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“Lieutenant? We’d like a word with you.”

The sniper glanced over his shoulder.

Two men stood there, dressed in black suits and long black coats and sleek rabbit fur ushankas. Their faces were as similar as their dress – dark, and dour, and they had no rank or badges, no uniforms.

He knew he had done nothing wrong, but still had the fleeting impulse to run.

The KGB was not to be trifled with, after all.

He adjusted the heft of his rifle and paused outside his barracks room, nodding, but not risking words.

“Walk with us,” one said.

He did.

They covered the thawing ground with indolent steps, the unhurried paces of men who made their own schedules and felt no burden to follow others’.

“We’ve read your jacket. We were impressed by the way you handled the situation in Leningrad.”

“Thank you,” he said, briefly.

He had actually been reprimanded for Leningrad, for being too aggressive. For taking the shot when he thought his CO was waffling.

A single bullet to the cerebellum had ended the hostage situation with no collateral damage.

He’d known he wouldn’t miss, but he’d gotten a demerit on his record anyway, for firing before his CO had authorized it.

The sniper wondered if the men were really here to praise him, or if he was under investigation. Carefully, he said nothing more.

“How many kills have you gotten since you transferred to Spetsnaz Alfa, Lieutenant?”

“Just the one.”

“Have you heard of KGB OSNAZ, Lieutenant?”

“…of course.”

“Then surely you’ve heard the rumors.”

“Rumors?” the sniper echoed, voice carefully blank.

There was a pause.

“Rumors about ghost squads, Lieutenant. Covert assassination units of men with no pasts, no identities, no…accountability.”

The sniper had paused then, to run a hand over close-cropped pale hair.

“I’ve heard those rumors,” he said, finally.

“Perhaps…you find them interesting?”

The sniper considered.

An assassination squad would be nearly as good for his kill count as fighting in a war.

He had thought about his family, of course. His mother had remarried, not long after the war. His stepfather was a distant man, a retired Red Army colonel who spent his days playing chess and hunting.

His precious younger sister was engaged to be married to a good man, an architect, and his father, his real father, was long dead, a hero of the Great War.

His family didn’t need him, he knew, and there was no longer anyone else who would care if he were to suddenly disappear.

The sniper nodded slowly, and turned to face the two men.

“Perhaps…you can tell me more?”

November 2009

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