Women Elite Novel: The (Wo)Manhunt

It was like if ten thousand candles would surround her.

She could barely see and hear. She recognized just shapes around her. She was on the street, maybe, and there was that sound of distant machine gun fire… she instinctively stepped to the wall, and ducked.

Somebody ran into her. She was so surprised. It was a man, around fifty years old. He was as surprised as she was.

She noticed his dress, and a bad thought crossed her mind: that something was horribly messed up!

She was not in the present time. She was definitely in the past. In that moment, she promised herself, not to mess with time displacement machines, never again! A mistake as this happens and what? You are completely lost… in time!

She noticed his suspicious look, directed at her shoulder. That one, where was the evidence.

In that moment, she was fully awoken. He became a witness. He saw, what he definitely shoudn’t see, if the flow of history should be maintained.

But he stood on his feet quickly and continued away. She was looking at him, for a second, thinking – what could he see? And what will he do next? Will someone believe him? Could he have enough time to see some incriminating evidence? Like the clearly written designation of a country, which will be established almost fifty years from this moment?

The probability of compromising herself was low enough, she thought. But who could expect, that the silly Device will spit her in the middle of the street?

The mission was still possible to accomplish, she realized. In that sudden wave of uncertainty, it was only one firm point for her to follow.

She would bet, that it is 1945, 8th May, morning, as in the beginning of that original, pre-recorded sequence. And soon, close from here, a horrible war crime will happen. And she is the person who can find out, who the culprit will be. She has to go there, and to improvise.

But her modern uniform was a very substantial problem. If it was the year of 1945, she would definitely look strange, dressed like this. She couldn’t continue on the streets, with this strange dress. So she had to dump her military outfit at first.

The man, who crashed into her by accident, was already gone. She saw an entrance into a house, and she entered it without hesitation.

In the hallway, she met a middle-aged woman, who just opened the door, cautiously looking out, who is there.

Denise bursted into the woman’s flat.

“Are you alone?” she asked.

“No, with my husband… what are you doing here, girl? I heard some shooting… do you need to hide here?”

Denise thought, what approach to choose. Should she tell a tale, or simply take the clothes, using some intimidation? But she still wasn’t in a perfect condition. Does she have enough power to fabricate a good, trustworthy tale so fast? And there is another person present, her husband, a man. That means to persuade two persons, and quickly. Too quickly!

“I need to continue, madam. I need to get to the Train station immediately. My partisan unit is fighting there, and I need to join them.”

“So you are a partisan, a soldier? Amazing… you are very brave!”

“Who is this? You let someone in, Mary?” a deep voice asked. “I told you, not to open the door! It is not safe!”

Denise thought, that it is not a good development. The man was definitely suspicious – maybe the situation she wanted to avoid will arise, and she will have to use coercion.

“Who is she?” the husband asked, and in his eyes was very deep suspicion. “She looks like a soldier of the enemy! Step back, Mary, get away from her!”

“You are wrong, mister…” Denise said, but she understood, that she simply chose the wrong flat. The man was older, but he knew exactly, where to reach. And a sharp kitchen knife was in his hand immediately!

“You are one of that animals who are wasting our innocent people outside, and you came here to hide, to undress your uniform, so you can escape, as everybody of you, monsters!” he said with hatred. “But you won’t make this!”

The man knocked the wall. “Jaroslav! Come here immediately!”

And he whistled so loudly!

Denise had only a second to decide! She could still run away, but that could mean, that they will hunt her, all that angry and aroused crowd! And if they will catch her, there will be no questioning, examining or court! They will simply finish her, there, on the street! The street justice!

There was a lot of bodies everywhere, and nobody cared in that mess, where the truth is, if you are enemy or not. It was enough in that wild time, if somebody pointed at you, and said: ‘This is an enemy, a collaborator with the enemy!’ Nobody cared, that you speak the local language, and your claims, that you are innocent, your begging, were ineffective. The people simply relieved their anger, after six long years of enemy occupation.

Denise heard loud steps on the hallway. The neighbours were gathering, alarmed with the call. If she will start running away, they will follow her.

Another option would be to run to the positions of the enemy. And to be, ironically, saved by him. Or at least getting out of this situation. But what if she would be caught, or shot by the enemy? Nothing nice would await her!

There was a window on the opposite wall of the flat. The man was standing close to it, but Denise felt, that he will not attack her immediately. Maybe he will even appreciate, that she is going further inside, so she will be completely trapped.

But she just needed better tactical position.

He really allowed her to proceed further into the room. He watched her closely, but he felt supreme in that situation.

Several neighbours were already in the door of the flat. “What happened?” they asked, but when they saw a woman in an unusual combat uniform, and their friend with a knife, they had a clear view of the situation immediately!

Denise was standing exactly between all of them: the people outside, the window, the man with the knife. She could control the situation.

But they won’t negotiate with her, she knew. The crowd made first steps towards her.

“Look what we have here, a soldier with pretty face!” a man said with malice, and somebody laughed.

“You all are wrong. I told to the lady here, that I need to get to the Train station, because my partisan unit is fighting there!”

“Oh, come on! Partisans wear civilian clothes, not such fancy uniform as yours! Your fate is sealed, pretty one!”

“You, come here!” Denise pointed at that talking man. “Have a look at my shoulder, you moron. Do you see the flag?”

They all ignored her appeal, and moved towards her. This was not what she wanted! She drew her pistol from the holster finally.

“I said, only you! Come closer, and have a look!” she halted the aroused crowd with the weapon.

“Do you see that? Our national flag?”

“Yeah… sorry, madam, we have to be careful today. She is all right, people!” the man announced back to the crowd.

“Good. Send all that people away, and I need your help. What is your name?”

“Peter,” the man confessed with apology. He realized, that as he was hiding here, in the house, she was out there, on the dangerous city streets, fighting with the enemy, risking her life. She was brave – he was not. But he was just scared. As many others, the most decisive heroes will fill the streets after the battle.

“So, Peter – you seem trustworthy, so I will be completely open to you. Listen, I have the most important Intelligence mission on the train station, in deep cover. I need you to help me to get there, and to hide my uniform. But you have to promise me, that you will hide it well, until I will come back to collect it, and you will not take or use anything from my equipment. Military secrets, you know. Can you promise me that, please?” Denise asked him. She tried not to insist too much, so he wouldn’t get suspicious, that she has some treasures in her pockets. Although, practically… she really had!

But there was no time to dump the gear and the dress, to destroy it carefully. She should burn it all, but how could she get rid of a tactical vest, full of equipment and 300 rounds of rifle ammunition, quickly and surely? Would everything burn safely? And what if she will need an evidence eventually, to prove, where she came here from?

No, she had to do it this way! It was risky, but still, the best available option. In the preparation course for this mission, they explained her, that the past can’t be changed, anyway. The question is, could they be sure? Now, she will be the one who will check this theory in real life… in real past.

“Yes, madam,” he promised, again impressed by her bravery.

“I have to change my dress now, and we need to go immediately. Ask that lady to give me some civilian wear, please. And some bag, where I can put my stuff. Pay her, if you can. I have no money with me, sorry. I will pay you back later, I promise!”

“No problem. Are you coming from America?” Peter was really curious, when he finally had a time to have a close look on her.

“I was born here, but I am coming from an foreign Army, yes. I will tell you more later. Please, get that dress and bag for me. Go now, please!”

When he left to the other room, Denise wasted no time. She started to undress. To clean her face. She looked at her digital wrist watch, automatically – and she realized, that this time is not actual for her.

She felt like if she was taking off her personality, the person who she was just fifteen minutes ago or so. But it was seventy years in practice… rather not to think about it!

She took away her identification marks also. She hid them in a pocket with tension and anxiety of her close future, which was absolutely in darkness. She held her service pistol in hands for a moment, thinking, if she should take it with her… but no, she could take nothing. This future stuff had to stay here. All of it!

She will go there without any weapon. She will face her darkest nightmares unarmed.

The partisan unit ‘Iron’, in company with the Captain of the Military Counterintelligence and Svejk senior, was moving through the streets, through the heavy fighting.

The squad advanced with difficulties, and they split in the heat of the battle. Svejk forgot to follow the Captain, and he roamed the streets with his eyes widely open. He was searching for the girl, and he forgot the whole world around.

And then, suddenly – he saw her! Although she had a civilian dress now and her face was clean, he recognized her with certainty. He felt the sudden rush of adrenaline. He sprinted, like if he would be young again. She could be his future, money and everything! He approached her from the back, and touched her shoulder.

“Now I got you!” he said to her with victory in his voice. “You will have to explain many things to me, girl!” he informed her.

Denise recognized him. He was the man who collided with her previously, in the beginning of her journey here, and maybe when he figured it all out, he pursued her fearlessly and consistently. It was not good!

“Come inside, into this house, mister. Let’s talk,” she asked him. She decided to find out what he knows, and if necessary, to eliminate him without witnesses.

“I am a member of the foreign Army, who came here to help in the Prague uprising,” Denisa said directly, when they were off the street.

“Maybe! But I want to know, what is the meaning of that strange shoulder patches of yours? And I see that you got rid of your uniform – why? Talk, now!”

“I need to get to the Train station. I have some important Intelligence mission there, in deep cover. There is an enemy officer, who commited some atrocities on civilians, and I need to find out his name, so he can be judged by the international court,” Denise said the truth.

The man hesitated. “And the patches? Where are you from? Why do you have our national flag on your sleeve? And what does the name Czech Republic mean?” he continued his personal interrogation.

“They call it this way in America,” Denise insisted. “You have to believe me. Now, I need to continue. You can accompany me if you like. We can chat on the way.”

“Sorry, girl. I just want to do some good for my country, and for myself too, you know. I can believe you, or not. But I have to hand you over to the Military Counterintelligence, for a small interrogation. I can’t let you go, sorry! You can tell all your tales to them. But they will release you, if you will prove your claims, of course!”

Oh no, Denise thought. This is trouble… real trouble… she should silence this witness immediately!

“I surrender, you are right! I had to count with a possibility like this. Fine!” she said calmly.

The man was impressed. “I am glad that you are reasonable! Listen, girl, I am sorry for this rude behavior, believe me, because we people from famous Liben city quarter never let our countrymen – or countrywomen – down! But I have my interests here too.”

“Liben?” Denise was attentive suddenly. This could get her out of this situation! “Do you know some Joseph Svejk? From the book! He lives in Liben too.”

“Of course I know him! That is my famous name, by chance! Joseph Svejk, at your service!”

Denise was thinking. It was a miraculous coincidence!

“I know much about you, Mr. Svejk! From… a relative of yours!”

“Oh? So what do you know? And from whom? But people always say many things about me. That I am dumb, and so on!”

“For example, that in Russia, you brought that T.G. Masaryk’s critical manuscript for the Czech independence through the front lines personally, as an adjutant of Military Counterintelligence command. And much more! But please, let’s go now, to the train station!”

“How can you know this? I haven’t told anybody!” Svejk was astonished.

“I know everything about you. Your… relative talks about you very often.”

“And who is that? I live alone, I don’t meet with my family.”

What else could Denise say? There was no time. She had to bet all on a single card! She was still several blocks from the train station, and precious minutes ran out!

“You saw my uniform. It was strange, wasn’t it? And what if I would tell you, that I come from the future, and I know your grandson? His name is same as you! He served with me in a classfied military unit…”

“Oh, really? Good boy! Svejk’s family always had military career in her coat of arms… but wait… what are you saying, girl? From the future? And how could you get here?”

“Using The Device, a latest technological invention. They sent me here to find out that name of an enemy officer. To bring him to justice, if he is still alive.”

“And you know my grandson,” Svejk senior couldn’t believe it. But he released her. “What is he like? I mean, what’s his personality? And what is the future?”

“Quite peaceful, except some local conflicts, but nothing much in Europe. And your grandson is fine. He talks about you all the time, and he wants to get a highest military medal for you! Seventy years from now.”

“Fine boy, he makes me proud! And can you greet him, when you will return back to your time? To the future?”

“I am afraid that I am stuck here for now. I don’t know how to get back. But I promise you, if I will make it, I will greet him from you! But now, we have to go. Please!”

“Good boy,” Svejk repeated with emotion. “Fine, let’s go!”

Just in front of the station, Denise offered her hand to Svejk senior, to part company forever. “I have to go now, Mr. Svejk. Wish me luck! This will be tough.”

“Hey, girl, I almost forgot – you lost this,” Svejk dug in his pocket, and he took a 5.56mm rifle cartridge Denise lost from her ammo pocket during their unintended physical collision. “I wanted to keep it, to make some money from it… you know, in Liben city quarter, although it’s very culturally significant, there is only one bad custom, a lot of stealing. It was valid in the past, in the present, and I think that the future, even full of technogical toys, will be no different!”

“I was informed about this local cultural speciality by your grandson intensively, Mr. Svejk, so thank you! But I can’t have anything from the future with me now. If I would be caught with this future stuff, they would never release me. They would torture me to know the future, to be able to influence it to their advantage. So I will give you an address, there is man, I left all my equipment there. Give the bullet to him. He promised me to be silent. You two know my secret. I will trust you to keep it.”

“Be assured, girl, I will see to it personally! And I won’t tell him anything. We citizens of Liben always keep our word!”

“Goodbye, Mr. Svejk. It was was nice to meet you! I will tell your greetings to your grandson, I promise.”

“You do that! Don’t forget it, girl! Tell him.. to have a beer on my memory, perhaps! It is quite enough. If anybody in the future remembers me yet, it’s fine enough for me! Hey, are there still some pubs in Liben in that distant future of yours?”

“You can bet! Many of them, many distinctive local figures, and your grandson is one of them. Everybody knows him there!” she assured him with wide smile, when she remembered her old colleague, often drunk and always telling pub tales.

“That’s my boy! Svejk’s family never loses the right direction in the world!”

—-

“Did you see her?” the Captain asked Svejk, when they met again finally.

“Still no sign of her,” Svejk lied with experience. He was from Liben city quarter, after all.

“I knew that this is all nonsense! At least we helped some our people on the way. But now we can’t continue. A sniper blocks the way.”

“Use the roofs!” some local man suggested.

“OK. Five of you, take care of that sniper. Rest of us, to the top floor!”

They broke through the door to the attic of a house. Captain took a military binoculars into his hands.

He saw that scene.

An officer in a SS uniform stood on the third platform. He picked up people. He decided, who will live, and who will be executed immediately, with suspicion of being a rebel.

“Give me that glass,” Svejk asked him.

He saw Denise, approaching the officer. She said something to him. He listened to her, and then he pointed at the train door.

“Do you see her?” the Captain asked Svejk.

“No,” Svejk replied.

“Herr offizier!” Denise made her way through the enemy soldiers, who tried to hold her.

She was chosen for this operation, because she was able to speak German fluently. So she persuaded him, to let her into the last train, prepared for departure.

Now, she was inside. Between enemy uniforms. They were all relaxed, feeling, that they will get out of this, that they will reach the American lines!

The train was heading for the town Pilsen, to the West.

But the partisans didn’t plan to allow it through, and they prepared an ambush on the tracks, close to the town of Beroun.

In one moment, she was sitting peacefully, and in a second, plenty of bullet holes occured in the walls from intensive MG-42 machine gun fire. The massive explosion in the front of the train indicated a charge on the tracks. The locomotive derailed. Their journey ended here.

She ducked down, beside a dead German soldier. She used his body as a cover. It was so ironic – she was under heavy fire of her own countrymen. But the Corporation never calculated events like this. The operatives should have only a virtual bodies here. Not the real persons, with fragile bodies, should be here. But she was here now, and it was the reality. Including bullets.

When the shootout ended, partisans moved carefully to the wreckage of the train, finishing the survivors systematically, including injured men. They had no remorse. This was their revenge.

Denise was still lying down. Should she play dead? Should she say, that she was involuntraily here? No, they wouldn’t believe her!

She remembered her mission again. The officer was just several compartments from here, she intentionally sat close to him. Now, she used the opportunity and moved for inspection.

The SS officer was lying there, on the floor, with fatal wound in his abdomen. She bent down to him. But he was finished. She just removed one of his identification marks from his neck. Her mission was over – but her fight for her life was not.

Somebody waved at her from the neighboring compartment. “Hier!” two German soldiers whispered at her. Maybe they thought, that in the company of a woman, they will have a chance to survive.

She ignored them. She returned to her previous place and sat down to the wooden bench, awaiting her fate. Tired, so tired.

She heard careful steps. The partisans were here. Time to make up a quick and persuasive story… or to stay silent and accept the fate. Maybe it was all just a dream, and she will wake up eventually…

Alan Svejk - alansvejk@alansvejk.com

alansvejk@alansvejk.com