Five months. For five months, Lissette had a gut feeling that something was off, that something was terribly wrong. It all began weeks after the signing of the Washington Treaty—a set of documents sealing the tense relationship between the world's two superpowers.
Today was the day they would depart back to Russia. This was their third visit and she had been allowed to walk freely among her fellow Americans who made sure that she hadn't been "turned" before they could have a casual conversation. It was during this time that she picked up rumors of the military build-up and refining of Soviet armed forces.
Strange. But for what are they beefing up for? It's pretty clear that the U.S. isn't going to… It hit her hard. Oh, God!
She stood not far off from the Premier who shook hands with the President, smiling faces complete with the regalia that signified their appearance—the former's chest decorated with medals and the latter in a fancy blue suit. The press took their time with the scene. Camera flashes and inquisitive babbling flooded the room with Hanley needing to squint her eyes every now and then. Her Spetsnaz guards could not help but do the same.
Hours later, they were onboard the V. I. Lenin. The massive warship waved its colors and was hailed with even more attention from media, civilians, and their new (capitalist) friends. The captain escorted the Premier to the bridge where he waved to the Americans for one last time. Hanley was accompanied back to her quarters down below.
"Comrade Premier, the ship is ready to sail."
"Ochen harasho, comrade captain." Very well.
The captain gave out his orders and witnessed with pride his crew at work. The zampolit stood not far off, wiping the sweat from his brow. The Akula Sub K-570 roved ahead of the massive vessel while its sister, K-490, covered the rear.
The United States of America was at peace with the Union of the Soviet Socialist Republics. The War of the Three Powers had formally and officially ended only five months before. Trade embargoes were lifted. Commerce began to flow more evenly between the two states. Newer policies were brought up as newer men were brought into office.
And they all paved way for a new war.
He handed him the file. "Comrade Chairman, everything is set. Our agents are awaiting your permission."
The Chairman of the KGB looked up from his desk. He clasped his hands and planted his chin firmly on top. Five months of planning, secrecy, and preparation all came to this. Timing was now. It was all a matter of luck. He nodded. "Permission granted."
"Da, Comrade Chairman."
The officer left the office. The Chairman knew that he had sealed the fate his country's finest relic and unwittingly his own.
Hanley sat on her bunk. At least her guards had the courtesy to allow her privacy. Although, they remained stationed outside the door. She lifted a palm to her face. And wiped off a lot of sweat. God, I hate those cameras!
"At least I got to visit home…" she let her voice trail off. She rested her head on the pillow and released herself into sweet darkness. Still, she couldn't get the thought out of her mind that maybe the Soviet Union was…
What woke her up were the strong vibrations that almost knocked her off the bed. She turned to the doorway… and saw fire. Instinct kicked in and Hanley grabbed the blanket. With swift swings, she cleared a path for herself. The ship was listing. She kept herself from slamming into the adjacent wall. To her left was a pillar of flame. She turned and stumbled upon the remains of her guards.
She spared no time and was already on her feet, not bothering to wipe the blood that had now colored her palms. It was a slanted maze—gravity was really a bitch now.
"Hello? Anyone!" she called.
There was a muffled explosion somewhere deep in the ship and she found herself on the floor again. A hand curled around her arm and she was hoisted up. It was one of the crew men. He immediately recognized her and pointed upward, disregarding the fact that she was back to being a prisoner-of-war. She nodded and made their way to the deck.
The bridge was gone. The rocket pods had been blasted off. The ship's rear half was aflame. Through the railing, she could see two American frigates partially submerged and marked by plumes of smoke. Eight others were trailing their cannons to the doomed dreadnaught. Oh my God! This can't be happening!
"You capitalist spy!"
She turned to see the zampolit aim his gun at her. He trembled as he did, proud that he could pull of this show so easily. "Easy now…"
"Nyet! You… suka! You targeted our Premier the whole time!"
She took a step forward. The young officer straightened his back. He was desperate and she could see his eyes well up, again another hidden trait in the espionage business. "I don't understand… listen, I don't even know what's going on."
"Calm down. There are more urgent things to attend to!"
"You cannot sway me!"
"Take a look around you, damn it! Your countrymen are dying and they need a leader to guide them!" The ship's mast came apart as an artillery shell ripped right into it. She grabbed hold of the rail as the vessel listed some more. The zampolit made to lunge at her to complete the most crucial part of the mission. But the beam holding up the section of floor he stood on gave way and his body slammed against a pipe before landing still in the water.
Hanley pulled herself upward. Down below, she could see Soviet sailors—dead and wounded—screaming and struggling to stay afloat. This is all bullshit! Where's the Premier? She looked at where the bridge used to stand. Oh God no…
A sailor lost his grip and crashed into her and they both fell into the water. Hanley burst through the surface and grabbed a hold of some floating debris shared by another bleeding man. She watched the ship succumb to its sudden fate. After that, she, and several other terrified seamen, remained afloat for almost an hour.
The first frigate rolled in, dropping ladders and lifesavers. Hanley looked at the man across her. He didn't move. She pressed her fingers against his neck. Poor kid. No use in dragging a dead body with her. She abandoned the platform and swam for one of the ladders.
"Hey guys! We got a live one here!" someone hollered. She was lifted up by several pairs of hands.
In minutes, she was in the ward. "Jesus Christ! What the fuck just happened?"
"Warren… Oh God…" she cringed as a needle made its way into her arm. "Shit happened… I don't know…"
"Never mind. We got P.O.W.s to save before we sort out this mess."
She gave a puzzled look. "What?"
"Ceasefire's out the window. We're at war with the bastards again."
She pinched the bridge of her nose. They killed the Premier! Bastards… damn them! Damn them!
"The United States Navy recently engaged the V.I. Lenin…" the news anchor reported.
Soviet Defense Minister Oleg Vodnik felt his stomach drop. Exclusive media footage of the sinking of the dreadnaught fueled the rage that built up inside him. He clenched his fists (those) hard enough (bastards!) to draw blood.
Oleg spotted the headlights of a vehicle outside his dacha. He already knew who they were here. He headed to the door and opened it to see the muzzles of two automatic rifles aimed at him. The KGB captain took three steps forward. "Soviet Defense Minister Oleg Suslovich Vodnik! You are hereby placed under arrest for treason against the Motherland and involvement in the conspiracy to murder Premier—"
No! His fists were balled so tight that they were as pale as the snow on the ground. The captain repeated his rhetoric with a harsher tone. My friend… Oleg complied and was escorted out of his dacha and into the cold night, facing the bitter gale brought about by bitter comrades. You will all pay!
Aboard the K-570, Captain Klementi Ilyanovich Zoburyev and his political officer exchanged looks. This was very frustrating. I should have known…
The tragic loss of the V. I. Lenin and its occupants was something that would make a citizen weep and a soldier angry enough to break the neck of an American. However, in this case, the anger was neither directed at the Americans nor its capitalist allies. Rather, it was at the Soviet Politburo, the heads of state of the USSR. The reason for their rage sat on the table in front of them.
There were only two of them in the room. The steel door was thick enough to completely muffle out the sounds coming from inside.
"It is hard to believe this," the zampolit began slowly, his voice cracked from fatigue and a near mental breakdown.
"Regardless, it is a fact that has presented itself to us."
Zoburyev picked up the detonator and felt out its wires. They acquired the device just as they were about to submerge. The engineer knew what it was and ended up being relieved early from his shift. "Klementi, I am your friend. Setting aside our political doctrines and ideological beliefs, what do you make of this personally?"
It was rare for zampoliti to confide in the officers they supervised. But in this case, Lieutenant Mikhailo Yozmiv had neared the breaking point. Zoburyev leaned forward.
"I think…that the Party has betrayed the people…by killing its most effective leader."
"You cannot be—"
"Think, Misha! We were given orders—orders!—to escort the Premier in his diplomatic trips to the Americans. But it turned out that our 'comrades' at the K-490 were given explicit instructions to launch torpedoes at the Americans so they could open fire on us!"
Yozmiv was silent. His hands were shaking again and he pressed them hard against his lap, wiping the sweat that still came.
"I am sorry, Misha," Zoburyev continued, "but you asked for my opinion and I gave it to you."
"Eta harasho, tavarisch."
The captain clasped the detonator in his palm. "For now, we have to hide this evidence of treason—"
"I know a place."
"You are a zampolit, not to mention a Party member. How could you—"
Yozmiv held up his hand. "My service is to the People, not the Party. The Party cannot hide its flaws and the Premier did his best to iron them out."
Zoburyev smiled. "Spasiba balshoye, Misha."
Over the course of the next two days, the Soviet Union enforced a surprise blockade of the Atlantic and began its two-front invasion of the United States of America—the landing of Soviet troops on the East Coast and the crossing of the Bering Strait into Alaska.
Warren reviewed the intelligence reports from a shaky agent. Soviet intercontinental ballistic missiles carrying vacuum implosive warheads were now targeted at strategic points throughout the continent. The first of thousands had taken off six minutes earlier and was estimated to strike its target of Washington D.C. within an hour.
"And our silos?"
"Sir, as you already know, half of them have been sabotaged—"
The President was losing it. Everyone was. Warren did his best to keep his composure and waited for the man's next order. The missile shield was untested. Better to launch a counterattack with whatever they had. In two minutes, the first and only batch of re-outfitted American ICBMs was calibrated to target Moscow.
The missiles were equipped with thermonuclear warheads, a design stolen from the battle labs in Siberia by agents who had already breathed their last. Thank espionage for this! They hoped which of the two would be more destructive. Thermonuclear physics was something new to science—picking up where Einstein and his colleagues had left off.
Outside the panic room, Lissette watched as the men and women frantically paced around doing what they should and shouldn't do at a time like this. They all had something to loose—friends, family. Unlike her, she only had herself. And Giles who's still back in Russia.
Knowing that she was completely unnoticed, she pressed her ear against the wall. The Secret Service agents were all upstairs. Despite the thickness of the steel door, they were all shouting inside.
"Mr. President, we are waiting on your order!"
"It is given."
Lissette froze. From that point on, the fate of millions had been decided. The Fourth World War, however, was not going to be the last.