A Shared Target
A Shared Target
The building was fourteen stories, and Olena had six left to go. Her feet were silent as she scaled floor after floor, running up the stairs of the apartment building across the street from the church where she lived.
Abernathy had told her that morning about a meeting she’d had with a journalist a week before, that he knew where they lived. It seemed Abernathy hadn’t thought it was pertinent.
Olena had insisted they find a new safe-house, brushing aside Abi’s objections. Olena was also dearly fond of that church basement, but keeping her lady safe was of higher priority than obeying her careless whims.
Abi and the other girls were across the street and still packing. They’d waited until dark and had been hefting the boxes to an El Camino Abi had borrowed when Olena forced them back down the stairs, asking them to wait.
She was grateful she’d been the first out of the basement; the others might not have noticed the flicker of light from the roof across the street.
It might have been a maintenance man wearing a watch, or a pigeon wearing a name-tag, possibly, but she was sure it was a scope, the lens of a PSO-1 mounted on an SVD-63.
She drew her hook knife and crept out onto the roof. The fine white gravel laid on black tar was glittering in the moonlight, but there was no sniper, not even a pigeon.
Olena was questioning her sanity and finishing a final sweep when she froze, feeling a blade at her throat. With a quick twist, her arm was wrenched back and she dropped her knife.
“Why would you do this?” a woman asked, fluent Russian with a strange accent.
“…Tanya?” Olena asked, smelling a familiar scent, strong tea and red tulips, not that the red variety smelled any different from the white.
“Why?!” Pashtana asked again.
Olena realized this was about her, not her mistress, and her blood began to cool.
“Should I just kill you then?” Pashtana asked.
“Am I your only target?”
“Who else do you think I would cross an ocean for?”
“That’s fine then,” Olena said.
There was a moment’s silence, and then the knife disappeared from her throat. Olena took a step away, rubbing at her throbbing shoulder as she turned back.
“What’s wrong with you?” Pashtana asked, tears rolling down her amber cheeks. She had short dark hair, and a slight frame, but Olena had seen her carry a forty kilo pack through the jungle.
“You’ve never let me take you like that before….”
“Maybe…. Maybe you’ve just improved-”
“…My father died,” Pashtana said, the hook knife shaking in her hand.
Pashtana had been born thirty kilometers from Kabul, to a village girl who’d died soon after. Her Russian father was, by way of cover, a professor of biology at KU but had been an adviser to Zahir Shah, and Daoud after Zahir’s abdication.
“I’m sure he loved you. More than he loved anyone,” Olena said. That might not have been very much.
Tanya had spent her life trying to find a place. It had been the first thing they’d noticed in one another and why they’d been friends, but Olena had since made a home for herself.
“You said you’d be back by Wednesday,” Tanya said.
“…Yes.” It was actually Thursday night, but she was many Wednesdays late already.
“You didn’t come back, Olena-”
“So, you thought you’d come find me?”
“No. I’m here on orders. I will kill you, and then the man you allowed to escape.”
“…Have you seen his daughters?”
“They will be orphans.”
Olena sat near her knife on the tar-paper roof, clutching her knees to her chest. “…Have you ever wondered… when I think of lying in the ground, I wonder if I’ll feel the worms crawling inside me.”
“…You never talked about that. Do you think like that often?”
“Not often anymore…. Put a bullet in my head, then I won’t feel anything.”
Tanya tossed her knife down next to Olena’s and sat next to her. “I just wanted to see you again- I could say they’d taken you prisoner- or they captured me, and we escaped together-”
“No. Across the street is a graveyard, it would be a good place to bury me-”
“I’m not going to kill you.”
“And John?” Olena asked. John was the man Olena was supposed to have killed before Abernathy stopped her.
“The unit is all I have, Olena- and you left me.”
Olena reached an arm across Tanya’s shoulders, and leaned against her. They had spent many nights, in both jungles and deserts, sleeping like that. She was surprised by how warm it felt to return to her friend’s company.
“…I’m sorry, Tanya. I’ve thought of you everyday- Just this morning I prayed you were well-”
“Prayed- Why didn’t you come home?”
“…Do you know the story about Mary, and her virgin birth?” Olena asked, hoping to explain herself rather than convert a follower.
“My mother’s book is quite similar to your grandmother’s- Religion? This is about religion?” Tanya asked, peering over at her with a look of disgusted disbelief.
“…This isn’t about myths and stories. My Lady bleeds when she’s shot, but her forgiveness is as real as her blood.”
The door to the stairs slammed open, and Abernathy Greene stood in the doorway. The moonlight shone off her dark skin and red vinyl riding suit.
“She will forgive you,” Olena said.
“This woman?” Tanya asked, staunchly confused.
“You just have to ask.”
“Is this a friend?” Abi asked, in English, as she reached for the lead pipe at the back of her belt. “We got everything packed, and Jane wants the El Camino back by morning.”
“She looks like a normal woman, Olena,” Tanya said, glancing at her knife, just out of reach.
“I’ve never lied to you, Tanya….” That was true, in Olena’s memory. They’d always been like two halves of a broken whole; lying would have been meaningless.
Tanya stood up slowly, staring Abi in the eye. “…Will you forgive me?” she asked quietly, sneering slightly, and still speaking in Russian.
“What?” Abi said.
“Miss Abernathy only speaks English,” Olena said.
“…Would you… please forgive me?” Tanya asked again, in halting English now, as tears filled her eyes.
Abi took a step back, but her hand left the pipe tucked in her belt. “…I guess,” she said.