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Giebelstadt Army Airfield
June 1st

The weapon was a Heckler & Koch USP .45 calibre with extended barrel and threaded sound suppressor. A standard magazine carried 15 rounds of 9mm shells and weighed barely a kilo. In her hand, it felt light, even though it was made from hardened and polished steel. In its way, it was a thing of beauty, a perfect engine of moving parts that consisted of an external hammer, firing pin and frame mounted lever.

Xenia Ivanov studied the weapon closely as she held in her palm, running her finger across gun metal black finish, wondering how this small thing could cause so much destruction in the wrong hands. Until the 1st of March, Xenia had never imagined she would ever need to learn how to use one. It seemed absurd. If anyone had suggested it to her, she would thought them mad and rightly so.

Thanks to his connections, Timm Keller had been able to gain them daily access to the Giebelstadt Army Base, once a US facility returned to the German government in the last two years. Less than 30 minutes away from his Eschau home, the place was one of many scattered across the country left over from World War II. Thanks to Germany's proximity to the snowline and its seasonal weather, only the major installations had been targeted by the Visitors during the March 1st attacks. Smaller installations such as this one, remained intact.

The training for her journey to the United States was progressing. While she was hardly ready to take on a battalion of shock troopers, she had progressed well enough in her hand to hand combat training to have committed the movements to memory. Xenia applied herself to these new lessons with same dedication as she had devoted her life to her sport. Thanks to the strict regimen of Olympic training, where routines were driven into her head relentlessly for competitive readiness, she retained information quickly and was able to commit to memory with surprising speed. By the time she approached the end of her first trimester, she had learned all she could from Keller in that regard.

Now Xenia was in the next phase of her education which did not require the mastery of a contact sport, though it was no less important.

When she first fired a gun, she had thought it would be no different from using the Visitor weapons she had used to escape Italy. However, conventional guns were a completely different animal from Visitor side arms with had little to no recoil whatsoever. These weapons did have recoil and Xenia learned from Keller the core principles of learning how to handle a pistol. It wasn't a simple matter of pulling the trigger as movies would have people believe. There was an art to it as demanding as any other.

Her first lesson had involved simply learning what was the optimum grip to use. In Xenia's case, the palm supported grip was her preference until the strength in her hand improved enough for her to attempt the one-hand version. Then there was learning how to aim. Good marksmen, Keller said didn't get lazy by simply aiming by sight placement. For accuracy, the front and rear sight had to align. He drilled this into her head constantly, particularly when the shots she fired were off by a fraction because she had aimed at her target aligning it in the sight.

And of course, you just didn't pull the trigger when you thought you had that alignment. Like any sport, breathing played an important part. The trigger was depressed after two normal breaths and then a pause ensuring steadiness when firing. Furthermore, trigger squeeze was closely coordinated with breathing and finally the standing position when actually firing the weapon

She thought this might have been overkill. Then again, it was this training that had permitted Lukas to get her safely out of Italy safely so she kerbed her distaste for the lessons and committed this too memory, like everything else Keller had taught her. As the baby inside her grew, Xenia underwent a metamorphosis of her own, evolving into a far different creature than the one who charmed the world as the Swan. Sometimes after she had retired to bed, leaving behind the sounds of Keller's happy family to their chatter, she'd stare at herself at the mirror and wondered who she was becoming.


******

Like every day since the first, Xenia found herself being drilled on quick firing training device at the base's gun range. For hours, Keller would instruct her, until she was comfortable with handling a pistol and capable of clustering her shots either dead centre or at the head. Keller favoured headshots, claiming that if you were going to shoot Visitors you'd better kill them. Besides, Visitors were most vulnerable to headshots and could do nothing to defend against them even if they were wearing helmets with face plates. That suited Xenia fine. In her opinion, the only good Visitor was a dead one and very little in between.

Part of the reason she learned as well as she did was because she had tapped into that fierce instinct to protect Lukas' child. Each time she pulled the trigger or was faced with a new lesson, she reminded herself she had to learn this because one day, her baby would need her to protect him from Visitors and Xenia had no intention of failing him like she had his father.

"Alright," Keller said after the day's lesson was done and he was standing next to her in the cubicle she had used to fire her rounds, "break it down."

Once again, instinct took hold and her hands were almost moving on its own accord, sheer repetition and practise no longer requiring her to think, just to do. Pressing the release button, she slid out the magazine and placed it hard against the table surface before lifting the gun to eye level to ensure the chamber was empty. Retracting the slide partially, she aligned the slide release lever axle with the disassembly notch and then pressed the release pin on the side of the thing. Each piece she removed, she placed on the table, side by side. Xenia pulled the slide release lever completely to the left and eased the slide forward, pulling it wards the front and out of the frame before doing the same to the return spring assembly beneath the barrel and finishing the job by pulling the barrel out of the slide.

"Good," he smiled with approval. "Now put it back together again."

"Slave driver," she retorted but picked up the first piece anyway and returned to work reconstructing the weapon.


21:13, April 23, 2011 (UTC)

Keller and his family lived in an old country house along a quite corner overlooking the Rhine. Although his children were grown up and had left home, the recent invasion had brought the family together and the household functioned in a state of playful chaos. The family didn't seem capable of speaking without shouting, breaking into arguments or generally getting into each other's hair but all of it was borne with affection and the house was almost always filled with laughter. It made Xenia doubly determined to find Daniel. Still Keller's wife Marta tried her level best to convince Xenia to return to Winterthur for a safer existence with Jonas and Ana.

"I have spoken to my friends in Bonn," Keller announced himself as Xenia stood on the back porch that evening, taking in the view of the Rhine in the distance, past the line of ash trees. The sky was bejewelled and showed no signs of motherships or alien invaders. Xenia wondered how many people could boast such a view these days. Hugging her arms against the evening chill, she sipped hot chocolate and shifted her gaze in his direction.

"What did they say?" Xenia asked.

"Travelling to the United States is not easy. I know you have money but not enough for a passenger flight across the North Atlantic." He stated.

"I'm going," she stated firmly, not about to be discouraged. "Even if I have to get there by boat." Her blue eyes fixed on his, showing her conviction.

"I suspected as much," Keller frowned, finding his attachment for this young woman growing even if her obstinacy was frustrating. Of course she had to be something exceptional if Lukas loved her so much. Her determination to learn these past six weeks had impressed him. Even though she was taking a step into a world far removed from her figure skating background, she was determined and the ferocity in which she applied herself to protecting her unborn child was as strong as any he had seen. It seemed burned into her that she had been unable to save Lukas and that failure drove her as if the Furies were lashing scorpion tails against her back.

"So I made a few inquiries." He added a moment later.

Xenia stared at him with a brow raised. "Inquiries?"

"Yes, the World Liberation Front needs a courier to travel to Quebec and Montreal to deliver some intelligence reports. With the Visitors superior technology, we can no longer guarantee that our transmissions won't be intercepted. I told my contacts that you'd be willing to make the journey. It will get you across the Atlantic anyway."

Xenia let out a sigh of gratitude, setting down the hot chocolate on the porch railing before crossing the space between them to envelope Keller in a grateful hug. "Thank you Timm." She whispered as he returned her embrace. "Thank you."

"Its a long journey from Montreal to San Francisco Xenia," he remarked, still holding her. "But I am certain once you arrive there, you'll find a way to reach your brother."

"I'll do my best," she smiled, pulling back and kissing him gently on the cheek. "Thank you Timm, I don't know what I would have done without your help."

"I think Xenia Karina Ivanov, you would have done very well anyway," he smiled at her affectionately. "You keep Lukas baby safe, ya?"

Xenia let her hand dropped to her rounding belly, "if its the last thing I do." She smiled. "If its the last thing I do.”

To be continued...

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