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View Full Version : A Bath to Die For [mature content]



CyberWar
June 13th, 2019, 04:49 PM
"GET DOWN, INCOMING!"

An ear-splitting blast knocks the bunch of us from our feet, debris raining from above clanging loudly on the metal over our heads. I hear metal splinters whizz past overhead.

"Fuckfuckfuckfuckfuuuck...!" I hear Fender whine behind me even as my ears ring from concussion.

"NOW MOVE! AND I MEAN - HAUL ASS!" Katz shouts from outside at the top of his lungs over the mayhem, his rifle beginning to rattle as he lays down suppressive fire for whatever good that does . I can only see his feet a few paces ahead of me. Two beams of light suddenly pierce the darkness of our puny shelter way too close to my face for comfort as two bullets pierce it. I feel a fragment of metal torn away by the bullet slice into my cheek, blood immediately beginning to trickle down and under my collar. I can hear bullets whizzing and ricochetting all about outside.

One would think incidents like this one only happen in action films. Action comedies, more specifically. You normally don't see four idiots running a gauntlet of sniper, machinegun and mortar fire hiding under a bathtub in a war drama film, unless it is intended for comic relief. And yet here we are, trying to steal a big-ass cast iron bathtub along with a bagful of soap and shampoo under the noses of an entire battalion of Russian motorized infantry and sneak it back to our own positions in the midst of a warzone. At the moment, I'm wondering whether this is the single most stupid idea I've ever signed up for in the absence of better ones. If it isn't, it's certainly among the top five in a very long list of stupid ideas that started with me and the lads enlisting a few years back, before the war.

Thankfully, cutting around the corner of a street gives us a brief respite, putting us out of direct line of sight. The shallow trench we've been running through meanders through the ruins and intersects the street, continuing behind another ruined city block. Probably courtesy of Bundeswehr or whoever else was defending this town before the Russians kicked them out, and were in turn kicked out themselves by the French unit we came to relieve. It didn't do them much good, evidently, but this trench is at least is helping us now with our misadventurous grand theft bathtub.

"Bloody hell, that was close..." Hog grumbles behind me, the three of us ducking an instant later as another mortar shell bursts against the pavement uncomfortably close. The sound that these 82-millimeter shells make is quite inimitable, somewhat resembling a metal bowl full of cutlery being dashed against ground by an invisible giant, the blast wave knocking one's breath out even from a good distance away.

"KEEP MOVING, LADS! THEY'RE ONTO US!" I hear Katz shout from somewhere ahead as he starts to shoot again. The supersonic cracks of passing bullets that begin to impact all around us along with the noise of gunfire and angry shouting in Russian coming from somewhere behind immediately illustrates that he has a point.

Even though I am focused on staying alive while carrying this goddamn bathtub back to our positions, it cannot help but cross my mind what an idiotic way to die this would be if a bullet or shell were to find its way inside this tub. The Russians would probably be laughing well into the next week, and our obituary would read: "Killed in action while heroically attempting to retrieve a bathtub from enemy territory." Hell, if Ivans came across us first, they'd probably even bury us inside that tub to save themselves the trouble of digging a grave.

Fortunately, the zig-zagging trench is about us behind cover soon afterwards, going behind the burnt-out hulk of a Leopard 2 tank stuck nose-first into a shellhole in the middle of the street. The three of us are panting in exhaustion, though enemy fire is all the motivation we need to keep us going. Just as we are about to get behind the wreck, a deafening clang shakes the tub and I feel Fender smash face-first into my back before he falls.

"FUUUUUCK!" he screams as he falls. We immediately drop the tub to help him. I see a large gash in the middle of the tub, a bullet having entered and bounced back out immediately afterwards. Hog snaps around to return fire, Katz joining him while I kneel down to help Fender.

"Can you hear me?! Where are you hit, buddy!?" I slap his cheek as he stares back at me with a dazed, terrified look, grasping frantically at his head.

"I... I... I'm okay... I think..." Fender mutters, his fingers finally having found the place of impact, a deep indentation at the top of his helmet, "I think I just pissed myself..."

"You're one lucky bastard, you know that?" I say, helping him up as he realizes that his only injury is a mild concussion and loss of pride over his wet breeches, "Come on, let's get the fuck outta here!"

"Guys," I hear Hog shout over the gunfire, "I think there's a tank coming our way!"

"A tank?! Aww, man...," Fender whines, "Why does it always have to be a fucking tank!"

"Jesus H. Christ, they must really want that bathtub bad!" I grumble upon hearing the familiar creaking of tracks that confirm Hog is right.


---

There are several reasons for us being in this mess. One originally lies thousands of clicks away, in the North Atlantic. With the war in Europe having ground to stalemate, action's been primarily going on in the air and sea for now. After losing two supercarriers in Norwegian Sea within just one week, the Yanks have grown more cautious with their efforts to keep Ivan blockaded in the Arctic Ocean. Consequently, more Russian subs have been able to sneak through the naval cordon at the GIUK Gap to harass the supply convoys crossing the Atlantic. Every time that happens, somebody somewhere isn't getting his much-needed ammunition, fuel, spare parts and other supplies including everyday stuff like MREs, razors or soap. Especially affected are the folks from NATO countries currently under Russian occupation, having nowhere to get supplies of their own from and being entirely dependent on the generosity of their allies. With our bigger allies already having trouble supplying their own forces as it is, and us being a minor second-rate foreign outfit of no real significance, our battalion is unfortunately near the bottom of the supply priority list. This has consequently led to an acute deficiency of various basic commodities in the unit, one of the most notable products being soap.

As a result, none of us has been able to wash ourselves or our uniforms for well over two weeks now, wet wipes from MRE packs being the closest thing to proper sanitation available. Drinking water is strictly rationed, and although there's a river nearby, going there to do laundry and take a quick dip is out of the question - the whole riverside is scattered with mines, every inch of the place between there and the town being pre-sighted by Russian snipers and mortars holding position in the far end of the ruined German town that we currently call home. The surrounding ruins have been picked clean of every rag and strip of paper to be used as asswipe. The lads joke about the Russians being able to pinpoint our positions by the smell alone when the wind is right, others adding that it just makes obvious that real men live here. I don't know whether womenfolk would agree with this particular indicator of manliness, the only women available to ask being from our own battalion. My guess is that they probably wouldn't mind much - in no small part because they smell hardly better than the men by now.

It is this malodorous condition of our womenfolk that is our main reason of being here, pinned down in a trench covering under a heavy bathtub and about to be crushed by a tank.

---

2 hours earlier

"... so there I was, wasted senseless and barely able to stand, when this chica literally pulls me inside her room, almost tears off my pants and starts to blow me. Meanwhile, all I can think is: "Please, stand up, don't embarass me now!" But she's already noticed and asks if something is wrong..."

"Asides from it being you, probably nothing..." I sting in jest as Fender is busy recounting his latest drunken sexual escapade with a Spanish Navy officer he hooked up with on our last leave. So far he has been firmly sticking to his self-imposed goal of banging at least one woman from every nation of Europe before the war is over.

"What rank was she?" Katz asks, leaning back as he lights up a smoke.

"Some navy-ish kind of lieutenant, I think... I dunno shit about those foreign Navy ranks," Fender states, "Any of you guys ever banged an officer?"

"Usually it's guys like us who end up banged by them," I retort with a chuckle, "In the ass with no lube."

"No, seriously!" he insists, "Well, I know for a fact you haven't, Fascist, you wouldn't know how to get pussy if it stood up, hit you with a lead pipe and screamed "Bang me!" in your face. What about you, mate?"

"Once," Katz answers, a slight smug grin adorning his usual calm, laid-back expression, "Hooked up with this First Lieutenant from the Air Force during the annual sports games. So I guess I outrank you in this respect."

"Do police officers count?" Hog interjects.

"No, dumbass! Cops and farm animals don't count!" Fender scolds him playfully as he examines the canteen cup over a small fire of hexamine tablets that we are sitting around. Seeing that the water is about to boil, he adds the necessary amount of coffee and sugar pooled together from our rations.

"Fuck you," Hog grumbles in response, "And no, I don't hook up with military types as a rule."

"Why not? Every guy - well, except maybe for Fascist here - has his needs, so does every girl, and pussy in camo is still pussy, right?"

"I'm already pulling a life in the military," Hog shrugs, "I don't need another reminder of it waiting at home, much less one that outranks me."

"Who said anything about home? I'm talking about casual sex, not starting a family," Fender points out, leaning forwards to mix the coffee brew.

"Don't want my dick balls deep inside a reminder of my work either," Hog grumbles, "You gonna muck around with that coffee all day or what? I'm freezin' my ass off already!"

"Hey, patience, alright!?" Fender pushes him back as he reaches out for the canteen cup, "Don't wanna muck this up, do you?"

"How could you possibly muck up this swill," Hog protests, "It ain't even real coffee!"

"Maybe, but it's the best that we've got, so might as well put some effort into making it just right," Fender explains, drawing a spoonful of the brew, blowing on it some to cool it down and having a taste, "A little more coffee..."

Katz hands him what's left of our collective coffee stash and Fender dumps the remainder in the canteen cup to boil some more.

"Most guys just drop it in hot water and drink it straight up once it's cool enough," he explains, "But you gotta boil it a little, that way it loses the artificial taste and becomes almost like the real thing."

We trust his word on that. Generally appreciative of the finer things in life, Fender is known to be particularly fond of coffee, drinking it whenever there's time to brew some and even carrying coffee in his canteen unless it's really hot outside. So wherever coffee is concerned, his word has the final authority among us.

"You ever tried that expensive shit-coffee," I feel tempted to ask, "You know, the one they make from beans picked out of jungle-cat shit?"

"Kopi Luwak, yes," he responds, "And it's palm civet, actually. Looks more like a marten or ferret than a cat. And yes, I've tried it once. Before the war there used to be this one cafe in Riga where you could get some, I think it went like 8 or 9 euros a cup."

"I don't know what's more disturbing - that you know the proper name of an animal solely because they make coffee out of its crap, or that you've actually tried coffee made from stuff that comes out of someone's ass..." Hog chuckles. Fender normally could hardly tell a sparrow from an ostrich, his zoological knowledge being largely limited to "edible" and "non-edible" distinction of animals. As for myself, I know what a palm civet is - it just didn't feel important to make the distinction.

"I think it wasn't actually that great. It was certainly a good coffee, with it's own peculiar taste..." Fender starts to describe, examining our own brewing coffee again.

"Taste of a palm-civet ass..." Hog interjects with a chuckle.

"I wouldn't know, I don't make a habit of tasting animal ass like you apparently do... As I said, it's got it's own distinct taste, but I think it's overrated. I think it's mostly a matter of marketing something exotic. Kind of like what the fashion was like before the war - people would pay ludicrous sums for slashed jeans with splotches of white paint. Hell, I could put on my old working jeans on for free and be stylish. And all that because someone somewhere has told people that it's cool and they want to pay big money for it."

"You got a favourite brand, then?" I ask.

"I ain't much about branding. There are good coffees and bad coffees, for sure, but it's all really in the head. Coffee is really about the context," Fender explains, "I've been drinking it longer than I care to remember, I've tried just about every brand that money can buy, and I'd probably want to die if I was deprived of it, but what really determines the taste of coffee is the setting, the mood. You know what is my favourite coffee ever?"

"What?"

"Remember last winter, when we were bugging the hell out of Poland, freezing our asses off in those damn blizzards, the front collapsing behind us and everything generally being FUBAR? On one of those few moments we had enough time to camp and cook something warm, I brewed some in a canteen cup just like this one. The coffee itself was complete crap, partly burnt, much worse than this one, and we didn't even have enough sugar to make it at least somewhat drinkable. But it is still my favourite coffee of all time - because it made me feel warm and alive like no other coffee has before or since."

"Amen to that," I and the guys agree. We all remember that occasion, having shared that coffee with Fender just like we are doing today. Though for me coffee does not command the special spiritual significance it does to Fender, I certainly get his meaning.

"Anyway, the swill's ready," Fender announces, "Get your cups over here!"

"Some shift of talk subjects," I remark as he pours some into mine, "First we talk about fucking officers, then switch to coffee."

"It's not like you were interested in the former," Fender chuckles, "Hell, if I didn't know you better, I'd think you're a fudge packer!"

I don't dignify that with a verbal response, my one-finger salute being sufficient to express my opinion on his statement.

"Seriously, Fascist, do you even like girls?" Katz joins the teasing session that has now shifted onto me.

"I think you know the answer to that," I respond with mild indignance as I sip my coffee.

"Groping Sparks' mom doesn't count," he grins.

"Wait, what...?" Fender almost spits out his coffee, "You groped Sparks' mom?!"

"It was an accident," I grin, "I was so wasted I didn't notice the difference between her and Christine until later."

"Our Christine? How the actual fuck did you even confuse Christine and Spark's mom?!" Fender gawks.

"A three-day afterparty from battalion anniversary at Katz's," I explain, "Too bad you weren't there. And please don't mention this around Sparks, I don't want a stray bullet find my back later."

My words are self-explanatory. Whenever we've gone to Katz's after a battalion anniversary, it has invariably ended up in a two or three-day drinking binge, where all sorts of curious things have happened.

"Alright, you've tried your luck with Christine and, apparently, Sparks' mom," Fender continues with the interrogation, chuckling at the thought, "Anyone else we know of? Beast, maybe? I know you two are on very friendly terms... Something naughty-naughty secretly going on there?"

"A guy who wouldn't get a hard-on for Beast would have to be more queer than Elton John himself," I retort, "And even if we did have a thing going, I'd say that's none of your fucking business!"

"Right... What about Katti? I've seen the way she looks at you sometimes," Fender questions on with his trademark foul-toothed grin spreading across his face, "I'm tellin' you, Fascist, she definitely has it for you!"

"Oh, shit!" Hog suddenly exclaims, and for a moment we assume he's spilled hot coffee on his lap, "It's Katti's birthday today!"

"Damn, you're right," Katz agrees after running through a mental list of our platoon members' birthdays, "We should get her a card and a gift!"

"I can arrange for a card easy enough," I volunteer, having some talent at drawing, "But what are we gonna get her for a gift?"

"Good question," Katz agrees, "It's gotta be something special."

---

We spend the next half-hour drinking our coffee and discussing various ideas of what that "something special" should be, discarding all of the suggestions as either impractical or too corny.

"How about a dartboard with the Russian president's face on it?" Hog proposes, reaching in his pants and scratching his balls for the third time in the past five minutes, "I saw a dartboard on the wall in those ruins we go to take a crap in."

"And where do you propose she's gonna play darts in the middle of a fucking warzone?" Katz protests, "Not to mention that we don't have a portrait of the Russian president. I'm sure Fascist here could rig one up, but we don't even have enough paper to wipe our asses with!"

"I'd need an example to copy from, too..." I add and grumble irately as Hog is about to scratch again, "Hog, could you quit scratching your nuts all the time?! Seriously, I might otherwise start to think you're jerking off on me!"

"I'm itching as hell down there!" he protests, "I haven't had a proper shower in two weeks!"

"None of us have," I argue, "Still you don't see us rubbing our nuts whenever we please!"

"THAT'S IT!" Fender suddenly exclaims with such a voice that I can almost picture the proverbial lightbulb lighting over his head in an illuminating eureka moment, "We'll get Katti her very own bath and soap!"

"And where do you imagine we'll get that, genius?" Katz argues.

"Remember that patrol in town we went on the other day?" Fender starts to explain enthusiastically, "I saw a bathtub in the ruins some hundred paces ahead of that busted Leopard tank. There's also what appears to have been a drug store just across the street, and I could swear I saw some bottles of shampoo still on the shelves there."

"And you only tell us this now?!" Hog grumbles angrily, resisting the temptation to scratch his nuts again.

"Because there's obviously a catch," Fender explains, "Namely, the Ivan's positions are right on the opposide side of the square next to that shop."

"So you propose we go and try to grab some shampoo and a fucking bathtub from right under Ivan's nose?" I am none too happy with the suggestion, although soap and shampoo does sound really tempting.

"Exactly. We'll be like Spanish Inquisition - nobody will expect us!" Fender advocates his scheme, "Because who would be so dumb as to even try! Besides us, of course..."

"Alright, let's entertain the thought that we do get everything and somehow manage to get away unseen," I speak, "But that still leaves us with an acute water shortage. Where would we even get enough water to fill a bath?"

Fender pauses to think. Battalion water stocks are strictly rationed, and the nearby river is inaccessible. We could, of course, take a truck and drive further to the rear, but the battalion fuel stocks are also low, so driving anything anywhere outside official jobs would require the official approval of the battalion commander. Besides, command has issued a general directive against using local water sources - this whole region is downwind from Strasbourg, with many areas still being hot with radioactive fallout ever since NATO glassed the whole right bank of the Rhine along the German-French border.

"There were intact radiators in some of those apartment buildings we checked out the other day," he says after a while, "With any luck, there should be enough water left there. Once we get that tub back, all we'd have to do is grab some buckets and a pipe wrench."

"It's worth a shot," Katz remarks.

"What, you mean you approve of this howling-mad suicide plan?!" I almost shout out.

"Well, it is Katti's birthday, and she's saved our hides on enough occasions for us to owe her something special," he argues. I can't object anything to that.

"Tell you what - first we go and grab that soap and shampoo, for Katti and for everyone else," I propose, "If the Russkies haven't seen us by then, we can also try grabbing that tub, but if there's even a single slug flying our way, we bug out. Katti getting her very own piece of soap is already gonna be more than anyone here has these days."

"Agreed," Fender nods, "But if we can, we bring along the tub as well."

"That leaves us with the little tiny issue of getting an excuse to go out in town," Katz states, finishing the last of his coffee, "We all know going AWOL even for a noble cause like this is tantamount to desertion, and if the Russians won't kill us, then Sarge certainly will."

"We can always try volunteering to go on patrol," Hog suggests.

This whole plan feels thoroughly crazy and stupid, but admittedly the better part of me is interested - if only because it beats sitting on our asses doing nothing until the next watch in the forward positions.

---

Sarge is understandably suspicious when the four of us show up to volunteer for patrol duty. Four of the company's most notorious slackers and layabouts suddenly volunteering for a job that few people ever volunteer must definitely seem fishy. Our argument that we are just bored to death and simply want to do something for a change convinces him, however, so he instructs to report for the next patrol in 30.

We gear up according to the mission, lightly - only rifles, body armor and basic gear. Lanky, the battalion armorer, is reluctant to hand out a few extra smoke grenades that we ask for at first. Hog, who is from Latgale like Lanky and used to live in the same county as him before the war, softens his heart by explaining him in their native Latgallian dialect that we have an idea of where to find some soap, and were he to indulge us, there could be some in it for him.

"Fine," Lanky finally relents, "But y'all bettah cum back wit sumfin'! Da cummandah's gonna 'ave me ass if 'e finds out I'z been givin' out maer smoke-bombs dan allow'd fer ya lot!"

Having geared up, we report to Sarge at the appointed time. Laying out a map of the town and surrounding region before us, he proceeds to brief us on our task.

"Your job is simple. Follow this here route to listening post Alpha. Then cut north along this here street. The Frogs were kind enough to leave us with some functional trenches, so just follow those up to listening post Bravo. Then use this street to get to LP Charlie, and be real damn careful when crossing the streets in this section, two guys from Infantry almost got whacked by a sniper there yesterday. Once there, you come back along this street. The whole thing should take you about an hour. I don't think I have to tell you not to stick your heads out high or to go anywhere off this path where it hasn't been checked for mines. As for approaching the listening posts, the challenge and password are a sum of 13. Any questions?"

"No, Sergeant!" we respond.

"Alright then, get to it! Hey, where do you think you're going with that?" Sarge suddenly notices the end of the bright-orange handle of a pipe wrench sticking out from under Fender's tactical vest.

"In case we get in close combat," Fender grins, prompting a suspiciously-raised eyebrow from Sarge.

"No heroics, you hear me! DO NOT engage unless engaged first. Ivan's been sitting calm for the past week, and I'd damn well like to keep it that way until we have enough backup to do otherwise," he warns us, "If I hear shooting, and the first shots that I hear don't come from Russian guns, you'll wish the Ivans get their hands on you before I do! And you all know I can tell the difference well."

"Roger that, Sergeant!" we almost wave him off. Sarge still seems suspicious, but let's us off without further ado, apparently being in no position to reject four eager volunteers for patrol duty.

---

Asides from the apartment building that we plan to drain of any remaining water, our other planned destinations are well off-route towards Russian positions, into the proverbial no-man's land. As soon as we're out of sight, Katz pulls out his own copy of the local map and we start plotting course for our escapade.

"I think our best bet is to go through this here block once we take our detour," he points at an area that seems to have been an apartment block before the war, "That area was checked for mines two days ago, so it should be relatively safe."

"What about everything in between?" I say, "The EOD team's only swept a small part of our side of the town, and the Ivan's probably shooting fresh mines over to our side every time they shell the place."

"I say we stick to the streets then, easier to see what's under feet that way," Hog proposes.

"There might be snipers watching from the far end," I object.

"The streets are all curved in this part of town, and a lot of the buildings are still standing," Katz points in the map, "They won't have a clear line of sight. If they do, that would put them inside our outer perimeter."

"No reason they couldn't be there already," I argue. A good part of me still thinks this is a very bad idea.

"Well, if they are, Recon's evidently been doing a piss-poor job," Katz shrugs, "But I wouldn't worry about the Russians here. According to intel, the guys on the other side of town are mostly conscripts. Hell, the lot of them are probably at least as keen on avoiding a fight if they can help it as we are."

"I haven't forgotten the last time you said that..." I grumble, "We owe Katti for that one as well."

"Well, that debt ain't gonna repay itself," my friend shrugs, "Let's go and check out those radiators first. Fascist, you're on point!"

---

Our trip to the derelict building and its heating radiators is somewhat uneventful. Much of the town has been reduced to rubble by repeated airstrikes and artillery bombardments, the streets being full of rubble that slow us down in many places. In places there's still a faint stench of decay emanating from the bodies buried under the ruins. We see improvised crosses erected here and there, marking the temporary resting places of warriors who held the line before us here. With the town having changed hands several times before our arrival, nobody has apparently had the time to recover and properly bury the fallen entombed underneath them. Other places reek of excrement - absent proper sanitation, the earlier inhabitants of this town of destruction have resorted to using basements and shellholes as latrines. The many brass casings intermixed with rubble in many places attest to the intensity of battles that have ravaged this town before. I notice a few finned tails of mortar shells lying about, shallow depressions gouged in the pavement marking their points of impact. Elsewhere there are larger shellholes left by artillery shells and aviation bombs. Many are at least partly filled with a foul-smelling mix of rainwater and raw sewage leaking from ruptured sewers.

The five-story building we are entering is still more or less intact as Fender had assessed before, even though there are gaping holes in the facade, some spanning multiple floors and exposing the contents of the house within. The place does seem reasonably intact beyond these damaged spots. I carefully approach the doorway. The wooden door that used to stand in it lies on the opposite side of the street, evidently carried there by the blast wave of a shell striking the house at some point. Carefully scanning the rubble under my feet, I don't see anything that would indicate danger, and gesture the lads that it's clear to approach. The Russians have a habit of scattering places like these with butterfly mines, nasty little things that are unlikely to kill you, but will blow your foot clean off. Thankfully they've mostly been using stocks produced during the Cold War, which only come in two colours of green and brown, being fairly easy to spot in an urban setting. That said, they are still a nuisance to be avoided. Fortunately there doesn't seem to be any nearby.

The three of us enter the building, Hog staying behind near the door to cover our rear. The wrecked flat opposing the door that we enter to check first seems to have belonged to a family of Muslim immigrants before the war, if framed calligraphic inscriptions in Arabic on the walls are anything to go by. Now the original inhabitants are long gone, dead or evacuated.

"Inna li-llahi wa-inna 'illayhi raji'un," I slowly piece together the text, using what little Arabic I've picked up during our earlier stay in Syria, "Truly we belong to God, and truly to Him shall we return."

"Whoever lived here before, their god didn't help in preserving their home much," Fender remarks. The place is a mess, scattered with ragged clothes, destroyed furniture, broken glass and chunks of the building itself. Every drawer and closet is open and empty, the flat evidently having been visited by looters after its original inhabitants left. I step on an overturned picture frame on the ground and lean down to pick it up. Wiping off the dust from the cracked glass, I see a happy family of five looking back at me. Both parents and the children are dressed in Western attire, only the husband's taqiyah cap and the wife's colourful headscarf betraying their religious beliefs. The man, I imagine, might have been an engineer or IT guy, his wife maybe a schoolteacher or nurse in the town's hospital. The boy and the two girls probably spoke fluent German and considered Germany their home.

"You hear that, guys?" Fender grins widely as he pulls the wrench from under his tactical vest and bangs on the heating pipe, the deep sound indicating it is full of fluid, "I think we're in business!"

He kneels down on the floor near the bottom of the nearby radiator where there's a valve and with some effort wrenches it open. A jet of brown rust-coloured water that bursts from it indicates success.

"Hell-yeah! There must be a whole ton of water still in the system," he comments, cranking the valve back shut.

"It looks like someone just took a shit in it," Katz objects, "You expect Katti to bathe in that?"

"Hey, it's still clean water! Hell, I wouldn't mind bathing in it myself at this point!" Fender defends his plan.

"No wonder you have a grin that only a mother could love," I have a laugh at his expense, "If your standards for dental hygiene are anywhere as low as for water quality."

"Says the guy constantly complaining about having castle ruins for teeth," he stings back, "You see all these rags lying about? We use them as filters! Might still be a little murky afterwards, but it's still gonna be a bath that Virgin-fucking-Mary herself wouldn't mind taking a dip in! Now that our water problem has been solved, let's get to business and bring back that tub and soap."

"Hey, why don't we just grab one of the tubs here in this building?" I suggest as it suddenly occurs to me.

"Did you even look inside the bathroom?" Fender retorts, "They're all cemented to the floor in here, it would take at least two hours to break it loose. Not to mention we'd have to carry it all the way on our patrol! That other tub I saw, however, is only bolted to the floor, and we'd only have to carry it less than half-way."

I can't find anything to object to that.

---

The safest way to make sure we don't get killed by our own on the way back is to make arrangements for our safe return. We approach where the listening post Bravo should be from the rear. According to the map, it is somewhere inside a three-story brick apartment building, much of its central part collapsed into a pile of rubble. The guys from Recon manning the post know what they are doing, so we have no clue whatsoever where to look for them.

"I think I know," Katz suddenly points to the ground. There's a thin telephone wire trailing along the ground and into the ruins, easily mistaken for one of the countless loose wires and cables that could be expected to lie about in a ruined city. The brass has countered Russian EW efforts with a very simple and effective method of going back to WWII-era technology and using wired crank-operated field telephones to communicate with guard posts and lookouts. Simple and absolutely immune to EMP, jamming or eavesdropping short of physically accessing the wire - which an enemy would have to find first.

He traces the wire up to the second floor, now exposed under open sky, and gives it a firm tug. Moments later, a voice from above hisses a challenge.

"Seven!"

"Six!" Katz responds. An instant later, what we thought to be a pile of rubble stands up, one of the Recon guys lowering his rifle that had been pointing at us all this time.

"Don't jerk the damn wire like that, you almost broke it!" he scolds Katz, "What are you four up to?"

I can see the man's eyes widen after Katz briefly explains our plan and asks that they not shoot if they see four idiots running back from the Russian side with a bathtub and a bagful of soap. A promise to reward all three of the guys manning the Bravo post with their own bars of soap or shampoo bottles, whichever we happen to find, buys their silence and cooperation, and we are clear to move on.

---

"Alright, lads, as the Yanks would say - this ain't Kansas anymore," Katz informs us, "Anything that's not us is most certainly hostile."

"No shit, Captain Obvious..." Fender mutters.

We split up, taking opposite sides of the street, and move forward very slowly, keeping distance between ourselves and watching our every step. It takes extra effort to be very quiet, since the town is deserted and completely silent, the only life besides battling humans here being rats scavenging on corpses in the ruins, and occasional stray dogs preying on the rats. Other than that, the only noise here comes from the wind and the occasional jet passing far and high above. Any ruin ahead can hide a sniper or a machinegun nest, any piece of junk on the ground conceal a booby trap. At any moment, a Russian patrol can emerge from the side street or open up on us from the ruins.

Fender is on point, since he knows exactly where it is we are looking for. Thankfully there's a trench dug in the street by the previous defenders of the town that we can follow without exposing ourselves much.

From what I remember of the map, we should be close. The trench in the street ends in a barricade of rubble, cobblestones and sandbags overlooking the intersection ahead. Fender gestures us to get close as we sneak to the top of the barricade.

"See that ruin over there, across the street to the left?" he speaks to Katz, who is checking the area ahead with his binoculars, "Now look further ahead. First floor, room near the corner."

"Yeah, I see it... Looks like a bathtub alright..." Katz confirms.

"Gimme that!" I snatch binoculars from Katz to see for myself. Fender is right. There is indeed a bathtub in the ruined first-floor bathroom, an old-fashioned one not cemented in place.

"All we have to do is unscrew it from the floor and get the hell outta dodge. The shop we're looking for is just on the opposite side of the street. You can't see it from here," Fender explains.

"How do you even know there's any soap in there?" Hog grumbles from behind.

"A - because I saw some still left there the other day when we went on patrol here, the one when Infantry lost 2 guys in that square ahead. And B - because I actually paid attention at school and learned to read in German," Fender snaps back quietly, "So be a good big-and-dumb farmboy, leave the planning to someone smarter like myself, and watch our backs!"

Hog is about to say something back about that, when Katz interrupts the argument with an order to move out. He and Archer were the only new guys from our platoon to complete squad leader training before the war, and with Archer gone, he's now our acting squaddie.

Sticking tightly to the building on the right, we sneak forwards across the intersection and towards our goal. Further ahead is the square across which the Russians probably have set up positions. Thankfully, the burnt-out hulk of a delivery truck at the end of the street covers our approach from the sights of their sentries. The battered shop sign "Hausehaltsgegenstande" laying on the pavement indeed attests that soap is likely to be found here. Like Fender, I too know some German, though my knowledge revolves more around profanities and Nazi slogans. Fender quickly peeks inside and is about to move on when he suddenly freezes gives us the all-stop sign and slowly backs up.

"Tripwire," he whispers so quietly I almost have to read from his lips as he points to the bottom of the doorway.

I take Hog's place covering the rear, the rest of the lads forming a small perimeter between the building and the destroyed truck. Hog in the meanwhile moves over to check the wire, since knows more about explosives than any of us.

"It's a mon'ka," he quietly explains, pointing to the MON-50 directional mine after carefully examining where the wire leads to, and bumps to Fender, "Another step and we'd be scraping you off the wall."

"Can you cut it?" Fender points at the hair-thin wire that I cannot even see from where I'm currently kneeling.

"I ain't touching it," Hog shakes his head, "This thing might blow just from someone touching the wire. Some of these MONs even have seismic sensors, buggers will blow up just from someone walking nearby. This one thankfully doesn't, or we'd know it by now."

"Well, at least there's what we came for inside," Fender says, pointing inside the destroyed store. Indeed, in the dark depth of the room, there is still some merchandise left unlooted on the shelves, among which there's clearly what looks like bottles of shampoo and bars of soap.

"So go and get it," Katz points to the door.

"Who, me? I ain't going in there! Not with that thing at the doorstep," Fender objects, "Who knows what else Ivan has planted in there! It's dark inside and I can't even use my flashlight without the Russkies seeing it!"

"You're the genius who dragged us out here, and now you're chickening out?!" Hog growls angrily, grabbing Fender by the collar, "You get there this instant and get that goddamn soap, or I'll throw you in, mines be damned!"

"Hey, how the fuck was I supposed to know this place is rigged?!" Fender argues, struggling to get free from Hog's grasp.

"Will you two numbnuts shut it?!" Katz snarls, "This ain't the place or the time..."

"Fuck it, I'll go!" I volunteer. I don't like the idea of stepping inside a dark room rigged with at least one tripmine anymore than the rest of the guys, but right now it seems best to take my chances rather than wait until their arguing gives away our presence to the Russians.

"Yeah, let Fascist get the soap!" Fender approves enthusiastically but falls silent when meeting my irate gaze, "Fine, I'll go with you..."

---

The 15-something meters from the door to the shelf seem like an eternity. I have to carefully examine the floor ahead for my every step in partial darkness without additional light or touching anything, while Fender must follow me in my exact footsteps. Whenever I take my next step, I cringe, fully expecting to have something blown off of me at any moment. Fortunately, nothing happens and after some 15 painstaking minutes I am at the shelves. There are indeed several different shampoos and shower gels, and a variety of soap. Apparently, personal hygiene was the last thing on the looters' minds when they hit this store.

"Where do we stuff all this?" I whisper to Fender who's ducking behind the counter. Turns out Hog has been the only one to bring along a patrol backpack, since the rest of us thought bringing them along would make Sarge suspicious about our intentions. Noticing our predicament, he takes it off and tosses it to Fender, who in turn tosses it to me.

"See if there are any plastic bags behind the counter," I instruct him, starting to load up. There's enough soap and shampoo for the whole company, if not the whole battalion, so it would be a shame to let even some of it go to waste. I can hear Fender digging behind the counter until he reemerges with a bundle of plastic bags in hand and throws them to me. Unfortunately, it slips out of my hand and drops to the floor, catching some of the shampoo bottles stacked in the lower shelf that now rattle loudly to the floor.

"Dumbshit!" I hear Fender hiss as he ducks behind the counter, and moments later, a gunshot rings outside on the opposite end of the square, the bullet striking the wall just outside the store. I dive out of sight at the far end of the shelf and freeze, my heart racing wildly. After a minute or two that seem to last for ages, no more shots ring out, and I breathe a sigh of relief. Guards on both sides are in the habit of firing off a shot in the general direction of any suspicious noise, just to remind the enemy that they are watching. There are enough non-human things in the ruined town that could cause commotion - the rats, the dogs and the crows scavenging in the ruins as well as just some loose rubble toppled by the wind.

After sneaking back out of the shop, we do a quick count of our loot. There's some 40 bars of assorted soap, some 15 bottles of shampoo and another 17 of shower gel - arguably enough to meet the whole battalion's sanitation needs until the next resupply due in three weeks, provided Russian subs don't send the stuff meant for us to the bottom of the Atlantic again. Now comes the hard part of retrieving the bathtub.

We back down the street before crossing it and approach the building with the bathtub from behind, so that any Russian sentries don't see us cross the street. Katz stays outside to watch our backs and keep an eye on any activity across the square ahead, while I, Fender and Hog get inside to deal with the tub.

Inside, Fender breaks out his pipewrench and gets to work, me and Hog trying our best to assist with the pliers of our multi-tools. This is clearly an old bathtub in an old building, as the thick coat of rust on the nuts and bolts holding it in place attests. The task of un-wrenching them, much less quietly, doesn't consequently go quick or easy.

"I didn't expect it to be this tough," Fender grumbles quietly as he struggles with one of the rusted nuts, "Should've brought along some oil or something..."

After some 15 minutes, however, we are almost through. Though we've had to stop twice or thrice after a creak two loud or Katz signalling for us to pipe down, the nuts are finally loose, and Fender disconnects the pipes of the water faucet. Disconnecting the drain, however, doesn't look like an easy or quiet task, and we are beginning to run out of time.

"Hurry up! If we ain't back in 15, Sarge is gonna start looking for us!" Katz urges us on after checking his watch.

"I can't get a good reach on the drain," Fender grumbles, struggling to disconnect the drain, the last thing pinning the tub to the floor, "Guys, try tilting it to the side so I can get it!"

I and Hog grab onto the edge of the tub and try tilting it. The heavy tub is reluctant to give way.

"Bloody hell, this bitch is heavy..." Hog grunts and puts more effort into lifting, when the tub suddenly loosens from the floor with a piercing metallic creak.

"Quiet, you numbnuts..!" Fender snarls as we all freeze. There's no way the Ivan sentries didn't hear this. My fears are soon confirmed by a bullet fired in this general direction impacting a nearby wall. Alarmed shouting in Russian in the distance indicates that Ivans must be fixing to set out and examine the source of commotion.

"Shit...!" Katz whispers to us alarmedly, looking around the corner across the square, "There's a patrol coming to investigate! Ditch the damn thing and let's get the fuck outta here!"

"If we drop this thing now, they'll definitely know we're here!" Hog argues, still holding the tub halfway up with me.

"Guess we'll have to do it the loud and the hard way!" Fender is unwilling to give up so close to the goal, "I'll get on the other side now, and on the count of three you two lift it up as hard as you can, get it on my back, then get underneath and we bug out!"

It's a batshit-crazy idea even for our long list of today's crazy and stupid ideas, but in the absence of better ones or time to come up with any, it's as good as any.

"If we live through this, you three are buying me all the drinks on next leave..." Katz sighs resignedly and readies his rifle, "I'll cover you!"

"Aight, then..." Fender rubs his hands as he gets in position, "On one... two.. three!"

The tub dislodges from its moorings with a loud creak, the drain pipe breaking away with an even louder crack. To add a coup-de-grace to our breaking of stealth, it slips from my grip, crashing to the floor with a deafening clang.

I don't hear what Fender says next, though given the situation it's most probably something very unflattering about my dexterity, as an enemy machine gun begins to lash the room we're standing in with a hail of bullets. I can hear Katz open up with his rifle as I correct my mistake and lift my end of the tub to its intended position in speed I wouldn't have ever thought possible. An instant later, the three of us are out of the room moments before a forty-mike-mike explodes there, legging it like our asses were on fire, and for a good reason. Moments later, mortar shells begin to drop around us way too close for comfort.

"GET DOWN! INCOMING!" Katz bellows to us as the first shell makes its screaming descent and bursts mere 20 paces away.

---

So here we are - four idiots with three bags of soap and shampoo, covering under a bathtub in the middle of a warzone, about to be run over by a tank. A T-80UM, judging by the distinct whine of a gas-turbine engine. The thunderous racket of a heavy machinegun and the crack and whizz of large-caliber bullets passing uncomfortably low over our heads indicates the tankers aren't even deeming us worth expending a shell on. For some odd reason, I feel entirely unafraid. Perhaps that's how all people feel just before death, knowing the end is certain and accepting it. The feeling is certainly liberating. Whether a bath is something worth dying for is a different matter, much less a bath meant for someone else - either way I will never know.

The racket of friendly gunfire and the distinct thud of a Carl Gustav recoilless rifle breaks my fatalistic reflections, an explosion near where the enemy tank is supposed to be indicating we're not entirely alone and hopeless in our predicament. Moments later I'm temporarily deafened by another blast as the tank apparently fires back in retaliation, a further two nearby explosions and the retreating grating of treads signifying the enemy is falling back. The intense exchange of gunfire between infantry on both sides gradually withers down.

"We're alive... Aren't we?" Fender weakly groans behind me, still not sure what to make of our unexpected survival.

"Sarge is going to have our asses now..." Katz sighs resignedly, since the intervention of a large number of our comrades means our little secret mission is now no longer a secret.

Confirming his worst fears, I hear the all-too-familiar irate voice of Sarge approaching our hiding spot in the shellhole behind the busted Leopard tank.

"You assholes better be dead underneath that tub...!"

"Lube up and bend over, lads, here it comes..." Hog makes a sheepish last attempt at humour.

---

To say that Sarge is pissed about our escapade would be to say nothing at all. I can't say I blame him. Threatening to rape our corpses among other things after we've been court-martialed and shot, he has us disarmed, arrested and dragged straight to the battalion commander for judgement.

The Colonel also isn't happy to hear about our unauthorized expedition, but becomes more lenient when we explain our reasons and demonstrate our trophies.

"Going off-mission without permission is tantamount to desertion," he sternly informs us, "But I forgive you since you did it with good intentions! I'll let you off with a formal reprimand this time, but keep in mind it's the first and the last time!"

"Thank you, sir!" Fender is quick to thank but falls silent at the Colonel's stern gesture.

"Don't thank me just yet, soldier! I didn't say you aren't getting disciplined for your Rambo shit!" he speaks, "Since you said you've found water in the heating system of one building, there's probably more to go around. So starting tomorrow, you will be carrying in more for everyone to wash themselves in! By hand, with buckets! Now, I believe you have a friend waiting for that gift you set out for..."

Considering the distance and the amount involved, it's going to be no easy task, but all things considered, we're being let off lightly. We thank the Colonel for his fair judgement and set out to finalize our gift.

"You see that water tank?" Sarge points to the almost-empty large four-ton water tank near the field kitchen as we leave the commander's tent, "I want it full, and I don't care how long it's gonna take for you four to fill it! Now go and fix Katti her gift, and she better like it!"

Since Katti is something of Sarge's protegee, I guess Sarge is going easier on us than he normally would because of us taking risks for her.

It takes the four of us about two hours to bring back enough water to fill the tub which we place in a sheltered spot inside a ruined house just outside the battalion camp. Hog, Fender and Katz carry water, while I remain behind to patch up the damaged tub with some duct tape, and then heat it by lighting a fire under it. While the tub warms, I rig up a set of curtains and light some candles scavenged by Recon company from the surrounding ruins a few days back and traded in for a few bars of soap. While the tub warms, I also craft a birthday card from an ammunition carton. It features a cuddly kitty-cat in a party hat holding out a bundle of flowers, wishing happy birthday and signed by me and the guys when they return. By now our expedition is all the talk of the battalion, so Katti's slanted green eyes gleam with tears of joy when she finally arrives to inspect her gift.

"You did this all for ME? Th...thank you... guys!" she almost whimpers, hugging each of us and pecking a kiss on our cheeks after we are done singing "Happy Birthday" and present her with the card.

"You've pulled us out of many tight spots," I state, "It was the least we could do to repay."

"Alright, you four, get back to work!" Sarge intrudes once he feels we've taken up too much of Katti's time and assumes guard near the ruin, "Let the girl enjoy her bath that you almost died for! And remember I'm going to personally neuter any Peeping Tom I catch sneaking around here!"

And he waves his hammer-like fist menacingly to emphasize his point.

---

Sarge's threat is unnecessary. It's not like intruding on Katti's privacy is on our current agenda, especially with the task at hand. That being said, I am tempted to take a detour and sneak a peek on my way back for more water about an hour later, when Sarge is nowhere to be seen.

My hopes of catching even the slightest glimpse of female curves is shattered once I see Sarge's thick hairy hand sticking out between the curtain's over the edge of the bathtub from between the curtains, holding a cigarette. Having made good use of the still-warm bath after Katti was finished with it, Sarge is now enjoying a bath of his own and humming a merry tune.

I chuckle and get back to work. There's a whole battalion waiting for their turn to use this bath, and the four of us must deliver. I take comfort in knowing that in the very least our sacrifice will be much appreciated in the coming days.