The global nuclear war happened 25 years before the “now” in the book. The European Union has since grown powerful and is ruled by a totalitarian government. It wages war on Russia to gain control of what’s left of diminishing natural resources and people in eastern Europe and the Scandinavian front of Finland.
The heroine is Rebane Nordstrom, a woman in her thirties and of Nenets heritage. Her mother remarried with a Finnish oil driller working in Siberia. When her mother died in the nuclear war, stepfather Pertti Nordstrom took five-year-old Rebane with him to the arctic deserts; He raised her as his own daughter, taught her to survive, evade and hunt. They escaped the anarchy and the massive food shortages which resulted from changes in the climate, the ash clouds which blocked sunlight for years after the nuclear holocaust. She grew up constantly moving and hiding somewhere what was previously Finland, North-Western Russia and Norway.
In her late twenties, Rebane ran away to join the Russian army. She wanted to get out of the dusty outpost in the North. She wanted adventure and honor, to beat the Union army. She received basic training in the arctic troops and later specialized in sniping. Assigned to an elite reconnaissance unit with her love interest and sniper scout, Daniil, she is sent behind enemy lines to build connections to the European Union underground movement and to perform a high-level assassination. After the job, she and her remaining comrades are besieged by the enemy on Russian soil. This arises suspicion of betrayal: who squealed their exact location?
After the battle, Rebane is arrested and transported into New Berlin for MI interrogation. She soon meets her match in the form of an enemy intelligence officer Major Aldrich Weisser, the person responsible for her interrogation and torture. She nearly escapes but gets caught again. A cat-and-mouse game starts between Rebane and Weisser. She sticks to her SERE training. Daniil and all the others have been executed after they more or less talked, and Weisser knows the assassination plot and her crucial role in it. After two months of captivity, her secret knowledge is old news, and Weisser forces her to play the part of a dangle: a bait for the Russian Military Intelligence, the GRU.
Rebane is chained inside the old truck which speeds Eastward through desert and frontlines, the vehicle which will deliver her to the hands of her own. Russian counterintelligence doesn’t go easy on returning POWs. Weisser has the means of effective extortion and demands betrayal.
She never misses an opportunity, and she kills the driver and vanishes into the blizzard. She doesn’t return to the Russian army but turns North-West to meet her last remaining contact for help on German soil. Hunted like the red fox, her namesake, she kills for food and gear, hides, evades, steals. She plans to head North, far North beyond the uncharted roads and beware-of-radiation signs. She needs some serious gear for the dangerous travel and the only place to find them is the enemy base. She waits at the shores of the Baltic Sea for steady ice and crosses over to Scandinavia in darkness and escapes helicopters, planes and search patrols.
Nothing but pale, flat, wind-beaten land remains in the Invisible Zone, the white patch on all maps. The people here are bandits, deserters, nomads, and slaves- people who risk being irradiated, frozen to death or eaten by beasts. Ruled by ruthless warlords, gun and girl traffickers- this world is wild and out of control. The survival of the fittest is the law of nature and the law of the invisible Zone.
Rebane inhabits her stepfather’s collapsed log cabin in the northernmost outback. At the edge of the world, beyond the reach of battle lines, she turns her back on civilization. The shadow of memory is long: she drinks herself numb to forget Weisser and guilt. If she isn’t a soldier, what is she; a traitor, a loser. Daniil’s ghost follows her around. He doesn’t accuse, she accuses herself. Under the northern lights and the Milky Way, old religions come alive, and the animal kingdom is near.
Spring brings unwanted visitors. Trenches and traps which she dug in the dark of mid-winter become handy. A group of deserters wreaks havoc in the cabin while Rebane observes them from a nearby hill. She decides to take back what’s hers. Rebane is still capable in near combat, she is an efficient killer. She kills the men, shows no mercy and saves a young woman held as a sex slave. Her name is Liva Löwe, and she is sixteen years old, a Union citizen who was kidnapped.
Part III (a rough draft)
The two women befriend while it becomes evident that the area is no longer uninhabited or safe. Liva is also pregnant, and she begs Rebane to take her south towards the Union borders and home. Rebane declines despite her friend’s frequent prayers. Rebane doesn’t tell Liva who she is, but Liva sees that she speaks native Russian and has received military training. There is a price on Rebane’s head, and Liva understands that she is wanted for the assassination of the European Union’s authoritarian leader. Rebane is worth a lot of money and Liva needs money to pay for the illegal transport back home. Liva is precious herself: women have been sterile or have produced few children since the nuclear war, and teenagers- those who have been born after the worst radiation season are fertile and priceless to slave traders. Liva wants the child of her rapists- something which Rebane will never understand. A live child is priceless, and Liva will be revered among women everywhere.
Sighting Union troops- further North than ever before- makes Rebane a nervous wreck. The new outpost of the enemy means safety- returning home- to Liva and mortal danger to Rebane. Liva’s pregnancy has gone well until now, but she becomes sick, and something is wrong with the baby. She needs medical assistance. Shamans and witches of the nomad people cannot help Liva.
The women become separated during Rebane’s hunting trip when she is trapped behind a massive tank battle between Russia and the Union. Meanwhile, Liva gets snatched by an armed hunting group from the Container City. The warlord ruling the city has no intention of giving up his prized catch. Rebane is forced to enter the lion’s den to claim her friend and the unborn child. Rebane knows that she will be given to the enemy for money and Liva will remain a slave.
Rebane knows what the Container City people love most: fight sports- an uneven duel to the death. She tells the warlord that she will fight his best man for Liva’s freedom. In front of his tribe, the warlord cannot refuse. The crowd engages in fervent betting for the winner and Rebane is an underdog favorite. She wins the duel by fighting dirty, she has scanned the armed crowd before her proposition, and she has a plan. Near combat is her forte and hard lessons don’t fade. A minute woman- how dangerous could she be? Men don’t take her seriously until it’s too late.
Frontlines shift, the outback is no longer safe, and the women decide to stay in the fortified, well-defended Container city. Rebane visits the site of a nuclear detonation- ground zero inside a ruined city- to gather supplies with the Container gang. She trusts one of them, a man named Ali- a refugee. She experienced a direct hit when she was five and seeing the destroyed city, the crater of detonation, gives her a sense of closure. By the detonation site, she decides to travel further north and to disappear- to disengage after Liva has given birth. On the way back, the convoy comes under bombardment and Rebane is wounded. The Container City experiences an air raid, and when the battle rages, Liva is in trouble with childbirth.
An icy snowstorm arises and forces the armies back. Rebane sets out in the impossible blizzard, dragging her bleeding friend in a toboggan towards the Union outpost for help. Rebane is seen from afar and recognized. Banished into the far north to find his prey, her old enemy- Weisser- awaits.
Rebane delivers Liva to the base. Liva gives birth to a healthy baby girl, aided by the outpost nurses and army doctor. Outside, in the blinding blizzard, freezing Rebane doesn’t know what to do. She stays near the base, observing if Liva is okay. She fears for the life of her friend, doesn’t trust the people of the enemy air station to let Liva go home.
A tall, bulky man in polar gear approaches through the blinding blizzard. His walking style, the form of him is eerily familiar. She doesn’t trust her eyes, cannot believe it’s Weisser because she used to see him everywhere during her trauma. The man attacks and overpowers her (all along this one was the man she could never beat. He was bigger, stronger, smarter). He sits on her stomach and suffocates her with snow.
A cut-throat near-combat battle ensues, and I won’t reveal the ending yet.
Copyright © 2019 Rebecka Jäger
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