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CyberWar
July 10th, 2015, 02:14 AM
I watch the puff of cigarette smoke rise in the chilling December air and shiver.

"Damn, it's cold..."

"Yeah...," Katz agrees, "It hasn't been this cold in years at this time."

Indeed, with all the fucked-up climate of late, I can't remember a single winter when a stable layer of snow would form before January in the past 10 years. Compared to the cold snow-rich winters of my childhood, there's hardly even anything left to be called winter these days, most of the winter months alternating between snowless frosts and thaws, with some periods of rain and intense blizzards mixed in between.

This winter is different in that it's much colder in early December than usual, temperatures being at minus 15 degrees here in Northwestern Poland, which means there's probably extra five degrees below zero back home. The cold has been steady for over a week now, and the persistent north-eastern wind doesn't make things any better, stirring up constant ground blizzard of fine-grained snow that stings on exposed skin like fire and makes even short trips a nightmare, waist-deep snow drifts packed hard and heavy as sand clogging the roads, especially now in the absence of civil authorities keeping the roads clear. We really miss our battalion's Bandvagn 206's, which could travel across just about anything.

The unexpected cold has halted the Russian advance somewhat as well. Despite being generally better equipped and trained for winter combat than any NATO forces save maybe for the Canadians and the Norwegians, the Ivans are having their own share of logistics problems - in addition to weather problems, their supply lines are being constantly pounded by NATO aviation, their vaunted air defenses seeming to do little to prevent that. That, of course, does little to alleviate our own supply issues, seeing how Ivans are returning the favour to us as well. We are critically-low on antifreeze-treated diesel fuel and winter lubricants, both for vehicles and for guns, and the existing supply has been erratic at best lately. For this reason, Beast has ordered a halt to all but the most necessary motorized operations, and we now go on patrols and recon runs the good old-fashioned way.

Travelling across a snow-blown landscape is a real pain even with skis. Fighting on a snow-blown landscape with skis strapped to your feet, however, is even worse. Try placing a machine gun even on packed snow and hit something, when the bipod and the barrel sinks deep down into the white after your first burst, your next one yielding a spectacular geyser of snow and vapor right before you that marks your position like a big fat target sign... Thankfully, the Swedish engineers who designed my Ksp58 took that into consideration when they modified the original Belgian design for use in the North - they included a special winter support, a simple metal grid to be clipped onto the bipod. But even with that in place, it's still a real pain. Whenever you have to hit the deck in a firefight, you plant face-first into the snow that seems hard enough to support you, only to have it crumble back to fine icy powder under you, making standing back up to move really problematic. When you have to pull out someone wounded, things become even worse by an order of magnitude, as you struggle to gain any traction at all. The snow is just crumbling to icy salt-grain-sized powder at the push of your feet, and if your injured companion happens to be a bulky fellow, you just find yourself wriggling underneath him like a squashed cockroach while he keeps screaming and soaking your back with his blood as the bullets whizz closer and closer to you both...

Fuck, I'd rather not remember that one instance...

In short, I'm really happy I attended the winter survival course before the war. I remember a delegation of Yanks and other allies joining the fun, when we had to dive in a hole cut in the ice. The instructors would ask us our names, ranks and units, and optional silly questions before letting us leave the water. The Canadians and other Northern folk didn't have much trouble, but for Black, Latino and other breeds of Yanks from the southern parts of the States, the task proved to be quite an ordeal.

"Do you know where you are right now, soldier?" I remember Sarge interrogating one poor Puerto Rican bastard who looked like about turning into an ice cube.

"I... I... I'm... in the... garrison training... grounds!" the lad would stutter, his olive skin having assumed a tinge of white.

"Negative, soldier! You are in the water!" Sarge would laugh.

---

"Alright, the break is over! Move out!" Kraut commands, pulling his winter hat tighter on his ears. I wonder how he's not freezing his head off in that stahlhelm of his. The lot of us including myself have taken to wearing ushankas picked off of dead Russians despite this being against the regs. Even though we have on several occasions almost been whacked by friendly troops who have mistaken us for a Russian patrol because of them, by now even the Yanks have picked up the habit somewhat.

The artillery barrage in the distance has stopped. I'm not sure what kind of artillery was doing the pounding, but judging by the blasts that shook the frost off the trees several clicks away just now, I'm absolutely positive I don't really want to find out. If it weren't for the absence of any aircraft within earshot, we'd think the Ivans were dropping 1000-pounders on the allied positions that are supposed to be somewhere nearby.

"Any idea whom the Russkies were pounding over there?" I ask Kraut, stepping in his ski trails as we set out.

"Yanks, probably," he replies, "The whole left flank is covered by Yanks for the time being."

"Maybe we should go check on them," Archer proposes, "They might just use a few extra hands after a barrage like that. The Ivans don't usually waste shells unless they intend to pay a visit afterwards."

"Our job is to patrol our sector, not to go look for adventures in others," Kraut retorts, "The Yanks can handle themselves well enough."

"Yeah, right," Fender remarks venomously, "If they keep handling themselves like they have up until now, we're all pretty fucked, don't you think?!"

"We've got our orders, and playing heroes isn't exactly going to un-fuck the current situation. Now cut the chatter and keep your eyes and ears open - there could be a whole Russian armored battalion hiding in this damn blizzard a hundred paces away for all we know!" Kraut dismisses him.

We keep moving in silence, only the howling of the wind and distant battle-noise disrupting the otherwise unnerving silence of the snowy fields.

I pull my trophy ushanka lower on my ears and tighten the hood of my camo overcoat over it. If we dropped to the ground in these overcoats right now, an enemy patrol could walk by at 15 paces and not notice us in this weather. Then again, we would just as likely not notice a patrol of theirs either - which is a rather disturbing thought.

We carefully approach the top of the hill ahead - just enough to see what's over the top. Kraut gestures our column to halt, while Katz and Fender ski some hundred paces forwards to see what's ahead.

"According to the route, we should be here right now, but I don't see this hill in the map... Damn, everything looks so much the same in this bloody blizzard!" he grumbles, re-examining the map and trying to get our bearings straight.

Moments later, Katz and Fender return.

"Anything?"

"There's a river some 300 metres from here, and there seems to be an open field across," Katz speaks, "And that's already Ivan ground."

"Well, looks like we've strayed off the course a bit then. We go left, to those woods by the river here," Kraut points in the map.

"Isn't that already outside our sector, near where those Yanks were being shelled just now?" I ask.

"It is. But better to take a detour than to stray across an open field when there could be a tank or a bunch of infantry waiting just across that river," Kraut explains, "Technically there shouldn't be any, but as we all know, better safe than sorry."

---

"Last I heard, the Ivans took that town 15 clicks up-river yesterday. Stormed the place and pushed the Canucks holding it straight out," Fender speaks as we ski towards the river, "They seized the bridge and set down to wait for reinforcements. Thankfully the Yanks dropped a couple 2000-pounders on the bridge before their armor arrived. Consequently the lot of them bastards got drunk and started raping and killing whatever civvies where left behind in their side of the town out of anger. The Canucks I talked to back at the mess today said the shittiest part of it all was sitting on the other side of the river, listening to the screams, unable to do shit about it with the bridge being out."

"Doesn't surprise me," I remark, "The last time they paid a visit to these parts, they made it their business to fuck 2 million German women, all the nations between here and Russia not included."

"Makes me wonder how bad it is home right now..." Katz sighs.

"I don't know about you, guys, but if it ever comes to that, I'm gonna blow myself up with a frag rather than be taken alive by those degenerates," Sparks states, tapping on a pocket of her vest holding a frag grenade, "I'd much rather die and take as many of them with me as I can than become a plaything for a platoon or company of lowlife drunks. And if I can't, I want you guys to promise me that you will finish me rather than let it happen!"

"If it comes to that, we'll most likely no longer be around to help you," I state grimly, not sure if Sparks will understand my meaning. I've noticed she is often slighted easily, as our past adventures have often attested.

She gives me a nod of understanding. If she will ever have to kill herself to avoid capture and rape, that means us, the menfolk of the squad, will all already be dead trying to protect her from such fate.

"Alright, we're here," I hear Kraut announce, "Spread out, I want at least 15 paces between each of you, watch your step and be ready for anything! That the stream here is slow and there should be a decent layer of ice by now don't mean you should charge across the river like Rommel across Sahara!"

The ice seems stable and strong enough to cross the river. I notice it's unusually clear for a moving water, the ice being almost transparent where the wind has swept the snow away, some 15 centimetres thick by the looks of it. Almost thick enough to safely drive a car over it. I try to avoid these areas, not so much because they look too much like open water than because it's hard to maintain footing with skis in these places, each foot skidding in it's own direction.

"Those Yank positions should be right behind those trees," Kraut points across the river.

"I hope they won't mistake us for Ivans trying to outflank them," Hog states.

"They won't. Beast contacted them before we set out and informed their command we'd be operating in this area."

We cross the river without much incident, save for a few falls on open ice accompanied by quietly-muttered expletives. The wind has stopped somewhat, leaving the woods ahead eerily silent, shrouded in a haze. It is now even more quiet than before, the snow fields around muffling any and all sounds even more. Frankly, it's much too quiet for comfort. The only notable sound is the calling of crows somewhere nearby ahead.

"We should be near their positions by now," Kraut mutters, checking the map.

"I gotta take a piss," I inform him, skiing off to the side. My bladder has been protesting for the last half-hour already.

I have barely made 20 paces when my left ski snags on a felled tree, hiding deviously in the thick snow, and I fall, planting face-first in something warm, soft and sticky that reeks of blood and excrement.

---

"FUUUUUUUCK!!!" a scream involuntarily escapes my mouth as I instinctively push and kick myself away as far as possible, having realized I've just stuck my face in the exposed innards of a corpse. Gag reflex takes over and my modest breakfast leaves my stomach violently even as I struggle to wipe my face clean of the foul bodily fluids liberally covering it.

"Keep it down, goddammit!" Kraut hisses at me even as his face pales upon seeing what my fall has exposed.

As I stand up, cursing and spitting, rubbing my face and hands fiercely with snow to get them clean, I only now see the person whose heart I just literally touched along with at least a dozen of other organs. It is a big man, originally at least my height. He lies there stark naked, partly buried in the snow, missing his head and an arm, his torso ripped open from throat to navel, every bit of his guts sticking out. The wind has swept some fresh snow over him, hiding the bloodstains below, which is probably why I didn't notice him earlier. The tree that I tripped over ends in a splintered stump further away, also concealed partly by the snow.

As we look around, only now do we witness the carnage ahead of us. Splintered tree-stumps stripped of their bark, frighteningly-large shellholes gaping black amidst the white of snow like maws of some infernal beasts, and many bodies, or what's left of them. I see arms and legs lying here and there, indistinguishable lumps of human flesh and stretches of intestines elsewhere, a head of a Black man sticking out of the snow, it's jaw and one eye taken off by shrapnel, the headless dismembered torso of a woman, her ethnicity indeterminable, her skin licked purplish-red by the flames of explosion. There are ragged tents and camo nets, shattered crates, broken and bent weapons, shreds of cloth and whatnot everywhere. There's a flock of crows feeding in this blastered place of horror, lazily taking off only as we approach them.

"Looks like we know what the Ivans were shelling now..." Kraut remarks quietly.

I notice spots of fresh blood on Katz's shoulder and look upward. Sparks looks up too.

"Oh, God..." she mutters, looking away sickened while my gaze is fixed up, partly by horror and partly by morbid interest.

There's a body dangling in the tree below which Katz stood just moments ago. More like the upper half of it, actually, it's innards dangling down and slowly dripping blood. It's a man, his face frozen in a grin of agony terrible beyond description. He too is naked, and as much as can be gleaned from five metres below, seems to sport elaborate tattoos on his arms and chest.

"Look, there's more!" Fender exclaims, pointing in the trees surrounding us. And indeed there are, at least a dozen men and women in various levels of dismemberment and mutilation just dangling there from the branches, most being stark naked. In particular I notice a swarthy woman, perhaps Mexican or Puerto Rican by birth, hanging between the branches with her arms outstretched like some perverted obscene parody of Crucifixion. Were she alive, not missing half of her face and lacking the huge gash exposing her ribs on the right side, I'd probably find her quite attractive. I also spot a guy, seemingly unmolested by explosion and shrapnel, dangling higher than others further away, his foot stuck between branches twisted in an unnatural position. A crow is busy pulling at his pecker, which would look quite amusing, were it not for the general situation.

"Why are they all naked?" Sparks asks.

"Heavy mortars," Kraut explains, "Their shells pack such a blast that it will tear the clothes clean off your back, and throw what's left of you to a good height. M240's or Tyulpans, I'd guess."

"How do you tell?" I ask.

"I used to serve in an artillery outfit back in the Soviet days. They had a few of them around. Those bitches lob 130 kilos of high explosives ten clicks away. Not very accurate, at least with the standard shells, but when they do hit, they are really gonna ruin your day, as you can see here..."

"The bodies are still warm, and the dirt is still soft," Hog notes, "This must definitely be the place they were shelling that half-hour ago."

We spread out and search for survivors. But there are none to be found, only more and more of visceral carnage and horror. The entire Yank encampment and their positions further ahead has literally been flattened and torn asunder. From the amount of bodies, at least a company must have perished here, and from the amount of shellholes, at least two artillery batteries must have targeted the place with well-directed fire. Kraut examines the shellholes and deduces there must have been a battery of slow-firing heavy mortars that did most of the damage, and another one of smaller quick-firing mortars, 82 or 120-millimeter, to keep the Yanks pinned down. I stumble upon an arm sticking out of the dirt, still gripping a rifle, the poor wanker below evidently being buried alive by the bombardment in his own foxhole, only managing to liberate that one arm and his weapon before suffocating. I dare not imagine the horror his last moments must have been, slowly choking on cold dirt.

"It used to happen quite a lot in the previous World Wars, especially the first one," Kraut states, "I remember reading about this excavation team digging in the battlefields around Verdun. They would on several occasions stumble upon bodies buried vertically as they stood, something unseen in archaeology before."

I already know. I've read the article myself.

The wind is picking up again, and with it, the distant rumble of engines and the faint smell of diesel fumes arrives from the Russian side.

"Looks like we better leave, the Ivans are coming," Kraut says, "Squad, assemble on me and move out! Hopefully the wind will cover our tracks!"

"About time!" Hog comments, "If I see another corpse today, it's gonna be another corpse too many!"

---

Contrary to the normal protocol, we go back the same way we came. An entire area of the front is left undefended, something which we must immediately report, and if the Russians are rolling in with heavy armor, they won't be able to follow us across the river anyway for now. Also, the blizzard is picking up again, covering our tracks like Kraut has predicted.

The carnage witnessed in the American positions has left us somewhat demoralized. I constantly keep thinking what a hell must the battlefields of the Great War have been, men not being able to leave like us now, being stuck in muddy trenches for weeks and months in a row, constantly shelled by heavy artillery, with only lice, rotting corpses and corpse-eating rats for company.

"Good thing we don't usually stick around in any one place for long like these poor suckers did..." Fender remarks.

"No shit..." I respond, when Katz who is skiing across a patch of open ice ahead suddenly jumps and falls.

"Sweet motherfucking Jesus, there's bodies under the ice!" he curses, pointing at the ice patch.

I look down and meet the frozen blank gaze of a young woman. Her expression looks peaceful, her face and lips coloured bluish-white by cold death. Her mouth is slightly agape, revealing rows of unblemished teeth. Her long blonde hair is flowing freely in the stream below like seaweed. Her only garment seems to be a nightgown, flowing around her body like angel wings, her beautiful, peaceful face indeed creating the impression of a dead angel. Indeed, even in death is she eerily beautiful. By the looks, I'd give her no more than 25.

I stare mesmerized at her through the clear ice, when the stream bumps her against the ice, turning her sideways and revealing a hideous pink-edged hole in her left temple, apparently a massive exit wound, judging by how the skull bone has been bent outwards.

"There's more!" Fender shouts, pointing further upstream.

And indeed, there's a whole parade of the dead taking place just beneath our feet. There are men, mostly teenage boys and seniors, but mostly women and children, and not all of them look as peaceful as the said girl whose remains drift out of sight under the snow covering her watery final resting place from our prying eyes. Most have expressions of fear, horror or agony frozen on their faces, all bear gunshot and stab wounds of various severity, and quite a few have other signs of abuse on them.

"Godless bastards..." I hear Sparks almost whimper, and notice a baby drifting alongside a woman that could have been it's mother.

"Looks like the Canadians weren't shitting me..." Fender quietly remarks.

"Let's keep moving," Kraut instructs us, "We gotta report this to the brass too. There's long been talk about Ivans committing war crimes here, and if this ain't a war crime, the I don't know what is."

"Keep moving? You don't have to tell me that twice..." I say.

---

As we leave the river behind us, I begin to wonder how many crates of liquor will be necessary to push the things I've seen today to the very darkest ass-end corner of my memory, and whether liquor will help at all. Nobody is talking anymore.

I look at the guys and realize they are all thinking the same thing.

This is going to be a very long winter...

AtleanWordsmith
July 10th, 2015, 04:58 AM
You do an amazing job setting up a scene, CyberWar. Try to avoid the repetitive use of words, such as here:

"I stare mesmerized at her through the clear ice, when the stream bumps her against the ice, turning her sideways"

Since you've already established that the bodies are under the ice, you could change it to:

"I stare, mesmerized, until the flowing water under the ice spins her on her side"

Just little things.

Great read, looking forward to more.