Sevastopol [content warning]

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    Sevastopol [content warning]

    I feel cold. Overwhelming, chilling, wet cold. Such is the first sensation that overwhelms me as I regain consciousness. I want to take a deep breath that I vaguely recall was knocked out of me moments ago, but the engulfing sensation of chilling water squeezing its way into my every pore and orifice advises me against such a step. Every part of me hurts like having received a good beatdown by a platoon of giants wielding telephone poles. The building weight of pressure on my chest and my ears popping unpleasantly seem to indicate that I am sinking.

    Up! I must go up for air! I'm already struggling for breath, trying to resist the overwhelming urge to inhale that would bring certain death. Yet the weight of my gear is pulling me down, and I start to struggle frantically to slip out of it.

    The salty seawater stings my eyes painfully at first when I open them, but fear and adrenaline overrides the sensation quickly. Although everything is blurry, the water is very clear. I can see the topside some 10 meters above, judging by the scale of APCs and landing boats still in the water. Some are still moving, their propellers leaving behind trails of bubbles, while others float immobile or are slowly sinking to the bottom. There are bodies floating on the surface or sinking to the seafloor as well.

    Luckily it is only about 10 meters deep here, as I finally hit the bottom, the rifle slung over my back clattering loudly against the rocky seabed. I nimbly slip out of its sling and discard my helmet, but the heavy plate carrier and tactical vest won't yield. I'm getting increasingly desperate as I struggle to unbuckle them. This is not the way I want to go. If I go, I want to go with a weapon in my hands, looking my killer in the eye, not helplessly drown here!

    Finally, the last buckle gives way, letting me slip out and start my race to the top. I feel like my lungs are about to burst, the desire to breathe in becoming pure agony, and I almost yield mere meters before the surface, only the natural buoyancy of my body saving me from drowning an arm's reach from safety. I inhale just as my head breaches the surface, immediately starting to cough wildly to expel the half-pint of seawater ingested along with the life-saving breath of air.

    The skies above are dark with smoke, an ominous fiery glare coming from beyond the cliff face towering above me. I look back towards the sea, and see only chaos. A number of APCs and landing craft drift in the waves chaotically, their engines disabled and crews confusedly scurrying about on top like ants. A damaged American destoryer sinks in the distance, flames gushing out of a giant hole in its side, evidently left there by a missile. As the ship is slowly capsizing, I can see the crewmen jumping overboard. I see several fighter planes fall out of the sky further out in the sea, spinning wildly out of control. The still slowly-spinning tail rotor of a Blackhawk helicopter is sticking out from the waves to my left, the dazed survivors of the crash swimming towards the coast like myself.

    Thankfully, the swim back to the beach isn't long. There's a small beach with a steep road leading up to the coast near the cliff that I begin to recall being blown off into the sea from. A bunch of AAVs with Italian colours stand on it and in the water nearby immobile, their dazed marine crews wandering aimlessly on the beach in complete confusion while their equally-panicked NCOs run about shouting and trying to get their men organized, largely in vain. I'm not a good swimmer, and am at the point of exhaustion by the time I finally feel the ground beneath my feet.

    I drop on the ground to rest exhausted, but not for long as some Italian sergeant runs over to me, shaking me by the shoulder and shouting something in Italian while gesturing towards the cliff above.

    "English, please!" I grumble, having no clue what the man wants. Only now does the sergeant seems to notice my foreign uniform and insignia.

    "What unit?" he asks in a slightly broken English with a heavy accent.

    "Echo Company, 19th Motorized Infantry," I respond, "4th Baltic Brigade".

    "Baltic Brigade? Why you here?" the Italian questions.

    "Kind of had a rough landing from that blast..." I grumble, pointing at the cliff.

    "Then find quick," he instructs me, "Tell to find shelter!"

    That's about the first sensible thing I've heard since the beginning of this whole damn op.

    ---

    3 hours earlier

    "Get ready, boys! Thirty seconds!"

    The salty spray of the Black Sea splashes in my face as our assault boat rides over the waves. It's an older model, courtesy of the Hellenic Navy, and looks quite similar to those frontal-ramp boats used on D-Day. The war films and video games invariably portray the assault on Omaha Beach as an epic and perilous affair. If this were D-Day, however, I must be one of those unlucky (or rather, exceptionally lucky) bastards dropped on one of those other four beaches that few besides WWII history buffs know by name. There's no explosions splashing pillars of water around us, no bullets whizzing past, no sea-sick and desperate lads puking and praying fervently in anticipation of that ramp falling open. If anything, it is the relative calm of things that strikes me as the landing boat races towards the shores of Crimea. The only thing that reminds of the ongoing war is the constant roar of fighter jets and cruise missiles overhead, pillars of smoke billowing from burning buildings and sinking ships far near the horizon. That and the distant rumble of the battle raging on the shores. This sector of the coast that we're about to land on was secured already hours ago, or at least so we're told - and in all honesty, I'm absolutely not looking forward to heroically storming the beaches of Crimea in this paper-thin rust bucket of a truck loaded in an equally-antiquated 50-year-old landing craft.

    It's been a few months since Strasbourg. After NATO had a whole 100-click stretch along the Rhine including part of their own about-to-be-overrun city of Strasbourg glassed as a final warning to Ivan, it's been mostly a stalemate in Western Europe. Ivan's dug in firmly on the German side of the Rhine, NATO's stuck on the French side, both regularly trade airstrikes and artillery fire, but not much else. I guess the whole nuke thing has both sides running scared, so action has largely shifted over to secondary fronts - Balkans, Caucasus, Middle East and the North Atlantic.

    Wanting to do something about it, the NATO brass has since come up with the ingenious idea to kick the Russians right in the nuts, and launch a daring invasion of Crimea, taking out their single biggest naval base in the South. With a bit of luck, this could open up a new front, or in the very least divert Ivan's forces from Europe, Caucasus and Middle East, allowing counter-offensives to be launched in one or all of those regions. Word is that this is going to be the largest amphibious operation since D-Day.

    My unit technically shouldn't even be in this whole op. We aren't trained for this kind of job. The brass says that we'll only be doing our normal escort, patrol and supply jobs, the amphibious assault aspect of our upcoming assignment being limited to driving on and off the landing boats long after beacheads have been secured. Still, I don't like this whole affair one bit. The mere possibility of losing their base in Sevastopol prompted the Russians to invade Ukraine back in '14, so I'm pretty certain they're not going to let NATO troops just waltz in now that they're formally at war with the West. It's gonna be a very tough fight for everyone regardless of position, guys like ourselves in the rear included. Wouldn't be the first time, and our side is on the offensive this time, but I still can't help having a bad feeling about this operation. Call it a hunch...

    The flat-bottomed boat trembles and groans as it grinds against the rocky seafloor, stopping about a dozen meters from the shore. A signal horn bleeps loudly as the frontal ramp drops, and our truck immediately rolls forward into the surf. The water is about as deep as the wheel arches, and looking down from my position in the ring turret I see some water seeping in through the gap between hull and the door.

    There are more vehicles of several different nations already on the beach. A bunch of US Army engineers with earth-moving and bridgelaying vehicles apparently responsible for keeping this beach and the road leading up the coastal cliffs in a usable condition, a Slovenian mechanized outfit with their BMPs who have just landed, and a couple trucks of undetermined purpose with Bundeswehr markings. My squad is apparently the first of our unit to make landing here, the rest of my platoon riding on landing boats following in tow.

    "Echo Actual, this is Echo Sierra," I hear Archer say over the radio, "We're dry on the LZ, awaiting instructions!"

    "Echo Actual to all elements, disperse and stand by until further orders," Beast responds from her end.

    ---

    After driving our truck to the relative safety near the coastal cliff, ostensibly shielding us against artillery shells or aviation bombs coming in from inland, my squad dismounts to have a piss and a smoke while Beast clears up our further course of action.

    "Who wants to piss on Russian soil?!" Fender shouts gleefuly as he runs a few steps to the side to lead by example.

    "Technically, it's still Ukraine," I object.

    "Not to the Ivans it isn't," Fender argues as he relieves himself, with Katz and Hog joining in for the fun.

    Frankly that's the part that really bothers me. Russians have a long history of tenaciously defending every inch of land they believe to be theirs, regardless of how false and absurd that belief might be, and their belief in Crimea being theirs was one of the things that led to this war in the first place. This dogged determination along with a casual disregard for the lives and well-being of their own troops and civilians as long as military objectives are met makes Russians a very unpleasant foe under any circumstance, let alone where their real or perceived "native soil" is concerned. To make matters worse, gone are the glorious days of our great-grandfathers, when the average Russian soldier was a barely-literate 18-year-old farmboy who underwent two weeks excuse of a training mostly focused on infantry drill and obedience to the Party before being given a vintage bolt-action rifle, pointed in the general direction of the enemy and told to shoot, the political commissar and his NKVD goons behind a Maxim gun seeing to it that he does. The average Russian soldier of today is as well-equipped and trained professional as any Western soldier, and although the Ivan's ranks have been bolstered with conscripts to the point of professional soldiers again being a minority since the start of this war, most of these conscripts have served in the army before and in the very least know their way around a gun and basic tactics - which is more than most Western draftees and volunteers can say about themselves these days.

    While the lads are busy discussing whether to also take a dump in order to add injury to insult to Russian soil, cracking jokes about "shitting on the Motherland", Beast sets off to find someone in charge and clarify our next destination. It seems that nobody among the brass has really thought about giving a small second-rate outfit from the ass end of Eastern Europe like ours more specific orders than "land at the beach and make yourselves useful somehow". Given the sheer amount of planning required for such a major op, I don't really blame them. So I use the current absence of standing orders to get down from the turret and have a smoke.

    Frankly this waiting on an exposed beach isn't comfortable. Although the sheer cliff face we're parked next to does provide some protection from any potential artillery strikes, all the Ivan would have to do is drop a cruise missile or a high-angle artillery barrage set to airburst on this beach to reduce everything and everyone on it to an evenly-spread mix of minced meat and shit. Even if it was just a basic mortar attack, those Yanks and Slovenes with their armored vehicles would be the only ones to stand any chance. I try not to think of it too much though - death can come at any second in any number of ways in this war, and in most cases one wouldn't even know what hit him.

    "Alright, listen up!" Beast announces herself as she returns just as I'm done with my cigarette, "It seems that the vanguard of our brigade has already landed and is on their way to set up camp in the outskirts of Sevastopol. Our current task is to link up with them and be ready to resupply them or evacuate casualties as necessary."

    "What's our route?" Archer is the first to inquire.

    "According to our American friends here, we should take this highway running along the coast. It has already been checked for mines, so we can travel at X-ray Three, but keep your eyes peeled nonetheless," Beast explains, pointing in the map, "The 4th Brigade should be making camp somewhere in this grid square. The Russians are jamming our comms, and with our radios being what they are, there's no point trying to contact the brigade HQ, certainly not from out here. Which leaves us with the good old-fashioned method of going and finding them ourselves."

    "Sounds fair enough," Archer nods, "What's our movement order?"

    "The usual. You and your squad scout ahead, Darkie and the 2nd Squad goes as the lead, I and Staff Sergeant Polyakov will be in the middle car along with the cargo trucks and LT with his lads will cover the rear. I want a 500-meter interval between scouts and the lead, and 100-meter intervals in the convoy."

    "Awww, man!" Fender whines, "Why do we always have to take the lead?! It's like asking to be blown up by a mine or some Russkie with an RPG!"

    "Because your squad has spotted more mines and IEDs than anyone in this company, so the rest of us including myself are trusting you with their asses to do the same today!" Beast responds sternly, "Besides, you should know by now that ambushers don't usually hit the scout car, so you are about as safe as you will ever get in enemy territory!"

    "You know, you've got an enviable talent for comforting people, Captain!" Fender remarks, not entirely convinced.

    "If you want comfort, get yourself a teddy bear!" Beast grumbles impatiently, "Everyone who still hasn't, take a piss, we move out in two!"


    ---


    The convoy is moving forwards at a pace much too slow for my comfort. The surrounding terrain is open, rolling hills and some cliffs with little vegetation. There could be a whole company of Russians waiting in ambush behind any of those hills and we'd be none the wiser until a missile came howling our way or shells started to drop on our heads. We are driving about a click ahead of the rest of the company, scouting for potential ambushes and traps. Having the highest vantage point in the turret, it falls upon me to be the eyes and ears of the team. Until fairly recently, the only way to communicate my observations to those inside the truck was by means of banging on the roof above the driver, since shouting down the gunner's hatch didn't always work over the noise of engine and gunfire. The driver and squad leader in the front were consequently free to interpret the nature and urgency of the threat ahead from the intensity of my banging. It worked well enough with drivers accustomed to this manner of communication, but not so well with guys new to the team, something that would become a problem fairly soon in the war. Nowadays, however, at least that problem has been solved with the introduction of squad radio sets. The quality of the communications still leaves much to be desired, but in the very least it beats hysterically shouting and banging on the roof as you see an enemy tank turn towards your truck in the distance while the driver must guess whether it means "stop", "back up" or "drive away like your ass was on fire".

    The closer we get to Sevastopol, the more signs of battle become apparent. A destroyed American truck is still smoldering by the roadside, trails of blood on the pavement indicating there were casualties that were collected afterwards. Further out in the field, several burnt-out hulks of what seem to be T-90s stand in large black patches of burnt grass. A lone Abrams tank stands abandoned another half-click away, its left track blown off, star-shaped scorch marks on the turret indicating multiple hits and its engine cover blackened with soot. A mobility kill, it would appear. The crew is nowhere to be seen, presumably having survived and evacuated. A pillar of smoke rises from the hillside further inland. I use my binoculars to examine the source of the fire. It appears to be a downed fighter plane, unfortunately smashed in too many pieces to tell which side it belonged to.

    A flight of F-18's suddenly shakes the car as it roars overhead at treetop height, startling me and probably everyone inside. They fire off several missiles towards Sevastopol before breaking off, splitting up in separate directions and deploying a spectacular shower of decoy flares before diseappearing into the clouds.

    "Fucking Yanks! I almost shit myself!" I hear Fender curse on the radio, "Thought we hit a mine or something at first!"

    "If it had been a mine, you'd know it," Archer rebukes him, "So better don't mention the Devil and cross your fingers that we don't hit one!"

    He's right about that. A proper AT mine would probably make our flimsy truck do a double flip before a hard landing. Or more likely just take the entire front section off in one fell blast, and spray everyone in the rear with enough shrapnel to fill several wheelbarrows. The fact that there's nowhere to bury such mines in the paved road doesn't make it any safer - Russians have a whole collection of nasty stand-off mines as well, bucket-sized shaped charges capable of punching clean through both sides of a main battle tank from 100 meters away. With our paper-thin truck with only some improvised armor plating slapped on it, we could as well be riding inside a cardboard box. Thankfully, the absence of more Western wreckage other than the unfortunate Yank truck seems to indicate no mines on this road. Granted, some crafty devices can be set to detonate only after a number of passages, but seeing how this road has been already travelled by numerous NATO vehicles today, it seems that there indeed aren't any.

    "Echo Sierra to Echo Actual, all clear, you may proceed, over!" I hear Archer report to Beast on the command car frequency. Despite the Russian jamming efforts that are causing heavy interference, we can still communicate within roughly a kilometer range.

    "Roger that, Echo Sierra, moving out. Proceed to the next waypoint, out!"

    After waiting for the convoy to approach within line of sight, we continue to move on. A familiar rumbling roar comes from over the hills, briefly overcoming all the other rumble of war.

    "B-52s," I remark, "Sounds like Ivan is really getting a pounding..."

    "Damn Russkies are probably shitting glue in their bunkers right now," Fender states in agreement, "I just hope the Yanks will leave some for us!"

    I don't dignify that with a response. Fender is always mouthing off like that, often regretting it moments later when there actually turns out to be something left for us to deal with. Not that he can't back up his cocky attitude - I and everyone else know he can be depended on when it really counts.

    A loud bang ahead takes my attention away from the conversation. It has definitely come from a closer source than the battle raging in Sevastopol.

    "Slow down!" I say. Katz who is driving today slows accordingly while I listen. The blast definitely isn't from a bomb or shell, more likely from a big gun. A tank maybe?

    The same bang thunders again, this time even closer. Definitely a tank. When another shot follows in short succession, I feel the adrenaline rush into my blood immediately. Over the past year and a half, I've more or less learned to tell the difference between NATO and Russian tanks by the sound of their guns. The Russian 125-millimeter guns make a deep resonating thud, while the NATO 120's sound sharper, making more of a crack than a thud. The tank that is shooting at something somewhere directly ahead of us definitely isn't one of ours.

    "Guys, I think we've got a tank directly ahead!" I warn the lads.

    "All stop!" Archer curtly responds, "Echo Sierra to Echo Actual, hold your positions, possible hostile armor ahead, how copy, over?"

    "Echo Actual, copy that, holding position! Do you have visual, Sierra, over?"

    "Negative, no visual contact. Recommend further action, over."

    "Echo Sierra, dismount and scout ahead on foot. Use extreme caution and report once in visual, over and out!"

    "Alright, lads, you heard the boss-lady! Dismount! You too, Fascist!" Archer announces once the comms session is over, "Katz, try pulling that truck off the road into the bush, so we're not that obvious!"

    "Fucking tank! Why does it always have to be a tank...!" Fender whines as he disembarks. I in the meantime remove my trusty machinegun from its usual mounting on the turret ring.

    "Hog, sounds like there's gonna be work for you today," Archer taps on the big Latgalian farmboy's shoulder as he slings a pair of AT4s over the shoulder. I have another one strapped to the roof next to my turret, so I unstrap it and pass it down to Archer, who in turn hands it to Katz.

    Once outside, we form up in a line, keeping a good distance from each other, and start to advance slowly through the shrub. The tank has in the meanwhile fired another three times, with at least one NATO gun responding. At least that's good news - at least we're not all alone out here, facing Russian armor in our antiquated rust-bucket.

    Pushing forward through the thick undergrowth is no easy task, our progress being hindered by long grass, thick shrub and poor visibility. For all we know, that Russian tank might already have zeroed in on us, and we wouldn't know the first thing about it until bullets began to cut us down. Another blast shakes the leaves of the bushes, coming from no further than 300 meters. It is quickly responded to by the unseen NATO tank, and I hear a distinctive metallic clang before a bright-red tracer whizzes off in the sky towards the hillside close to our right.

    "Looks like they dinged him," Hog remarks.

    By now I can hear the rumble of a large and powerful engine and hear the creak of tracks, the wind carrying the scent of diesel fumes towards us along with some acrid propellant smoke. Without command, we lie down prone and crawl towards what seems to be an open area ahead. Soon enough, the undergrowth ends and the enemy becomes visible in all his glory.

    "Armata..." I hear Fender groan somewhere in the bush to my left, "This just keeps getting fucking better and better...!"

    "And it might just get even better than that if you don't quit whining and shut it!" Archer hisses at him angrily, "Just because those tankers can't hear us doesn't mean it's safe to whine and bitch at the top of your lungs!"

    Archer is right. While the T-14 ahead of us might be just a lone straggler, it is more likely that it's not, the grassy field and the shrubs along making for an excellent place for enemy infantry to hide in. Dealing with an unknown number of infantry on top of the most advanced Russian tank in existence is the last thing our squad currently needs. Fortunately for us, the tank is facing away from us, its turret swiveling back and forth as if scanning for something.

    "What do we do?" Hog turns to Archer, "Our AT's likely won't even make a dent on that thing."

    "Can't you get it between the hull and the turret like you usually do?" Archer responds.

    "Not with these launchers and not this tank," Hog grumbles, "These ATs are just too damn inaccurate. I could do that with the Carl, but this bitch here's got 360-degree active protection. It would shoot down my grenade and pop a shell back in my face before I could reload."

    "Any weak spots on the hull?"

    "Not many... It's got reactive plating and slats all around, save for the ass... We could try getting it in the ass, but there's still that active protection system."

    "We've got three launchers, don't we?" I suggest, "Surely that thing doesn't reload instantly."

    "How do you know it even needs to reload?" Archer isn't convinced.

    "I don't," I admit, "But unless you have a better idea of getting past this sum'bitch, we might as well try fucking it up the ass!"

    "Right... Echo Sierra to Echo Actual, we have a visual on a single T-14 engaged with an unknown friendly, please advise, over!" Archer reports the situation on the radio. The Russian fires in the background as if to emphasize a point.

    "Copy that, Echo Sierra, wait," I hear Beast's voice respond. Even through all the static she sounds concerned.

    "I hate to say that, but we got to do something about that tank!" I say, "All that asshole has gotta do is turn his turret camera our way and we'll be royally fucked long before Beast gets done whatever she intends to do!"

    "Yea, but if we don't take that thing down on the first try, the lads are gonna be collecting bits of us from all over this damn field," Archer argues.

    "Maybe, but then there's those guys behind the bushes with their tank," I object, "If we can at least distract this Ivan, maybe that will give'em a shot at taking him down."

    "For all we know, those guys in their tank behind the bushes might be dead already," Archer argues, when our anonymous allies announce to the contrary, bouncing another shot off the Russian's armor.

    "Or not. But that might change the longer we sit out here doin' nothing," I point out, "Either way, you're the squaddie - it's your call."

    Archer pauses to consider everything and nods after a brief reflection.

    "Alright, guess this is as good a day to die as any other... Gimme that AT, let's try and fuck this Russkie in the ass!"

    "Hold your horse there," Katz objects, "You're the squaddie, we need you on the radio in case we mess up. I'll go with Hog!"

    "I'll go too!" Fender volunteers despite his earlier whining.

    "I'll go!" I offer my candidature as well, even though common sense and best judgement advises me against such a step.

    "No, we need you on the MG," Archer declines.

    "Come on," I argue, "Anyone can shoot an MG, but I've trained with the Carl and the AT more than Fender!"

    "Fine," Archer relents and Hog hands me the third AT4 launcher, "We'll be waiting here and pop smoke for you in case things go south."

    ---

    The three of us break off and slowly sneak through the bushes towards a large rock that Hog has spotted near the edge of the field, conveniently placed right behind the tank.

    "Once we're there, I'll pop the first shot to trigger the APS, and you both whack it simultaneously afterwards. We've only got one shot, so don't fuck this up!" Hog instructs.

    Crossing the 150 or so meters across open field to the rock feels like eternity. The tanks trade shots again, the allied tank's shot disintegrating into a shower of brilliant sparks that fly our way, forcing us to hit the dirt as razor-sharp burning fragments whizz by. The incandescent shards scatter about us and continue to burn. I quickly pull my shemagh over the nose.

    "Depleted uranium! Don't breathe that shit in, it'll give you cancer!"

    The lads follow the suit, and we hastily crawl out of the contaminated area. Just as we approach the rock, the Russian tank commander apparently decides he's had enough pointless trading of shots and starts to slowly maneuver his engine of war away from us towards the road.

    "Ready?!" Hog shouts, readying his AT4 and leaning out of cover. I and Katz have to leave cover entirely, since we must fire simultaneously, and I mentally pray to all gods to keep the tanker from looking in his rear-view camera right now.

    "Ready!" I confirm, the tank's unprotected rear firmly in my sights, safety switch depressed to firing position and finger on the trigger.

    "Ready!" Katz shouts.

    "Hit the fucker!" Hog shouts and fires, me and Katz following a split second later.

    A triple explosion rattles the field, the tank disappearing in a cloud of smoke and dirt. For a few seconds, it is difficult to tell what effect, if any, our shots may have had. However, it soon becomes obvious that this effect has been insufficient as a torrent of machinegun rounds erupts our way from the smoke, the first hasty burst thankfully missing high and wide. I and Katz barely manage to dive into cover behind the rock before bullets begin to chip away stone shards and carve deep gashes in the dirt all around. I could have sworn I heard someone from the squad's position shout "Fuck!" when the Russian opened up, and for all means and purposes, that word accurately describes our current situation.

    True to their word, Archer and Fender use their 40-mike-mike launchers to pop several smoke grenades to conceal the area between the rock and the tank, and the three of us throw out our own to cover the remainder. Holding out a mirror I keep with me for just such occasions, I manage to catch a glimpse of the tank turning its better protected side towards us before another torrent of lead forces me to withdraw my hand in fear of losing it. What's worse, it also seems to be turning its turret to bring its full firepower to bear. The smokescreen begins to set, but does so painfully slowly.

    "It's gonna blast us! LEG IT!!!" Hog roars after sneaking a peek. He doesn't have to tell us twice, us dashing forwards like mad just as the rock behind us disintegrates in a massive explosion, the blast knocking us face-first into the grass while rock fragments pummel our backs.

    My ears are ringing as I come back to my senses. I'm probably injured, even though it doesn't hurt right now. The only thought on my mind is to get the hell out of that accursed tank's sight. I would've never believed a human being could slither along the ground as quickly as a snake, but as large-caliber bullets cut grass and twigs mere inches above my head, I am surprised to discover this ability in myself and my friends.

    Thankfully, the smokescreen sets in, leaving the tank to fire blindly in our general direction, the machinegun beginning to spray the bush slightly behind us. We make our best speed towards Archer and Fender, finding them hunkered down tightly behind a natural embankment of dirt.

    "Echo Sierra, this is Echo Actual, I've got hold of a flight of A-10 coming in, callsign Broadsword Five-Zero, ETA 3 minutes, contact channel Mike Zulu Five-Seven-Niner! How copy, over?"

    "Copy that, Actual!" Archer shouts at the top of his lungs as a new machinegun burst starts to cut down twigs and branches from the bush above us, "Tell them to hurry, the situation is... extremely hostile!"

    "Nice going, genius!" Fender shouts at me, "We ain't gonna last another 30 seconds out here!"

    "Fuck you!" I snap back, "At least I did something today besides whining and complaining!"

    "Sierra, you will have to talk them through the terminal attack phase, how copy?"

    "Uh... Roger that, Actual... Over!"

    "Cut the bullshit!" Archer shouts at us once he's done talking to Beast, "I have to call in an airstrike, and it's hard enough to focus as it is without you two bickering!"

    While he frantically works to reset the radio to the provided frequency and pinpoint our location on the map, the smoke begins to scatter in fresh breeze blowing in from the sea. Peeking back towards the field, I see the tank backing up towards the hill, evidently to keep from exposing it's weaker points to either us or the NATO tank while able to keep an eye on both. Then suddenly, its engine begins to clatter and billow smoke before grinding to a halt much to my delight. Evidently, one of our AT shots has damaged something after all.

    "We got him! His engine's busted!" I shout to the lads before hugging the dirt as the Russian sprays another suppressive burst way too close for comfort.

    "Well, that still don't help about him shooting at us, does it?!" Fender shouts.

    "Broadsword Five-Zero, this is Echo Sierra of Echo Charlie, do you read me, over?" Archer tries to contact our to-be guardian angels in the meantime.

    "Broadsword Five-Zero to Echo Sierra, read you loud, moderate interference, over!" comes an answer in what seems to be Texan dialect of American English, "We're a two-ship of A-10s with gun, Maverick and CBU-105, 30 minutes loiter time, camera pod onboard. I am FACA-qualified, over."

    "Affirmative, Broadsword Five-Zero, requesting close air support, danger close. I am not FACA-qualified, you'll have to talk me through, over!"

    "Roger that, Echo Sierra! I will need an Initial Point, heading and distance from IP to target, target elevation and description, target grid coordinates, marker status if available, your location and egress direction, how copy, over!"

    "Dear God, why are things never easy..." Archer groans, "I copy, Broadsword! The Initial Point is... Lima-Tango, heading 356, distance... 3200 meters, elevation approximately 60 meters, single T-14 tank, grid coordinates... seven-five-zero-niner-eight-eight-three-zero, no markers available, friendly location 250 meters southwest, egress to... uh, 348...? Did I get it right, over?"

    "Affirmative, Echo Sierra, inbound on a strafing run from Lima-Tango, ETA 60 seconds! Brace yourselves for danger close, over!"

    A blast from the bush announces our allies in the tank joining the fray, a red tracer streaking towards the Russian and again disintegrating into a shower of sparks. Much to our chagrin, the Ivan's engine problem seems to have been less than catastrophic, the T-14 successfuly restarting it's engine and beginning to move, if slowly and noisily, maneuvering to angle itself optimally on both of us while relentlessly continuing to suppress us. Moments later, I hear the engine howl of our air support before the Russian is suddenly engulfed in a cloud of dirt and sparks, and the sky splits open with a sound as if God himself was unzipping his pants. The lads can't help but cheer as the flight of two American A-10s roar overhead and break left towards the sea, deploying flares as they do.

    "Take that, you Russkie mother..." Fender shouts, flipping the Russian off, when a deafening explosion engulfs us.

    I come back to my senses lying on my back, dirt and debris still raining from above on my face. The shrub next to which we were hiding is gone, as are the surrounding shrubs. Fender is lying a few meters back from his original position, alive but dazed and with an obvious concussion. Archer too is cringing in pain as he clenches a bleeding shoulder, and Katz is alive but unconscious, several bloody cuts on his arms and face indicating where shell fragments have grazed him. Only Hog seems to be stunned but otherwise unharmed.

    "... repeat, need effect on target! How copy, Echo Sierra?" I hear the Yank pilot on the radio as my hearing begins to return. With Archer out of commission, I crawl towards him and grab the radio.

    "Broadsword Five-Zero, Echo Sierra here, no effect on target, still taking heavy fire!" I respond.

    "Echo Sierra, we have strong ground clutter and radar intereference, picking up multiple contacts in your vicinity! We need you to mark the correct target somehow, with smoke or IR strobe, or we will not be able to deliver accurate fire, how copy?"

    "Uh, roger, Broadsword... Have a negative on smoke and strobes..." I speak, when an idea strikes me. Probably not a good idea, but worth a shot in the absence of any better ones.

    "Hog, get my gun!" I shout to our biggest comrade, "Start whacking that tank, long bursts!"

    "You stupid? We might as well be shootin' spitballs at that thing!" Hog seems confused and argues.

    "Just do it!" I shout impatiently.

    "But..."

    "Archer and Katz are down, which leaves me as the most senior soldier of this squad still standing, and as such I am telling you to get on that fucking MG and start whacking that goddamn Russkie son of a bitch! Now get to it, Private!" I pull rank on my slow-witted comrade, "The Yanks can't whack Ivan if they can't see him!"

    "Oh..." Hog grumbles, only now grasping my idea, and quickly crawls over to Fender to retrieve my MG. While he looks for a suitable position, I get back on the radio.

    "Broadsword Five-Zero, marking target with tracers, confirm if you see my tracers, over!" I speak while gesturing to Hog, who fires off a long burst before having to dive back in cover as the Russian starts to suppress us with his MG again.

    "Negative, I do not see your tracers, Echo Sierra," the pilot speaks, "Fire some more, over!"

    Hog opens up, managing to pull two long bursts before being forced into cover again.

    "I see your tracers, ingressing on target, ETA 30 seconds! Keep'em coming!"

    Hog manages to pull another two bursts, when the Russian fires his main gun again, hitting just short of our position and the blast knocking us both on our asses and showering us with a generous amount of dirt. As Hog rushes back to continue marking the target, nothing happens.

    "Fuck! It's jammed!" he roars, angrily yanking and bashing the non-functional weapon. Had I been in his stead, the Russians could probably hear me swearing even from inside their tank right now.

    Suddenly, however, the sharp chatter of a machinegun erupts from the bushes ahead along with a stream of tracers, spraying the Russian generously. It seems that the NATO tankers, whoever they are, have picked up on my idea and are now marking the enemy in our stead. The T-14 turns its turret to silence the new threat, when a brilliant white streak cuts from the sky, engulfing the tank in a massive explosion, a barrage of 30-millimeter AP rounds adding a coup de grace before the two A-10s roar overhead. Mentally, I take back every ugly thing about Yanks I can remember having uttered at this moment.

    As the dust and smoke begins to settle, I can see the T-14 burning, finally destroyed for good. I half-expect the crew to get out and hopefully get gunned down by our allies for all the grief they've caused today, but no one emerges. The ammunition in the unmanned turret finally cooks off, plumes of bright-red flame erupting from every hatch and opening with a volcanic roar before subsiding.

    "Echo Sierra to Broadsword Five-Zero, target destroyed, no more hostiles in sight," I inform the pilots, "Many thanks, you really pulled us out of a tight spot today! Echo Sierra over and out!"

    "You are welcome, Echo Sierra, just doin' our job! Over and out."

    Consequently I and hog turn to tending our wounded friends. Katz is coming back to his senses right now.

    "Did we get that Ivan?" is the first thing he asks.

    "Yeah, buddy, we got them alright!" I tap him on the back, "Can you walk or do we need to get the truck here?"

    "Yea, I think I can," he shrugs, standing up with some effort, "Don't hold me, I can manage... It looks way worse than it is."

    ---

    Having helped each other back to the truck where Hog stays behind to attend to Fender and Katz, I and Archer decide it would be in order to find our tanker friends and thank them. Despite having his arm bandaged, Archer remains insistent about going with me. Not wanting to be mistaken for enemies and blown up by accident, we decide to risk going by open road.

    Soon enough we come across our earlier allies, a battered Italian C1 Ariete tank. Along with deep gashes carved into its armor, one of its tracks is blown off. The commander is standing on watch in the hatch while two other crewmen are trying to fix the track. Noticing us coming, the group immediately drops what they're doing and points their guns at us.

    "NATO friendly!" Archer shouts, waving his healthy hand.

    "What unit?!" the Italian commander demands to know.

    "Echo Company, 19th Motorized, 4th Baltic Brigade!"

    "Ah, Lettonia... You help us out, distract tank and call for air support, yes?"

    "Yeah, we did..." I affirm with modesty.

    "Magnifico, great job! That stronzo blow off our track, keep us pinned here for 2 hours straight before you come! Our soldiers at the beach can't go up because of him!"

    "Couldn't have done it without you marking him for us in the end," Archer compliments the Italian in return.

    "You still did most of the work," he smiles and extends his hand, "Tenente Marco Castellani, 32nd Tank Regiment, Ariete Armored Brigade!"

    After getting acquainted with the commander and his men, I leave Archer to the pleasantries for the cliffside near the beach where the Italians have landed. There's some AAVs and trucks and their crews, but not much else, the rest evidently waiting for a go-ahead out in the sea. The city of Sevastopol is visible further down the road, black pillars of smoke rising towards the overcast sky, an occasional explosion billowing above the skyline. As far as the eye can see, the sea is full of warships and landing craft, quite a few of them damaged, burning and sinking, missiles flying back and forth between dry ground and them and tracers lighting up the sky.

    Then, as I turn to face Sevastopol itself, the corner of my eye catches a brilliant meteor-like streak pierce the clouds overhead, descending rapidly towards roughly where the Port of Sevastopol should be. And before I can make anything of it - a blinding blue-white flash brighter than anything I've seen before, save for one time before in Strasbourg. The agony of my overwhelmed eyes is just as brilliant as the flash even though I'm lucky the brightest part of it was partly obscured by a hillside. I hear Archer and the Italians scream in shock and terror even over my own scream. I don't really know for how long I've been standing there dumbstruck, clawing at my blinded eyes, when a clap more deafening than anything else heard today finally arrives, a fiery hand lifting and casting me over the precipice and into the abyss waiting below.

    ---

    As I come to my senses, the first thing I feel is a chilling, overwhelming, wet cold.
    Last edited by CyberWar; January 24th, 2019 at 02:20 PM.

  2. #2
    I'll take some time to read this tomorrow, as this is quite lengthy, but there are two things I want to address.

    Firstly:
    The overly formal language at the beginning of the story doesn't really fit with the life-threatening situation that the character seems to be in. If this is just how the character is, then I understand it is done to emphasise how the character is as a person, but otherwise, I would abstain from it.

    Secondly:
    I recommend you to use some kind of marker, like italicisation, to let the reader know that it is the characters current thoughts we are reading, and not his/her narration.
    "Up! I must go up for air!" The raw thoughts of the character. "I'm already struggling for breath, trying to resist the overwhelming urge to inhale that which would bring certain death." The character narrating his/her predicament.

    PS. Love your poetry <3

    I'd like to think I'm actually a nice person in real life


  3. #3
    Before I deliver my criticism, let me just say this:

    I enjoyed reading this story.

    The reason I say this is because I know just listing off criticism make it seem like you dislike the story and that it's bad. That's not what my opinion of this work.

    Nonetheless, let's continue to the criticism.



    Firstly, run this through an autocorrect like Grammarly or something. There are basic spelling errors that could easily be removed by such software.


    Secondly, though you've probably heard this before, try to show more than you tell. Telling is useful when you want to gloss over things that are uninteresting or unimportant, but you use it to describe things that should by all accounts be interesting.

    For example, saying that the child heard the parents fight is a lot less interesting than:

    "Adam laid in his bed, but regardless of how tired he felt he knew he would not sleep tonight.

    "..and you just don't care about what I think!"

    "You want me to be more considerate when you don't even give a damn about what I think is important!? I've said thousands of times, please help me keep the house clean, I am truly bothered by it when it is not tidied, and let me ask, how much have you respected that?"

    Adam knew she had not respected that very well. He still wished dad and mom would stop screaming. Pressing his fingers into his ears and his face into his pillow, he tried to think of something else. It didn't work very well."

    Now, this might not have been such a good example as I quite haphazardly put it together, but I still think you get what I'm saying.


    And lastly, STAY CONSISTENT. Nothing breaks immersion more than inconsistency.

    For example, the contrast between how the character narrates his life and how he speaks is quite jarring.

    "I feel cold. Overwhelming, chilling, wet cold. Such is the first sensation that overwhelms me as I regain consciousness. I want to take a deep breath that I vaguely recall was knocked out of me moments ago, but the engulfing sensation of chilling water squeezing its way into my every pore and orifice advises me against such a step."

    "Finally, the last buckle gives way, letting me slip out and start my race to the top. I feel like my lungs are about to burst, the desire to breathe in becoming pure agony, and I almost yield mere meters before the surface, only the natural buoyancy of my body saving me from drowning an arm's reach from safety. I inhale just as my head breaches the surface, immediately starting to cough wildly to expel the half-pint of seawater ingested along with the life-saving breath of air."

    "Frankly that's the part that really bothers me. Russians have a long history of tenaciously defending every inch of land they believe to be theirs, regardless of how false and absurd that belief might be, and their belief in Crimea being theirs was one of the things that led to this war in the first place. This dogged determination along with a casual disregard for the lives and well-being of their own troops and civilians as long as military objectives are met makes Russians a very unpleasant foe under any circumstance, let alone where their real or perceived "native soil" is concerned."

    -

    "I don't," I admit, "But unless you have a better idea of getting past this sum'bitch, we might as well try fucking it up the ass!"

    "All that asshole has gotta do is turn his turret camera our way and we'll be royally fucked long before Beast gets done whatever she intends to do!"


    I think you get what I'm saying. The narration of the main character doesn't really fit with how he is.

    Hopefully, this will be helpful.

    I'd like to think I'm actually a nice person in real life


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