Cold ReceptionbyColleen Thomas©
Authors note: This story is set against the backdrop of World War II. It was a pleasure to research and write, but the background is rather dark. In striving for realism and factual depictions I tried to bring home to the reader some of the harsh realities of war, as such this story may not be enjoyable for many readers and is a little longer than many. I feel the story is worth being told, but also felt compelled to warn readers that the subject matter may be disturbing. For those who wish to read on I hope you enjoy my effort, for those who don't I hope you can find something more enjoyable among my other works.
This story was workshopped in the SDC [Story Discussion Circle, located in the Literotica Forums]. My sincerest thanks to Killermuffin for hosting it. Thanks also to Doc M, Hiddenself, Perdita, Pure and the incomparable Rumple for their time, advice and comments.
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Annika Kubolinkov lay still in the quickly deepening snow. Her white camouflage parka and neutrally colored trousers blended perfectly with the landscape, rendering her nearly invisible in the pale evening light. She peered into the thickening gloom around the edge of a burned out tank track. It had been thrown from a German machine after Red Army artillery had found its range early that morning. The monster Panther tank lay a few yards away, its blackened turret was askew and soot marks could be seen at the hatches where the infernal fires had found an outlet. A burned corpse hung out of the top hatch and smoke still curled from the fires that had raged within. The heat of those fires had long since dissipated, but the huge mass of metal made a solid windbreak.
The snow had been falling since midday and had slowly blanketed the blasted landscape, blurring the sharp lines of shell craters and softening the outline of charred trees. Bodies too lay under that snow. Faceless men who had died in this little corner of hell and whose relatives would never know how. When Annika had taken up her position the area looked like pictures she had seen of no man's land from the Great War. Now it reminded her of home. Home. Time and horror had so shattered her perception that the very word sounded alien to her.
One hundred yards down range five men huddled next to another tank. This was one of the mammoth Tiger II's and the men steadily fed wood into a fire burning under it. The fire was to heat it up so they could start the engine in the morning. The frigid weather made oil freeze and they did not have the fuel to run the engine all night anymore. Once they had been the invincible juggernaut of Hitler's Third Reich, now they were reduced to a decimated remnant of the glory days. Annika caressed the wooden stock of her rifle and rubbed the snow off of the sights. The rifle was special to her, almost like a lover. It was a German Mauser model 98K with a Zielfernrohre 39 scope. With it she had killed over seventy Germans since the red army entered Poland in late January.
It was an impressive score for any sniper, but Annika would never appear in the newsreels in Moscow. She would never be called a hero of the Soviet Union. Annika held no rank in the Red Army, not that the Germans would have cared one way or the other as they did not recognize Red Army rank among partisans. She received no funding or training from the NKVD. She did not fight for Stalin, for Communism, nor for a commander, she fought for mother Russia. For mother Russia and her personal vengeance. Vengeance for her lost family, vengeance for her slaughtered village, vengeance for the brutal loss of her virginity, but most of all vengeance for her loss of innocence.
When Germany surprised the Red Army and swept across Western Russia in 1941 Annika had been a mere child of sixteen. She had stood silently with the rest of her village as the German army entered. There had been a great deal of fear of the hun among the elders, but those fears had proved to be unfounded. The officers and men of the Wehrmacht were polite if rather stern and rolled through stopping only to forage for supplies. Even in this they had not been brutal or overly zealous. Some milk, a few eggs, some bread, nothing many of the villagers would not have gladly given them anyway. She had seen the famed German general Heinz Guderian, but at the time the name had meant nothing to her. After the tanks came infantry in trucks and half-tracks. She had stood and watched them roll through the village, an endless parade of men in gray coats and black boots until her mother had forced her to come inside. The evening meal had been taken in silence, but it seemed to young Annika that her parents were filled with hope and a guarded joy. They were Belorussians and some of the people in the village looked on the Germans as liberators. That had lasted until the next evening.
Hours behind the real soldiers came the men she would learn to hate and hunt, the sadists of the Einsatzgruppen. Special action groups, autonomous, ruthless and sadistic they had begun immediately to round up Jews, communists and other "undesirables". What followed would remain forever burned into her mind, an orgy of rape, murder and senseless destruction. Her father and brothers had been shot and her mother dragged screaming to the bedroom by leering men. Even her tender years did not spare her and she lost her virginity to the first of many rapists that day. The last had been a cold man called Werner who seemed to have more feelings for his prized rifle than for any of the helpless people in the village. He did not even bother to lower his trousers. When he finished and rolled off of her Annika had seized the Luger from his belt and shot him once through the temple. She had taken the rifle he had so carefully set by the door and had escaped into the night, a times dragging herself through the burning fields. She was bleeding badly, and her insides hurt horribly. Twice she threw up, but she finally reached the small cave where she and her brothers had played as children. She slept then, never sure for exactly how long. When she awakened it was dark and cold outside. It took her a moment to realize where she was and to have the horror of that day wash over her again. She could hear the screams of her mother, of people being machine gunned in the streets, the hoarse shouting of the Germans and the grunts of the men taking their turn with her. She cautiously went down to the stream and washed herself, removing caked blood and semen. It was still dark when she cautiously returned to her village. When she got there she found it was gone, a cold pile of ashes and unburied corpses was all that was left.
In reprisal for the killing of a German soldier the Einsatzgruppen Commander had given orders for the village to be burned to the ground and the inhabitants slaughtered. From that day to this she hunted Germans and killed them. Neither rank, nor age, nor branch mattered to her. She killed them all, from hiding, from long range. She gained a reputation for cold-blooded killing efficiency that earned her the title of the Snow Witch. The average German soldier feared her as much as the icy winds and freezing cold that had cost so many of them their lives.
She opened the bolt of her well-oiled rifle and inserted five cartridges, tossing the striper clip into the snow. When she slid the bolt home the first of the long 7.92mmm shells seated and the firing pin was primed. She sighted carefully and slowly breathed in, as she did so she set the cross hairs on the head of the German she assumed was the officer of the tank and gently squeezed. The heavy rifle bucked against her shoulder and she lost sight picture as she worked the bolt smoothly. She acquired a second target and had only a moment to record the surprised face of a young blonde man before the gun barked again. The remaining three dived for cover, but they were unsure of where she was and two took cover behind the tank, which only served to set a perfect backdrop for her.
Her next shot splattered blood and brains all over the side of the tank as it passed through the driver's ear. By the time she had worked the bolt again there were no Germans in sight. Annika lifted her eye from the scope and peered ahead. The scope gave such a narrow field of vision that it was hard to acquire a target once they began moving. Soon her naked eye picked up a flash of movement near the tank. She immediately returned her eye to the scope and moved to where she had seen movement. She found the source, the second soldier had dived flat and crawled behind a rock, but he was now moving towards the tank again. Annika relaxed and let him work his way closer. She could have fired then, but at this range shooting at prone target was a low percentage shot. Annika could only collect ammunition from her vanquished foes. Cartridges were as precious as gemstones to her and she never wasted them when it wasn't absolutely necessary.
Like all hunters she knew her prey and his tendencies. Tankers would struggle to get back into the protective shell of their tanks and infantry would try to burrow into the ground. He would make a mad dash for that hatch soon and she moved her scope to cover the driver's hatch on the front hull. She was taking a calculated risk. The man might try for the commander's hatch in the turret, but she felt sure she had killed the commander with her first shot. She also expected the man to throw himself at the closest available route, which was the hatch on the fore hull.
It was a dangerous game Annika played because if the man reached the tank he could simply blast away at the world with it's machine guns and god help her if he managed to get the main gun into action by himself. The big 88mm high velocity cannon would not even have to be particularly close to her if he managed to fire it. Also, there was the fifth man. He had disappeared as soon as the shooting began, Annika could ill afford to be watching the tank with such concentration that she allowed him to sneak up on her. A dangerous game it was, but she had played it many times since Stalingrad and she would play it many more if the fates permitted her to.
A flash of movement, her scope filed with gray and the sharp crack of the Mauser seemed to be one event. She pulled her eye from the scope to see the man fall backwards into the snow. He writhed around, shot through the spine, but the Russian woman sent no mercy bullet. She watched casually as he bled to death, her keen eyes now searching the increasingly murky ground for the fifth man. Over time she had developed a keen sense of what the world should look like. Her eyes darted over the landscape before her, but some small thing tugged at her consciousness. Something was slightly wrong, slightly out of place. In a moment she realized what it was and her eye returned to the scope. She carefully surveyed the camp through the magnified view until she came to rest on a large boulder. There, at the very edge she found what had been out of place. A boot, or more precisely, the toe of one.
Annika could not tell if the boot was that of a man, or one that had been simply tossed there. She played back through her mind the hours she had spent watching the camp, at no time could she remember a man being near the boulder and only a fool would remove his boots in the icy cold. Still, this was the German army in retreat and who could say how many men had already passed over this frozen ground in headlong flight. The nearest town was over ten miles away and even though they were technically behind the front only a fool would think he was safe here.
Annika calmly opened the bolt on her rifle, catching the last cartridge as it exited and placing it in her parka pocket. From her belt she took a second stripper clip and filled the magazine. A running man might throw many things away she reasoned; his gun, his pack, even his coat if the need were great enough, but only a dead man gave up his boots here. Feeling confidant that the boot belonged to the last of the five soldiers she again sighted in and slowly squeezed off a round. The sharp crack of the rifle was followed by a flat thudding sound and a sharp scream. A man jumped up and for just a moment he was silhouetted against the lighter background of the trees. The rifle cracked again and the solid thudding of it striking was unusually loud in the crisp cold air.
So crisp that Annika wondered if she had perhaps missed the man and hit one of the trees behind him. Her second shot had been rushed and she could not be sure she had hit the mark. She chambered another round automatically, but her mind was already going over the situation and her options. Four dead Germans and a probable fifth was more than a day's work for her. Not knowing if that fifth man yet lived the wisest course would be to pull back to her hidden camp and come back in the morning. On the other hand with the German army collapsing around her the odds of anything useful making it through the night were slim. Stragglers were everywhere, not to mention polish partisans, refuges and advance patrols of the first Ukrainian Front. Annika was desperately short of ammunition and food. She also wanted the greatcoat off the first man she had shot because it would help in the long cold night.
Annika had been very lucky and had survived the many mistakes she made when she first started on her personal odyssey of vengeance. Now she was a seasoned veteran of many campaigns. Rather than approach the camp she stood slowly and pulled on her almost empty haversack, which was another trophy. She carefully circled the camp keeping low and watchful for any movement. When she reached the other side of the camp she could clearly see the dead man who had been hiding behind the rocks. Still wary of a trap she closed in slowly, taking advantage of the natural cover and her relative invisibility in the gathering twilight. As she entered the weak circle of light cast by the dying fire she held her Luger in her hand.
The man behind the rock had taken her bullet in the side and it had passed clean through him. The pool of black blood beneath him was quickly becoming scummed with ice, but it showed Annika that she had damaged his liver. Two others had taken head hits and were undeniably dead. Her second target was also dead; he lay face down in the snow in another pool of icy blood. The man she had shot through the back was still alive. Blood trickled from the corners of his mouth and ran down his face. His nostrils flared as Annika stood over him and he painfully tried to speak.
He was young, probably not even out of his teens yet. His face was handsome with a bit of blonde peach fuzz he probably called a beard. He had deep blue eyes that showed his fear and pain more eloquently than any words. Annika hated the German enemy, but she was not a heartless killing machine, at least not yet. She knelt by the boy and as she softly spoke to him she brought the Luger to his head and killed him with a single shot. She was not often moved to mercy, but she still had feelings though she buried them deep. It was boys such as this, young men raised in the lies of the Fuehrer's Germany without a chance to know any better that she could still feel for.
The children of the Hitler Youth. Annika felt a kinship to these soldiers because they too had been robbed of their innocence. While her ordeal had been a single brutal moment in time, theirs had been a slow process. They were as savage as any of the soldiers she had fought and often their atrocities drove her to rage, but she always remembered that they were not at fault, they had been raised to be this way. Denied access to information, spoon-fed the Nazi party and its twisted racial philosophy, kept away from other peoples, other ideas, trained to kill without compunction. They were victims too, even as they were the perpetrators of heinous crimes.
Annika closed the dead boy's eyes and whispered a prayer for his departed soul. As she rose something moved near the tank and she whirled to face it. An ill formed shape lay near the front of the big tank. Annika approached carefully, ready to fire is she sensed the slightest danger. The form was that of a person, covered in an old blanket. She knew that five was the number of a tank crew, yet in their headlong retreat it was entirely possible this crew had picked up another man. If it was a man he was small and hurt or incapacitated in some way because he did not stir again. Annika reached down and caught the corner of the sheet and then ripped it off, aiming her pistol at the center of the body.
Her first impression was hair, long dark hair thrown this way and that by the blanket being ripped off. Next it was the eyes, large, dark, and impossibly expressive. She was momentarily shocked to realize it was a girl. She wore only a thin shift and her hands and feet were bound. A filthy rag was wound around her head and she had several cuts and bruises on her face. She was obviously terribly frightened by the grim figure and the menace of the pistol. She groaned into her gag and shrank before Annika.
The Russian woman threw the blanket back over the girl and turned on the bodies of the Germans, already she regretted her mercy shot. Trying not to think of the girl she clambered up the side of the tank and dropped into the dark interior with her pistol still at the ready. The interior stank of unwashed men, sweat, diesel and mold. Bolted to one wall was a rifle similar to her own. She removed it and tossed it out the driver's hatch. She found a belt of cartridges, which she threw over her shoulder and a second Luger, which she jammed into her waistband.
She also found food, old bread, a half of a cheese, some tins of meat and two bottles of wine. All of this went into her pack, along with a knife, 2 blankets, some medical supplies and a heavy coat. She smashed the instruments with the butt of the Luger before climbing back out.
Annika moved from man to man, despoiling them with the callous indifference of long practice. She found a few papers, another pistol, and a curious flask, which held some schnapps. The officer's greatcoat was still in good condition and she took it after carefully cutting off the epaulettes and other symbols of rank and identification. She needed to be moving because her shots might have attracted unwanted attention, but her eyes returned to the girl under the blanket. An extra person to care for was not something she wanted or needed. The hunter always worked alone. She turned and started to walk away, but each step seemed to take a lifetime and she found herself glancing back again and again.
I can't just leave her, she thought as she turned and hurried back. The girl wasn't moving when Annika reached her and threw back the blanket. She was still conscious, those big eyes still staring, but her lips were blue and she was shivering frightfully. Annika pulled out her knife and those big brown eyes showed the girl's fear.
"I'm not going to hurt you, do you understand me?" Annika grunted in Russian.
The girl nodded that she understood and Annika breathed a sigh of relief. She spoke practically no Polish and very little German. At least the girl's understanding of Russian would help in communications until she could be rid of her.
Annika cut the bonds holding the girl's hands and feet. She sat up and pulled off the gag, spitting out a mouthful of dirt. Annika did not trust her, but she could tell the girl was freezing and was no threat for the present, so she went and stripped clothes off the Germans. Her shooting had ruined some of them, but she managed to get 4 pairs of socks, 3 trousers, 2 shirts, 2 uniform jackets, a coat and tunic top, along with a slouch hat. The smallest pair of boots would still be very large on the girl, but the extra pairs of socks just might be enough to allow her to walk without getting blisters. She returned and dumped them by the girl.