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It is Always Cold in Russia


Markus Wilding
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The day was fairly warm, considering he was standing in the middle of St. Petersburg. He had spent so much of his life here, he felt he had built these streets himself. This man was Benedikt Orlov, a man who had recently fallen out of the good graces of the Tsar. It was his belief that the war in Finland did not reach far enough, that simply taking the coast was far too little. He had seen the war plans, oh sure, and they called for an "active defense" of the area outlined. Ridiculous. The Tsar had it in his own title, he was the Knyaz of Finland for God's sakes, what could possibly possess him to settle for only a fraction of the land he had rightfully inherited?! Benedkit stroked his long black beard as he walked through the streets of St. Petersburg. All around him were people scurrying and pushing to get where they needed, not a care in the world. Of course, it was mostly full of older men and women of all ages these days. The war had forced conscription and St. Petersburg's boys were the first to go to the front, being the closest.

 

Benedikt lost himself, and soon found he was strolling through the docks. A vulgar place, he thought, full of vulgar people living vulgar lives. The shouts of an old dockworker caught his attention, and he looked to see a group of Africans assisting the local dockworkers in aligning a military vehicle off a cargo ship. A curious sight, he thought, Africans in Novgorod. Before being fired from the Defense Ministry, Benedikt had heard rumors that a deal had been reached with some African kingdom. Timber and logs for "precious metals", as some had called it. It was kept secret from the general public, of course. Most things were.

 

Benedikt traveled out of the docks and passed by a television reporting news from the front. He ignored it. He, like many others in the government, knew the news was just the Tsar's propaganda arm, and half of what it reported was either lies or blown to extreme proportions. Benedikt stopped to wait for a traffic light and pulled out his cell phone, pushing a single speed-dial set number. A gruff voice on the other end of the line answered. "Da, Dmitry, it's Benedikt. Look, we need to talk." Dmitry groaned and Benedikt could hear the creaking of the man's old chair over the phone. "What did you do now?" "It isn't about what I did, Dmitry. Where and when can I meet you?" Another protesting creak from the chair, and the flipping of pages. Dmitry was looking through his planner. "How about Thursday, at Poltava Bar." Benedikt agreed and hung up without allowing Dmitry to answer.

 

A shiver went down Benedikt's spine.

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Thursday came, a cloudy and brooding day. Poltava Bar was the place people went to get drunk and find someone to take home for the night, usually in that order. Dmitry had once served with the Grand Russian Army as a Colonel, well before the Great Collapse. He, thankfully, was spared much of the destruction by being in Greenland when the bombs fell. He now ordered a glass of vodka while Benedikt opted for club soda, being a non-drinker. Dmitry began to talk, so fast in fact Benedikt almost missed what he was saying. "OK Benedikt, let's hear it. What are you thinking about?" This wasn't unusual for Dmitry though, he had always been a fast talker, his voice fluctuating between a high bass and midrange. As he took a drink, Benedikt could see his untidy mustache picking up drops of vodka. "The Tsar has become incompetent. Our soldiers are fighting to liberate Finland, but I know the truth." Dmitry looked skeptical. "What truth?" "We're fighting for a small, small portion of land, Dmitry. Here we have the Tsar of Novgorod, Knyaz of Finland, taking only the coast! Have you seen the war plans?" Dmitry shook his head and slowly blinked. "Come on, Benedikt, you know I'm not privy to those anymore." Benedikt grinned. "Orders for the Army are to march to Helsinki, then stop and hold there. That's as far as they'll go!"

 

Dmitry chuckled, taking another drink. "Alright, look, you got a point. The Tsar's calling himself Knyaz of Finland, right, but taking only a little slice of Finland? That's kind of silly. It's like calling yourself President of the United States and only having control of Rhode Island. But, look, what are you gonna do about it, eh?" Benedikt looked around, making sure there wasn't any law enforcement around. Satisfied, he leaned in closer and lowered his voice slightly. "The Tsar has to be disposed of. Fascism is how we'll get ourselves out of this position." Dmitry looked at Benedikt some more, then finished off his drink, ordering another. "OK, look, you've been talking to to many autsaydery, you caught some of that Old World Blues, you know? I know that I say a lot of good things about the Greater Russian Empire, but look, I say some good things about my ex-wife sometimes too. Doesn't mean I want either of them back, you know?" Benedikt nodded, although this definitely wasn't the answer he was looking for. He sighed and looked out the nearby window. It had started raining. Dmitry kept talking, though. "But listen, you got three problems you have to give answers for, OK? First problem, how are we gonna get rid of him, OK? Second problem, how are you gonna deal with the Imperial Life Guards?" That was a problem indeed. They were so deathly loyal to the Tsar, they'd literally shoot through each other if it meant killing anyone trying to harm the Tsar. "Last problem, who else you gonna get in on this, OK? I'm not on board until you answer those, OK?" Benedikt nodded and Dmitry began to stand up, ready to leave.

 

"Look," Dmitry said, "I don't disagree that the Tsar needs to go. I just don't want to have survived all this time only to be killed by some moron who doesn't know his history." With that, Dmitry left, disappearing into the crowd of people outside.

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As the war raged on in Finland, Benedikt sought allies and friends. He had gotten in touch with some Imperial Army officers who were dissatisfied with where the war had gone, some angry because it didn't claim all of Finland, some angry because it claimed any of it. Regardless of their reasons, three infantry divisions and two regiments had joined with Benedikt, all under the agreement of their officers. These infantry divisions would provide more than enough firepower, but would they be able to hold off the entire Imperial Army? Probably. 49,000 soldiers  was a fraction of the Imperial Army, and if more joined Benedikt, which now had gained status among whispered tongues as "Orlov's Group". While no armor officers had come over - probably waiting and seeing what happened - Benedikt was sure that he had more than enough to not only oust the Tsar, but defend it from any who dared challenge him.
 
Although not many knew this outside of the Tsar's inner circle, the Tsar and Tsarina had no heir to the throne. They had tried for many years, but simply could not conceive, and while sad for the Imperial family, was a blessing for Orlov's Group. The Tsar was more or less illegitimate anyway, he only held on to the title because he had crowned himself as Tsar in a grand ceremony that would make even Napoleon blush. The only difficulty now was finding a sniper who could be insane enough, or angry enough, to shoot the Tsar.
 
This turned out to be easier than Benedikt expected. Once word was sent out to the various commanders, one junior officer put forward a sniper in his company. Her name was Tatiana Lindström, a Swedish national who had immigrated to Novgorod after the bombs fell and put her skills in hunting game in the northernmost parts of Sweden to good use in the Imperial Novgorodian army. Although Benedikt was initially suspicious of her, she was accepted after records indicated she had served with various Russian militias in the years since the Great Collapse. Further, Novgorodian Army reports also told that she was a much better shot than many of her male counterparts. Benedikt thus made a point to meet with her as soon as possible, discreetly of course.

 

The two managed to find each other on a firing range. Tatiana was concerning herself with cleaning her Mosin-Nagant, definitely not standard-issue in the Novgorodian Imperial Army. It looked like it had been beaten to hell and back, but she assured Benedikt that it still fired accurately. Benedikt did not concern himself much with guns, although he did take some time to fire a GSh-18, admiring the craftsmanship that had gone into it. "So tell me," Tatiana finally asked between shots, "why do you want to shoot the Tsar?" Benedikt chuckled slightly, noting that Tatiana kept her jet-black hair cut short to avoid getting in her way. "He's incompetent. The last thing Novgorod needs at this time is a weak ruler, do you not agree?" Tatiana nodded, frowning as she rotated the bolt, releasing the last round from her Mosin. "I don't have much love for Imperials, get it? I only joined this army so I could get paid doing what I enjoy." Whether she meant killing people or sniping was unknown to Benedikt, but that did not matter.

 

"I must say, for a Swede you don't seem too worried about your countrymen being shot by the army you work for." Tatiana paused for a moment, not showing any signs of emotion. "Well, to be blunt, they're the same as you. Little people playing king when there's bigger things to be done." Benedikt respected this position. Imperialism, while useful for now, was definitely on the out once his plan was in motion. "Fair enough, but anyway, political discussions can be done later. I need to know, Sergeant Lindström, are you able to do this or not?"

 

Tatiana placed the last round carefully into her Mosin and slammed the bolt closed, took aim, and fired at a target 300 meters out, hitting it dead-on. Without taking her eyes off her scope, she replied as she worked the bolt, "I'm in."

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In the coming days, unexpected support came in the form of Minister of Internal Affairs Pyotr Nikolai Kozlov. He had visited Benedikt Orlov in his home, flanked by two Interior Ministry guards. "Mister Felisksy," he said, bowing his head slightly, "I have been ordered by the Tsar to investigate your actions." Pyotr couldn't hold his serious face for long, though, and the two soon broke into laughter and gave each other a hug. "Come in, come in, Pyotr," Benedikt said, motioning to the guards as well. "These two are loyal, da?" Pyotr nodded, sitting down on the red couch in Benedikt's living room. "Don't worry too much about them, I briefed them before we got here." Benedikt opened a can of kvass and poured glasses for himself and Pyotr, asking if the guards wanted a drink. They declined, and Benedikt returned, setting the glass in front of Pyotr. The two held their glasses high and toasted each other, both taking a quick drink. "Now, Benedikt," Pyotr began, "I heard from Valentinov that you had gone to see the old Colonel." Pyotr was referring, of course, to Dmitry. "I'm allowed to visit old friends, Pyotr." "True," Pyotr replied, raising an eyebrow, "but Valentinov said something about you plotting with him. Now I don't buy into that. What's your game?" The two stared off for a while, with Benedikt unsure if he could trust him or not. This was someone Benedikt had known for a long time, even before the Tsar placed them in the government together. "Alright," Benedikt began, "the Tsar needs to be removed. I'll spare you the details so you can reasonably deny involvement in case it goes south."

 

Pyotr did not seem surprised. After finishing off the glass of kvass, he stood up and said as he walked out the door, "I think I'll keep this hush-hush and tell Valentinov that you were just meeting an old friend."

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The time had almost come. Tsar Vladilem Yukanovski was to die in two weeks. Benedikt Orlov called the key players together - Dmitry, Tatiana Lindström, and Pyotr Kozlov. Not wanting to attract attention from the Imperial Life Guards, the four took different routes to the meeting place and left at different times, but they were careful to all get to the meeting place, an old warehouse on the outskirts of St. Petersburg, on time. Although nowhere near comfortable, it was deemed safe from the Tsar's watchful eyes and ears.

 

Dmitry was first to speak. "OK, look, I didn't drive all this way for nothing. You said you had a plan, let's hear it, OK?" Tatiana and Pyotr nodded in agreement. To this, Benedikt placed a map on a nearby workbench and unrolled it. "This is the Kremlin," he said, pointing to a large building that had been built when Novgorod declared independence, "thanks to the efforts of Pyotr Kozlov, we know that the Tsar leaves the Kremlin at 10:20 AM and again at 5:37 PM, and he arrives at 6:28 AM each morning." Tatiana studied the map before asking "That doesn't explain much."

 

"Which," Benedikt said, standing up, "is why we will assassinate him when he least expects it. The Minister of Security has caught some wind of our plans, so we must bide our time. Miss Lindström, as you will be the one taking the shot, I will leave it up to you to decide which one of those three times is best to assassinate him." Tatiana nodded, and Dmitry nudged her out of the way to look at Benedikt's face. "OK, that's good and all, but what about us, eh? What do we do?"

 

"Dmitry, it will be your job to find civilians willing to join a militia to help us fight for our cause. We cannot guarantee that the Imperial Army will simply roll over for us, so we must be prepared for a fight. Pyotr, do whatever you can to keep the Tsar on this schedule and prevent anyone, especially Valentinov, from finding out about this." The two nodded. Tatiana, however, had stopped paying attention to the conversation. She was studying the map intensely. "How tall is this building?" The three stopped talking and looked at her. "About five stories tall, why?" "Can you get me access to one of the floors? Preferably one that won't have anybody on it at 10:20 AM." Benedikt and Pyotr looked at each other and shrugged. "I don't see why not. We will talk to the building owners, that's some kind of office, I think." "Thank you." Tatiana replied. She soon began to leave, saying as she walked, "I have to go, boys, got some training to do."

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