Wargame -- by Jean Graham
It had been a stable once. Now it was little more than shack.
But it would provide him with shelter from the driving wind and
snow. Illya Kuryakin closed the rough-hewn doors against the gale,
and huddling into a corner, forced his numb fingers to pull his pen
communicator from an inside pocket.
The hiss of static filled the empty barn. "Open channel D,"
he said, and tried to keep his teeth from chattering. "Overseas
"Mr. Kuryakin," Sir John Raleigh's voice responded.
"Where are you?"
"In an abandoned stable, sir, just outside of Prague.
Freezing to death."
"The Thrush laboratory was destroyed as planned?"
"As planned. I had the local police on my trail for a while,
but I seem to have lost them. Unfortunately, I've also lost my
Interpol contact and ride home. I'm going to need a pick-up."
There was a pause while the static hummed. "Our satellite is
reporting some rather difficult weather conditions in your
"Yes sir. I seem to be caught in a minor blizzard."
"We may not be able to get anyone to you until morning. Can
you hold out until then?"
"I'll do my best."
Illya put the pen transceiver away and made a futile effort to
rub some feeling back into his stiff hands and fingers. Failing
that, he tucked them back inside the pockets of his coat and curled
further into the darkened corner, trying to ignore the frigid air
that still streamed in through the loose-fitting boards of the
wall. Even here inside, every breath he took came out in small,
Cold. He hadn't been this cold since...
His mind pushed the memory away, unwilling to consider it.
That had been thirty long years ago, and he had never allowed
himself to dwell on it. He had never even wondered.
He refused to wonder now. But when the sleep of fatigue
began to overtake him, the memory returned.
He dreamed. Of the _Upravlenie Shkola._ Kiev's State
School. He dreamed of a man named Dr. Stefan Voynia, and of a copy
of _Pravda_ that had lain open on his desk one frozen winter day
when the snow had all but crippled the city of Kiev. The paper's
headlines had boasted of Premier Khrushchev's outstanding success
with school reforms, and with the training games programs recently
instituted to better prepare Soviet school children for their
eventual service in the military. It was a service, naturally,
that was mandatory.
For the moment of the dream, it was 1955 again, and he was
fourteen years old.
Illya knew what sort of doctor Voynia was. He knew because it
was stencilled on the door of the imposing office. A door he'd
passed many times without ever going in. Amid a forest of other
Cyrillic titles, it announced, "Psychologist."
The thin, bearded man inside the office turned from the window
to look at him, and motioned toward a wooden straight-backed chair
that sat slightly crooked in front of the desk. It was cold, even
inside the office.
"Sit down, Illya Nickovetch."
Illya fixed him with a lengthy stare before obeying the
request. The stiff rungs of the chair made his starched school
uniform scratch him between the shoulder blades.
"Do you know why you are here?"
Blue eyes focused somewhere on the desk's worn blotter.
"You do not like the games."
Illya looked him in the eye, coldly defiant, and said nothing.
Voynia pressed the question.
"I am interested in languages and in quantum mechanics. Not
in fighting wars."
"So I have heard." The doctor opened a yellow file folder that
had lain beside the copy of _Pravda._ "In fact, you've received
the highest marks in these subjects that this school has ever seen.
Did you know that? Our schoolmaster has had rather high hopes for
"You mean that he did -- until now." How far could he go
before this doctor would lose patience with him, perhaps even
decree punishment for his insolence?
Voynia merely looked annoyed. "There is no shame in defending
Mother Russia, my young friend. Before I came here, I served the
Army for four years. Before your schoolmates become lawyers,
doctors, scientists and fathers, they will serve. And so will
Illya dared allow defiance in his tone as well as in his eyes.
"I am not a soldier. I will never be one."
"Fourteen is rather young to hold such fatalistic views, don't
Receiving no response, Voynia got up and paced to the french
doors that graced one end of his office. There was a courtyard
beyond them, blanketed now in snowy white.
"Tell me about your schoolmates, Illya Nickovetch."
"What about them?"
"Do you like them?"
Illya hesitated, taken aback by the sudden change in Voynia's
tactics. Then he gave a short, decisive answer. "No."
How to answer that. Perhaps, he decided, the truth was best,
whatever the purpose of this game might be.
"I am not like them."
"So you choose not to associate with them. You choose, in
fact, not to socialize at all. Not to interact in any way. Isn't
"I would rather keep to myself."
"Always to yourself? That's rather lonely, isn't it?"
Illya sat up straighter in the chair. "I have been alone all
my life. I am not afraid of it. Not like other people."
"I see. Well, tell me something else then. What do your
classmates think of you?"
Illya began to hate this gaunt man with the probing questions.
He seemed to know just where the raw nerve lay -- and how to strike
"I have no concern for what they think," he answered.
"Tell me anyway."
Illya fell silent for a long time, eyes on the polished
hardwood floor. At length, he said quietly, "You already know the
"They have names for me. _Storone. Otshelnik, stranniye,
neponyatniye._ They think I do not hear them. But I do."
Voynia watched the snow coming down. "And this bothers you,
"I told you. I do not care what they think."
"I think you do. Everyone cares what others think of them.
It's part of human nature."
Voynia turned around. "Is there no one you care about, Illya
Nickovetch? No friends, no family?"
Illya glared at him. "You know that I have none of either."
"Really? Why do you say that?" The doctor returned to his desk
to retrieve the yellow folder. He carried it with him back to the
double french doors. "Do you know for a fact that they are dead?
Your mother? Your father?"
Curiosity glimmered in Illya's eyes for a moment, but was
quickly vanquished. "I am a ward of the State," he said flatly.
"I have always been so."
Voynia opened the folder again. "No one is always a ward.
Someone had to bring you here. Don't tell me that you've never
What Illya wondered was why this conversation had suddenly
taken so disquieting a turn. "Is there some point to this?" he
Voynia snapped the folder shut. "Only that your assumptions
have been wrong, just as your thinking is wrong. I had hoped that
I might change them both."
His erstwhile patient stared at him sullenly and said nothing.
"I have someone for you to meet," Voynia told him. "After you
have spoken with him, I will ask you for a decision. And you will
tell me whether you wish to remain here and complete your education
-- including the games -- or leave. With him."
Illya was intrigued in spite of himself. "Leave?" he echoed.
"Who is this person?"
"A wheat farmer from Chernigov." Voynia crossed to the office
door and briskly pulled it open. "His name is Nikolai
Andreievitch..." The final third of the name was nearly cut off by
the closing door. "...Kuryakin."
Illya slid from the chair, watching the psychologist's
silhouette disappear from the frosted glass doorpane. He paced to
the french doors, frowning. It was a lie, of course. It had to
be. His father was dead. He'd always been certain of that.
But then the door came open again, admitting a slender,
middle-aged man with pale hair whose features very strongly
resembled his own. Illya stared. If this was indeed a trick, then
they had chosen their actor very well.
"You are Illya," the stranger finally said. "I didn't think
that I would know you. But I do."
"Did Voynia tell you to say that?" Illya demanded coldly.
"Did he engineer this entire touching charade just to help reform
me of my 'wrongful thinking?' If so, please tell him for me that
he's gone to a great deal of trouble for nothing. It won't work."
The man in the doorway looked lost. He twisted a brown wool
hat between very nervous fingers. "I'm sorry," he said uselessly.
"I ... didn't want to come here. I have always thought that it
would be best for me never to come. But now they have said that I
The edge of suspicion never left Illya's voice. "Why?" he
asked. "What did they tell you?"
The man shrugged. "They say that perhaps the State has
wasted its years of investment in my son."
"Don't call me that."
"They have said the _Upravlenie Shkola_ may expel you. Is
Illya eyed him sullenly. "I made the error of questioning the
wisdom of the games. The training. To question such things is
regarded as a symptom of mental illness."
The older man looked uncomfortably at the floor. "I have
spoken with the schoolmaster," he said. "He says you have a
brilliant mind. _Geniye,_ he said. A genius."
"Is that why they sent you here? First to shame and then to
Nikolai Andreievitch had no answer for that. Illya turned
away from him, looking out over the snow-covered courtyard.
"You may as well go," he said with his back turned. "I do not
think I wish to play the doctor's game any longer."
Several moments of silence passed between them. Nikolai did
not open the door to go.
"Illya Nickovetch," he said slowly. "Have you hated me all of
Illya put a hand to the cold glass of the window pane. "I
cannot hate someone I do not know."
Nikolai sounded ill, his voice growing strained. "There was
reason for that. I had no life to give you. Nothing then, and
"I didn't ask for any explanations."
"No. But I will tell you anyway." A tone of authority crept
into the voice. "And you will pay me the courtesy of listening to
what I have to say."
Illya listened, but he did not turn around. Outside, the snow
had stopped falling.
"I was in Poland when you were born," the man behind him said.
"Fighting to repel German invasion forces. And I received two
telegrams within days of one another." Again, the voice grew
strained. "The first informed me of the birth of my son. The
second said that my wife had died of something called a vi... a
viral infection." The rush of words became almost cathartic. "I
had two weeks emergency leave to return to Kiev," he went on. "To
arrange for burial and make provision for my son. Two weeks. What
could I have done in so short a time? There were no relatives,
Illya Nickovetch. No one. Only the _Upravlenie Shkola,_ and the
war to which I must return. Do you see what choice I had?"
Still without turning, Illya's only response was, "The
war ended ten years ago."
There was a lengthy silence.
"I never came," the man said, "because I was ashamed. What
did I have to offer? The chance for you to harvest wheat on a
collective farm in Chernigov? I had hoped... I had prayed you
would find a better life here. A life free of... family
encumbrances. I wanted only to--"
"--Stop it." The boy who still refused to look at him had
spoken those two short words with more naked emotion than he had
shown his schoolmasters in fourteen years. "Stop trying to make me
feel sorry for you. I won't."
Nikolai hesitated. "I wanted to tell you of these things. If
we must leave together--"
"I will go nowhere with you." Illya's hands grasped the cold
brass handles of the doors, and he fought to overcome the threat of
something that until this day had been foreign to him. The threat
of tears. "You are no one to me, do you hear? No one."
He twisted the brass knobs toward one another and shoved the
doors open onto an icy blast of wind. Mindless of the cold, or of
his lack of coat or hat, he ran blind into the courtyard, wanting
nothing now but to leave the man in Voynia's office far behind him.
He heard the voice call his name once, twice. Then it faded into
the nothing that until now, it had always been.
Cold swallowed him. His footsteps crunched through the new-
fallen snow alone. No one followed him.
He had never seen the man who called himself Nikolai
Andreievitch Kuryakin again.
Something hidden under the drifts tripped him several yards
from the office door, and he went down in the powdery cold, fists
pounding in unbridled fury at the faceless, nameless white.
The tears flowed freely now. He let them come. Somehow they
softened the horrible pain of knowing that Voynia had won. Voynia
had beaten him.
He would learn to fulfill the requirements of the training
games. And he would become what the _Upravlenie Shkola_ wished him
He would serve. But he would also become stronger.
They would never make him cry again.
The throbbing roar of a helicopter passing overhead jarred him
awake, back into the present. Pale daylight filtered through the
loose boards of the stable walls. The air around him seemed
He pulled himself to his feet just as the communicator began
warbling again. He removed it from his pocket, turned over the
cap. "Kuryakin here."
"This is Able Seven Niner out of HDQ London," said a voice
over the steady background beat of a helicopter's blades. "We're
coming down on a bank due east of your position, and the locals
aren't ecstatic about it. Suggest you rendezvous post haste.
"I'll be there."
Illya tucked the pen away. He stretched once, limbering
muscles stiff from the cold, then pushed open the stable's leaning
double doors and walked out into the cold bright day.
The snow had stopped falling.