While They Sleep

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Status: In Progress  |  Genre: Action and Adventure  |  House: Booksie Classic

Chapter 13 (v.1) - Shut The Door To Catch The Thief

Submitted: March 07, 2016

Reads: 167

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Submitted: March 07, 2016

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The four rebels did their best to stay under the cover of the trees as they made their way down the valley.  But they had to cross the creeks and gulleys that ran down the slopes.  During heavy rains, the water washes away soil and vegetation in these low spots.  The thin grasses and moss that manage to survive there will not hide a man.  We spotted them as they crossed the creek below our position.

Emil and I hiked down to the rebel’s trail and waited for Team 2.  We took our time pursuing the men.  We knew where they were going, and it would take several hours of hiking to reach the ambush.  We checked in with the other teams via radio whenever we could.  At the bottom of the valley, the dips and turns of the steep slopes would occasionally put us out of contact with the relays.

We were in one of the low spots, when Private Maslak fell forward.  He hit the ground about the same time we heard the bullet.  The rest of us found cover as all hell broke loose.

Unknown to us, a second group of rebels had been following behind the first.  The ambushers had been ambushed.

Later we would determine there were six men in the second group.  They were on higher ground and had us pinned down.  We tried the radio and got no response.  Our opponent had chosen a good spot for their attack.

Things took a turn for the worse a few minutes later when we started receiving fire from the rear.  The first group of rebels had turned around when they heard the gunfire and was now on the higher ground at our backs.  We were caught between the pincers of the two rebel groups.  We had been hoisted by our own petard.

Boulders shielded us from direct fire, but the protection they offered would be temporary.  We could tell by the sound of their gunfire, our attackers were working their way towards us.  A bullet ricocheted off of a rock and hit Sergeant Alexeyev in the face.  It was down to Emil and myself.

We knew the end was near.  I made some hand gestures to Emil.  He nodded.  He would wait for my cue, then we would run in opposite directions at the same time.  Hopefully we would be able to get some shots off at the rebels before we were gunned down. 

I was about to make the call, when we heard the sound of helicopter rotors.  Then the radio.  Team 3 became suspicious when we had not checked in, and decided to call in the cavalry.  We gave the helicopter crew our location, then fired a flare up through the trees.

The four barrels of the Hind’s Yak-B Gatling gun began peppering the forest ahead and behind us.  We stopped receiving incoming fire.  The rebels had no doubt done what sane people would do when faced with certain death from above.  They ran.

When the bullets stopped, Emil and I checked on Alexeyev and Maslak.  They were dead.  We turned our attention to the rebels.  It is not possible to outrun a helicopter.  The rebels could avoid detection from above by staying under the trees.  But they would be visible when they crossed the creeks or gulleys.

The helicopter crew radioed when they spotted any of the rebels.  A few moments later, we would hear bursts from the Hind’s Gatling gun.  They tagged some of the men that way.  But in this game of cat and mouse, there were a lot of mice.  Emil and I needed to get into the game. 

The rebels had a head start.  They had probably been running for ten minutes by then.  I explained my idea to Emil.  We took off our heavy clothes, put on running shoes, and left our packs and rifles.  We radioed our intentions to the helicopter, and began running as fast as we could down the riverside trail.

We were going to take advantage of the caching we had been doing for months.  We knew where the stores of weapons and other supplies were, up and down the valley.  We were lightly clothed and running on a trail.  The men we were chasing wore heavy clothing, carried rifles, and were moving through thick trees.

The helicopter crew could see us and let us know where we were in relationship to the rebels.  After a half hour of running, we were ahead of the men by almost a kilometer.  We turned up the hill and headed for the cache site.  We pulled off the tarp, and grabbed the rifles, ammo, and a pair of jackets.

We took up positions amid the rocks and waited.  The three men came into sight at 50 meters.  I told Emil to aim for the man on the right and wait for my call.  When I whispered “now”, two shots rang out, and two men fell.  The third ducked behind some trees. 

Emil spoke to the helicopter crew while I shot a flare into the sky.  While the Gatling gun pulverized the slope in front of us, we moved to the ground above the trapped man’s position.  We saw three bodies on the floor of the forest.  The Hind’s powerful weapon had done its job.

We continued to scour the hills after that but did not find any more of the rebels.  We called off the hunt at sundown.  The next day, we gathered bodies and counted up the score.  Of the ten rebels, we had killed eight.  Two managed to get away.  The rebels had killed Alexeyev and Maslak.  The numbers were on our side.  But it did not feel like a victory.  We had lost two good men.

I felt personally responsible.  Neither of them would have been there if not for me.  I felt like I had been outsmarted.  The rebels saw through our ruse.  When we were rescued by the helicopter, Emil and I were moments away from death.

Emil tried to cheer me up on the long flight to Ulaanbaatar.  I told him I had lost my confidence.  I wasn’t sure if I could do this any more.

Spending time with Irina helped my mood.  Then, everything shifted gears when we met with Colonel Kashuba.  Apparently, my sense of failure was not shared by General Malikov and the men he answered to.  Our efforts had been noticed. 

Kashuba said, “We’ve got much bigger problems than the guerilla attacks you have been dealing with.  The situation in Afghanistan has not improved.  The Mujahideen are well supplied by the West.  We are having the same kind of troubles with them in the Hindu Kush Mountains as you have been dealing with here.  But on a much larger scale.”

“We are going to Afghanistan.  But, not to fight.  We are going as teachers.  We will go to Bagram and conduct high altitude survival training for our Spetsnaz forces.  I want you to start writing things down and organize a training plan.  Make a list of supplies and the facilities you will need access to.”

We travelled 3300 kilometers to the land of the Afghans.  We were based at the airfield in Bagram.To the east is the Panjshir valley.  Where some of the fiercest fighting has been occurring.  We did our training to the west, in the sparsely populated Parvan region.

By then, I had been Private Ivan Andreyevsky for two years.  My American accent had faded.  Emil had been pointing out inconsistencies in my speech, and made me practice over and over, until my pronunciations were authentically Russian. 

Kashuba had given me a file folder with photographs and documents from Andreyevsky’s past.  I memorized the information and the faces.  Unless I ran into someone from his orphanage, no one would suspect I was not him.

That did not stop me from being overwhelmed when I stood in front of the first group of men.  They were all older, and all had more combat experience than me.  It was not typical for a private to be leading a training session for officers.

Each session began with an emergency survival drill.  The scenario was four soldiers in a UAZ, driving through a remote area.  The vehicle breaks down.  The men are on their own, but must keep moving, to stay ahead of the approaching enemy.

We had two or three teams of men at a time.  They carried their normal gear, including weapons.  We were in a war zone.  But for the purposes of the exercise, they were not allowed to use anything except their knife, and whatever they could salvage from the vehicles or find in the environment around them.

To successfully complete the drill, they would have to scavenge what they could from the UAZ, then hike over the mountain ridge, to a pickup point on the highway.  It would take more than one day, so they would have to survive a night in the cold mountains.  Emil and I were there to teach and give advice.

The war had created a junkyard full of damaged vehicles on the back lot of the air base.  Emil and I had already dissected several UAZs and spent time thinking about how we could use the various parts. 

We cut off seat covers and made them into backpacks.  Wire can be used for rope.  A rear view mirror can signal rescuers.  We came up with a list of things that car parts can be used for in a survival situation.  Our students came up with ideas we had not thought of.

Surviving the night in the cold and at altitude is not an easy task.  We were above the tree line.  The thin vegetation that grows here can be used to start a fire, but not to sustain one.  Without a tent, a roaring fire, or a hole in the ground, the only way to stay warm at night is to make a snow cave.  Some of the men had made quinzhees before.  I learned new tricks from some of the students at the same time I was teaching others.

One of the things Emil and I had brainstormed about was how to make hunting traps from what we could salvage from the vehicles.  We found out that the plastic trim at the bottom of the door wells could be cut into strips and used in the same manner as tree branches.  We were able to make my favorite, a figure 4 deadfall trap.  We made a variety of snares using salvaged electrical wire.  One student made a bird cup trap, using a drinking cup and axle grease.

There are very few animals at high altitude.  Even insects are hard to find.  We were always hungry by the time the truck picked us up.  We saved the traps we built and used them in a later drill, below the tree line.

Time passed and dozens of soldiers went through our classes.  I stopped dreaming about killing.  One night, Emil noticed I was staring off into the distance.  He asked what was on my mind.  I said, “I guess I was thinking about Irina.”  He didn’t even tease me about it.

Life fell into a predictable routine.  Each session lasted three weeks, then we would take a week off to rest and prepare for the next group of men.  I began to forget about the crazy things I’d done the past few years. 

As it turned out, even when I wasn’t looking for trouble, it managed to find me.  We were about to have an encounter with the Mujahideen.

It started when a snowstorm trapped us for three days during one of our high altitude drills.  We were giddy with hunger when the truck picked us up.  It carried some emergency food rations, but crackers and canned meat only go so far. 

As the truck rolled through Charikar, a small town just east of the air base, we slowed as we reached downtown traffic.  The street was lined with restaurants and food carts.  To hungry men, it smelled like paradise.  The driver looked at Colonel Kashuba when some of the men started yelling, “Stop the truck, we’re hungry!”  Kashuba nodded and the man pulled into an empty spot.

Half the men stayed with the truck while the rest visited the vendors.  I was handing rubles to a man for a plate of kabuli when the din of the marketplace was overridden by gunfire. 

A van had stopped across the street and two men armed with AK-47s jumped out.  The van took off as the men opened fire.  They were shot down by our return fire, but not before killing three of our soldiers.  The tires on one side of our truck had been hit.  It wasn’t going anywhere.  I got a description of the van and ran towards a young man on a motorcycle. 

Either he understood Russian or he read my non-verbal communication.  Between me shouting and the pistol pointed at his head, he got the idea and ran off.  I got on the motorcycle and began chasing the van.

When I got to the first intersection, I caught a lucky break.  I heard horns honking to my right.  I saw the top of the van over the rest of the vehicles.  I turned and began weaving in and out between the traffic.  As we approached the edge of the city, I had caught up and was just behind them.

A man leaned out of the window and aimed a rifle at me.  I realized I was too close.  I hit the brakes and veered to the side.  Bullets flew around me but missed.  The van turned and headed up a dirt road into the mountains.  I followed, this time at a distance.

The small motorcycle had done well as I dodged between other vehicles in the city traffic.  Now that we were on an open road, and heading uphill, I began to lose ground.  There was no way I was going to keep up.  They were 200 meters ahead of me on an inside curve, and about to disappear around a corner.  I decided to go for broke.  I stopped, pulled my rifle off of my shoulder, and hit the ground in a prone firing position.  The van was a big target, but moving fast, and at a distance.  I would only have a few seconds to shoot.

I aimed ahead of the van and saw the first bullet’s ricochet.  I walked the shots towards the van.  I made a couple of holes in the quarter panel before I hit the rear tire.  The van slowed down, but kept moving.  It rounded the corner, out of range.  I got back on the motorcycle.  They would not be able to outrun me now.

As I stepped on the kickstarter I heard the engine of another motorcycle behind me.  I turned.  The sun was in my eyes and I could only make out the rider’s outline.  Still, Emil’s stocky frame was not hard to identify.  He had followed my lead, and had commandeered a bigger machine than I had.  We made eye contact as he passed.  He had his usual determined look on his face.

Then it got really strange.  The sound of another, even larger engine behind me.  I turned again, and a food truck was rumbling up the road.  As it passed, I saw Kashuba at the wheel.  Lieutenant Domashev leaned out the window and shouted, “Hurry up!”.  I put the motorcycle in gear and tried to keep up.

When I made it around the corner, all of the vehicles had stopped.  The attackers had abandoned their wounded van and were heading up a trail.  I scanned the slope above us.  The trail led along the low point between two ridges.  The men had a slight head start, and the advantage of higher ground.  Following them up the trail would be dangerous.  I looked at the ridge lines on either side of the trail.  The attackers were now officially on my turf.

Kashuba already knew what I was thinking.  In speed mode, with no rifle or heavy clothing, I could travel along the ridge line faster than the men on the trail.  Unless they had spent almost 20 years running up and down mountains as I had.  I would be able to see them from the vantage of the ridge.  Once I was higher than them on the mountain, I would move down to the trail and take up a strategic position.  Even with a just a pistol, I would be able to temporarily pin the men down from above.  The rest of our crew would be following them on the trail, and would surround them once I had stalled their progress.

We spoke for a moment to finalize the plan.  I began running up the slope.


© Copyright 2018 Serge Wlodarski. All rights reserved.

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