Chapter 68: The Mannerheim Line Welcomes You X
The woman sitting across him asked him a few other questions. Questions liked why he was here, was there someone else with him, was he a communist… Zhang Heng answered all her questions honestly. For the past few days, he did not just loiter in the forest. While traveling, he had been carefully planning how he could handle a situation like this if he ever got into one.
Hence, the woman could not fault him. Throughout the conversation, Zhang Heng managed to acquire some information about her as well. Her name was Maji, a surgeon. After the feminist movement, women’s status in society greatly improved. Despite all that, it was a rarity for a woman to become a surgeon in this era. After graduation, Maji had to leave her motherland for Switzerland, spending some time there before moving back to Finland to work in a hospital.
When the war broke out, she did not leave Finland, instead, choosing to stay behind as a volunteer. She was the only doctor for the entire base camp. And the man with the mustache, Ah Ji, was the second lieutenant in this camp. His job was to command the guerilla troops.
As she was finished with her questioning, Maji squinted and stared hard at Zhang Heng.
“I know what you want now. However, I can’t make the decision right now. Go back to where you come from. I will relay everything that you told me to Ah Ji.”
“How is she doing?” asked Zhang Heng before leaving the cottage.
“About her… real lucky she was.. brought back in the nick of time. The surgery was a huge success. I have given her a good few pints of blood. Two days ago, we received a batch of anti-inflammatories from Switzerland. She should be fine. I think she should regain consciousness by tomorrow morning,” Maji replied while staring blankly.
Zhang Heng could sense that her mind was elsewhere when she answered his question. She might have been thinking about personal business or about the guerillas. Whatever it was, he knew that this was not the right time to ask. Simply nodding his head, he headed back to the storeroom.
This time, he waited for a long time before someone knocked at his door. When dawn had broken, a guerilla fighter came into the storeroom and delivered the first meal of the day. His breakfast included a bowl of venison soup, half a loaf of bread, and blueberry jam.
The food they served here was way better than the Soviet rations he was forced to live on. This was the advantage of fighting as Finland’s warriors. Though the guerillas had to continually hide deep in the mountains, they would constantly receive supplies from the villages nearby them. These villagers were unyielding, often informing them of the Soviet’s positions in the forest.
For the past few days, Zhang Heng had been hiding here and there. It had been a long time since he had a proper meal. As he had done everything he was capable of, it was useless to worry about things he couldn’t control. He might as well sit down and enjoy the great food in front of him.
It wasn’t until the afternoon before Maji visited again.
“I’m really sorry we can’t send you to the back of the battle line. This is a pivotal moment for the war right now. We don’t have enough people to escort you to the back of the line.”
“Just point me in the right direction and give me some supplies. I think I can travel there by myself.”
Maji simply smiled.
It then dawned on Zhang Heng, as he finally knew the reason behind it.
“Your identity is suspicious and we don’t even know where you come from. Though we can’t fault anything that you’ve told us, it is basically impossible for us to verify your information as well. Besides, now you know where the guerilla base came is, there’s no way that we will let you go just like that,” said the doctor.
Zhang Heng was speechless.
“Ah Ji is the kind of person that dislikes trouble and it might not be fair to you. Since we have no way to rule out that you are not a Soviet spy, killing you would be the easiest solution for us. There are dead bodies everywhere around here. All we need to do is kill you and toss your body at an obscure spot on the battlefield. No one would ever know that we were the ones who killed you!”
Maji then paused her speech, seeming as if she was hoping to see fear ooze out from Zhang Heng’s face. Unfortunately, the way he acted left her in disappointment. He knew that if they wanted to kill him, they would not have sent the doctor all the way here and spend all this time talking to him. It was totally pointless for a bunch of mercenaries to put on such an elaborate show.
“Good news is, the sniper that you rescued is returning the favor. From the first day I’ve known her until now, I have never seen her talk so much in one day! Since she can vouch for you, Ah Ji is willing to give you an opportunity to prove if you are a friend or an enemy of Finland.”
“Well. What do you mean by that?”
“Congratulations! You’ve passed the test and are one of us now. That female sniper is lacking a partner. Both of you will go on a mission together once she has fully recovered!”
Zhang Heng realized that this was the best offer he could get for now. Though a lot different from what he expected, he knew that he had no right to reject the offer. Rejecting the proposal would mean certain death for him.
This could be either a good or bad change to Zhang Heng’s current situation. The good, was that he could take his mind off the supply problem since the logistics from the guerilla base camp would have that covered. He also had a powerful partner with him right now, where Zhang Heng had witnessed first hand the exceptional marksmanship of the sniper. He would never need to worry that she would miss her target.
Then there was the bad part. Zhang Heng was now forced into a war he never intended to fight. He had been switched from an observer to a solider. Everything he would face from now on was going to be a risk to his life. He had never received any military training before and was very sure that the man with mustache knew all about it. Despite knowing the boy couldn’t fight, he had put forward such a proposal.
“I have not shot out of a firearm before. Can you at least allow me to get some training first?”
“Of course! That is a perfectly reasonable request. Before that kid recovers, you can do whatever you want as long as you don’t leave this place.”
Maji was shocked to see Zhang Heng acting so calmly, despite being thrown around and coerced into a war. She suddenly realized that she could not read this young man. His level of maturity did not match his current age at all. It was rare for a such a young man to maintain his composure in the situation he was forced into. Zhang Heng had managed to pique her interest.
“What kind of weapon do you wish to use? M28 machine gun? Suomi KP submachine gun? Hmm… that one might be hard for you to get your hands on. We also have the Degtyaryov machine gun that we confiscated from the Soviets in our armory…”
“If possible, I want to train on a machine gun and a handgun first.”
Zhang Heng would prioritize protecting himself over anything else. Though machine guns and submachine guns were really powerful, they were also very, very loud. That meant the enemy would instantly pinpoint the shooter’s position. It was best for him not to attract the attention of the enemies. Kill counts were pointless to him. He already knew how this war would end.
“Shooting aside, I think you should train your snowboarding skills as well. The snow is thick here. It would be more effective for you to slide around with a snowboard rather than walking your way through the ice. It might even come in handy one day, saving your life and all that,” said Maji while lighting up a fag.
For once, a practical suggestion. The snowboard was the signature item of the Finnish guerilla forces, allowing them to move around freely at a ridiculous speed. They were the infamous ghosts of the war, whizzing their invisible way through the darkness. They were legends, never to be surrounded by their enemies.