All Rights concerning the original story concept and movie, and the same concerning the screenshot material used to create the covers, rest with the given copyright owners. No copyright infringement is intended with this fan work. The ideas developed in this Fanfiction story are my own. It is non profit and only for fun.

Chapter 1


=== Somewhere in Alaska 2002 ===

It was nearly dark in the rusty storage container, where the little but dangerous bunch of mercenaries had taken cover. They were waiting for some hours now. Anton Simeonov switched the flashlight on. The little white spot moved over the printout of the ‘Yukon-Express-Timetable’. Then he looked at his watch. Twenty minutes approximately, till their target would pass… Everyone of the group had his specific task – and he could only hope, no one would follow any own crazy ideas popping up in their minds. He had done all he could in strategically planning this operation, which should transfer some sensitive bioweaponry into the hands of a Somali warlord.
Simeonov turned up his collar. It was damned cold, and through some holes in the upper side of the container dripped rain. A beautiful day… he thought sarcastically. Just as then…


=== Moscow 1991 ===


Anton Simeonov had visited the building of the Army Headquarter countless times, of course. He knew every floor, every crack in the old photographs. He knew which day the flowers in front of the Memorial for the Fallen Heroes were changed.
This day, however, everything was different. The vase on the memorial’s steps was empty; only one miserable dried flower rested. And the stone sculpture itself was not shining in the morning sun, but lay vilified with a hateful black graffito under the rainy sky. The walls of the floor where Anton left the elevator were not decorated with the framed pictures of honored officers and combat heroes anymore, but with the sickly yellow spots the missing frames had left. It looked as if someone had ripped the eyes and ears out of a face, which now stared dull and dead.

And he himself was different, yes… He tore at the collar of his not too well fitting civilian coat. It had been a long time since he had worn civilian cloths. Automatically, he reached for his head, when he passed the main gate. No, there was no uniform cap anymore. No uniform, no rank. General Anton Simeonov had ceased to exist! Only some with awkward haste spoken words, not even a hand shake, and even less a ‘thank you’ had finished his career several minutes ago.

And this, after he had risked health and life many times over for this country!! No, not THIS country, he corrected himself in his thoughts. The one that was before; the one now carefully wiped out of history, regarded like a shame… No thanks, no appreciation. His presence alone, his very existence seemed embarrassing for those who wanted to forget that desperately! The fact he had been amongst the opponents of the now-president Jeltzin, had only instigated the HQ more that he was a person to get rid off quickly.

It was cold and he was freezing. Moscow would see an early winter this year. Simeonov walked faster. On one hand to procure some warmth, on the other, to deal with his growing anger. He was 33 years old, the youngest officer ever promoted to the rank of general. He had been rewarded with several medals for outstanding service and bravery in combat. He had skills and knowledge – of the kind opponent countries would’ve loved to possess during the past era! He was NOT some sort of worthless trash, which could be thrown away, disposed of, like a charwoman just did with the old vase in front of the memorial!

In the suddenly heavy smashing rain, he nearly stumbled over the legs of an old beggar, huddling in a doorway. No, he would NOT end that way, he swore. He shoved his hands deeper in the pockets. The tram station nearby was crowded with people, just starting to disperse. He heard annoyed voices and curses. An old man spit on the ground. Obviously, the awaited tram wouldn’t arrive. Whether due to strike or because something had broken down, no one knew for sure. There had been strikes everywhere recently; the workers didn’t get enough money or they didn’t get money at all. The grocery shops were either empty or demanded astronomical sums for their products.

So he would walk home, he decided, the better in his actual mood. Two kids ran through the crowd of people, yelling followed them. Probably pickpockets! It is an ordinary school day, Anton thought. Everything was falling apart around him, every order, every civilization… He shot a glance at the great clock over the station. One PM. It felt odd. He had always been a hard worker, and the past years had been filled with work to the brim. That from one moment to another he had nothing to do anymore, nothing to learn, prepare, decide, take care of, was a strange and nearly horrific thing. So much time of the day still left – and nothing to do!

Half an hour later Simeonov arrived at home, a nice flat in a modern apartment building. In the mailbox waited a letter from his mother, who lived in a village in the East. He took it out and stepped up in the fifth floor – the elevator was out of business, because some electric parts could not be acquired.
His apartment still looked somewhat transitional and half finished, with boxes standing in some corners. He had planned to search for a new home after the marriage with his fiancée Natalya. But first the campaign in Afghanistan came into his way, then Natalya’s appointment to her so-desired journalist job in Berlin. And finally the coup d’état here in Moscow, which had put a definitive end to the old Soviet Union… Therefore, they both had postponed the marriage date further and further, and he still sat in his ‘transitional home’.
And now… I might not be such a good catch anymore…

Anton smashed the door, threw his coat and boots in a corner and let himself fall into the chair near the window. Curtains were missing, too – his fiancée had promised some from her mother. However, dirt and rain made the glass intransparent for now. He leaned back, turned the letter from his mother in his hands and hesitated to open it. Reading would mean he had to answer something – and what should he say? ‘Mom, the government has just put me out on the street; I’m not needed anymore, and no, I don’t know what comes next’?
His mother was old and had not even grasped the full impact of the political changes. Living a bit far off in the village she still held high the ideals from the Great Fatherland War. She believed in the moral superiority of the Soviet way vis-à-vis the doomed Capitalist order. And on her board stood several photographies of her ‘brave hero son’ as she liked to name him. No, Anton decided, the truth wouldn’t be that a good idea!

The telephone rang. He picked it up reluctantly, not in the mood for talking. But then he recognized the female voice through the crackling interference. Natalya! She called from Berlin…
“They have extended your assignment in Berlin? … Yes, that’s wonderful, I’m happy for you! … Of course you can’t come back then. I understand… No, no… you cannot let pass this opportunity…” His mood sunk further. He had been looking forward to meet Natalya again, after the five months they hadn’t seen each other! Why couldn’t she take a little leave? Some days? Two days? A weekend?!
“How I am? … O … fine. … Natalya?”
Anton could barely understand the distant ‘I have to go now, work is calling’ from her. He imagined she had finished with an ‘air kiss’, but he wasn’t sure. With a frustrated sigh he threw the phone back on its cradle and stood up. In the kitchen, he grabbed the Vodka bottle he had stored there for a special occasion. Well, losing his job and rank was a special occasion, wasn’t it?!


=== Somewhere in Alaska 2002 ===


“Fucking hell! How long should I still sit here?!”
The angry voice sounded out of the semi darkness of the storage container. Anton Simeonov shook his head. These men were trash, ordinary criminals, without discipline – and patience. Far from being an army… but well, he had to be content with what he got. And at least they had managed to free him. Again. Maybe only because without him they were plain and simply nothing; dogs running wild and barking. „Where’s this fucking train, man?!“
Now the angry voice was accompanied by an annoyed face.
Simeonov looked at his watch. “If the train is on schedule, we still have 15 minutes. So go back on your position.”
“What if it’s NOT on schedule?! If these bastards knew something?!”
“Go – back – on – your - position.” The light falling through a crack in the container, glinted in his green eyes and on the barrel of his gun. The other man pulled back. They all knew, Simeonov hated it, when he had to say something twice. Only some weeks ago, one of the men had paid with his life. The time when he had pondered about killing personally was long over…

Natalya Verenkova looked out of the car’s window and tried to discern the surroundings through the ongoing snowstorm. How far still to the railroad? Something hard hit their car – probably the trunk of a tree or a boulder. Her companion, US- Customs officer Shawn Brooks, surely drove as fast as he could, given the circumstances. Would they make it in time to catch the train and, more important, would they be able to stop Anton and his men?
Don’t call him that, the woman reprimanded herself. This man has nothing in common with the Anton Simeonov you knew once. Nothing but the name. He is not your fiancé, he is not your lover. He is a criminal, a dangerous terrorist. The one who killed your son and many other people. He has to be stopped.
Natalya closed her hands to tight fists. She had told this herself many times. But she hadn’t succeeded completely in closing her mind from this special part of her past. She had crossed the path of Simeonov again and again. Sometimes out of pure coincidence, other times she had been assigned to the task, and her superiors thought her best for the job because she knew the asset. It was like a curse. She could not forget him, she could not get over him. And despite she knew the day of yet another confrontation would come, HAD to come, she was afraid of it sometimes…

“…Hey, are you okay?” asked her companion.
Natalya nodded. “Just a bit hungry.”
Brooks grinned all over his boy’s face. “I’ll invite you for dinner, as soon as we’ve kicked this bastard’s ass!”
She gave him a short, half-forced smile, sincerely wishing it would be more heartfelt. Shawn Brooks was a nice guy, a good guy, honest, brave, open, and handsome on top of all. Certainly the sort of a man women would love. However, there was a little evil thorn in her heart showing Natalya clearly that she was not one of those women. A black shadowy demon hindering her from simply reaching past “liking someone” or even “having sex” to “loving someone”. In all those years it had never worked, not even once. Not even with Shawn. And the worst was, she knew exactly why it did not work! She hated Anton - very fervent sometimes - and still some part loved him, wanted him, despite everything he had done. She could not run away from herself, from what they were for each other.…


=== Moscow 1986 ===


“O I just cannot believe it!” Natalya jumped up again, took her girlfriend’s hands and danced with her over the podium of the empty lecture room at the University. Her summer dress with the big flower print moved graciously around her silhouette. “He invited me to the dance this evening! Galina, isn’t it wonderful, amazing? I never thought he could pick me! The most gorgeous guy of the whole Academy! I think I’m the luckiest girl in the whole world!” She laughed, and her girlfriend with her.

Natalya had literally adored Anton Simeonov since she had seen him for the first time, when she watched the parade of the Military Academy, just like many of her friends. She had been barely 17 then, and this young cadet was as unreachable as one of the Western movie stars her sister loved that much. Then life separated them for nearly two years, but she met him again at her first year at the Moscow University, where she studied journalism. And she fell in love again, even more then at the age of 17. He was intelligent, smart and with a kind of sinister humor; he was tall and good looking - and she could imagine him very well marching in front of his men into a battle and saving the day. She just loved everything on him; he was her perfect dream prince. And even her mother, who behaved very reserved when she heard Natalya had a boyfriend from the Military Academy (- she had connections to the dissident movement, but then, Natalya did not know anything-) eventually melted, when Anton greeted her with a huge bouquet of flowers and later helped her to prepare the garden for winter time...


 

CHAPTER 2


=== Alaska 2002 ===

Shawn Brooks had stopped the car and both he and Natalya jumped out to see if they weren’t already too late. But no, the rails beneath the slope were still covered with a thin layer of fresh snow. The train had not passed yet.
“What if our smart Russian friend chooses to save his ass instead of hijacking the train?” Shawn just had asked.
“He won’t. I know him.”
He peered down again. Jump was there only option. Jump on an icy, slippery wagon roof… Suicide at best…
“Do you have second thoughts? Then I’ll go and take care of this alone,” she asked sharply.
“You are determined to get this man down.”
“I told you he has killed my son!”


=== Moscow 1988 ===

„Do you know what date it is today,“ Natalya said, shoving her hair back and looking at the man in bed next to her. “Anniversary of Gagarin’s spaceflight!” She bowed down to him and kissed him. “If you get me pregnant today, the child will be a kosmonaut, too, don’t you think?”
“Maybe…” Anton smiled at her, then pulled her closer. “We should try very hard, then… I’d love to see our son or daughter fly to the Moon!”
“Or to Mars!” They exchanged a deep kiss.
But suddenly, a shadow of worry lay on her face. “What if you don’t come back? If you get killed down there in this awful Afghanistan?”
“O no one kills me that easily, my love!” He laughed, and they rolled over, until he was on top of her. “I’m smarter than them!”


=== Alaska 2002 ===

Still 7 minutes to the scheduled arrival of the train. Simeonov rubbed the ice crystals from his gun. Would the containers be safe? Had the Americans anchored them correctly? He did not put much faith in that; people who transferred highly contagious bioweaponry within an ordinary stock car…. He shook his head in disbelief. If one of the containers broke, it would cost much money! And lifes, of course. Not that this issue mattered a lot to Anton – he had injected himself the only available sample of the antidote found in the facility where he had stolen the toxic boxes in the first place. His men did not even know exactly what they should handle here, they had no protection gears. Had they known it, they would probably freaked out, and he didn’t need that in particular! And he didn’t mind losing his men, but only AFTER they had helped him to manage this transaction.
Well, lets just hope the US Customs did a good job and my stuff is secured as it should be…


=== Moscow 1992 ===

The knocking at the door became louder. It seemed not only the joke of a bored urchin, and it was too early for the drunkard from across the corridor. Anton Simeonov grabbed his old Makarov, though, before he opened the door. Yesterday, a neighbor had been robbed. But in the light of the only bulb left in the floor, he discerned one of his old comrades, Sergej. Looking thin, tired and nervous.
“Good evening, Anton. I heard you have moved… I’m glad to catch you…”
“The old apartment got too expensive; they have cut my pension twice,” he answered, giving his comrade a friendly hug and wondering, if his own appearance differed as much from his former one as Sergej’s did… He pushed him inside the tiny place and locked the door behind.
“So what’s the reason for your visit?”
“I need your help! – Have you something to drink?”
“If you mean alcoholics – no. Too many people already stumble around boozed! I need a clear mind.” That one day several months ago, when he woke up on the floor of his apartment in between the shards of an empty bottle and his own vomit had been enough!
Sergej nodded. He looked badly in need for a drink. “I need your help,” he repeated now, rubbing his palms together to get warm. “My wife is pregnant, and something is wrong with the baby. We don’t know! In the clinic they said she would need a certain test… but we cannot afford it! Anton, I need money! I asked my brother, but he hasn’t got any salary for two months himself!”
“I’m sorry, I have none.” He made a gesture towards the stapled boxes in the room. “How much do you think is this worth? On the Black Market they sell carpets and porcelain for a soup or some potatoes. I’m sorry…” The anger which had settled in him for months now, stirred again. Everything went down the drain, the people turned into savages again, and all the new government did, was talking and secretly enriching themselves!
Sergej grasped his arm and pulled Anton back from his sinister thoughts. “You don’t understand,” his old comrade whispered now. His eyes glinted like in fever. “I don’t want money from you! I need your help to GET money! Much money! Dollars, Anton!”
“What are you up to?!”
“Listen! I know someone who has contacts to the Middle East, Afghanistan, don’t exactly know, whereto. They want weapons; RPGs and guns and ammo - everything! They’ll pay a good price, my friend said. All we have to do is get some of the stuff out of the barracks!”
“This is insane, man!”
“No, don’t you get it?” Sergej forced a nervous laugh. “It’s fucking easy! No one needs this weaponry; it is rotting for years now! Someone will steal it anyway, either some gang folks or us! And haven’t we the older rights on it? All we need is the access code for the door lock! And you –“
Anton Simeonov grabbed his comrade’s shoulders and shook him. “My access code is over a year old! Do you honestly think it is still valid?!”
“My contact swore they hadn’t changed the codes since then. He works as supervisor. From the government, you know, to hinder vandalism and theft.”
“And if he double crossed you?!”
“Anton, these Arab guys pay big money! Imagine, you can get out again of this hole! We all can! This is our chance!”
“No.”
“You can’t be serious! Didn’t you listen what I said? I need –“
“I listened very well, Sergej. And I say this is absolutely crazy! This won’t work, even with my access codes! And IF – do you want to sell our weapons to the guys we once fought?”
“I don’t give a fuck! I need this money, for my wife, for my unborn child!”
“I said NO!”
For a moment, the two old comrades stared at each other. Sergej breathing heavily and desperately searching for words to convince his former commander; Anton trying to scout any possibility to help him without criminal acts. Nothing came into his mind. “I won’t tell anyone. I won’t sell you out,” he finally said. “That’s all I can promise you.”
Sergej gave the impression of someone just sentenced to death. He stood there shoulders hanging and eyes cast on the floor. “Please… don’t you want to think about it? For me?”
Anton did not answer. He pressed his lips together. What was going on in this country? Men like his old comrade reduced to a begging, whining shadow?! With steps vibrating from his anger, he went into the other room, where he had placed his money in an old photobox. I can go and sell some of the books on the Black Market…he thought in counting the Rubles. Or better one of the winter coats…
“It’s not much,” he said, shoving the bills into Sergej’s hand a moment later. “But it is all I have left. – Now you listen! Get out of this crap!”

Get out of this crap… The obviously vain advice echoed through his memory, while Anton read the headline in the newspaper several days later. It told about some men who had tried to break into an army weaponry storage. Two had been killed on the spot, another had been wounded and now was in state custody.
Shit! He threw the paper on the street (the trash bins nearby were useless after someone had set fire to them). God damned shit! With his mind in turmoil, he did not want to go home and sit alone in this miserable new apartment, which in addition was without heating for two days now. So he marched through the autumn park for hours, not paying attention to the nature or other people. Only his growling stomach eventually reminded him to return and find something to eat.

When he arrived, a surprise awaited him. Finding the door to his apartment open, his first reaction was to confront a burglar – or at least the chaos he might have left. But when he entered the floor, he discovered the scent of one particular perfume, and a moment later the coat hanging there…
“Natalya?”
She was sitting on the couch, indeed, somehow looking… strangely misplaced in this place, with her new, colorful cloths, neat and shiny and perfect.
“Anton! You look as if I’m not welcome!” She called while standing up and crossing the short distance still separating them. “Aren’t you happy to see me?”
“Of course… It’s only… I didn’t expect you…”
“You forgot I was coming?!” Now her played annoyance was close to real one. Her smile faded and she took a step back. “I phoned you! How could you forget?!”
“Yes…” He glanced at the calendar at the wall; the pages had not been ripped off for… well, some time. “I’m sorry, I’m so sorry, Natalya, sweetheart!” He took her hands again. “Of course I didn’t forget you were coming! How could I?! I just messed up the date. There was… so much happening lately. My move and…and the whole situation here. I’m sure you heard about it in the news.” He did not want to tell her about Sergej.
“There’s no other woman?” she answered sceptically.
“No! I assure you!” He embraced her and she seemed to relax again. A bit, at least, because she still frowned, when they parted from the kiss. She grabbed his collar and tore on it.
“How do you look at all? And what about shaving?”
However, the sound of her voice was lighter than before; she was not really mad at him.
“I get in shape now! So we fit together, my beautiful girl!” Anton tried to push his sorrows back. Natalya was here – what a wonderful day! He forbade himself to think about any unpleasant things. Unfortunately, this resolution did not last for long…

The restaurant Natalya had chosen for dinner was one of the new locations; stylish, modern art pictures at the wall. ‘Like in Berlin’, Natalya had commented, when they entered, ‘or in Munich’ – where she recently had been. Anton supposed the people visiting this place resembled the people there, too, because they had nothing in common with the ones he had seen on the streets or in the shops of Moscow… These guests looked healthy and happy, the women with bright makeup, jewelry and fur coats, the men with luxurious watches on their wrists and smoking expensive cigarettes. He felt out of place. Like a … yes, like a beggar in a palace. Shouldn’t HE be the one inviting his fiancée for dinner, and not her instead?!

“Don’t make such a face again,” Natalya reprimanded smiling, while they waited at their table near the window. “Is this because I’ll pay? Forget this old fashioned thinking, Anton! We have to celebrate something, after all! My new assignment!” Her eyes shone because of excitement.
“Your new assignment? In Berlin again?” Please say no. Please come back to me. I need you.
“Not only! I mean, I don’t know exactly yet! A Mister Avramchik called me, from the Embassy! He is the partner of an agency, he said, and my excellent reports had caught his attention…”
Meanwhile, the waitress came with their meal, and Anton realized that it had been months for sure he had seen any meat, much less eaten.
“… I thought, you could come with me,” Natalya’s voice struggled through his pure delightedness of the having such a delicious dinner again. “To Germany! Don’t you have a German great-grandfather? There are special immigration regulations for people with German heritage, you know?”
“What? … What shall I do there? Scavenging?! I can’t find any employment here, and –“
She stopped eating and her expression lost its cheerfulness. “Don’t you want to be with me again?”
“Of course I will, but –“
“But what? What’s wrong with you lately? Why are you that negative and grumpy about everything?!”
Now he lost his temper despite all efforts to stay calm and collected. “You don’t see what is happening here, do you? You are gone very long; you are a part of them now!” He gestured to the other guests, which started to shoot some glances and whisper.
“What are you talking about?” Natalya hissed back, rising her voice the same. “’A part of them’? Don’t dig your Cold-War-Nonsense out! There’s no ‘us’ and ‘them’, no ‘good Sovjets’ versus ‘bad capitalists’ anymore! You should open your mind a bit and look beyond your own nose!”
“O yes? And what will I see there?” He shouted now, but did not care anymore. “Old men and women sitting on the street begging, after a life of hard work? Workers who don’t get salary anymore? Urchins, poverty, prices and rents which no one can afford anymore? Empty grocery shops and Black Markets?”
“Don’t shout, Anton! All guests stare at us! … I know about the problems of Russia! I’m no idiot! But there are great achievements, too, don’t you think? The liberty of the press, of all media, the liberty of opinion!”
“You can’t eat ‘liberty of the press’!”
“Ours was an oppressive regime! It was doomed; it had to fall!”
She did not realize she was hurting him, and he was good in hiding this behind a wall of anger. “And now the people are oppressed by hunger and cold, is that so much different?”
“You are a –“
“Yes, what? I was a big part of this oppressive regime, right? Perhaps I should get out of your sight, then?!”
“I didn’t say that! … What are you doing? Anton?”
“I’m leaving. I lost my appetite.”

 

CHAPTER 3

 

=== Alaska - 2002 ===

The train!
„Go!“ yelled Simeonov and sprinted towards their target. Given the fact they hadn’t had much time to practise this operation – what he normally did – everything went remarkably well. The enemy seemed totally surprised! Wonderful, the Americans had underestimated his capacities completely! Three of his men went to secure the precious cargo; others took care of the little Marine-detachment. He himself made his way to the locomotive, underway disposing of two enemies. Not ten minutes after the hijacking, Anton kicked the door to the cab open and aimed at the engineer.
“Stop the engine! NOW!”
The man seemed to comply, however then attacked, tried to disarm him. Fucking bastard! Of course Simeonov managed to finish him off. And he particularly enjoyed paying him back his little resistance!

 

=== Moscow - early 1993 ===

„What do you mean, there is nothing on my account?“ Anton Simeonov stared at the frail man behind the glass of the bank counter. “Today is the 5th! I should have received my pension 4 days ago!” He forced his anger back for a moment; anger fed by the sole fact he was coming here for the third time to get the badly needed money. “Please. Couldn’t you take a look again? Maybe there’s something wrong with the computer?”
“Sir, there is nothing wrong. I told you the last times you asked, and I repeat it now! There are 20 Rubles on your account, and nothing more! And now, if you would be so kind to let-“
“That’s a damned lie!” Anton could not restrain himself anymore. He was sitting in his cold flat for a week now, having not even something to fill into the old stove he had installed in the main room, against all prohibition by the house owner. He was hungry and desperate. “Just look more careful!” His fingers closed around the protective grid in front of the counter. “I want my money! I have a right-“
He couldn’t finish the threat. One of the security guards had grabbed him. Another one hurried closer, gun at the ready. Out of the waiting people’s line some appalled sounds echoed through the hall.
“Do you want any trouble, man? Then we call the police and you can spend some days in a holding cell!”
Anton shook his head. He felt that humiliated right now, this feeling was even stronger than his anger. He was like paralyzed, when the security dragged him past the waiting to the exit. The guys seemed to enjoy their little bit of power. It gave them a vile tiny pleasure to suppress someone, on whom they could vent their daily frustration!

When Anton started to think clearly again, he still cowered on the pavement in front of the bank building. Kneeling on the floor… a freezing, hungry beggar… he, General Anton Simeonov… rewarded with the Alexander-Nevski-medal! I swore this wouldn’t happen to me… People walked by without paying him attention – a lot of men, women and children squatted on the streets these days, drunk, filled up with drugs, or just to poor for affording a room! I swore this wouldn’t happen to me, he repeated in his mind and got back on his feet. They can’t just throw me away like some trash!
He wouldn’t give up, resign, doing nothing, waiting for his end! He was a soldier, a commander, a General of a god damned country, which now tried to discard him! No, he wouldn’t let this happen! Determined, Anton Simeonov walked to the next bus station and spent half of his last money to get to the Army Headquarters.
The old building was in better shape than one and a half years ago, when he last had been here, he noticed when entering. There was new paint on the walls covering the old spots of the missing pictures. Two new framed photographs decorated the corridor, though: one of President Yeltzin, and the other of the actual Commander in Chief – an ass-kisser, as Anton perfectly knew. On the second floor, one of the office doors opened, when he passed by. He recognized the man just about to leave, but before he could even say ‘Hello’, the other had closed the door again. Well, looks as if it isn’t expedient to even remember me! Anton thought and armed himself against that what probably would wait behind the Commander’s door…

First, it was a young secretary, jumping up at his sight and one hand already at the alert button under the desk. “Good morning. How can I help you, Mister?” she managed a bit shaky, and he mused about his appearance once more.
He took a step closer to the desk, folded his hands behind the back and made sure his behaviour at least matched his words: “I’m Anton Simeonov. I want to speak to General Balitshin. Now.”
The secretary blinked a little confused (he guessed she only had been hired because of physical qualities), then she stalked on High Heels to the Commander’s office and vanished inside. Shortly after she came back again, yet more nervous. “Sir… I have to ask you to go. General Balitshin has very urgent ma—“
Anton simply stepped past her and marched into the office. It was nicely decorated, with much expensive leather, he discovered. And the huge chair was almost too big for the bald headed man sitting in it! “Jevgeni… Sorry to interrupt your urgent business.”
The Commander in Chief stood up slowly and tried to look at least half as intimidating as Anton. “Who do you think you are?! I’m going to—“
“Call the security? I already had an appointment with security guards, today, thank you!”
“You cannot walk into my office just like… like…”
“Like in former days?” Anton finished the sentence of his opponent. “You see I still can. The guards let me pass, seeing my ID. You have to instruct them better if you want to prevent me from paying you a visit, COMRADE!”
“I could call the security!”
“And deliver them the man who saved your coward’s ass in Afghanistan twice?!”
Jevgeni Balitshin made a sour face, then walked around his unwelcome guest to the door, addressing the secretary: “Elena, make sure we are not interrupted!” Then he turned his attention back to Simeonov. “What do you want?”
“My pension.”
“I’m sorry, there was nothing I could do about it.”
So you knew… it was not an accident… “You play Commander in Chief!”
“There are… ministerial orders… silent agreements, you know. I have no influence.”
Anton was close to grab the man at his neat, decorated uniform collar. “Agreements to let the former pampered heroes freeze to death or croak because of starvation?!”
“I told you, there’s nothing I could’ve done!”
“They promised me a pension! They owe me one!” He stepped over to the locker where he knew were stored the personal files. Pushing Balitshin back, he opened one of the drawers and browsed for his own dossier, just to hold this rat his merits under the nose! It took a moment before he realized he had not made a mistake in his haste – his dossier was really not there! Some official had issued the order, and they had wiped everything clean! Every last trace of General Anton Simeonov! No, this was not an accident! The government of the new Russia wanted to get rid of him, they did not even want to waste one little Rubel on him anymore! Of course not, they needed the money to invest in expensive watches, fur coats, luxury cars and hookers!!! For them, he had ceased to exist – and so did their responsibility towards him! Throw the unwanted puppy out on the street, and let nature finish it off, o yes! When he turned away from the drawer and back to the Commander in Chief, his mind, his whole self, was filled with icy coldness.
“You know, they should have executed me right away.”
“Anton… what are you talking about? I know, this is a bad day, but I’m sure, you’ll find another employment! You are smart and well educated and—“
He smiled, and with that tripped Balitshin up. “They will regret not to have done it. They will.”
With that, Simeonov left the HQ for good.

He went home and, with Natalya’s Photo in his hand, spent approximately one hour pondering if he should try the ‘Germany-immigration-solution’, though. However, he did not want to become an almsman, dependent on someone’s grace – not even on Natalya’s! Especially not! He had to find a way out of this on his own. He had to kick some asses. Then he would be able to look into her eyes again, proud and free, and himself!
Anton took his army pistol, the one and only remnant of his past still worth something, wrapped it carefully in a scarf and put it in a bag. Then he hit the trail direction Black Market.

The place was crowded. All sorts of goods were exchanged, and all sorts of people were here – until the next raid of the police! A young fellow showed some Icons, which he probably had stolen out of a church. An elderly woman grabbed Anton’s arm and promised in low voice, she had a daughter, age 14 and still a virgin. He felt sick and walked faster, past some farmers with their delicious looking products and two guys with gas canisters. Somewhere on the area, a little fight broke out; he heard cries and noise and then – a shot. This sounded…. promising for his purpose!
The noise directed him to a particular dark spot, half hidden under a bridge. The young men hanging around there were a sure sign he was on the right tracks. They were all armed – some had there weapons half concealed under the jacket, but others played with submachine guns and knifes quite openly.
“Stop! Where d’you think you go, dude?!”
Anton had crossed an invisible line on the ground and felt something reminding very strongly a gun barrel in his back. “I’m here to make business.”
Someone laughed. Out of the shadow from under the bridge peeled a tall, thin man with moustache. He gestured to one of his gang members, who approached Anton for check up. Forestalling the findings, he said: “In this bag is a Makarov. For sale.”
The check-up-guy handed the weapon over to ‘Moustache’, who obviously was their boss. He turned the piece in his hands, examined the magazine. “Good condition,” he murmured, then let the gun slip into his belt. “I give you 200 Rubel. – Yuri, get him the cheeze!”
“What? It is worth far more!” Anton called after him, silently cursing himself for the naïveté with which he had walked into this place.
Laughter answered him again. Then the man behind him kicked him that hard, he stumbled down on the mud. “So, it is worth more, you motherfucker?!” He booted him again in his side. “So why don’t you sell it to someone giving you MORE?! Piss off, before we test the thing on your ugly head!”
“Do it, man, just do it,” howled a voice.

But at this moment, another incident drew their attention, especially their boss’ attention. Three men had shown up, and as far as Anton could discern, they had wanted to rob an army hospital last night and had failed miserably. He rested there on the ground – on one hand, because still an assault rifle pointed down at him, on the other, because he listened to the excuses of the poor gangster in charge of the screwed up operation. ‘Moustache’ was not very gentle to him, to judge after the sounds…
When the body of the other man fell into his viewing range, Anton decided to react. He had not much to lose anymore. He had eaten next to nothing for two days, and he was slowly freezing in his cold apartment. His Makarov had been his last refuge. And now… Nothing to lose. Nothing!
“Your plan was crap. Totally crap,” he said, and of course got rewarded by another kick. He continued nonetheless, and loud enough so that ‘Moustache’ could hear him. “All you would’ve needed was the plan of the change of the guard! And what about taking the sewer systems to get in, instead jumping over walls in plain sight?!”
“Who has asked YOU?!”
But ‘Moustache’ had heard the words, too, and now stepped closer, eyes narrowed by annoyance. “So, we’re getting smart, aren’t we?” He hauled him up, only to punch hard into his stomach.
“I could’ve … brought you in… and out safely and with … the drugs,” Anton answered, trying with all his effort not to throw up.
“Ah… you don’t say?! You could’ve done so, Mr. Smartass?”
Another punch. Anton squeezed his eyes. He was really in bad condition, no doubt. But if he couldn’t play this through, he would soon be in worse shape – meaning dead! “Yes. I’m… I was a… expert in strategic planning. And I know the military… buildings, the procedures. Everything.”
‘Moustache’ grinned. One of his teeth was missing. “This sounds to me as if you’re looking for a new job, Mr. Smartass…” Someone giggled again and the boss hissed an angry “Shut up!” in the direction of the other guy. “You know what?” He shoved the barrel of his gun under Anton’s chin. “I’m in a generous mood today! I’ll give you a chance to prove, if your deeds keep up with your loudmouth! … Of course, you’ll understand that I need a little reassurance you’re not from the police or some other nasty organization trying to disturb our business here!”
Anton nodded. ‘Moustaches’ grin became broader. The very next moment, the gangster boss had pushed the Makarov back into the hands of its former owner. “So give me a sign of your good will, Mr. Smartass, will you?” He pointed to the unfortunate guy who had led the first raid into the hospital, and who just struggled to get on his feet again. “Kill him!”

Anton stared at the man. Not only the muscles in his stomach, but in his whole body suddenly ached. He had killed before, of course. In the war in Afghanistan, in hand to hand combat. And he had ordered others to kill. But this … was a completely different situation.
This was not his enemy, they were not at war! This was no self defence. This was outright murder!
The features of his supposed victim displayed disbelief and fear. “Please,” he gasped. “Man, you can’t do that! Yuri?... Hey, man, Arkadi, that’s a joke, right? Haha…”
Anton felt his vision slightly blur and his head began spinning.
“…You’re not particular fast, Mr. Smartass!”
He blinked and finally lifted his gun. Yes, he was at war! A war to survive! He clenched his teeth and pulled the trigger. The bullet went right through the other’s heart.
Anton felt partly dead himself.
But he did only throw up, when he was back at home again. With 100 Dollars advance-pay in his pockets.

 

CHAPTER 4

=== Alaska 2002 ===

Anton Simeonov cursed and tried again to move the locomotive’s emergency brake. In vain. The damned thing was blocked, since this idiot of engineer had fallen on it during the fight. And the electric controls were gone, too! He had to think fast! They mustn’t pass the transfer point! He turned back to get to his men again. Catching his distorted reflection in one of the metal panels, he gave himself a short grin. He WOULD outsmart them all, this time like all the times before!


=== Moscow 1994 ===

The flickering neon light over the mirror in the bathroom showed his face in a horrific, eerie manner. Anton stretched his fingers to the reflection and traced the lines as if he would see himself for the first time in years. Yes, he hadn’t looked into a mirror very often lately… Because I had no time or because… I was afraid what I would find?
He stared into his eyes like hypnotized. Was there a sign in them of what he had done? Strangely enough, he found nothing betraying the raid into the National Guards barracks or the ‘minor issues’ before; nothing betraying the dead he had left behind. And every time, it had been easier than before. Every time a tiny bit of his conscience was left behind dead, too… What have I become?
Anton switched the light off and walked back into the living room in semi darkness. How silent it was! Too silent. Natalya had not called again since this unfortunate dinner over a year ago. He was longing for her that much, but he had not been able to reach her. Either she had changed her number or address or both…
He fell into one of the chairs and let his head sink in his hands. In doing this, he discovered a small trace of dried blood on his left shoe; a reminder from the National Guards’ barracks. Grabbed by sudden anger and disgust, he slipped out of the shoes and hurled them through the room. By chance, one of them hit Natalya’s framed picture. It shattered into dozens of pieces.


=== Alaska 2002 ===

The train rumbled below them. Fast, all too fast! Shawn Brooks stared down, his pulse hammering nearly in the rhythm of the train. This was suicide! A hasty glance to the woman standing half a step closer to the rim. “Now!” Natalya whispered. “It’s the only chance!”
He drew a last, deep breath, then grabbed her hand – and both jumped.
Brooks landed in the middle of the wagon roof and managed to get a foothold. Natalya slipped down at the side and would’ve fallen, hadn’t he grabbed her just in time. With some effort he pulled her up on the icy metal.
“What now?” He had to shout to overcome the howling wind smashing snow and ice into their faces. She pointed ahead, to the locomotive and already fought her first steps forward. She was a hunter on the prowl for a prey she had failed to catch for nearly 7 years now!


=== Moscow 1995 ===

Natalya Verenkova sat in one of the MFS’s briefing rooms and stared down at the files in the folder her supervisor had just handed her over.
“The photo was taken by a security camera two months ago,” sounded his voice through the room. The cold blue light showed every detail merciless, punched every one of the dark letters in her mind.
“We have every reason to believe this man is the mastermind behind all these criminal acts listed below, agent Verenkova.” He walked on and off in front of her, blowing little rings of smoke in the air, and from time to time tipping his cigarette over the trash bin. “The robbery of the weaponry depot in Obrinsk, of the National-Guard’s barracks here in Moscow, and the assault on the cargo train to Ivanovo. We believe he is part or maybe even the head of an extensive weapons-smuggler-ring, and he has contacts to other sectors of the organized crime. This-“ The supervisor pointed at the dossier, “might only be the top of the iceberg! Simeonov is a dangerous man. A very dangerous man.”

Natalya still stared at the photography on top of the first page. This can’t be… it has to be a mistake…. Unconsciously, her fingers moved over the picture in a caressing gesture. This is not true. Anton would never do such things! This is an error!
However, she rested silently, while her supervisor continued to enumerate the criminal acts imputed to Simeonov. Her mind fought violently against every word. She clutched her left hand around the chair in order to prevent herself from simply jumping up and running out of the room.
She had eventually tried to make it up with Anton nearly 8 months ago, and they had met several times since then. She had noticed he lived in a comfortable apartment again. The interior hadn’t been luxurious, but decent and modern, and his cloths had been the same. He had told her working now as a strategic advisor, however had been elusive, whenever she wanted to know some details. To be honest, he had been vague concerning a lot of things… Natalya hadn’t wanted to poke deeper – she was just happy then to have him back; grateful for the hours they spent together! Anton had been as gentle, charming and nice as during the first years of their relationship. She had refused to discern the changes he clearly displayed when he thought to be unwatched.

Only now, with this dossier in her hands, the memory showed her everything coldly and recklessly. She saw Anton silently leaving the bed at night, wandering around smoking or standing at the window, staring into the night. She saw him taking telephone calls and end them abruptly when she entered the room. She saw his features changing, when he believed to be alone, as if an invisible hand had wiped away all the boyish charm and exposed something else, something terrifying! The expression of a cold determination, of a haunted desperation – something Natalya did not dare to explore.
One day, when she had been alone at his apartment, she went on search for a headache – medicine. In one drawer, which he obviously had forgotten to lock, because the key was still on it, she found not only his old army pistol, but a whole weapons collection, including a new ‘Scorpion’.
“It’s a dangerous country,” was all Anton answered when she asked him later. And Natalya had just WANTED to believe everything was perfect and fine! He didn’t tell her all things – but could she blame him for that? She didn’t tell the real nature of her journalist job, too… On one hand, because her new superiors had forbidden, on the other, because she did not know where to start. So, there were a lot of unsaid things and some lies between them, when they had parted 3 months ago. Maybe… too much unsaid things and lies! Now, Natalya remembered it had been the first time they were together and had not spoken about plans for a future marriage! In fact, they hadn’t spoken about the future at all!
We have lived in the past… in our memories…

“… Agent Verenkova, do you have a problem with this assignment?”
She startled and looked her supervisor straight in the eyes. “No, Sir.”
“That’s good. There were some voices who thought you not fit to handle this. However, I was convinced you are the right choice, especially because you were in a … close relationship with the asset.”
“Thank you for your trust,” Natalya answered automatically, holding the now closed folder with the dossier in ice cold fingers. Her mind raced. So many things suddenly stood in quite a different light! They have used me, to get to Anton! … They observed me!
Her thoughts switched back to the day when the MFS recruited her… Because of her language skills, they had said, because of the sharp mind she had shown in her reports… Had this been the truth, or had something else motivated them?
No, this is not true, this can’t be true! … Anton cannot have committed such crimes! Not he; he’s such a wonderful and warm hearted man! … What shall I do? What on earth shall I do now?!

“… We have pinpointed Simeonov’s actual whereabouts. Was not easy; this man understands it to cover his tracks!” The supervisor handed another little paper over. A first glance said her that this was another address than last time they had met. “We suppose, somewhere is a leak, and if we start the police operation, Simeonov will get a hint and vanish!”
I’m not suspected, it crossed Natalya’s thoughts, and a second later this particular thing confirmed for her she had been watched at least for some months – and the MFS was sure she wasn’t that leak!
“… It will be your task to hold Simeonov in the actual spot, until our men arrive and can arrest him.”
She opened her mouth, tried to say something, but had no chance. Her supervisor had turned the back to her at the moment and did not even notice her expression, when he continued: “I’m sure you’ll come up with something creative in this matter, Agent Verenkova!”
“I will do my best, Sir.”
“No doubt.” Now he turned again. “It will be a great service for Mother Russia! Our land is inundated with these sorts of ruthless criminals. We have to fight back hard!”

Natalya had been nearly running the last part of the way. What she was about to do was risky, very risky. However, she saw no other option! The dossier in her bag weighed heavily – not the paper, but what was written on it. All those horrifying, unbelievable accusations! She had pondered about it since she had received this assignment some hours ago. Of course, her duties were clear, there was no such thing as an ‘option’! But life didn’t only consist of duties, she was no robot; even her supervisor had to know that! And he does for sure, the warning voice inside her head whispered. You can’t do that! This is treason!
She checked the address again and walked yet faster. Only one block to go! It was getting dark; but the urbain area in which she was at the moment, was considered relatively safe. There it was, number 35; a newly renovated apartment building! Natalya pressed her bag closer to the chest and crossed the last few steps separating her from the entrance. Had someone watched her? Someone from the MFS? If so, they would think for sure, she was just handling her assignment, Natalya tried to reassure herself.

A moment later, she stood at the door which after the words of her supervisor, should lead to Anton’s actual home. No name indicated him. She hesitated, staring at the fissures in the door’s paint what seemed hours. Until she heard loud voices from the inside. One of them doubtlessly was belonging to Anton Simeonov. There seemed a dissent going on… Natalya rang the bell, but could hear nothing. Probably it had been deactivated or was out of order. She knocked several times – and eventually the door flung open and she looked into the barrel of a gun, behind which Anton’s face displayed anger, and a second later shock.
“Natalya! What are you doing here?”
“I have to speak to you! It’s urgent!” Her bad feelings about this grew, when she discerned the two men in the room behind him. One guy in leather outfit, the other in a long coat, under which the silhouette of a weapon was visible. Both looked annoyed and very dangerous. Natalya thought at her own gun in the bag…
Anton gestured to his other guests. “Out!”
One of the men murmured something she didn’t understand, but they both obeyed without discussion.

“How do you know I am here?” Anton asked when they were alone.
She watched him taking the silencer from his Makarov and putting the weapon back in a shoulder belt. It is true! It is all true! it echoed loud just like thunder through her mind. She fumbled for words. “Someone … gave me the address…”
“Someone? What do you mean? No one was supposed to know this place! Natalya, what’s going on?”
“Anton, listen, the police are after you!”
He frowned. “What?”
“I’m… I’m a member of the MFS and I got—“ She stopped mid-sentence, for a second thinking he would hit her. But then, he only shook his head. “That’s a fucking bad joke.”
“Listen! I was assigned to hold you back until the taskforce arrives!”
“You? You are an agent of the MFS?! So that was your wonderful new journalist job?!”
“They came to me and asked if I wanted to serve my country! Look, Anton—“
“You lied to me all those months?!” His voice was husky.
“You lied to me, too! About… all this!” She gestured to his weapon and through the room. “You have no job as strategic advisor, haven’t you?! You steal weapons and sell them to criminals! AM I RIGHT?!”
“I have to survive somehow!”
It is true… O God… it is true… “But… people are going to die by these weapons!”
“People have died by these weapons for decades! Only then, no one cared! In fact, I got plenty rewards for the bad killing with the bad weapons!” Anton grabbed a drawer from the sideboard and smashed it on the floor. Various medals glinted in the lamp light. He trampled on the stars, ribbons and colors. “All useless junk! Not even a collector wants to buy it for one shitty Dollar!”
“You are not fair to yourself! The world is simply changing and—“
“Yes, I know. I lived here and saw the changes first hand, my love. Contrary to you! I saw things crumble and crash!!! And I saw some few reckless corrupt persons smash the rest of the still standing ruins and crawling men, when they didn’t come down fast enough!!! So don’t tell me about changes!”
She hadn’t seen him ever in such a fury. “Anton… what I try to say is… everybody must adapt, and I know it is not always easy! Please—“
He spread his arms and smiled evilly. “Oh, don’t you think I have adapted very well?! I get rich at the expense of others. I make huge profits. Isn’t that the ideal of the new era?!”
“I … don’t recognize you anymore. You are so… so sarcastic and cold!” Natalya receded slowly, rejected more than she could bear. “You’re not the man I knew once…”
He sneered. “The world is not anymore the one we once knew! Everything I ever believed in, the ideals I served, were declared rubbish and evil! The enemies from yesterday are now our big bosom-friends; so people like me, reminding at the old not-so-friendly times, have to vanish! Our new government threw me out on the streets without ANYTHING to live on! So what did you expect from me? Sit in a doorway and beg, too?!”
“Why didn’t you ask me for help? We could’ve found a way!”
He sighed, shook his head and turned away, suddenly sounding very exhausted when he answered: “You didn’t even listen, Natalya. You came visiting me in this shit hole I lived in then… and you were so full of admiration for this NEW world, for everything you saw OVER THERE in Berlin, in Munich! How wonderful, shining, modern and right anything was!”
“I worked to make things better in Russia! Many people did!”
“In the MFS?” He retorted ironically.
“In the MFS, too!” She started to get angry. Angry at herself, angry at him, and angry at the whole world.
“Do you remember, this childhood story you told me years ago? The one about the star which had fallen from heaven? ‘Even angels’ hands can destroy, if they move too fast. And then, the result is worst than devil’s work.’ Do you remember?”
Her hand was already at the door grip, and with the other she had grasped her bag. “I don’t get what this should have to do with committing crimes!”
“Natalya!” Anton tried to grab her arm. “Nothing has changed between us! We—“
“Don’t touch me!” She hissed nearly hysterical. “Nothing has changed?! You stole, robbed, injured and killed people!”
“I had no choice!”
She was already outside, hurrying towards the staircase. “And you try justifying it on top of all!”
“Natalya! I love you! Wait! Natalya!!!”

She didn’t turn around. She ran downstairs and then left the building through the rear exit. At least, she tried it. In her haste, she slipped over the icy pavement and crushed her head against a garbage container, losing consciousness. It was a piece of luck. When the operatives of the MFS and the police discovered her two hours later, Natalya told them she had fought with Simeonov, he had tried to kill her and thus pushed down the last stairs. They believed her. The apartment had been empty, when the police kicked the door. No trace of Anton Simeonov.

 

Chapter 5

=== Alaska 2002 ===

The train still raced with increasing speed. Arrived in the cab, Alex Brooks had just talked to the control centre and instructed them to reroute the train – away from populated areas and up on a route near the snow covered slopes of the mountain range. They had to slow down; they had to FIND something what would them slow down!
Natalya pulled her fur jacket tighter around the body. That Simeonov hadn’t been here in the locomotive had unsettled her. ‘Play hide and seek’, Alex had called it some minutes ago. Did she? Did she really want to catch him, deep down inside her mind and heart – did she want it?
“Now, we’re going to get this guy – and either you drag him back to Russia, or he ends up in a nice American prison,” Brooks said with a determined expression, before turning back to her again. “How often did he try to ice you?!”
“Several times…”


=== Moscow, late 1995 ===

It was midday, and the little snack bar quite crowded. Natalya Verenkova pushed the barely touched dish aside. “I’m sorry.”
Her companion and colleague Michail looked up from his newspaper study; his round, friendly face displaying worries. “You’re coming down with something?”
“No, don’t think so.” She sighed. “It’s just… I’m not over these things, you know.” Her fingers fumbled after the two patches on her head, which were left from the bandage.
“You should’ve taken a week more of rest, I told you, Natalya! After all, you narrowly escaped an assassination! You were lucky Simeonov didn’t fire some shots on you, just to be sure you’re dead.”
“Yes, I am… He must’ve thought I was dead already…and didn’t want to waste ammo.”
She looked down on the table, still massaging her forehead. The headache was getting nauseating, but she knew, it hadn’t to do anything with the injury. More with a poking, drilling conscience and the torturing sensation of guilt. Even if she attempted to calm herself that there hadn’t been another way; that she had to lie!
Of course, she hadn’t been able to simply walk into her supervisor’s office and announce ’Yes, I screwed this operation up, because I warned the asset.’ Or: ’I didn’t care for national security; I tried to save my lover’s life.’ How would have sounded this?! This would’ve brought her in custody for co-conspiring; this wouldn’t have helped anyone.
Lying had been the only way.
But all this reasoning didn’t make her feel any better.
That day, she had broken the law and defied her duties, because she trusted Anton above all other – and in the evening she ended with accusing him of the worst crime herself!

Natalya got up from the table and reached for her coat. “Michael, I’ll take a leave for the rest of the day. Will you excuse me?”
“Sure. Shall I drive you home?”
“No, don’t bother.” She forced a smile. “I’ll take a taxi.”
She just wanted to run away, and not to have to answer more of Michail’s concerned questions. She didn’t want to think at this day at all!
Nonetheless, it haunted her. She woke up several times every night since then, dreaming about the things she had read in the MFS-dossier, and dreaming about Anton calling after her.
I’ve said he wanted to kill me… Absently, Natalya paid the taxi driver and hurried over the sidewalk. How COULD I say he wanted to kill me?

Finally at home, she took two Aspirin and reclined on the couch. Her thoughts didn’t want to give her any rest. What should she do now? Was there anything she could do? To make it right … again? She didn’t know where Anton was, of course. Moreover, she couldn’t start a search for him without first raising suspicion and secondly betray him after all!
Sighing, Natalya stood up, took one of her old photo albums and started to browse through the last pages. The paper was already wrinkled at the edges, that often had she turned the pages showing Anton and her on the trip to the Black Sea. It had been shortly after his return from Afghanistan and his promotion. Only five months later the coup d’état in Moscow turned everything upside down! Everything had changed that fast! Had he been right with his words about too hasty changes which had destroyed too much?
But this didn’t justify robbing and killing! Natalya rebelled silently and closed the album.


=== Alaska 2002 ===

Anton Simeonov shot a glance out of the train window again. They had just passed a red light. “We have to slow down – no question,” he answered the urgent words of one of his men. “And if we cannot stop the engine, we have to unhitch it!” He pointed the wagon’s door. “What are you waiting for?!”
Half way to the locomotive again, they heard muffled voices from inside. A male one and a female one, sounding agitated and nervous. “Looks as if we have some unwelcome guests!” Anton gestured his men to stay put outside the engine for a moment. Then he drew his gun and was inside with one smooth step, without yet getting the notice of the two people inside. The scenery unfolding in front of him struck him, though! There was this US-Customs-bastard, this Brooks-fellow. And next to him – Natalya. She looked frozen and tired. But she was here, alive. ALIVE!
A part of him was relieved to realize that. She had survived. Just like so many times before. I should’ve killed her; on that plane too. I should’ve shot her. I knew what she was capable of…. But no. He had not been able to do that. The one last thing he could not do. The very last thing…

“I think I may have an idea to get us out of this,” Brooks just said.
Now Anton stepped out in the open. “Well, that’s the best news I heard all day!”
Brooks and his beautiful companion swirled around and stared at him.


=== Moscow 1996 / 7 ===

Autumn 1996, an extensive police operation which had rounded up half a dozen mobsters (however letting their corrupt henchmen in politics and police untouched), catapulted Simeonov on top of the organized crime in Moscow and the surrounding territories. He started immediately with re-arranging things and ruled his not-anymore-too-small kingdom of crime with the strategic efficiency he had used in war. Disobedience cost life and money – and he didn’t know any indulgence in this matter. He considered himself in war against the authorities who had thought to throw him away; in war against the reckless and licentious society. And he wanted to win this war, outsmart his opponents! Show them how bad a choice they had made in discarding him! Moreover, he began to enjoy this existence. It was like a thrilling, deadly game, a chess match!
Anton slipped through several plots of the police to catch him, not only because he was skilled and had become ruthless. He escaped because he had friends among the deprived people, among his former comrades. He might care for order and discipline by force of arms – but at least someone DID care at all. Contrary to the region where his mother had lived: she had died during a riot of some drunkards in her village, some months ago. It hadn’t been of much use sending her money to allow her a decent life. On the contrary, it had made people greedy!
So, there was another reason to wage war! And another little part of his humanity crumbling. The nearly last link to his past life.

On this particular day, Anton was about to deal with a specific version of disobedience. He and some of his ‘Inner Council’ had met in an abandoned factory building. It was night, and the only illumination was provided by some flashlights. In their focus stood a young, bearded man who had been in charge of handling a delicate mission. Anton walked on and off in front of him, discouraging him completely.
“What were my orders, Stani?”
“Get the blueprints of the tanks. … Sir.”
“And what have you done?”
“Everything was perfect! We were inside the main office already, when someone hit—“
“What have you done, I asked you!” The sharp voice echoed through the empty building. It seemed not even a mice or some insect dared to move.
Stani didn’t answer; therefore Anton grabbed him at his jacket and dragged him close. “YOU and one of the men under your command, wasted time in RAPING two women from the cleaning service!” He slapped him that hard that blood spurted out of his nose.
“NO looting and NO raping! Those were my explicit orders!”
“Yes…” Stani sniffed and wiped over his face. “Sorry… Sir. I thought… I just got …”
Another hit and the delinquent was down on his knees.
“You screwed it up! You brought the police on my heels again! You damned little piece of crap!”
He was very angry, not only at this now sobbing brain dead motherfucker. Deep inside, he was annoyed and embarrassed that now his name was connected to yet another disgusting crime. He felt repelled by this thought. But there was no possibility to get rid of his own conscience just like he would get rid of Stani. He was falling, and the closer he got to the ground of the abyss, the darker it became, and the stronger the forces pulling down.

Later the night, the old factory hall was plunged in silence again. A body in a pool of blood was all that reminded of the events. Anton sat in the back of his car, heading towards his actual hiding place in the suburb. It was lonely out in the streets; mist slowly settled and blurred the lights. The wind played in some junk, and the guy on the driver’s seat complained about pot holes.
Anton had taken a little box out of his jacket; it was already worn out at the corners, because he carried it along all the time. He flipped it open and regarded the ring in it again. It was a precious piece of jewellery, designed after his specific instructions and decorated with a heart shaped diamond. Staring at it, the loneliness and everything else nearly choked him.
This is nostalgic nonsense…
He would never see Natalya again, and if, she wouldn’t be very much interested in the realization of their long-planned marriage! Probably she is still working in the MFS… and probably she was co-responsible for some of the attempts to catch him!
And if they arrested her then, when she tried to warn me? What if she is somewhere in prison and needs my help? … No! Stop thinking about it! Crazy useless bullshit!

Resolved to part once and forever, he closed the little box and reached for the window opener. At this moment, a car showed up behind. Anton got a bad feeling immediately and ordered his driver to increase speed, while he put the box with the ring back and prepared his two weapons instead. The car behind them was holding its speed steadily and thus making perfectly clear it was on pursuit.
Meanwhile, the rest of Simeonov’s men, who were sitting in another car, had been alerted, too. They tried to change the lane and escape. The pursuer was very close now. Anton got his ‘Scorpion’ ready. It looked much like an upcoming shootout! With squeaking tires, his car turned into another street, overthrew some stapled stuff. From behind, the swirling blue of a police light just attached to the roof of the car left no doubt anymore who chased them! And more police was in the area, obviously. Anton cursed and fired back blindly in the direction of the lights. His driver piled some parking cars, but managed to gain some distance, while he sped down to the industrial area.
A hasty look in between the shots told Anton, that his other men hadn’t been very lucky – their car was encircled by three police patrols already. So some hostile forces are bound, he thought, filling a new ammo pack in and smashing the rear window for better targeting. At least two other patrols were behind him, not counted the one undercover which had followed them on the first place.
“Get us Southwards, back in the city!” he called to his driver. Escaping and hiding in open area, scant landscapes with autumn trees, was not a good option!

The race was hot and dangerous. Anton had to admit, the opponents knew the territory very well. They nearly cornered him, and only the desperate run through a barb-wired gate saved his car. In the city again, they crossed some red traffic lights and a one-way, managing to shake off one patrol. The next moment, Simeonov’s luck was over. One of the police bullets finally hit his car’s rear tire. The vehicle got out of control, crashed against a lamp pole. Without wasting any thoughts on the driver, Anton jumped out, firing back both handed. Cries and moans sounding through the street told him he had brought one or two of his enemies down. Nonetheless, he was outgunned and a fast retreat of the essence.
Steps echoed on the asphalt, accompanied by orders to halt immediately. Flashlight fumbled its way through the mist. Anton tried to get into the next house, but the door was locked. A shot narrowly missed his leg. Running through a doorway, he answered with a series of shots, and threw the empty gun away. Then he looked around. This was a ready to wreck building. He kicked the next best door open and vanished inside. The corridor was dark and smelled after garbage and excrements. A faint light, probably from a candle, trembled over the walls, though. Someone seemed still to live in here; homeless probably. Anton couldn’t bother with that. There had to be a rear exit! But the passage to the basement was blocked with stones and junk. He cursed and ran the stairs upwards as fast as he could. It was pitch black on the second floor. From the entrance, the command of a police officer bellowed, followed by hasty steps. They had light; they could move much faster! He hurried further, stumbling across something, got up again and kicked one of the apartment doors open. Out of the window and down on the other side into the yard, this was his only chance! He sprinted towards the half shattered window – and abruptly lost ground, when the rotten and already half crumbled ceiling gave way. He landed hard on the floor below, and through his wrist pierced a nauseating pain when he tried in vain to catch himself.

Anton clenched his teeth, trying neither to moan nor to pass out. His wrist was surely broken. While he still tried to put the injured arm in a less hurting position, if ever possible, steps closed in on the gap in the ceiling. He grabbed his Makarov again, crawled hastily in cover behind some old left-over furniture. There the light beam of a flashlight shone down! He fired the last three shots. The flashlight fell and rolled into a corner, where it flickered and died down. In the little bit of pale light coming from outside, Anton saw the arm of one police officer hang through the gap, not moving.
He breathed deeply. No other sound could be heard. Were his enemies all dead? Supposedly not – one officer had always to stay behind if calling reinforcements should become necessary! So it wouldn’t last long until more police showed up. And back to the entrance would mean walking into their arms!
I sit in a fucking trap! Can’t even climb out of the window now, with one hand!

But there had to be a way out… a way to win this battle! Simeonov walked over to the window and looked out. The yard below was deserted. For the first time since he had clutched onto his determination, he realized he couldn’t win the war. He could outmaneuver his enemies several times, he could outsmart them, he could win skirmishes and battles – but never the war! Whatever he would do, nothing would bring him his reputation, his rank, his past life, the past world back! It was gone forever.
And nothing Natalya…
A scratching noise made him dive down into cover again. He forbade himself to calculate his minimal chances – without weapon and one-handed. In crouching down, the little box with the ring fell out of his jacket’s pocket. He smiled. Maybe… his chances had just increased dramatically! The police these days was poorly paid and even less motivated…

The old door was opened cautiously, a slid only, and through the slid pointed a gun barrel, accompanied by a flashlight cone.
“Don’t shoot!” Anton stood up again. “I’m unarmed. I surrender!”
The door opened a bit wider.
“Step into the light! Hands up!”
He just stared at the silhouette forming now behind the light. He was not moving at all; he could not. “Natalya…”
Now they stood face to face, incredulous, surprised and shocked. Her hair was shorter, he discerned, and she looked thinner. And - her weapon was still at the ready.
“You were still on the hunt for me?” He whispered and felt his voice sounding strange.
“I was assigned to the task.”
It hurt him to see into her eyes, to watch her that way, hear her saying this. He shielded himself behind a wry humor, always his last defense.
“You did a good job. Here I am. You’ll probably be rewarded.”
Natalya pressed her lips together. An eternity seemed to pass.
“So, you’re going to shoot me, Agent Verenkova? Do it quickly. I’d rather die from your hand than anyone else’s!”

 

CHAPTER 6

==== Alaska 2002 ====

Alex Brooks had just explained his plan to use fighter jets of the near airbase to provoke an avalanche down on the speeding train and thus slowing it down. Natalya observed Anton. His face did betray none of his feelings, but she knew he was battling with himself. However, he was no idiot. He might hate setbacks and retreats, but when they were necessary, he had always been a quick calculator. One reason because of which he hadn't been arrested again until now!
"Very well," Anton eventually said, giving her and Alex a mischievous little grin telling her he thought to have found a way back on the frontline yet again. "We'll do it that way. Although of course, some of us will sadly have to stay behind!"
He gestured Brooks with his gun to move and turned to Natalya. "You should know by now, I always find a way to win!"
For a second, she could discern a dark pain in his eyes, an accusation burning through her soul. Then, every trait of his mien was cold sarcasm once again, when he leaned in and kissed her.


=== Moscow 1997 ===

Natalya still aimed at Anton.
"You don't dare?" He asked with low voice. The part of him wishing she would finally pull the trigger was growing.
"What have you become?!" She whispered likewise, full of disgust. "A criminal! A killer!" She spat the words out, fingers clutched around the weapon. "How many people have you already murdered?"
"You don't ask how many people are on our corrupt government's and police's conscience! How many have died of deprivation, desperation and cold, while the officials speculated with stolen money? No. The MFS doesn't hunt THEM, does it? They hunt ME! But I guess a good loyal agent does not pose these questions."
"And what's with your stolen money and your profits? Seems to me you enjoy it!" Only now Natalya discovered the little box in his hand. "What is that?"
A short sad smile crossed Anton's lips. "My planned way out of here. But I doubt I could bribe you."
"Drop it down! Cautiously!"
He put it on the floor. Natalya positioned her flashlight on the old furniture, then picked the box up, assuming to look at the detonator of a hidden bomb.
"You can open it. It won't explode. I'm no Afghan suicide killer. I want to enjoy my profits, remember?"
She flipped the box open with a hasty move - and froze. The ring had fallen out of its velvet compartment. She could discern the inscription well. Slowly, her hand with the weapon lowered down. In the sharp brightness and contrast produced from her flashlight, her shocked features were clearly visible.
But destiny was not that kind to give her time to process.

All of a sudden, steps closed in from outside the apartment. Natalya was at the half open door the next moment.
"Captain Verenkova? Everything okay?" asked a male voice.
"Yes." She cleared her throat. "He's not here. I checked the rooms. I suppose, he escaped through a window. You should continue your search down in the harbour area!"
"Understood!"
"I'll join you soon."
The steps receded. It was silent again, when Natalya turned back to face Anton.
"So, you decided to accept my bribe, though, Captain Verenkova" he said, looking down to hide his emotions and trying again to put his injured hand in a more comfortable position. "I am… disappointed."
She put her gun back and let her gaze rest again on the ring. "You have carried it along all the time in case you… would meet me again?"
"Seems I'm a nostalgic." He was afraid now to give away too much and becoming more vulnerable than he could afford.
"What happened to your hand?"
"Broken. Was not a very soft touch down in here."
"Let me see." Natalya took her flashlight again and examined the injury. "I can make you a splint; there is plenty of material in this junk pile. But you'll need a proper medical service."
"Don't worry. I know a very good physician, one of my old comrades from Afghanistan."
Nonetheless, she loosened two suitable parts from an old picture frame lying on the ground and together with her scarf applied them with surprising skill around his wrist. It felt better already.
"Do you remember how you hurt your hand when you helped my mother in the garden?"
He did not answer. It was so long ago. Another life… And living in the past with closing their eyes for the present and future was no longer possible! Even if seeing and sensing Natalya that close made him wish it could be done somehow. Simply turn the clock back and then hold it! He caressed gently over her face and her hair. "I still love you. And I missed you so much! Nothing has changed between us! Natalya!" He lifted her face up and looked into her eyes. "Will you believe me that?"
She struggled for words without succeeding.
"We can start anew," Anton continued. "In Switzerland, or America - wherever you want! I have contacts. I can procure us both a new identity!"
"Will you… stop all this?" She did not need to be more specific.
"Yes. I just need to eliminate some loose ends. Cover some tracks. Make some arrangements." A lot of tracks, and a lot of arrangements. he corrected in his mind, while pulling her closer. "I need you to trust me! I can do it. I will do it! We'll start anew!"
Anton knew this was a lie. But he wanted to believe in it himself that desperately.

The whorehouse was not only illegal, it was pompous, overdone. Starting from the too-young Asiatic hookers with bodypainting and ending with the gilded pseudo-baroque cups with caviar on the table. Slow music was playing. Moscow chief of police Viktor Kusnev shoved another spoon full of caviar into his mouth, when three men took place next to him, disrupting his pleasure. A hasty look to the left and to the right, then Kusnev's eyes rested on the newcomer sitting right in front of him: Simeonov.
"Enjoying your evening?" Anton took some of the caviar himself and then spit it on the carpeted ground, the picture of the homeless he had seen on his way here still in mind.
The chief of police blinked irritated. "Is there anything I can do for you, General?"
"There WAS something you SHOULD have done, remember? No, it looks pretty much to me you have forgotten. So I'll refresh your fragile memory a bit." Anton moved closer. Shielded by the silky panels of the little separee, he poked his silencer-equipped Makarov in Kusnev's stomach. "You took my money. But you didn't keep up your part of the deal!" He pushed the barrel further, and the chief of police made a squeaking sound. "Cry for help, and everyone in Russia will know about your wonderful little business you did with me!"
"I didn't tell anyone, I swear! I couldn't know this detective from St-Petersburg sticks his nose -"
"I'm a very busy man. I certainly did not come here tonight for hearing you babble lies! You thought yourself especially smart, getting MY money and the promotion for good service!"
"Don't shoot me! Please. I pull some strings. I get your men out of custody again. I-"
"Shut the fuck up!" Anton had already taken care of this problem. "I hate wasting money and manpower."
"I'll pay back! Everything!!!"
"You shouldn't have started stealing! Stealing is a bad thing! Moreover from the people here in Moscow trusting in you, needing your help! But they didn't fight back, right? You felt very strong! You became greedy… - Why don't you eat anymore? Lost your appetite?" He loaded another spoon with caviar and stuffed it into Kusnev's mouth. Half of it fell down on the chief of police's white vest. Before he could swallow down completely, Anton had pulled the trigger. Moaning, spitting and choking his opponent slid down next to the table.
Simeonov and his men stood up simultaneously and concealed their weapons carefully again. Shortly after, they left the location.

"Bastard!" Anton murmured, while getting in his car again and fighting against the still lingering sickness in him. Not so much because of the murder; he had done this far too often by now, but more because of the things Kusnev had done. And many more office holders had done! He was sick of it all! Maybe these Chechenian guys were right, even if their religious stuff completely eluded him. This whole country was doomed! Choking itself in greed and corruption! He took a sip from the Vodka bottle stored in the car and ordered the man on the driver's seat to go.
Then Anton closed his eyes, let his thoughts wander to Natalya. She was the beauty, the light, the love making everything including himself, still endurable… However, he had not heard from her in over two months now. Granted, he had instructed her not to seek any contact from her side. He would act, when it was time and he had everything in place. But she had in fact called from a public phone during the first weeks after the unexpected meeting in the old house! And now this complete silence!

Natalya was still working, despite the late hour. Some reports had to be analyzed, and she had lost time because of two sick days this week. And yes, she tried to bury herself in work, because she did not want to ponder about too many things. Moreover, she did not want to visit her family as planned. She did not want to explain anything to anyone, she could not. The spiral of truth and lies had become a rope tightening around her neck.
Steps echoing through the nearly dark rest of the big office startled her. With an instinctive reaction, she had the hand on her weapon in the drawer. One never knew these days, if late-night visitors came with friendly intentions. The chance they didn't was relatively high! However, it was only the bulky silhouette of her MFS-colleague Michail, which showed up in viewing range now. Natalya pushed the drawer back and sighed.
"What do you want, Michail?"
"What the whole MFS want: Anton Simeonov."
"Of course." She felt an alarming knot in her throat. Something was not right here… She stretched her hands again towards the keyboard. "We are working on it, don't we?"
Michail leaned against the desk. "Nice ring you wear! Looks expensive!"
There was definitely something wrong! "Oh, it only looks," Natalya answered as light as she could manage. "Think it's made of glass. I found it on the street some weeks ago."
"In the Frunsenskaya District? In the area listed for demolition?" Michail's expression didn't mirror her forced smile. "What you do is high treason, Agent Verenkova!"
"Excuse me?" Her hands were ice cold suddenly and the knot in her throat started aching.
"I know, what is going on, don't try to fool me. I checked your timetable, your files and-"
"You were stalking me?!"
"I had a certain suspicion after the operation in Frunsenskaya. I made some investigations on my own. But I didn't want to report you."
"And what exactly DO you want?"
"Natalya, we both know Simeonov is a very dangerous criminal! Whatever he has… promised you, it was a lie! He uses you, manipulates you! You must not trust him! We have to bring him down! Last week, there has been an attack on governmental officials trying to negotiate in the Chechenian business. Simeonov might have provided these terrorists with weapons. This could be the trigger for a lot of crap!" Before she could pull her hand back, Michail had placed his above. "I need your cooperation in this! Otherwise I don't know how I shall protect you in the future!"

After the assassination of Kusnev, Simeonov showed a low profile and vanished for some weeks in the countryside. One of these afternoons, he was sitting playing chess with one of his old comrades, Peter, a former Captain of his platoon. He had spent four years in jail after a gunfight while he was drunk. As long as he was kept away from alcohol, he was the most reliable friend Anton still had in his new 'army'. And one of the few who knew about Natalya.
The beeping cellphone interrupted Anton's next move. He turned to the little device, and discovered Natalya's number on the display, making him frown. She had never used her own celly to contact him - it was far too risky someone would detect the connection! The beeping stopped, but started again before he had even taken seat.
"It is her. Natalya," Anton whispered.
"Don't answer it! It's a trap!" Peter jumped up from his seat and scratched nervously over his head. "Just switch it off, man!"
But he had already pushed the button. Caution simply crumbled in front of his desire to hear her again at least! "Natalya?"
'Anton, I need to see you! I cannot speak very long!'
"What happened? Are you okay?"
'Meet me at Saint-Cyril-Church, tomorrow 6 PM! It is urgent!'
"Natalya, what-" But the sound on the other end made clear she had already terminated the connection. "Shit!"
"Don't go there," his old comrade pleaded again. "There's something fucking wrong!"
"I have to."
Peter snorted. He had never been good with words, and reached the level of frustration fast, when it came to convince someone. "Anton, she is … just a woman! Women lie! Think of it what Masha did to me!"
"Not Natalya. She is different."
"Then let me come with you, giving you cover!"

So the two men entered the church at the scheduled time. Both were armed, of course. An old woman, who lighted some candles in front of an icon, was the only other visitor. Soon, she shuffled to the door, still murmuring some prayers. Peter took position in the rear of the church, while Anton stepped towards the iconostasis. He stared at the unfamiliar, weird figurations there and shook his head. Superstitious nonsense! However at times like these, religion seemed the only hope for many people.
Faint sounds behind let Anton turn back. Hoping he would discover Natalya's beautiful face at any moment, he smiled. But the emotion froze in his features. There was Peter, slowly sinking down next to one of the painted panels. Blood on his chest, blood dripping from his wide open mouth. The next second, Anton dove for cover and had his weapon at the ready. Nevertheless, hearing the multiple 'click' from disengaging safety locks, he knew it was over. Eight guns. Eight men.
"Away with the weapon! And on the ground, arms to the side! GO!"
Natalya… was his only thought, while he complied mechanically.


==== Pyatak High Security Prison 1998 ====

Anton Simeonov's trial had been a fast and unspectacular operation, given the notoriety he already enjoyed. He hadn't made an attempt to defend himself, never even appointed a lawyer. He sat there in the courtroom enfolded in silence. Exactly this behaviour virtually came across much like an accusation of the court and the whole government. This silence seemed to be a loud unwelcome question about when the judges would convict themselves. Anton didn't care much if people venerated him as hero or hated him violently. All that still counted for him these days before the court was the image of Natalya. How she had been standing there on the first day of the trial, this pig-faced idiot right next to her, embracing her! He had clearly discerned then, she was pregnant. This had been worse than the treason she had delivered him in the hands of the police, worse then everything else. This had been the betrayal finally killing him. It didn't need the help of any so-called justice!

In the end, he was sentenced to death for a variety of crimes, including 4 murders, which clearly could be proven, armed assault, robbing and smuggling of goods threatening the national security. He didn't even flinch during the rendition of judgment. Only one hour before his execution should take place, the Russian parliament signed a paper to postpone every pending death sentence, in order to show good will for the European Community. Anton was transferred to the high security prison of Pyatak, situated on an island 400 kilometres North of Moscow. And if there was something like an icy hell on earth, it was this place for sure.



The first weeks became a terrible ordeal. Anton was imprisoned alone, in a cell barely greater than 2x3 metres, with a grilled 'cage' outside, perhaps 2x2 metres, where he could spent one hour at fresh air, alone too - if it pleased the guards. And very often it didn't please them. He made the experience how little it took to torture someone. Confining a person in a too tiny space was one of the most effective things. He was used to several hardships from the time at the academy, and much more from the time in Afghanistan. He knew how hunger, cold, lack of sleep and different pains felt. However, it was one thing to endure this as a man in fight with a clear purpose, and another to sit here! Betrayed. In this tiny cell. Despite all effort to keep control, he was attacked by a vehement claustrophobia. He could not sleep, and if, he had nightmares of closing-in walls slowly crushing him. The memory of Natalya haunted him. One day, he lunged against one of the guards, screaming and howling like the wolves which could be heard at night - he woke up again in chains and naked, somewhere in the lightless basement of the jail. Thrown away like trash.
And he realized he just started to become exactly that: worthless trash justifying the decision of the government to dispose of him; a worm crawling in the mud and battling insanity…
I swore this would not happen! I am Anton Simeonov. General Anton Simeonov. He repeated this several times, perhaps for hours. I am General Anton Simeonov. And I am NOT beaten yet. I have NOT lost this battle. I will fight back!
Despite cold and chains, he struggled to his feet eventually, and waited standing upright for the warden to fetch him. It was in these hours, when he decided to find a way out of Pyatak. No matter how long it would take, he would get out!

The rest of the story can be found at fanfiction.net, here