It used to be a village grammar school in Druzec, Prague-West, but now, one year earlier, after the defence of the whole West bank of Vltava river fell, and after the surprising unconditional surrender was signed, the enemy started gathering local high value detainees here, before pulling out of the country unexpectedly, explaining his agressive move later as “unfortunate international misunderstanding” and “preventive self-defence strike”. Of course, the real reason was, to disrupt the newly established operations of The Device, allegedly a time displacement machine, constructed in a large underground bunker, considered as a critical security risk for the geopolitical interests of the enemy.
The village, completely empty of civilians, who ran east when the front lines and artillery shells were closing in, was full of enemy vehicles and soldiers, including Intelligence assets, gathering information systematically, interrogating the prisoners ruthlessly and efficiently, plus creating their hidden moles for future needs by intensive persuasion, and even regular brain washing, using advanced PSY techniques.
When the armored carrier with Denise, allegedly a Special Forces member, who played a major role in Operation Naked Truth, and Catherine, a journalist, sent here several months later, using The Device’s alleged time displacement ability, to find Denise’s fate, stopped in front of school, a group of enemy soldiers was already expecting them. You couldn’t read any emotions in their faces, hidden under balaclavas, but without any doubt, they knew already, that Catherine could be a golden Intelligence nugget.
Upon arrival, they divided both women. Denise, whose role in current affairs and identity was clear to the enemy, was sent with two guards to the second floor, and taken into a former class, where an overweight man in the same uniform was sitting by the window, reading “Basic vocabulary for Grammar Schools”, using the opportunity to improve his neglected education, and drinking rum from a bottle.
“Denise!” he said in deepest surprise, when he recognized the woman, still with face covered with black masking strips. At first, he thought, that she is just a ghost, and that he should really decrease the daily alcohol intake.
“Oh no, you survived… too,” she was surprised as well. She lost all her friends today, in a field near Lhota village nearby, which was still burning with flames from a napalm strike, as stopping an enemy armored assault only by four Special Forces members was an impossible task, but the soldiers kept their pledge until the last drop of blood, except Denise, who was granted life.
“Famous Svejk family must always survive, to tell heroic tales to the next generations, to become an example of military valor,” the man replied to Denise with satisfaction, but then he remembered, that he wears an Army uniform, so he should act accordingly, even if he was never an official part of the Czech Military.
“Lieutenant, private Joseph Svejk reports obediently, that our top secret mission was accomplished more than successfully, but Lhota village was lost, including almost all defenders and one General,” the man stood up and saluted. “Only seven people survived, as far as I know. Herr Oberlieutenant Lukes is alive as well, but he has another and most important duties right now, so I am afraid he won’t join us in this poor prison, deeply under his curent aristrocratic level.”
Denise, tired after the long day under the grey sky of death, sat down on a chair. “At ease, Svejk, you fool! What the hell are you talking about?”
“That’s a long complicated tale,” Svejk sighed. “But have a drink at first, Frau Offizier, to wash up the battle weariness! Was it rough?”
“I lost all my friends there,” Denise said with tired voice, when she remembered seeing them all fall, pierced by high-caliber projectiles and grenades. “Southwestern defence sector was completely crushed by the enemy. But four enemy tanks and three APCs were destroyed or damaged, plus countless losses of manpower inflicted. There wasn’t anything more we could do.”
“You did, what you had to do, and you can count with some pretty military medals for sure, unlike me!” Svejk said with envy. “I am simply a person with bad luck, although I meant it all rightly, like always, you know me, that I always tried to serve to the state and high military command as well as I could, but circumstances messed all my effort up,” Svejk said with sad voice, but from completely different reasons.
“I don’t know how well informed you are about recent development at the front lines,” Svejk rather changed topic, seeing that Denise is not listening to him. “But I should report obediently, Frau Lieutenant, that I have two important news for you. One is quite good, and one rather bad, but of course it depends on angle of view, and I am afraid that it was me who caused them both, in certain way.
The good one is, that this manslaughter is over, there will be no more civilian or military victims. After all atrocities I saw in Lhota… I knew, that this all has to stop, so I also did, what I had to do, and together will Herr Oberlieutenant, we negotiated a truce, using ‘borrowed’ crown jewels we were supposed to transport to a safe location, when Herr Oberlieutenant was elected as a king of the country by the people, six last men of our commando, when the original government and president disappeared.
Well… it was not completely a ‘truce’, to be exact, rather… an unconditional surrender, I am afraid.
So the bad news is, that we lost the war, Denise. The history will judge me, and perhaps even a strict military court too, but I am ready to face to consequences. In that moment before my final decision, I swear by my famous Grandpa, that I did what I felt as the best for the nation under current horrible conditions, and I hope, that people will recognize my merits one day, giving me the medal I really deserve… at least this time,” Svejk said dreamily.
“We should have locked you in some basement, Svejk, we should never allow you close to this war, as you messed it all up, like we could expect,” Denise opened the rum bottle slowly. “Just tell me, are you really such a fool, or a well masked traitor, as I suspect you for very long time? You play dumb, to be inconspicuous, but in reality, you are a perfect mole, covered in shadows, stealing all our secrets?
Who helped the bitches from The Corporation, which caused this futile war, with their questionable invention? And many more examples, when the classified information of our Special Unit got into the outside world, as someone stole it, another entities benefited, misused our data, and the world was changed.
You see, I was there, I heard them, how they spoke, that corporate people, that rats with angel faces, dressed in Prada luxurious business costumes… they used my own words, my ideas, to conquer the world at large, can you imagine? And look how far these ideas got us all, if wrong hands grasped them!”
“I report obediently, Frau Lieutenant, that all big personalities always have some controversy connected to them,” Svejk said with dignity. “If you suspect me from comitting something as serious like this… I am pleased, and honored, as you say in fact, that it could be me, a dumb soldier, who changed our world! And what more appreciation can be there for a grunt like me? I have no education, nothing, yesterday I was completely nobody… and look at me now! And the Military made this from me,” Svejk added joyfully.
Denise only sighed, hearing all this nonsense. She was too tired, several large blood splashes were still on her uniform, when her last colleague was killed by an enemy 30mm grenade, which took all dreams from the poor man. And she was the one who saw his eyes, when he told her goodbye in terror, as death was coming to him quickly.
“And what are you doing here, exactly?” Denise was curious, and also a little but suspicious.
“Well, I am afraid that I became a part of a nasty international incident, and let me tell you, that our Military was really cruel to me, after all good I did for them, and for our homeland!” Svejk almost started crying. “I was a normal war prisoner firstly, but then, there was some ruthless colonel of our glorious Army, who really didn’t like me or what, and he said to the enemy: ‘This man was never our soldier. We don’t know him. Do what you please with him, we don’t want him back!’
They even had to call for a lawyer, to determine, what to do with me, where I belong, whether I should be executed as a traitor by our side, or detained by the enemy as a war prisoner, as the enemy captured me first, and he couldn’t prove or disprove, whether I am a military personnel, or not, thus having or losing advantages, granted by the Geneva Convention.
I think that there will be even a nasty journalistic affair from this law riddle, but I am really innocent here! If you are a soldier at heart, from a famous military family, like me… how can anyone judge you, if you dress a uniform? I am no guerilla or terrorist, I want my rights as a war prisoner, so I need a uniform, that’s clear!
There was even a big consultation between our side and their side, and in the end, the enemy said, that they are retaining my original status of a war prisoner temporarily, as they can’t allow our soldiers to execute me, until the enemy still occupies our territory, and they are a winning side, thus in fact responsible for all military personnel on this territory, their health and welfare. I am telling you, the enemy had more respect, than our side!” Svejk complained, not afraid to be executed, but losing his (=alleged) military honor, plus a chance for getting medals he dreamed of.
“Well, Joseph, it really doesn’t matter for me anymore,” Denise said with so emotional voice, that Svejk had a curious look at her, expecting, that she will unbosom her possible secret love interest for him.
“I won’t return home, ever,” she explained. “Not for medals, or to be judged by a military court. I will leave with them, they won’t let me go, as they probably know, that I am somehow connected with The Device, and they will want to use me for their purposes. However, I can also become a Trojan horse in their rear… this is my future task, and I accept it. So you can collect my medals, at least until I will return one day.
By the way, Svejk, I have a favor. Don’t tell the commander that you met me. Lie to him, and to everybody, that I am missing, probably dead, that I was lost in that field near Lhota. It’s in my best interest not to be suspected from being captured by the enemy, to be alive. For my future tasks, it will be best if I will disappear without trace, you see.”
“And I was planning a big reunion, after the war at ‘Chalice’s Pub’, at six o’clock, as the soldier’s rules say!” Svejk was disappointed. “Now, there will be only two of us, but I promise you, that I will remember you often, drinking many beers, celebrating, that we survived! This war was short, but I have seen enough to leave the Unit, and to start a new professional career, in fashion industry maybe, it was always my secret dream! So forgive me, Denise: as a military asset, I am used up. But I swear I did all I could…”
“Please, Joseph, stop it,” Denise interrupted him. “Just remember to tell, that you never met me, OK? But they wouldn’t believe you anyway, you fool…”
“I am just a man, who was once close to the flow of history, like my famous Grandpa was, and I am proud about this fact, even if my name won’t occur in the textbooks of the pupils, who will return here one day… hey, Denise, you told me before the combat, that you met my Grandpa?” Svejk remembered, full of sudden interest.
“I can’t tell you certainly. It could be a dream, who knows. Damned Device! You never know the truth, but it was all so real… one day, we will know, whether all the sacrifices we had to make on this hard day was worth it, but not today. But maybe you did the right thing, when it’s peace out there, it means, that we served well, including a fool like you,” Denise said in final reconciliation, when the door opened, and two guards entered, pointing barrels of their assault rifles at her, “asking” her to follow them at once.
“My time here is up, it seems,” the woman stood up without hesitation. “Good bye, Svejk, and see you other time, maybe. This war is over, but the fight continues, as I am still under pledge to the homeland. One day, see you in the ‘Chalice’s Pub’, exactly at six o’clock, you drunk fool,” she said, before she left forever.
Svejk, when he remained in the former school class alone again, only had a strong draught of rum.
“She said it well,” the fool thought. “Nothing is over!”
In the basement of the building, there was completely a different performance going on, and much more serious, withou rum and beer tales.
“Where did you get this uniform,” the enemy Intelligence officer asked Catherine again. “Who gave it to you? When? Why? What was your mission? How did you get into the wood?”
Catherine’s first shock after capture disappeared, and she was able to think again, to analyze her situation. She took her time, to find the best answer. They bruised her, but not too much… she understood, that she has some value for them, as too many men came here, dressed in battledresses or civilian apparel, to visit her, watching from distance, discussing, examining the equipment they took from her, including her uniform.
Now, she was sitting here only in her underwear, covered with a blanket, but she felt, that she can influence her own destiny, by just being clever.
“To retrieve the Asset,” Catherine said with self-confidence. “We knew, that she survived. We only had no clue about her exact whereabouts.”
The officer said nothing, but he seemed pleased, that the interrogation is moving forward. “And this uniform? Where did you get it?”
“They gave it to me. For this mission,” Catherine remained calm.
“So they knew about this whole offensive action? About this invasion?” the officer seemed surprised now.
“Definitely. They knew all possible details, including your operations, and the Asset,” Catherine confirmed truthfully.
“Your name and surname,” the interrogator asked the basic question finally. And it was the moment when Catherine had to be vigilant.
“According to Geneva Convention, all detained military personnel are to reveal their name, surname, service rank and service number, so the opposite side and his or her family can be informed, that the soldier was captured,” the officer continued softly, like if he would like to help her.
“And am I authorised to know your name and rank?” Catherine said indifferently.
The officer made a gesture towards a big man in the corner.
“You will fucking talk, and right now!” the bouncer started slapping her face. “Or I will suggest to make a pause, I will stay with you here alone, as the masters will go away, to have a lunch, and I will play with you!”
When the physical work was done, the officer resumed his interrogation, like if nothing happened.
“Before we will make a pause, the last question. Your name, surname, rank and service number. Please,” he started playing a good cop.
“I have no service number, or a rank. I don’t belong to the Military. I am a journalist,” Catherine said with dignity, although her cheeks were burning from the blows.
“So you used… The Device,” the officer suggested.
“Yes, I did,” Catherine replied even obediently.
The officer’s eyes indicated surprise, and excitement.
“When was that?”
Now, what would be best to say, Catherine thought. The truth? Or to lie? She had a feeling, that always when she says the truth, men around her are somehow weak, and soft. Like if they were not sure, what to do. So she decided to continue in her game.
“Approximately six months after this day,” Catherine made her shot, and the men around, without any doubt high Intelligence officers, tried hard to conceal their surprise.
“So The Device is real, you say,” the officer continued in different tone.
“Yes, it is,” Catherine confirmed with smile. She was winning!
“Then why didn’t you use The Device to turn the war, to stop the invasion?”
“You would have to ask them… I am just a journalist,” Catherine enjoyed her victory. “Maybe they wanted the past to remain this way.”
The officers whispered something.
“And do you realize, that if we caught you in a military uniform, you just confessed to be a spy, and there is the only way punishment for spys in war: execution?” the man said with apparent sympathy.
“I doubt that someone would order such punishment,” Catherine was completely certain. “You started this invasion because of The Device. I am a person who came through The Device. Do you see the interesting connection?”
The men around whispered something again, and then the interrogator said: “We will have a pause after all. Soldier, take care of the woman. Make sure, that she will be… entertained,” he said with apparent resignation.
When the door closed, and only the bouncer remained there alone with the woman, Catherine felt sudden discomfort, still not believing, that this could happen to her.
“If this is a dream, you won’t remember anything in the morning, so no hard feelings,” the bouncer said, removing the blanket from her naked shoulders. Then he took a combat knife, and he simply cut her underwear, so she was completely naked suddenly.
“Violence towards women is a standard tool of warfare, and a very effective way of persuasion,” he put his large palms on her shoulders, watching her body lickerlishly. “You had to expect that we will extract your secrets this way, so maybe not everything went according to you plan.”
“You are wrong,” Catherine said. “Everything goes exactly according to the plan.”
The man stopped, surprised by her suspiciously self confident tone. What if she will eliminate him, as soon as he will be distracted by his own sexual obsession?
No, she will rather let this woman be. Who knows, what would happen…
Meanwhile, the enemy Intelligence officers gathered upstairs, and consulted the matter.
“Anything she says can be a ruse,” the staff adjutant said. “We can use anything against her, but in the end, her testimony can’t be trusted, on the contrary. I suggest to release her, or to ditch her, not to listen to her anymore.”
“The high command will never allow this, they will think that she can have an extremely valuable information. To know the future seems so promising… but why would the opposite side give her to us, just like that? She can be a Trojan horse, I agree. The enemy would never be so careless,” the interrogator presented his opinion.
“We are losing initiative,” another officer joined the discussion. “We should suggest to withdraw our forces. If they now use The Device from the future against us, knowing all our moves in advance… the results can be devastating, and unpredictable.”
“But maybe this is exactly the enemy wants. To send her, so she distracts us with this performance, and we will pull back,” someone said.
“She can be an ultimate weapon, indeed, or a very persuasive warning,” their commander speculated. “Do we have a positive ID of her yet?”
“The data just arrived, using domestic face recognition system. She is really a journalist, apparently without any security and military past, but it can mean nothing. It could be her cover identity,” the staff adjutant remarked. “They could create it… from the future. Very conveniently, and easily.”
“And there can be more actors like her,” the commander speculated. “Soon, the voices to pull out would occur anyway. Now we have the chance to present our good face, to call it misunderstanding, to say, that only The Device was the culprit, not an animosity between our countries, that it was a matter of self defence. Then, the United Nations will do all work for us, making sure, that the Military use of The Device will be banned. And we will have many opportunities to get our hands on The Device in the future, making sure, that it will serve to our own interests. But there is nothing better to do here right now, than to leave. This is what I will suggest to the command, if you all agree.”
“And what to do with her?” the adjutant asked.
“A difficult question. She is an extreme security risk and an immense opportunity in the same time. Imagine everything what she could say about the future, and even without any real proofs, she will influence us, to do something or not to do something we would normally do. My opinion is to get rid of her, to get our hands on The Device directly, without negotiating with people, connected with it anyway, or even sent allegedly from the future. We simply can’t trust these mediators, with their minds altered by the machine.
If this was a warning, let’s take it seriously. What if someone from the future, a covert collaborator or supporter, or even one of us, wanted to show us, what danger could people like her mean for our interests?”
“But she knows definitely now, that we have The Asset,” the adjutant objected.
“It doesn’t matter, the Asset means nothing substantial for the future I think. She disappeared today, and no one will really care about her,” the commander was certain. “So, my orders are: return the woman from the future with all her equipment back to the wood, say nothing to her anymore, no interrogation, no questions, simply ignore her, no surveillance to be deployed. The Asset comes with us, for future potential use. We could turn this weapon against them, like they just inspired us,” he concluded his intent.
“And by the way,” he remembered yet. “There is some idiot locked on the second floor, the man who escorted their alleged king as his personal guard. Some Svejk, the grandson of that soldier, who became publicly recognized after being descibed in that famous anti-war novel, one hundred years ago. A drunk, lousy fool… now their Military wants to execute him, for high treason, and I understand them, this dumb fool messed everything here. Can you imagine, that when we took him prisoner after signing their surrender, he asked for a bottle of rum, and allowing a telephone call, to inform his beer buddies, what heroic actions he made here, and that he is returning home soon, with medals on his chest?” all men started laughing.
“Anyway, we should appreciate his help in our matter. So, send a very emotional message to their command, that he eliminated twenty of our soldiers, using just a knife, a hand grenade and a beer bottle, and we are releasing him, as we are afraid to have him and his reputation in our rear, where this secret weapon could disrupt our combat operations. Write there something like ‘valor has to be appreciated regardless of the national flag a brave soldier wears on his uniform’.
Maybe they will even promote the fool, and thus, he can help us next time yet better.”
The final chapter of