Thursday, June 2, 2011

FICTION: Blue Sapphire by Gary Germeil

Ottawa, Canada, Monday December 3rd, 2035

Noémie Rancy did not have a moment to spare. The young girl of Haitian descent was working in the headquarters of the Canadian Security Intelligence Service at 1941 Ogilvie Road, in the Canadian capital of Ottawa. On this rainy Monday morning, she was diligently trying to find and classify information on potential threats to Canada's ally, the United Kingdom. To this end, she scoured electronic documents found on the organization's intranet, hoping to find relevant information in the pile of records she was browsing through.

Even though she woke up a little groggy from sleep on this first day of the week, she still managed to get up and ready herself for a long day of work in an environment she loved. Luck had always been on Noémie's side: after finishing her Master of Arts in European, Russian, and Eurasian Studies at Ottawa's Carleton University, she immediately found a job at CSIS. Her usual tasks were to collect information and analyze threats to Canada and its European allies, a task of particular importance during these times of strife. After gathering the information, she had to write reports and submit them to her superior.

"Hey Noémie, I have some more work for you", the young woman's director told her, mere seconds after she thought of him.

He was leaning against the entrance to her cubicle, glancing at the content displayed on the screen of her laptop. Noémie, sitting behind her desk, stopped typing to devote her entire attention to the professional who regularly defined the content of her research and analysis.

The middle-aged grey-haired man took some time to look at the girl's clean and organized desk; her orderliness was something that always amazed him. Nothing could be found on the metallic furniture except her laptop, a few neatly arranged sheets of paper meant to take notes and a few pencils on the side of her computer.

"Yes, sir?", the girl of Haitian descent asked her superior, stroking her short black hair with her right hand and waiting for his instructions. She unwittingly snapped him out of his daydream.

"Yes", the man said while regaining his composure, "I have some documents I want you to analyze, documents left behind by CIA agents who participated in the Cold War. Those documents, whether reports or personal letters, may contain important clues on the capabilities of the Coalition, since the organization is mainly composed of countries who used to belong to the defunct Warsaw Pact."

"I understand", Noémie told the director enthusiastically, signaling to him that she was ready to take on any challenge.

"Good, I left the documents in the shared drive, under my name; you'll see a folder named CIA_ColdWar_Documents", the man told her, knowing the competent worker would be able to find the records without his assistance. "I'd like to see a report by the end of this week, please", he concluded before leaving her to attend other matters.

Noémie left her previous work aside to focus on her new tasks. She scrolled through the titles of the numerous documents that were left behind by former CIA agents until one of them caught her attention. The document, titled "Memoirs of a Thorny Red Rose", consisted of letters written by a CIA agent known as Ruth Evans. After reading a few paragraphs, the young woman decided to print the letters and sat down to read them attentively.

"It is December 27th, 1979. Christmas celebrations were cut short by the cold reality of war. Countless Soviet soldiers had descended upon Kabul in the prior days, just as the Afghan capital had been isolated because of the deterioration of its telecommunications networks."

"Meanwhile, Afghan President Hafizullah Amin moved to the Tajbeg Presidential Palace, fearing for his safety. Surprisingly, the KGB seemed to want him out of the way; it thus appeared to be a good idea for me to follow the President to the palace, as I would surely be able to investigate KGB actions there in the hours to come."

"About a thousand Soviet officers clad in Afghan attire, some of them KGB and GRU officers, started occupying main offices in Kabul, including military, governmental and media targets. At around 7pm the same day, as expected, the assault began on the palace where I lay hidden..."

* * *

Kabul, Afghanistan, Thursday December 27th, 1979

The Presidential Palace was shrouded in darkness, much of its electricity shut down by invading Soviet forces. President Amin was being moved throughout the building, surrounded by his security personnel who urged him to follow their rapid pace. They shouted instructions in Arabic while clashing with Soviet forces, taking cover to avoid fire and shooting bullets of their own.

Two young CIA agents were leaning against a ceramic wall of the palace, hidden from sight. One of the two agents was a man, crouching and gathering information from the noise made by the two sparring factions. The agent was able to translate the Arabic dialect used by Amin's bodyguards and could thus easily tell what was happening. The other agent was a woman who stood against the wall and used a mirror to look at the conflict through its reflections.

"Steve and I had been dispatched to Afghanistan months before the Soviet invasion. We collected information on the country's deteriorating situation and waited for the Russians to intervene as we knew they would."

"KGB Spetsnaz", Ruth, the female officer, told her male companion, her voice lost in the commotion made by Amin's groaning soldiers as they died, one by one. The male CIA officer acknowledged the woman's guess with a nod.

"Once they're done with him, we'll have to split up and leave this place", the male agent told Ruth.

Through the mirror she held in her hand, Ruth suddenly saw a female KGB officer swiftly penetrate through the president's defenses, leaving behind her a translucent trail of blue light. The Soviet soldier violently rammed the President against a nearby wall, crushing his neck with her elbow. A second later, Amin drew his last breath as a bullet pierced his heart.

Ruth stared at the female special forces officer who fired the shot for some time before the Soviet woman glanced in her direction. The American woman partly saw the necklace adorning the neck of her Soviet counterpart, on which was attached a cerulean gem.

"This was the first time I met her, Alpha Group KGB Spetsnaz officer Artemiia Roman. Her codename, 'the Blue Sapphire'."

"Split!", Ruth's partner Steve said before both CIA agents vanished through the blackness of the Afghan mansion.

* * *

Ottawa, Canada, Monday December 3rd, 2035

"During the following days, The Soviet Army deployed the full might of their infantry and heavy machinery upon us. Coming from the north through the Soviet Republic of Tajikistan, the USSR deployed around 100,000 military personnel using ground and air corridors. Their force was mostly composed of tanks and other armored vehicles, aircraft and infantry soldiers."

"Hey Noémie, you want to go grab lunch?", the masculine voice of a work colleague brought her back to reality.

It was Javier, a handsome young man of Italian descent who worked in the same department as she did, but his expertise was in Middle Eastern studies. Although his knowledge would have been appreciated as she analyzed accounts of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, she did not want him to get the wrong idea.

He always invited her to lunch with him and occasionally offered her tickets to events such as concerts and theatrical plays. His penchant for her was obvious, but she just wasn't interested. In fact, it wasn't really his fault; she never found the advances of men very charming. She had never gone out with a member of the opposite gender, even though they frequently asked her to. Noémie's friends tell her that it's normal, that she's just unconsciously waiting for the right guy to come along.

"No thanks, I'm overloaded with work Javier, and I'm not really hungry", Noémie told her admirer casually, looking through her papers. "Thanks for thinking about me though!", she told him with an unnatural smile before waiting for him to leave. She then plunged back into Ruth's account of her Cold War experiences.

"The rebellion against the new Afghan government of Babrak Karmal was fierce, but the Soviets quickly quelled the uprisings and took control of the country's major urban areas. The rebels were thus reduced to urban warfare. I assisted the mujahideen in their holy war mainly by providing them with strategic information."

* * *

Outskirts of Mazar-i-Sharif, Balkh province, Afghanistan, Wednesday October 28th, 1981

Ruth was crouching over the desert ground near the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, surrounded by Tajik and Pashtun Afghan residents who had decided to participate in the war against the Soviet invaders. Armed with rifles, they stood over the young woman and listened to her instructions as she was talking to them in English and Persian. She drew formations on the sand with her finger, hoping everyone knew what their role would be in the upcoming urban operation.

"We need to take this city by any means possible", she stated, "because the Soviet army is using the city's airport to bomb you guys with their aircraft. We absolutely, absolutely need to win this one". She rose to her feet and looked at her Afghan allies. "You guys ready?"

She did not need to ask, for she saw nothing but determination in the eyes of the mujahideen. Seconds later, they infiltrated the city of Mazar-i-Sharif, joining elements of the rebel forces who were already clashing with Soviet occupants there.

Ruth drew out her handgun and sought cover behind building walls, cautiously advancing into the city while avoiding enemy fire. The town was already mired in bloodshed; Afghan individuals lay dead on the ground, and the sound of gunshots and tank shells being fired could be heard from further into the area.

The female CIA officer took a particular interest in this operation, since she heard the legendary KGB officer known as 'the Blue Sapphire' was in Mazar-i-Sharif. The Russian agent was purportedly assisting the Soviet Army in coordinating air raids by giving them information about mujahideen locations. Ruth had seen the woman's magical abilities firsthand a few times before, and wanted to gather more intelligence on this foe.

Ruth guessed that her nemesis would be in a government building with other army elements, but her guess had been wrong. Dumbfounded, she noticed a translucent blue trail of light cutting across the city in her direction, as if the Soviet woman had already noticed her presence. On high alert, Ruth stepped back and extended her arms, ready to fire her handgun.

"I've seen you many, many times before", a female voice echoed behind the American woman. Ruth turned around and was surprised to see the legendary 'Blue Sapphire' standing there casually, staring at her with arms crossed. The American woman pointed her gun at the KGB officer. "You're a magic user, so it's always easy for me to sense you. Every time you've seen me in the past, I have seen you too..."

"That did not make any sense to me. I've been seeing her on a weekly basis since the beginning of her operations on Afghan soil in 1979, and she had never taken the time to confront me until now, let alone try to kill me?"

Ruth, realizing her nemesis was not going to harm her yet, lowered her weapon. Maybe she could extract some vital information through sheer conversation.

"Why are you here, in Afghanistan?", Ruth asked Artemiia Roman with some apprehension, staring at the cerulean jewel featured prominently at the tip of the necklace surrounding the woman's delicate neck.

"I could ask you the same question", the Russian woman retorted with some amusement, speaking the English language albeit with a Russian accent.

"These people are fighting for their freedom from a foreign oppressor. It's my duty to help them regain control of their own destinies", Ruth confidently told her Soviet counterpart.

"Ah, you fight for freedom then", Artemiia said with noticeable scorn, staring into the eyes of the American woman and penetrating deeply into her soul. "And do you suppose we Soviets have come straight from the plane of Hell with the only intention of making the Afghan people suffer? I have ideals too, you know; what do you think of women's rights, for instance?"

"What about them?", Ruth wondered out loud.

"Women veiling their faces with burqas, forced marriage, men paying a sum of money to marry a woman without her having much say in the matter", Artemiia started enumerating all the things she believed to be wrong with the Islamic Afghan society of the early 1980s.

"Female illiteracy and lack of education, being denied the right to vote and participate in a country's affairs, being denied the right to work as a woman's competence would allow her...", the Russian woman continued. "Those are some of the things the People's Democratic Party of Afghanistan has moved in to end with their social reforms. Democracy has been a boon for this country; what exactly are you trying to replace it with?"

Ruth could not possibly answer that question. Although the PDPA's social reforms were unpopular and caused much social unrest, she never took time to ponder what the alternative would be.

"No, I'll tell you the reason you're here", Artemiia continued to chide her American counterpart. "You're here because of politics and power play. The Israeli Mossad, the Pakistani Inter-Services Intelligence and Saudi Arabia want control of the region, and the Americans will gladly give it to them, hoping this will also reduce Soviet influence in the Middle East. That is the only reason why you're here."

Ruth continued to stare at her enemy and listen to her rhetoric, knowing deep down that the Russian woman was right. The entire Cold War, seemingly an ideological struggle between two forces, was nothing more than two superpowers contending for more power.

"I will leave this place, do with it what you will", Artemiia finally said. "If you know what's good for you, however, you will leave this country and stop fighting against us", the Russian woman concluded before vanishing as quickly as she had appeared.

Ruth's objective to meet the KGB agent had been met, even though the encounter did not go as she had envisioned it would. For the remainder of the battle, she simply observed the mujahideen as they slowly but surely gained ground into the city.

"Within a week, the Soviets abandoned the city, unwilling to continue suffering any more casualties. The mujahideen celebrated their victory, but the festivities were short-lived. The Soviets, now accustomed to the idea of replacing the regular Afghan army as the main force fighting the rebels, turned to genocidal warfare to intimidate their enemies."

"Days after we managed to take Mazar-i-Sharif, the Soviets burned it to the ground. All of it, the city's infrastructure, its crops, everything. Using armored vehicles and aircraft, nothing could stand in their way. Civilian casualties were high, and even greater was the number of individuals who fled their homes."

Ruth stood in the midst of the destroyed city of Mazar-i-Sharif, looking at the collapsed buildings, the crippled roads, the flames consuming the vacant vehicles left on the city's premises and the opaque smoke mixing itself with the ambient air. She looked at the burnt corpses of innocent civilians laying on the ground, some of them children. A few corpses had their limbs torn apart by the same land mines as the ones installed by the mujahideen during their operation.

Was this the price of democracy, the ideal Artemiia was fighting for? Ruth knew deep inside her, however, that such a price had to be paid by anyone who chose to wage war, regardless of their reasons. By choosing to fight for their freedom, the Afghans had condemned themselves to this fate.

A Pashtun rebel walked up to the American woman, holding his rifle firmly with his hand in a manner that was not threatening.

"They really went overboard this time", the rebel told Ruth. Grimacing from anger, the American woman tackled the Afghan against the exterior wall of a nearby building, strangling his neck with her right hand.

"You told them we were coming, didn't you?!", she yelled at him furiously, knowing he betrayed them right before the operation.

"What are you talking about?", he said, pretending not to know what she was referring to.

"I know the Afghan KHAD paid you to talk!", she continued to scream at him frantically, staring at him with bitter eyes. "Even if 'Blue Sapphire' could sense my presence, there's no way she could have anticipated me coming here as efficiently as she did unless you talked!"

"This was not an isolated incident. Trustworthy intelligence sources reported that such genocidal attacks were used on numerous Afghan villages and cities on a daily basis. The intention of the Soviet army was to deny the mujahideen of safe havens and keep them low on resources. Water and food became scarce, and instead of nourishing our bodies with bread, we nourished our souls with sheer willpower."

* * *

Ottawa, Canada, Monday December 3rd, 2035

Noémie was driving home from work, but the traffic was especially slow today, mostly because of the abundant snowfall. Her car was stuck in the midst of the road, surrounded by a myriad of other vehicles like hers, manned by drivers anxious to get home to their families.

Fortunately, the young woman lived on her own, and no one depended on her to arrive home quickly. She could thus just kick back and relax in those situations, listening to music or else. Today, she brought Ruth's memoirs with her. Keeping an eye on the traffic, she delved back into the content of the letters.

"Before long, the mujahideen received supplies and armament from the United States, Saudi Arabia, the United Kingdom and the People's Republic of China, including surface-to-air missile launchers that could be used against Soviet aviation. This was in addition to the weapons stolen from the Soviets themselves during the course of the rebellion."

"One day in 1984, some Afghan rebels and I holed ourselves up in one of the mountains of the Hindu Kush near the Panjshir Valley with the intention of using those sophisticated weapons against Soviet heavy machinery and aircrafts..."

* * *

Secret rebel hideout, Afghanistan, Monday November 19th, 1984

Ruth was surrounded by her Afghan allies as they witnessed one of their own firing a Stinger anti-aircraft missile launcher against a Soviet MiG fighter plane, tearing it into pieces. The sound of the plane's destruction was lost in the cheers of the rebels as they savored their victory. The marksman quickly repositioned himself for another attack while the others ceased their commotion. The silence allowed the American woman to hear an unfamiliar noise in the distance.

"What's this?", she thought to herself before realizing the hideout had been compromised.

She quickly rose to her feet and ran away before hordes of KGB special forces officers swarmed into the rebel hiding place from the insides of the mountain, clashing with the armed mujahideen. Ruth's priority shifted to the protection of the information she possessed from her Soviet counterparts.

Although she ran as fast as she could, she distinctly heard someone catching up to her. Minutes later, Ruth stopped running and turned around to face the woman she knew was following her. In the midst of a vacant area in the mountain's interior, Ruth and Artemiia stood in front of each other and stared into the eyes of one another as two enemies would.

"I told you to leave and you didn't", the Russian woman told Ruth, hardly concealing her frustration. "You continuously pry into my affairs!", she continued, her skin and her necklace glowing with a cerulean hue. "This time I'll get rid of you for good!"

The Soviet agent jumped on Ruth, immobilizing the American woman on the floor. Just as the CIA agent crashed against the ground with the Russian woman laying on top of her, a rose fell from one of the interior pockets of her long red coat. Surprised, Artemiia noticed the flower and hesitated in pursuing her assault on Ruth.

"This is the Charm Organic, isn't it?", Artemiia asked Ruth while looking at the flower with wide eyes.

"How... do you know about it?", the American intelligence officer asked Artemiia.

Soon after saying those words, however, they both heard a crumbling sound nearby, accompanied by the uproar of Russian soldiers fighting against rebel forces. Before long, rocks fell from the ceiling to the ground, blocking the entrance to the area in which lied the two women. Knowing they had been isolated, Artemiia simply rose to her feet, walked away from Ruth and sat down near the rocky debris.

"We're stuck", Artemiia candidly told her enemy. "I might as well ask you a few questions about that flower until someone gets us out of here."

Ruth got up and remained on her feet, staring at her nemesis. The Russian woman caught the American officer's gaze and laughed with amusement.

"Do you hate us?", the Soviet officer asked her American counterpart. "You're entitled to that hatred, but as I told you before, I have ideals just like you do. People like you look down on their enemies just like society looks down on the mentally ill or gays and lesbians. I've been fighting in my own way for women's rights the second I found out about who I truly was, and I swear no stare has ever made me falter".

The American woman picked up her red flower from the ground. Impressed by the resilient nature of the young woman sitting in front of her, Ruth decided to leave her hatred aside and sit besides the Russian woman, a fellow human being.

"Where did you find that necklace?", Ruth simply asked her, her forearms resting on her knees and her eyes staring at the ground.

"I didn't find it, it found me", the Russian woman answered honestly while also looking at the ground in front of her. "It's a wonderful gift that comes across your way when you're ready, but you have to be willing to accept it when it does", she told Ruth, raising her eyes to look at the fellow female intelligence officer.

"Since then, I've used its magic mainly to delve into the souls of people I talk with. If their hands are stained, I reflect their crimes back to them, and their guilt makes them admit their offenses. I have been using this necklace to fight on the side of democracy and women's rights ever since the jewel found me. I have used my gift to look into your soul just now, but I did not find any evil there, only benevolence."

Ruth waited a few moments before raising her head to look into Artemiia's sky blue eyes.

"My rose found me the exact same way", Ruth whispered to Artemiia, her soft voice echoing through the isolated room. "And just like you, I can use its power to read the thoughts and feelings of my prey."

"Ever since I met you five years ago, I have sensed nothing but an earnest desire to help other women grow out of the bonds society shackles them with. We are kindred souls, you and I, and I know precisely who you are..."

The two women were lost in each other's eyes, conveying through unspoken words feelings they had unknowingly felt for each other throughout the past five years. In that precise instant, both women, once enemies, turned into companions who understood each other. In that precise moment, they both leaned toward each other and exchanged amorous vows with their lips.

"We were stuck in this rocky prison for days, but I have to admit those had been the best days of my life. As we spent time together, we increasingly understood one another and came to value each other as newly found treasures. We had no water, no nutrition and no guarantee that we were ever going to make it out of there alive. That did not matter; our mutual presence was the only thing we needed to sustain ourselves."

* * *

Ottawa, Canada, Monday December 3rd, 2035

Finally home, Noémie lost herself in her thoughts while taking a shower. Her bare body wet by the stream of water gushing out of the nozzle, she closed her eyes and leaned against one of the shower area's walls.

Had she been living a lie all this time?

She was simply amazed by Ruth's courage as she defied traditional social roles and confronted her own sexuality. She had finally found solace in the arms of a fellow human being who understood her completely.

Would Noémie ever show similar courage? Or would she be forced to live her life with some man that would not understand her, a man for whom she would not bear any passionate feelings?

* * *

"During the latter part of the 1980s, Soviet foreign policy had changed, and the Kremlin moved to end the war with the 1988 Geneva Accords. While I was relieved for the Afghan people, my heart ached. The end of the war signaled the end of the passionate love story I shared with Artemiia. I would no longer be able to see her in a clandestine manner during field operations. We would no longer be able to pretend to be enemies."

"The last time I saw Artemiia on Afghan soil was during Operation Typhoon, on the 23rd of January 1989. On their way out of Afghanistan, the Soviets attacked the mujahideen in order to secure their exit routes. The 'Blue Sapphire' did not partake in the operation and only observed from afar as she returned home with her fellow colleagues."

"I met her one last time on that snowy day, the only person who truly understood me. I fought back my tears, I could not say goodbye to her. With a smile, she told me I didn't have to. She promised me we would see each other again."

About Blue Sapphire:

Blue Sapphire is a short story centered around the theme of lesbianism. Some elements of the story highlight this theme, such as the main protagonist being named Ruth. Literary historian Jeannette Howard Foster includes the Book of Ruth from the Bible as an early example of lesbian literature, and so the story's main character was named after that ancient text. The same historian has noticed examples of deities in the Greek pantheon who defied conventional gender roles, such as the goddess Artemis after which the KGB antagonist, Artemiia, was named. The title of the short story itself, "Blue Sapphire", is reminiscent of the ancient poetess Sappho from the island of Lesbos.

While the main elements of the story take place during the Cold War, Noémie Rancy discovers Ruth's letters in 2035, while the War of East and West is raging across the European continent. The story thus takes place during Second Advent but is unrelated to its storyline, apart from the war being the main motivation for Noémie to look into reports from the Cold War era.

The main plot takes place during the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, and all elements related to that plot are real historical facts. The only fictional variable in the story is the involvement of Artemiia Roman, holder of the Justice Organic, and Ruth Evans, holder of the Charm Organic.

Artemiia is codenamed 'Blue Sapphire' because of the cerulean jewel adorning her necklace, and because of how her body glows with a blue color when she interrogates detainees. Her Transfer magic is of the Soul influence: in order to extract information from an individual whose soul has been stained with evil, she magically reflects the person's crimes back to him and mires him in guilt

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