Taste of Russian Romance
Irina Melnikova apparently can write a good Regency (or Russian equivalent). She apparently also has decided to become the thinking Russian woman's Tom Clancy. For your escapist needs, I present an excerpt from a novel that's about as far from Katrina as you can get.
From The She-Wolf, or Wild Leeza
by Irina Melnikova
An intelligence officer must know how:
-- to make parachute jumps, come down a rope from a hovering helicopter, and pilot hang gliders, parasails, catamarans and motorboats;
-- to learn military topography to perfection, to orient himself in any locality by compass and map or local landmarks, to quickly and accurately find the necessary objectives, to indicate the coordinates of the investigated objective on the radio;
-- to determine by appearance any potential enemy weapon and know its tactical and technical data, and to determine the enemy's training for the use of WMDs;
-- to identify enemy personnel by uniform and rank insignia and enemy technology by identification markings and exterior appearance; to determine by sound the location,
number, and nature of the activities of the enemy;
-- to learn the actions and tactics of the subdivisions of a possible enemy, and how to use his weaponry and technology;
-- to carry out with excellence both maskirovka techniques and methods of noiseless movement in any locality;
-- to carry out all reconnaissance methods: observation, interception, ambush, photography, and reconnaissance in force;
-- to secretly and noiselessly overcome wilderness and urban engineering barricades, to ford or overcome water obstacles by improvised means, to swim and float well;
-- to endure a prolonged forced march, shoot accurately, throw a knife or a grenade both accurately and far, use a riflebutt or a knife skillfully, and be a master of hand-to-hand fighting;
-- to act as a 'military mountainclimber';
-- to master the skills and habits of survival under extreme conditions...
Judging by Anatoly Taras' reference works, the INTELLIGENCE OFFICER must know all of this. He is a strong, powerful, specially trained man, who has no right to lose control of himself in even the most outrageous situation.
But if a woman finds herself in such a situation? What do the reference books advise?
The signal vanished off the dispatcher's radar screen ten minutes after the airplane took off. The dispatcher was experienced, with many years of accident-free work. He couldn't believe his eyes. Only a couple minutes ago, the captain had reported that the aircraft had achieved cruising altitude, and that everything was normal. He had reported in a totally workaday manner, with no agitation. Any captain of any airplane always reports that everything is working and he's on course with no interference. But the signal disappeared, and it didn't reappear in ten seconds, or in a quarter of an hour, when it should have showed up on the dispatchers' radar screens at the Novokuznetskovo Airport. Then they reported the whole thing to their superiors.
Naturally radio contact with the crew was lost at the same time the signal disappeared. The dispatcher sensed fate's nasty plan in this, because yesterday morning when he was getting ready to go to work, he'd glanced at the calendar. He'd hurried to brag to his wife that tomorrow he'd have finished ten years of service at the airport; and they'd surely congratulate him, especially since he deserved it for his excellent work.
Idiot. He really did know it was bad luck to compliment himself, but no, he didn't hold back. And now he'd got a total snafu by the horns. The last trip of his shift, and so unpleasant a surprise -- a ChP, on top of it all! An IL-76 transport plane, like always, loaded with soldiers of the technical division and three jeeps for the military district command. Nine crewmembers and sixteen passengers... Had twenty-five people, including two children, crashed somewhere in the taiga? The dispatcher no longer believed that everything would work out. If the signal had vanished, that bad luck wouldn't pass by as he'd prayed to God it would.
It was equally old news that he would now never become flight director, although he felt he'd done nothing wrong. All his actions as dispatcher had been competent, precise, accurate and professional, but uneasiness didn't let him off the hook. As always, they'd be looking for a scapegoat, and who, after all, would it turn out to be? The dispatcher, of course -- just a meek little workhorse.
So thought Leonid Ogurtsov, the supervisor of the air traffic control group in whose shift this tragedy occurred.
After two hours, when the aircraft failed to land at its destination, there was no longer any doubt that it had suffered a catastrophe. But within the hour, army and MChS (Ministry of Emergency and Disaster Relief) helicopters took off. Beneath them lay the endless taiga, covered by dove-gray haze. Autumn had made lavish brushstrokes across the glens and forests, painting them in impossibly bright tones: aspen groves blazed crimson, birch groves molten gold, and poplars blushed rosily on riverbanks and islands.
But to these people, there was no beauty in the taiga. On the contrary, the abundance of hues interfered with concentration and finding the crash site, the broken treetops, the smoke from the fires where fragments had fallen...
Chirring like giant magpies, the helicopters combed the course followed by the lost aircraft. Helo pilots were no less superstitious than air traffic controllers, and until they'd found the exact site of the disaster, they
preferred to call the aircraft "lost".
Rain had fallen in the mountains for several days in a row. It had totally drenched the taiga, so there probably couldn't be a large fire, especially if the IL had fallen into a lake or onto the rocky spurs of the Kuznetsk Alatau.
Search and rescue workers, following the same course through the taiga on cross-country vehicles, had time to question both local residents and hunters. They hadn't noticed anything strange in the sky in the given hours, they hadn't heard explosions, crashes, or any odd sounds; and so far they hadn't found one intelligent witness, either. To be more exact, they learned nothing about what they were looking for. In these godforgotten taiga villages, they saw anything and everything from flying saucers to little green spirits with horns, tails and hooves; but nobody'd noticed anything like a crashing airplane. True, the airplane had been lost at five in the morning, but even the most honest farmwives, who got up to milk their cows before dawn or even the first light, had also plainly heard nothing except the lowing of cattle, yes, and the streams of milk ringing against the bottom of their milkpails.
To sum things up, there had been an airplane, but there was no airplane now. It was as if a bird had whisked it away on the wing; as if a magician had pointed his wand and turned the gigantic airliner's lifting body and everything in it -- many tons of fuel, its cargo, and almost thirty people -- into dust, into molecules, into nothing....
Within the hour, the loss of the aircraft had been reported to the President and the Chairman of the Security Council, as well as to the Ministers of Defense and the MChS. Later, they reported it on television without any details. In the following hour's news program, they showed a map of the area where the plane was assumed to have crashed. True, the TV cameramen didn't yet know that although the area had
been plotted out, the fallen aircraft hadn't turned out to be there....
All around her, it seemed to stink of cinders and gasoline. Her body, from head to heels, was in unbearable pain. The woman opened her eyes and didn't understand where she was, at first. She lay in an extremely inconvenient position, almost hanging by her feet, face buried in something stiff which, after more thorough examination, turned out to be the cellulose suitcase in which airline shuttles transport their cargo. What's more, this bag was not the only one, and the woman found that her head was surrounded by them.
She tried to pick her way out of this obstruction, but first she had to free her foot, which had gotten stuck between the bags and a torn piece of metal the size of a car door -- but which had pitilessly mangled someone, and hung over her head like the sword of Damocles.
But in spite of her pain, she nevertheless managed to avoid the blow when she pulled her foot down, and the door fell onto the bags, cutting like a knife through one of them.
After this, the woman finally came to herself. True, her head continued to ring like a bell, but she had already begun to distinguish separate sounds. Before this, they had merged into one alarming rumble. But now they were divided into burning hot howling wind, tree noises, and... a thin wail which sounded like the whine of a puppy weaned from its shaggy wetnurse.
The woman went on the alert, and immediately felt milk begin to flow from a breast. The child had cried, and her body had reacted to his weeping more quickly than she'd understood what these sounds indicated in reality. A hot stream slid along her stomach; her chest was being bent to the breaking point. Paying no attention to the pain, she quickly moved her hands to free her from cellulose captivity. And the first thing she saw after picking her way outside was a patch of blue covered with odd feathers -- clouds in the sky -- in a frame of bent metal. Its sharp corners and razor edges confirmed unambiguously that they'd been made by an explosion.
She crawled along on her elbows, because her weakness made it impossible for her to rise to her full height. Her head whirled, nausea rose to her throat, but the woman kept crawling toward the source of the sound that was bothering her. Finally she found herself on the edge of what had been, a few hours before, the tail of an airplane. This quite small piece of it was hanging between two gigantic cedars and the toothy peak of a cliff. The piece of metal was all that remained of an enormous airliner, by some miracle balanced on the edge of a precipice. Further on, hooked from a branch, a stroller was hanging, and from it came the baby's cry.
Despite everything, the woman rose to her feet. The child was no more than two meters away. But between them lay a real precipice, and there was nothing to lean against so that she could reach for him. She looked down to where a young fir grove's tops bristled. Enormous chunks of basalt peeked through it. Ten meters to the ground, but to jump down would be dangerous without a doubt; she might not just break her legs, but her neck, too.
Once again she measured the distance to the child by sight, then put out her arms, and almost screamed from horror. Her warm flannel shirt with its dark green checks was ripped to shreds. Its sleeves were completely gone, and her hands were one continuous bruise, intersected by several deep cuts and abrasions, the blood already dried.
With horror, the woman raised them to her face, refusing to believe her own eyes. Then her gaze slid lower. It turned out that her jeans were in as bad a state as her shirt. But her feet weren't much different from her hands, because enormous bruises and abrasions decorated them no less lavishly. Then she tore open her shirt, and found the same collection on her thighs and ribs. Probably this was the result of the aircraft's crash against the cliff, or to be more accurate, its tail's crash -- the tail which trembled and screeched threateningly with every threatening motion.
The baby kept up its crying jag, but she couldn't do anything. Her head was feeling even sicker, her thoughts were confused, and not one of them would stay with her for long -- which she maybe should have wanted.
Milk had overfilled her breasts. Her mammary glands had hardened, and every motion of her arm shot back a dull viscous pain. At that instant the child fell silent as if its spirit had flown somewhere, but a minute later it took to wailing with even more strength, and her breasts responded with new milkflow. It did not spare her brassiere, which became wet and chafed her under the armpits. Moreover, the milk came right through her shirt, turning her into a window and making it possible for the cool breeze to easily take a walk along her whole body.
The woman glanced to both sides. What to do? She knew perfectly well that she could stay here forever and watch while the child went on crying. For that matter, she couldn't at all remember why she'd been on the airplane. Indeed, only yesterday they'd taken her into the family-home, but her absence of belly and abundance of milk in the breast confirmed that she'd already had time to give birth. Yes, and judging by the cries, the baby was already pretty big. Her baby? But why didn't she remember how she'd borne him, and why had she found herself in an airplane?
The woman pressed her fingers against her temples. Something wasn't adding up in her head. At first she couldn't even remember what they called her. And she was greatly cheered when her husband's voice floated up in her memory. "Leeza! Leezok!"
It sounded so clearly in her ears that she shivered. Was he really around somewhere?
But now she refused to think like this. The time of his mission to the Caucasus had been over last winter, and now it was almost autumn; she must be ready to give birth...
But when had she had her baby?
Her temples were ready to burst from stress, but the child wasn't crying anymore. But he had apparently fallen silent because his hunger had made him lose all his strength. And then she began to take decisive action. First she threw down a bag of airline rags. True, they scattered when they fell, but still she hoped that she wouldn't break a leg if she had to fall down. Then she crawled up to the edge of the piece of aircraft that had saved her life. She leaned down sharply, and then, without thinking too long, the woman jumped. Without a push, without going limp against a possible miss and fall. But evidently God had saved her this time, too. She managed to hook herself a branch next to the stroller.
The branch turned out to be none too reliable, and it bent under her weight. But the woman's hands were strong, and she herself was young and agile; she instantly shifted to the lower, thicker branches. In spite of the pain in her whole body, she moved easily, noting to herself that she was hampered only by her known injuries, and this was a good sign in itself.
It didn't give her any special trouble to get to the stroller. The baby did turn out to be pretty big, ten months old or not much less. He stared with round little eyes and tried to get up. He was saved by the fact that he was closed inside; otherwise he would long ago have been thrown from the stroller. Leeza carefully caught him up with one hand; the baby gulped and smiled. She pressed him against her chest and carefully started to work her way down, continually throwing her head up to see what was going on with the torn piece of metal hanging over her head.
Just as soon as she hit the ground, she rushed to the cliffs to get as far as possible from this dangerous place. The child quieted in her arms. She pressed him against her breast and prayed Fate would let them find cover under the rock overhang before the piece of airplane crashed to earth.
But she heard the terrible crash more quickly than she'd expected. Leeza rushed toward a huge basalt chunk, and without remembering, rolled behind it. And came back to herself at the baby's loud cry. She was holding the little one in a death grip and apparently it'd hurt him, because he twisted in her arms and wailed his tiny lungs out.
"Shh, shh," she whispered, and kissed the baby on his tearstained cheek. He quieted, and she, putting her hand on his head, carefully looked out from behind the stone.
The fragment of airplane, after shearing off a gigantic tree branch and the mossy top of the cliff like a razor, had fallen down the precipice, where stones were still being brought down and a terrible echo beat along the gorge's rocky walls.
Some of the bags disappeared after it, seized by the pieces falling down, but three or four only flew further away, and those remained. Leeza rose to her feet, but the child in her arms started to cry again; and so she tore open her shirt and put him to her right breast. He sucked long and greedily, casting glances at her with his little black eyes with their thick eyelashes. The pain in that breast was eased, but then the left one overflowed with milk, and another hot stream ran down her belly without ceasing.
But the little child was that hungry. His little wool suit was soaked right through. The little one should have been changed immediately and muffled in something warm before he froze in the icy wind. The gusts were getting stronger and stronger, and when the first excitement from the rescue started to die down, Leeza felt herself getting chilled to the bone. And that wasn't amazing; her clothing had turned into pitiful rags.
Finally the little one fell from her breast. His eyelids closed over his eyes, but wet diapers kept him from falling asleep. And then Leeza carefully left him on the moss. The child wailed offendedly. But this was not that bitter and hopeless weeping which rended her heart, and so she risked leaving him alone.
The first bag happened to be pretty packed with leather jackets, but on the very bottom she found two sport suits, one pre-worn, and a packet of men's knit hats. All this was free of sizes. Of course. Second, she found packages of towels and oilcloth shower curtains. Also good, she thought, immediately figuring out that the towels could be used instead of diapers and babywipes. In the third bag was nothing but big stuffed toys, but after turning them over in her hands, she figured that if she ripped them up and took out the stuffing, she might come up with quite decent baby clothes for the little one.
She dragged the suitcases back to the place where she'd left the child. The landing knife which she always wore fastened to her ankle was still in place, and like a experienced taxidermist, Leeza pulled out a large monkey and stabbed it in the stomach. She pulled out porolon, which meant it was a well-stuffed toy; she decided to think how she could adapt the stuffing, too. And only then was it the little one's turn. He was a boy, and he smiled merrily when she took off his wet diapers. Luckily, he wasn't hurt at all. Leeza looked at his body carefully and didn't find a scratch or a bruise on him. He laughed, kicked his legs around, and tried with all his might to grab her nose when she bent too low over him. Leeza wasn't mistaken. He was ten months old. And he stood up firmly, but he apparently wasn't walking by himself yet.
As she must, Leeza wiped him off with the hem of her own shirt, which seemed to have come apart for exactly this purpose. The water from the puddle she moistened the rag in was very cold. And before she used the rag, she warmed it on her stomach for a little while. She was still quite chilled, but she must not scare the little one or let him catch cold.
After accomplishing this procedure, she wrapped him up in a diaper made of soft towel, adding a piece of porolon from the eviscerated monkey. Now the boy was dry and warm. In addition, Leeza tucked him into an improvised playsuit made from the hide of the little monkey. She got it on him just in time, and the child immediately shut his eyes and sniffled. She kissed the little one on the forehead, tucked him into the smallest of the jackets and carefully laid him on the moss. And only after all this did she study herself.
She took off her rags and climbed into the new sports suit, and put on the old suit's sports jacket. It apparently had belonged to a man, because she found an open packet of cigarettes in the pocket. The suits were a little big for her, but she was instantly warmer, and when she put on a man's leather jacket over it and a wool hat on her head, she thought that now her own brother wouldn't recognize her.
Leeza bent over the boy. The little one slept and looked very funny in the fuzzy fur coat of a little toy animal. Leeza squatted next to him. Now it was time to ponder it all and figure out what else to do. She closed her eyes....
...a narrow stony road. Up ahead an APC dives and bumps from hole to hole, behind them is another APC, and in between is a tarp-covered truck. Oleg is at the wheel, and she's next to him. Terrible pain keeps stabbing into her stomach. "Breathe, breathe through your mouth," Oleg pleads. He doesn't look in her direction because he can't take his eyes off the road, the machine is throwing him side to side so much. With every push she grits her teeth so as not to yell out from the current assault of pain. His words start to sound to her like "Suffer, suffer, homegirl...." And that's all! A fiery flash pierces the sky, a terrible crash, and she flies, flies into the precipice....
Leeza shuddered and opened her eyes. What was that? What happened? Why didn't she remember anything but this trip on a truck? But clearly, she did have her baby. And this was the child. He certainly looked like Oleg. Yes, and who else could it be, when her breasts were bursting with milk. But then, why didn't she remember the past nine or ten months, or what they'd named the boy? But then, how could she have any doubt? He had to be Dima, Dimok -- that was the name of Oleg's friend who'd been killed back in the first Chechen war....
Leeza rubbed her forehead. And her fingers hit a narrow scar. Where did she get that from? She hadn't had it before. Her heart stopped with alarm. Something had happened to her, and she didn't know the explanation. And this catastrophe... she didn't have a clue what airplane she'd flown on, or where.
She pulled what was left of her clothes toward herself. No documents, either for her or her child. No tickets. No medical information. Nothing which you could use to get back memory of the events which had led her to this absolutely wild world, where there was only forest, yes, and cliff, and beyond that the white and blue autumn sky.