder and carefully retreating to the leeward side of their roost, where the ladder was.

He hadn’t meant to turn the target into a geyser of blood. Christ, had he misjudged? He’d meant to aim the shot at the base of his skull, but had ended up taking off the top of his head instead.

It had shaken him up, more than he wanted to admit. He stilled his hands into fists. He had to focus. A kill was a kill, and that was number fifty-three, another notch to mark in his rifle.

Aryol stayed silent, even as they cleared the perimeter. He probably didn’t realize that he’d meant to do anything differently, Leshovik thought. The kid was long used to the way Leshovik killed, like a impressionistic assassin who drew on the walls in blood.

That was its own kind of art, he told himself.

Halfway back to the cave, he hit his Codec. “Longshot to Lynx. We took out the target. Repeat, we got him. Thunderbolt is dead.”


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The Groznyj Grad Living Novel

December 2010

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