Special thanks to blackrandi for the invitation to participate in "The Magical Mystery Tour." It was a great opportunity to try something different. I typically don't write graphic sex and that remains true here. I normally thank everyone up front, but those acknowledgements are at the end of this story, as they are a bit more extensive than usual.



Prologue: With Josef Stalin's death on 5 March 1953, an epic struggle for the control and future of the Soviet Union commenced. Four major players emerged very quickly: Stalin's presumed successor, Central Party Secretary Georgy Malenkov; the hardline Stalinist, Foreign Minister Vyacheslav Molotov; The ruthless head of the MVD Internal Affairs and MGB State Security, Lavrentiy Beria, and the respected, but displaced, Party Secretary Nikita Khrushchev. These were hard men shaped by the Revolution and the Great Patriotic War, each with a different vision of the future. They quietly fought for Chairmanship of the Party and near absolute power. On the heels of 25 million war dead, and more killed in purges, the Soviet Union was a place of uncertainty and terror. Fear of a military coup, or even another civil war, this time between the Army and the State Security Forces ran through the country.

In such dangerous times, even a mouse may tip the balance.

Die Maus im Labyrinth

The Mouse in the Maze

Ankara: 23 April 1953

"There were no heroes at Stalingrad. Only survivors and the dead."

The chill silence of a graveyard settled instantaneously over the room, the fine white tablecloths suddenly resembling nothing so much as burial shrouds, covering unnamed corpses in the stark cruel cold of winter.

The Russian was nearly perfect, but the accent was very German; the voice, even and firm, never wavered. The interpreter stood motionless, completely unsure what to do. I saw the Embassy Political Attaché freeze with his mouth open, like some kind of bizarre fish. He'd proposed the toast as an honor to me, one of the few female Heroes of the Soviet Union, and he was completely unprepared for the German's response. He was absolutely stricken, terrified to make eye contact with me. Useless, like all political officers. I'd even seen that exact stunned expression before.

Stalingrad: 28 December 1942

I staggered past the masses of soldiers in their dull yellow-brown uniforms, mostly sitting on the cold concrete of the factory floor with their squads, listening intently, or at least pretending to listen intently to the "Zampolit," the Political Officer responsible for the morale and revolutionary purity of the soldiers of the unit. At first, none of them noticed me, especially Zampolit Pavov, who was so entranced with the sound of his own voice, at his own pointless yammering, that even when soldiers began to turn away from him to watch me, he didn't notice.

It wasn't until I stepped into the cleared area around him that he really noticed me. I must have looked like hell. My shredded and burned uniform, the flash burns on my face, the singed hair half-gone, and the ball of gory rags I was holding against my stomach seemed to render him speechless.

He fought to recover from his shock with his usual tactic, mockery. "Tovarishch Kornilov, returned to seek shelter so soon? If you've even managed to kill two of Hitler's soldiers, bring back two tags, I'll personally put you in for a medal."

I began to laugh. The pain and emotion of the eternity I'd spent in this hell finally breaking through. The laugh was disturbing, even to me, and I felt like it was never going to stop. I took eternities to get it under control, then I reached into my coat pocket and began dropping German identity tags in front of him. Fifty-three tags clinked like leaden bells as they hit the ground. I had one more, still on its chain around my neck and I lifted it up. "Then you can put me in for twenty-six medals, Tovarishch. There were more, many more, but some of them were bad soldiers; they weren't wearing their tags. Maybe you want me to go kill another to make it twenty-seven medals?" I unslung and dropped Papasha, "Papa," on the ground in front of him; there were three bullet holes in the receiver of the submachine gun and the barrel sleeve was half crushed. The drum magazine fell loose and rolled a few inches in a wobbling drunkard's path, like a child's toy, before falling over. "I will need a new weapon, though." The laughter came back dark and vicious, twisting around me in spinning madness. I unwrapped the blood-soaked rags from my right arm and held up my mangled hand. "And if I could get a new hand, it would make it much, much simpler."

The look on his face was utter shock. He half turned to look into the shadows behind him. A figure stood up and stepped forward. "Commissar..."

The stern man stepped past him as if he didn't exist. I felt my knees give as the shock and exhaustion finally overcame my willpower; and so, Commissar Nikita Sergeyevich Khrushchev caught the slight form of the collapsing, badly wounded, half-starved, half-scorched scout directly in front of the official photographer sent to capture the political speech. That picture would appear in poster after poster, right next to the picture of that gaunt peasant girl being awarded the discreet gold star of a Hero of the Soviet Union by Stalin himself.

Ankara: 23 April 1953

I couldn't afford to let this devolve into arguments and tension. I stood and raised my glass in my left hand and spoke across the silence. "Very well. To the survivors and to our Hallowed Dead."

Across the room, the tall German in his perfectly tailored tuxedo raised his glass in a precise toast and gave a single, respectful nod. "The Hallowed Dead."

I could feel the room relax as glasses came up and the rest of the room intoned the same toast. I looked out over the crowd. The Ambassador gave me a look of appreciation. Our hosts, the Turkish government, hadn't missed the gesture, and that might help him in his mission of forging an agreement between our two nations. With the death of Stalin, and our retraction of territorial claims, there might be a chance of forming some tentative bonds to counter the massive American influence in Turkey, but that could hinge on the least of issues.

Issues, perhaps, like an angry Hero of the Soviet Union calling out a German businessman over a battle fought ten years ago. I'm sure the Ambassador wondered if the whole incident was calculated to cause problems, maybe even engineered by the Americans for that very purpose.

A few rounds of meaningless toasts later, I sat to eat my meal, some indescribable Turkish dishes that no doubt cost enough to feed a small town. They weren't really to my liking, but I'd learned long ago to eat what I was given without complaint. Better to eat anything than starve. Hunger is a monster that lurks in everyone. As bad as it had been at Stalingrad, I'd heard Leningrad had descended into far, far worse. Rumors of murder and cannibalism were echoed in the haunted eyes of the people when I'd visited shortly after the end of the Great Patriotic War.

I watched, aloof, as the meal ended and music began. Despite the lectures and indoctrination, I could tell the younger girls of the Embassy staff were eagerly anticipating the music and the dancing. Unlike me, most were wearing lipstick and even other types of make-up. It was surprising that the Embassy let this kind of thing go on; everyone knew it was far too easy for bourgeoisie niceties to sway the mental purity of the young and easily influenced.

A few minutes after, some type of dessert, made of who-knew-what, one of the servers brought over a small tray, and set it in front of me. A small black bottle with a gold leaf label trimmed in cherry blossoms sat next to a liqueur glass and a small note card. I looked at the fanciful figures on the label, amazed at the sentimentality. "From the German, Madame. I am supposed to carry your answer back to him."

I smoothed the note with the back of my scarred right hand and looked it over.

Major Kornilov,

I have been given to understand that you fought at Stalingrad. I would like to extend my apologies for any affront my words may have caused you. Please accept this offer from my personal reserve. I respectfully extend a request that you grace me with a dance so that I may be certain you are not offended.

With Deepest Apologies,

Kurt von Fuchs

Gracious enough, I supposed, but there was a slight issue. I looked up at the server. "I'm afraid you will have to inform Herrn Fuchs that I accept his apology, but that I've never learned to dance."

The server poured a measure of the Kirschwasser into the liqueur glass before departing with his message. There was a golden brown tint to it, probably from years of aging in charred barrels, something I'd been given to understand was quite rare for the cherry brandy. It was smooth, slightly smoky, with a hint of cherries, and just a touch sweet. It was decadent enough that I glanced at the Political Attaché, who was too deep in conversation with one of the embassy secretaries to spare the time to watch me.

Just as I finished savoring the drink, the tall lean blonde figure of a man loomed over me.

"Major Kornilov?"

"Yes. Herr Fuchs, I presume?" I stood to face him.

"Of course."

He reached out in greeting, and seemed utterly unsurprised when I extended my left hand. I, on the other hand, was taken completely off guard when he gave a very formal deep bow and kissed my hand instead of shaking it as I'd expected.

As he seemingly reluctantly let my hand go, I responded as dryly as I could. "That's a rather sentimental and outdated gesture in our world Herr Fuchs." I knew my admonishment hadn't quite come off as stern enough, but at least the Embassy staff at my table registered it. The male members of the staff seemed indignant; the female staff seemed to be rather more interested than judgmental.

"Perhaps so. Proper manners seem to be another casualty of the late conflict." He gave a sad half smile. "I'm afraid I came over to ask you to reconsider your refusal of a dance."

"And I'm afraid, I've never had the time to learn to dance, so..."

"That is unfortunate, and we will have to rectify that immediately." He nodded towards my medals "Surely no Hero of the Soviet Union would fear something as simple as a dance." Before I could reply, he pulled me smoothly away from my table and began leading me to the dance floor.

I glanced around, my uniform was very much at odds with the crinoline, lace and silk that dominated the floor. "I seem to be a bit out of place, Herr Fuchs."

"Pardon me." He carefully positioned my left hand on his right shoulder, placed his left hand at my waist gently and took my maimed and twisted right hand carefully in his left without batting an eye. "This is the closed position for the waltz." He pulled me a little closer than I'd expected and smiled. "You do not need the fancy silk gowns; your gold star speaks volumes of your worth. You outshine them all."

He began to lead me around the floor, talking me through simple steps. I caught the Ambassador watching intently, concerned, perhaps, that I would disembowel my dance partner with a dessert spoon. I was well aware of my reputation, well aware of the impact my arrival had on the Embassy staff. I could practically smell their fear.

When I'd arrived at the airport, I'd been greeted by the Ambassador himself and regretfully informed that I would have to attend the Turkish government's National Sovereignty Day dinner. An unavoidable complication it seemed; the Turkish government might take it as an affront if any Embassy personnel refused to attend. My lack of a suitable dress was of no concern; my dress grey uniform with its red piping and all my medals on display would even be preferable from the Ambassador's point of view. He simply told the Turkish government that a Hero of the Soviet Union was being sent to honor their day of Independence from the Colonialist powers.

It didn't matter that I told him I had highest priority orders, or that I probably had less than two days to finish this.

In any case, not going wouldn't help, since nearly the entire Embassy staff, less the guards, would be at the dinner. At least I could further my investigation by observing the staff. My quarry, whoever it was, would almost certainly be at the celebration.

Whoever he was. I was almost convinced my quarry was a man. Not because I didn't think women could be brutal; I knew all too well how dangerous a woman could be. Many would point to me as an example of that. The ones that didn't point to me just didn't know about me. I hadn't known myself, once upon a time.

Stalingrad, 24 August 1942

1077th Anti-Aircraft Regiment - North of the Tractor Factory

"Fire, dammit. Fire!" The slow hammer of the 37mm anti-aircraft gun began, as it slammed flak round after flak round into one of the steel beasts leading the wave of infantrymen. I could see the shots crash into the monster over and over, scattering screaming fragments up into the sky from the armored hull, brilliant star-bound meteors. Other guns were sweeping the ranks of grey clad infantry with much greater effect, tearing horrible vivid crimson swaths through them. The Starshina, Lyudmila Drago, glared at me red-faced and furious. "Private Kornilov! You miserable little 'mushe!' Get your pathetic ass moving and bring more ammo. Now, Goddammit, Now!"

Shocked from my stupor, I pushed my too-large cap back from my eyes where it always fell, then I started to sprint and got three steps before the exhaustion caught the breath from my lungs and left me gasping. I staggered and began to lurch much more slowly. I'd been dragging boxes of ammunition for two days; there just wasn't anything left anymore. Behind me, I could hear Starshina Drago bellowing angrily, fearlessly, "Where's the motherfucking Infantry!?"

I reached the ammo point and found myself staring at Private Tania Alexeev. She'd been pretty once, now she was ghost-white pale, red-eyed, and almost lost in darkness and fear. It was like looking into a mirror. She half-heartedly shoved the sole remaining box towards me. As soon as I grabbed the rope handle I knew we were doomed.

"Is there anything it in?"

"Half a case, Maybe a little less." Her lower lip quivered and I could see more tears starting from the corners of her eyes. She was a hundred years old now, but she'd been eighteen only two days ago. Just like me. Just like most of us. "It's all I have, it's all we can do." She pointed helplessly back at the empty space behind her.

I strained to drag the case back to my gun, tearing another track though the dirt. Sweat was running into my eyes, burning and mixing with my tears as it ran down my face. The smoke from the guns was suffocating, clawing at my lungs. At first I thought it was just the ringing in my ears, but the sound of our guns was slowing, stopping, as they fell silent through lack of ammo, or disappeared in columns of smoke and fire. The distinctive voices of the German guns were growing louder, closer. I looked back over my shoulder at my gun, at Starshina Drago. She was, as usual, yelling something at me, pointing at me in her righteous fury, and snarling something I couldn't hear. My last name was the same as the name of a White Russian counterrevolutionary general and I was never allowed to forget that. The Starshina had taken a special interest in making my life as miserable as possible. I was more in terror of her than of the approaching Germans. I struggled to move faster.

I reached the base of the revetment and I could hear the ruddy-faced Starshina clearer. "You worthless little bitch, put your back into it and get that ammo up here!"

I paused, trying to catch enough breath to drag the case up that six-foot slope. Then the world twisted as the gun position became a pyre of flame and I felt myself lifted into the air.

Ankara: 23 April 1953

Herr Fuchs escorted me back to my table, quite formal and correct, carefully seating me before bowing slightly and moving off. The Ambassador's secretary, Ekaterina, if I remembered correctly, watched him move off with more than a little interest.

"The German is quite..." She cut herself off abruptly, suddenly realizing who she was talking to. "Major Kornilov, I apologize..."

I shook my head and waved her apology away with my left hand. "He was quite proper. He was also quite right. It was best for everyone to make it clear that there was no animosity. And, as it appears apologies require dances, I would rather not have one from you."

Emotions flickered across her face as she tried to figure out if that was supposed to be humorous. I let her try to figure it out without help, pouring another drink of the Kirschwasser. It was likely to be a long couple of days for many at the Embassy; the overly-pretty blonde girl could have a short head start on it.

The stress was already setting in, I could see them whispering, wondering what a senior Militsiya operativnik, police detective, was doing at the Embassy, particularly one with a reputation for ruthlessness, and near-absolute, sometimes lethal, intolerance for corruption. Only the Ambassador, the Rezident, and the Political Officer seemed unconcerned. Whether that was through valid confidence or through ignorance remained to be seen, though. Ignorance seemed rather more likely, as I doubted very much that any of them were fully aware of just what I was willing to do.

The Rezident moved first, of course. The elderly senior intelligence operative at the Embassy smiled as he approached the table. "Major, I am Anatoly Petrov, First Cultural Attaché. As it is your first visit, perhaps you'd like to take a walk around the grounds here. I'd be happy to show you the fountains."

This man was certainly dangerous. He'd be no fool; the Ministry for State Security would be very cautious in selecting their man for this assignment. There was far too much to lose, with far too little room for mistakes in Ankara. I hesitated to even think of how many operations he was juggling, how many agents he was running. He was, of course, using the Cultural Attaché position as a cover. The thought of that made me smile, wondering how many concerts and museum openings he had to endure.

I finished my drink and stood. "I think that would be a very good idea." I paused. "Perhaps, as the Cultural Attaché, you'll be able to explain just what it was we ate tonight." I said it a touch sardonically, letting him know I was aware of exactly what he was.

He gave a wry smile. "That's not quite how it works, Major. I'm here to bring our culture to the Turks, not the other way around."

He took my arm and we walked slowly out the double doors to seemingly endless terraced gardens, with their winding paths and fountain after fountain after fountain.

"So, Major, allow me to be direct. I haven't received any communiqués regarding your mission. I've received nothing, no information at all as to why an operativnik of your reputation would be dispatched here. Particularly with a credentialing letter signed by Nikita Khrushchev himself."

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