Chapter 1

Prison Colony No. 5, Central Siberia

February 15   06:45 hours



Peter Ivanovich Rogov expected all hell to break loose, and he was well aware of the fact that any deviation from the plan could render him dead. Either way, he regarded it as a gamble worth taking. No matter what happened he would be free from this frozen abyss. After six years in this barren scrap of purgatory, the chance of freedom, no matter how slim, was worth taking.

Few places on Earth were as inhospitable as Prison Colony No. 5-or, as the prisoners referred to it, "the grave"-on a winter morning. Little, if anything, ever changed in the grave, except perhaps the weather, and that was always for the worse. Peter raised his frayed coat collar, shielding his face from the freezing wind that howled across the desolate, color-starved valley, pushing clouds of swirling snow in its wake through the razor wire and electric fences.

The prison colony was perched on a hill overlooking the nuclear bomb factory known as Tomsk-7. Guard towers rose high on solid timber stilts and loomed over the rectangular prison compound. Powerful spotlights and heavy Gurianov machine guns mounted on each tower probed the grounds day and night. The prison administration building and guards’ barracks were outside the fence, beyond a deep moat surrounding the camp like an ugly scar. Except for the shrinking food rations and a decline in the guards’ discipline, which manifested itself in their sloppy attire and rowdy behavior, the prison was a living monument to a dead regime.

Peter, found guilty of treason for his part in the failed coup against then-President Mikhail Gorbachev, had been sentenced to life with hard labor. He found it ironic that he, a devoted guardian of the revolution, was called a traitor, while those who sold out the motherland, aiding in the collapse of an empire, were honored. That, he vowed, he would soon change.

He heard a truck grinding its gears in the distance. He squinted his pale blue eyes in an attempt to catch a glimpse of it through the arctic veil of blowing snow. His thin lips twitched in what the few who knew him would call a smile.

"Lev!" Peter hissed to the frail man beside him who was busy stomping his feet to keep his meager body from freezing. "It’s time."

"Yes, sir," the little man muttered, his breath icing up his sparse mustache.

"Tell the others to get ready!" Peter commanded.

Lev nodded and headed for the inmates’ quarters.

Drawing one last puff from his yellow, foul-smelling cigarette, Peter watched Lev hobble across the central yard. As soon as Lev entered the first in a row of dilapidated barracks, Peter flicked the smoldering cigarette butt to the ground and headed to the long woodshed at the other end of the camp, passing a row of prisoners huddled by the kitchen exhaust shaft, attempting to draw some heat from it. They stood with their backs to the wind, waiting for what the camp administration cynically referred to as breakfast. They were too busy keeping themselves from freezing while protecting their place in line to even notice him.

Although Peter wore the same tattered gray uniform and coat as the other inmates, he stood out, shoulders pulled back, chin forward in defiance, unmistakably a general, the kind men fear and admire, an ex-KGB brigadier general eager to make his comeback.

A guard entered the latrine just as Peter had approached it. Peter stopped a few feet from the filthy door and made a futile attempt to light another cigarette against the wind. Precious moments were being lost, but there was nothing to do but wait. When the guard finally straddled out, still battling his fly with his heavy mitten, Peter slipped in. The stench almost overwhelmed him as he headed for the second stall from the end. He could hear the old truck rumbling in the distance; his ticket to freedom was making its way down the road. The only consolation in that dark, foul latrine was the refuge it offered from the wind, providing an illusion of warmth.

Peter leaned against the outer wall and waited, listening intensely for sounds as he tried to visualize his plan unfolding a mile and half down the wind-swept road.




In Association with

Black Ghosts

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