First Mission

Entry Writchal 1
Tema: Alternate history, Kaderisasi, Soviet Union


“Ah, ballistics? Yes, I remembered that in school, fascinating subject, things go up, things go down!”

“Actually…” Actually, he’s not wrong.

It was a bright noon on a warm January, just before the clock ticks to thirteen, I was walking under the heavy rasputitsa with my squadmate, Burgdorf. The enveloping petrichor of the still wet grass lingers in the air, albeit there was not a single indication that it had rained previously.

We were dispatched on a scouting mission deep inside hostile territory. Now, sending green rookies who are practically still on their orientation period on a dangerous scouting mission deep into enemy territory might sound unwise, and it is, but I’ve been assigned to several of this scouting missoin for over a week now, and nothing ever happened. So the hours of walking to and fro between our objectives are more often than not filled with menial conversation, this time, we are discusing physics.

“So yeah, that’s why when the enemy is so far away, you should try aiming just a tad bit higher, because of-“

“Ballistics?”

“Yes, ballistics, and maybe a bit sideway, in case of heavy wind current.”

“I see, but didn’t the Germans used to have a pretty good weapon that could fire in a straight line? How do they do that?”

“The Germans? Ah, you must mean the 88…”

Even though I don’t really know the technical details of the 88, I gave my hypothesis on the weapon as best as I could to Burgdorf, and we ended up discussing about history instead. This level of carefreeness is, at first, just as shocking as the first day of harsh training when we were drafted into the army, but we humans have a tendency to adapt to our situation, the key word ‘adapt’ here could be quite… variative, in its connotation.

You see, I drowned myself in literary fiction, especially science fiction made by the likes of Lem, Asimov, Huxley, and Čapek to name a few. Burgdorf, meanwhile, was but a humble rural boy, born and raised in a collective farm, he spent most of his day tending to livestocks, feeding the cattle, cleaning manure, herding the sheeps, etc, etc. Amidst it all, he also like historical literature and is well versed when discussing said subject.

So we were never really the fighter type, and we quickly re-adapted ourselves with the level of carefreeness our mission has bestowed upon us.

The hours went by and we finally arrived at our objective, a seemingly uninteresting point in the map, and the sight we came across too is equally uninteresting, the weather is clear, so we, who were standing above an overlooking hills, saw that there was nothing but tall pine trees as far as the eye can see. No enemy in sights.

“Yep, as expected.” Burgdorff commented. “Our bombers must’ve done quite a number on them, eh?”

“Hm, maybe, some of them did flew over us several times before.” I said as I reached for a marker in my saddle bag, crossing the particular point that is our objective off the map and noting our discovery in the log.

“Well, that’s our mission done, lets rendezvous with our leader and head back.”

“Right, lets.”

We then proceed to head to our rendezvous point, as before, I converse quite a lot of time with Burgdorff to pass the time. Not merely because there was nothing else to do, I genuinely enjoyed talking with him. I never said it to him, but I was glad that he happened to be my squad mate.

Several minutes later, we met with the rest of the squad. There’s five of us in total including me and Burgdorf. Alenko, our squad leader, Smirnov, the medic, and Ayla, another girl in the squad besides me, and apparently, they both went to the same school before being drafted. How they three ended up in the same squad was beyond me, but they seemed pretty jubilant about it, so that’s a good thing, I guess.

“Good to see you back comrade!” Alenko said, patting me and Burgdorf in the shoulder with his two strong hands. “What did you see on your end?”

“Not much, no Pozhukhos[1] in sight, here’s our report.” I said, handing out my note and map to Alenko.

“I see, same on our end here.”

[1] Pozhuko (пожуко): Unofficial term coined by the soldier, short for Pozhevoe Ukho (пожевое ухо), meaning 'knife-eared'.

Our squad was tasked with reconnaissance mission on two objectives, deciding that we probably wont meet the pozhukos again this time, we agreed to split off in the middle of our trek towards the objective in order to complete our mission faster. A decision that was unanimously approved by the party.

“I wonder where the Pozhukos are, we’ve been looking for them for weeks.” Ayla said.

“Well, that’s another free ruble for our pocket.” Smirnov shrugs.

“Indeed! Good job either way, we did our duty, now let’s return to our base.” Alenko said, to which everybody nodded as a reply, and thus, we began our walk back to base.

The ground was wet and soggy most of the time, the squelching sound of mud accompanied us with the occasional crackling of dead leaves and branches throughout the journey. A common sight to be seen in our beloved Russia, it should be a familiar sight, if not for the rather… unorthodox fauna that could often now be seen everywhere, one of the glowing types.

A kind of dragonfly but with claws and luminescent tails could be seen buzzing around the forest, and yesterday, we spotted six-legged mammals that has the head of a moose but the body of a goat, that too has some sort of glowing fractal patterns that adorned its body. Some sort of rainbow coloured moss could also be seen growing on the bark of pine trees.

Ever since the event dubbed as ‘the great anomaly’, the face of our motherland has changed a great deal in just a single night. The world was never the same again, for the Earth that we were so familiar with to suddenly change into… whatever we found ourselves in. Where there was Germany, now there’s the nation of the pozhukos instead, the so called ‘Mandate of Alvenia’ where there was the Bering Sea, there’s now the ‘sea of desolation’ instead.  Our greatest scientists are absolutely baffled by the impossible phenomenon and still hasn’t found any definitive answer even to this day. Granted, it’s only been several months since the great anomaly happened, so there must be another more plausible, and scientific explanation.

And now, we somehow ended up at war with the Pozhukos. And that’s how I got drafted in, to fight for the motherland.

Though for all their claim and damnation on us, they haven’t done much to show for their words as our armies marched in their territory quite effortlessly. A quick war was on everyone’s mind, and the nation of the pozhukos would be seen as just yet another nation that would fall under the banner of our great ideology.

“Hey Mishka, where do you think the Pozhukos are?” Burgdorf said, dragging me back from my thoughts.

“I don’t know, dead and buried I hope.” I answered nonchalantly.

“Yes but, don’t you think it’s getting, uh… suspiciously easy?”

“What do you mean?”

“Like when the German first invaded us, they were very surprised on how easy it was at first, but you know how it ended.”

Burgdorf has got a point, reports from our men on the front didn’t give them too much credit, they said that the pozhukos are more akin to a middle-age kingdom, fighting with swords and bows. I’ve heard a lot of stories from our tankers recounting of their experience in the opening days of the wars, where they were met with arrows and how they made short work of them. Of course, they added a lot of mockery to go along with their tales.

But underestimating your enemy was never a good thing, both the French and the American lost the war in Vietnam fighting a numerically and technologically inferior enemy, and the narrative seemed to gradually fit ours. There’s just too much that we don’t know about our current situation.

The western power lost in Vietnam because the Vietcong didn’t actually stood alone, weapons from us and the Chinese streamed through their nation day by day clandestinely. Who’s to say the Pozhukos doesn’t have similar benefactors? Or that they do not have any ace in the hole at all? Some of our casualties so far, albeit minimum, includes some tanks, and even aircrafts, mig aircrafts! if the pozhukos are as backwards as we think, then how did they accomplish that? it’s been dismissed as merely technical or human error, but I digress.

There’s simply a lot that we don’t know about them.

“You remember our talk about the flak 88?” Burgdorf said.

“Uh, yes, some hours ago.”

“What if the Pozhukos has something similar to it? I mean, they knocked out an IS7!”

It was hard to dismiss that idea, I can’t help but to think of that. all the while our squad was drowning in complacency.

In front of us, Alenko and Ayla are walking side by side, holding hands. Apparently, they’re lovers, before being drafted. I was glad to see Ayla on my squad so that we have another girl, but upon finding out that the three of them came from the same school, I was afraid that I’d ended up being a third wheel instead, thank God for Burgdorf. The one that ended up being the third wheel is none other than Smirnov, who can be seen walking in silence just a bit behind the couple and in front of us, being unable to talk to either his lovey-dovey friends, or the strangers behind him. Though from what I’ve heard, Alenko is a pretty popular and well liked people around his circle of friends, so I guess Smirnov respected him too regardless.

I glanced to Burgdorf to see what he is up to now, not much, the tall farm boy has an affinity towards nature, it is understandable for him to find all the otherworldly flora and faunas to be quite fascinating, he was just sightseeing.

I poked at him with the tip of my SVT.

“Ow, what?”

What indeed.

I don’t know, I just felt a sudden urge to do that.

“Nothing, what do you think about Alenko and Ayla?” I said, gesturing my head towards the two lovebirds.

“Huh? Uhh, I don’t know, Alenko seems like a nice guy, no wonder Ayla is all over him.” He said, scratching his head. “Why do you ask?”

Why indeed.

I never found myself curious about somebody else, so asking Burgdorf’s opinion about Alenko and Ayla seemed out of character for me, I don’t know why, I couldn’t think of a better question to ask him…

“Uh, I don’t know, just… curious, I guess.” I answered, unable to think of anything else to say.

“Huh.”

And so we continued to walk in silence.

****

Several minutes later, we stumbled upon something that bewildered us.

A thin but long gorge has formed out of nowhere on the route between our objectives and our base, seemingly splitting the earth below us in two. the ‘walls’ of the gorge, for a lack of better term, were cleaved surgically clean with no visible roughness whatsoever, moreover, it was deep, very deep. Stretching down to what seemingly looked like an endless abyss.

That thing was definitely not here the moment we left the previous day, it just came out of nowhere. Question arose from each of our tongue, no answer came. So naturally, we look up to our leader for orders.

Bozhemoi!, I don’t know, how am I supposed to deal with… with this?!” Alenko shouted, understandably frustrated.

“Do you think it’s the Pozhuko’s doing?” Burgdorf commented, his words somehow conjured a feeling of uneasiness in me.

“Maybe… let me radio HQ..”

“Good idea.”

Alenko unpacked his bag and retrieved a set of radio equipment, he pressed a button and the machine came to life with a buzzing sound, after tuning it to the proper frequency, he started talking into the microphone.

“Hello, this is dragonfly-7 to Base, are you there?”

Static, no answer.

“Dragonfly-7 to base, do you copy?”

The same sound. Alenko tried dialing in left and right, the cacophonic sound of the radio could be heard high and low, attenuating differently for each set of frequency. He kept trying, but every time he talked into the microphone, all he would receive in return is nothing but a meaningless garbled transmission.

He curses.

“So now what?” Smirnov asked.

“I think we’re on our own, at least for now, something seemed to be interfering with our radio. That or…”

He stopped there, hoping that someone would finish it for him, none did. We dare not to speak of the worst scenario, even though the thought filled our minds.

“Nevertheless, we’ll have to do on our own… let’s circle around this gorge, it can’t possible stretch all that far.” Alenko said, since none of u has any better ideas, we obliged.

And so we walked.

And we walked.

And we walked.

And we walked…

With no end in sight, the gorge still separates us from the other side.

“Alenko, I don’t think it’s working.” Smirnov complains.

“Say, don’t you feel like the trees, and everything seemed the same?” Ayla said

“I thought so too.”

“Damnit! What is this?”

Alenko stopped without saying anything, and we followed in suit. Frantically looking around, trying to find a solution.

“I have an idea, why don’t we try making our own log bridge from one of these pine trees, we can try chopping them off.” Burgdorf said.

“Hmm, I don’t see a better alternative than that, any objection?”

Everyone shook their head.

“Very well then, grab your axe and start chopping.”

And we did just that. three tall pine trees fell one after another, and we formed a sort of pontoon bridge with its logs fixed together with some ropes, it looks sturdy enough, but just in case, we agreed that only one person should be crossing the bridge at any single given time.

“So who’s gonna cross first?” Burgdorf asked.

“I am the leader, I should cross first.” Alenko said.

“Wait, why don’t we send Smirnov or Burgdorf first?” Ayla suggest, Burgdorf said nothing, but Smirnov flat out refused, and the two argued.

“You damn cyka, always nosing all over Alenko, I bet you’ll even do what the pozhukho said to get into Alenko’s pants.”

“Why you!- go to hell and die!”

Ah, so they never liked each other that much in the first place. Me and Burgdorf, being the outsider among those three, looked at each other and shrugged. Before the argument got too heated, Alenko walked between the two and stopped their argument.

“Enough! I am the leader, if I do not cross first, how am I to expect you to follow my lead?”

“Right.” Smirnov nodded with satisfaction.

“But, but Alenko-“

“It’s alright, Dushka, I’ll be fine, you trust me don’t you?”

“I… yes, okay.”

And so it was Alenko, our leader, that was sent to walk across the bridge first. For security measure, we attached him with a rope in case the bridge collapse so that we could retrieve him safely.

He stepped on the bridge, the long pine logs wobbled a little as he did, but after some small steps or so, he retracted his hands and started walking normally. The expression of trepidation that was in our faces turned to relief upon this sight, and then Alenko reached the other side safely.

He turned back to look at us whilst untying the rope attached to him.

“See? It wasn’t too hard.”

Just as he said that I caught a glimpse of an object moving across my peripheral vision at such speed that I don’t get to see what it was, what I do get to see is the sight of Alenko slumping down, a loud thud could be heard as his body fell to the ground.

There was no immediate reaction from everyone, including Alenko himself, but it’s not long before we heard him groaning in pain and rolled to his stomach, crawling. And of course, the first one to react would be…

I looked at Ayla as she raised both her to press on her head, her mouth already agape but no words came out for a good while as her mind is still processing what had just happened.

“Enemy sniper!” Burgdorf shouted.

“Alenko! No!” She finally screamed in a higher pitch than usual. The ground where Alenko stood was covered in tall grass, but from what we can see, somebody must’ve shot him in his right leg.

“Smirnov! Do something!” The panic-stricken Ayla turned to Smirnov, who just now were zoning out, still trying to figure out what to do.

Her action brought him back to his senses, well, partially.

“Huh? Uh…”

Smirnov groggily looked between Ayla and Alenko,

“W-what do you want me to do?”

Ayla grabbed Smirnov by his uniform and shook him hard, screaming.

“Alenko got shot! Help him. Help him!”

 Something seemed to click on Smirnov, and he immediately sets off to save his friend.

“Alenko, hang in there, I’m coming!”

And off he goes.

But… something doesn’t feel right.

Smirnov stepped on the log bridge, the feeling of uneasiness grew steadily bigger and bigger as he progresses through the bridge, and then I saw Burgdorf started moving.

My hands instinctively tried to reach out to him to stop him from going, but I was too late, he already tailed right behind Smirnov.

My anxiety grows larger, but just as I realized it, suddenly Alenko shouted at them.

“I-Idiots! what are you doing?! Stay awa-“

Amidst the panicking voice of Ayla and the sight of our leader in pain, we have forgotten the most crucial thing. The fact that whatever downed our leader is still there, watching us…

The same fast-moving projectile appeared again, I saw it relatively better this time around, it looked like a green flash, akin to a tracer round but quite bigger. And it just scored a hit on Smirnov, in the head, just as he crossed the log bridge. Burgdorf stopped whilst he was still in the middle of the bridge.

“Burgdorf! No! Come back here!” I screamed, praying, hoping for him to just come back here, but he didn’t… he turned the rifle back towards the direction of the and started firing at the sniper.

“Burgdorf!” I screamed again, this time, he seemed to notice me.

“It’s okay Mishka! I’m applying Ballistics, this next shot I’ll get him!”

“Get back! Stay away! Run! Leave me!” Alenko screamed, in a vain attempt to turn his squad mates away from him.

The bolts flew towards him before he had a chance to fire again, the next thing I saw was his limp body falling into the gorge. I couldn’t believe my eyes, countless thoughts all crashed at once in my mind, I had just lost my friend, I knew that, but at the time, I was unable to accept that as a reality as time seemed to have slowed down in that particular moment. Was this really happening? what was I supposed to do now? Had I gotten myself into this mess, or had I found myself in this mess? Everything was fine just moments ago, we were talking about ballistics, physics, the Germans. All the strength had suddenly just left my legs, and I fell on my knees. Feeling helpless.

I slowly glanced at Ayla, stunned, her face seemed frozen in time with the shocked expression as before. But suddenly she started moving her body, awkwardly attempting stood up despite her visibly shaking.

“Go…” She spoke.

“What?”

“Save him…” She said again. “Save him!” she shouts.

When she said that, its not a lie to say that I was quite astonished. We were trapped in here with a sniper picking off on our number one by one, we have lost two men so far, both of which died in an attempt to save our wounded leader, her boyfriend, and now she’s standing besides me, asking me to do the same, after I watched a good friend of mine died, his body falling into the endless abyss, never to be seen again.

And she wanted me to do just that again, to save her boyfriend.

Suffice to say, I was quite astonished at her sheer audacity. I was in utter disbelief.

“W-what are you doing…” I said, managing to utter that few words seemed like an accomplishment now.

“We can do this, if we do this together, we can save him… go, stand up!” She said, grabbing me in my uniform tightly. “Stand up!” she shouts again as she started to shake me.

An ocean of feelings stirred up inside of me, vice among them are confusion, sadness, boiling anger, but the greatest of them all that drowned all the other feelings are fear.

I should be angry at how Ayla treated me, but at this time, I was too frozen with fear to give an appropriate response.

She was still shaking me, occasionally slapping my cheek as if to bring me back to my senses, but as she does that, I could see the other side of the gorge, I saw Smirnov’s headless body lay motionless amidst the tall grass, I saw Burgdorf’s rifle laying in the middle of the log bridge we made, but most importantly, I saw Alenko, still laying on the ground.

I could see him more clearly now, his legs are gone up to his upper knees, even if we managed to retrieve him back safely somehow, he still wouldn’t have made it out alive. I thought of that, but at that exact moment, even though our distance is quite far apart, I could tell that he’s looking at me in the eyes for a moment. Ayla’s incessant screaming had blended with the loud ringing in my head as I watched Alenko reach out for something on the ground just in front of him, a Tokarev pistol.

“No… what are you doing…” I said in whisper.

I then saw him lay on his back, and slowly moved his gun towards the back of her ears. He looked at me for one last time, her lips moved somewhat to say a word but I couldn’t hear what he said.

But if I had to guess, it would be ‘run.’

“Hey! Hey Mishka! I swear if you did not respond one more time, I will drag you out myse-“

Bang, a loud sound cuts off Ayla’s word.

She immediately turned back and let me go, I couldn’t exactly see her face, but there was no need for that. she let out a blood curdling scream calling out for Alenko’s name. I knew she’s about to do something reckless again, and somehow my body sprung to action, and I grabbed in the arm tightly just as she was about to run towards the bridge.

“What are you doing?! Let me go you bitch!”

Ayla was less than pleasurable to be around with after everything, but despite it all, I am not going to let another one of my squad mates dies, no, not today, I will not be left alone. I don’t want to be alone. Alenko voluntarily took his life in order to prevent us from going over there and saving him. So despite Ayla cursing me with all the foul words in the world, I will not let her die here.

She pushed me away and clenched her fist, swinging a hit towards me, I dodged and strikes her on the chin, knocking her out cold.

“Sorry, Ayla…”

I carried the unconscious Ayla on my arms and retreated back into the forest, leaving the tragic scene where three of my friends lost their lives behind me. I don’t know where all this strength came from, I was always the weakest during the drill, a frail girl, maybe the adrenaline rush, maybe the desperation, I don’t know. But I just keep running, and running, and running, and running…

****

“Have you heard the news? They killed Comrade Brezhnev!”

“The Pozhukos? Chert Vozniy! How do they do that?!”

“We’ve lost contact with an entire VDV battalion”

“I am sorry comrade officer, I can’t fix this, they’ve done something to the engine”

“They blew up a battleship!”

“Bozhemoi, how did it come down to this…”

I walked under the hazy sky overcast with thundering clouds, pressing my hands against my ears.

Soldiers talking among each other, shouts of orders, screams of pains, the roaring of engines, the cacophonic hustle and bustle of the base, something big seemed to be happening.

But I paid no heed to all these sounds, they are dwarfed by the deafening sound of ceaseless ringing on my ears, burrowing deep into my head and resulting in sleepless nights. So much so that it is hard to pay attention to where I was walking to. Soldiers bumped into me often, some curses, others ignored me, at one time it was so harsh that I fell on the ground.

It somehow made the ringing worse; sapping all the strength I had, I pressed harder and harder against my ears, yet the sound lingers.

It’s no use… it’s only gradually gotten worse each passing minutes.

Suddenly, a cold sensation came from my head, seemingly chilling me to my spine, and somehow, reducing the endless ringing. As I wondered what that was, dark dots starting to form on the ground, ticking one by one, I looked up to the sky and felt the cold touch of ticking water droplets on my face. Ah, it’s raining…

I stood up and continued walking, faring quite better than I had previously.

As I turned on an intersection, I spotted the figure of a woman, around my age, sitting down, hugging her knees, covered from the rain by the thin fabric of the tent behind her.

“Ayla?”

Ayla raised her head to look at me for a quick moment, before turning away shortly after.

“It’s you.”

I walked towards her. The rain got heavier, and the sound of thunder could be heard from a distance.

Ayla looked up to me, stricken with silence.

I maintained my stern look, looking as if I was passing down judgement upon her. 

The way she looked at me soften my face to a point of guilt for saying that to her. Sure, she might have caused the deaths of half of our squad, and it is true that in my mind that, before this, I blamed it all on her, but now, why am I feeling guilty? 

Objectively, she’s the one to blame for the death of Smirnov and Burgdorf, and to some extent, Alenko. But why am I feeling guilty?

I am not close with her, I don’t even like her, she’s always all over Alenko and never paid any attention to anyone else, but why am I feeling guilty?

I don’t understand.

As I tried to think harder, the ringing started to return. I frowned my brows and turned my back on her, walking away from the tent leaving her all alone amidst the rain.

I tread the base aimlessly, walking alone whilst bowing my head, pressing my hands yet again against it.  A cacophony of sound endlessly crashing in my head. Ringing ever so loudly.

Each laborious step little by little only made the sound louder, again.

“Get… out… of my… head…”

Yet again, I fell on my knees. The ringing was more severe this time, morphing into several other sound, all distorted beyond recognition.

The world started to spin, the ringing turned first into an unnaturally loud and unsynchronized sound of what seemed to be crickets, and then a reverberating, rumbling sound of… tank engines? And then… there were sirens, loud loud sirens.

I pressed even harder against my ears, grunting, screaming in agony.

“Get… out!”

Mishka? Mishka!”

And then… there’s the voice of someone calling out my name…?

“Mishka! What are you doing, get up!”

The ringing suddenly stopped, and I found Ayla shaking me.

“Ayla?”

“Mishka? You’re back! Good.”

“What… are you doing?” I asked, half aware of my surroundings.

“I should be asking you that question, don’t you hear the sirens? We are to evacuate this section of the base.” 

“Sirens?” 

As she said that, clarity began to return to my clouded mind, and I could hear everything again without the ringing. Sirens are blaring all throughout the base, soldiers could be seen scurrying away, running ahead of us.

“Ayla… why are you here?”

I asked, half scared of what answer she would give me. After our exchange just mere minutes ago, I thought I’ve severed any possible hope for reconciliation with her. And yet here she is, helping me out…

She didn’t answer, and grabbed my hand instead, helping me stand up.

“Let’s go.”

She started walking and dragged me along with her. Quite harshly, but… she helped me.

I don’t understand.

Several other soldiers, many of them of much bigger stature than both us and Ayla ran, many of them without caring much about their surroundings. Often bumping against me and Ayla. But I could feel her hand grabbing mine tighter and tighter.

Is she trying not to lose me over the crowds?

A bump from a running soldier shoved me aside, but her hand kept holding onto me. At that moment when I turned my head left, I saw… something.

It was something big and metallic, a row of vehicle unlike any others. In my curiosity, I let go of Ayla’s grip on my hand, and walked towards the small alley that separates all the commotion between the rows of said vehicle. Ayla screamed for my name, but I ignored her.

And when I got close enough, I got full view of said vehicles.

It has a lot of round wheels and it carried something of what appear to be a large, elongated tube on its back. There are rows and rows of said vehicle, it bore the symbol of our motherland.

“No way… Are those…”

I watched in horror at the realization of what these vehicles are… and what they’re about to do. They might’ve just been the very reason of why command ordered an evacuation of this base.

“Mishka! Where are you going? What are you doing!”

Ayla said, finally catching up with me, she grabbed my hand again, but soon realized the sight of the rows of behemoth arranged just in front of us.

“What are those… trucks? I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

As she said that, the thing that those ‘trucks’ carried in its back started to move, angling up slowly to a perfectly vertical position.

“What are they doing?” Ayla said again.

It is clear to me what order high command gave. It just shocked me that it has come down to this.


Penulis: Von Grenadus
Artist: Von Grenadus

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