Chapter Twenty-six: The Final Push
Above the Green Zone
30 November 2008
1355 Rivymiyitevko time (1155 Krakozhian time)
The small gaggle of Rivymiyitevko Air Militia Q-5 fighter-bombers had been going around a lazy mile-wide circle in the vicinity of the Green Zone when they heard on their radio, "Defender Flight, this is Rivymiyitevko Main, come in, over."
The leader of the flight answered back, "Rivymiyitevko Main, this is Defender, go ahead."
"Defender, we're passing along an air support mission for you. It's from Army One-One-Seven."
"It's our old friends from Sevenivov," Aviation Major (of Militia) Vladimir Malenkov said on the interplane frequency. His wingman, Yuri Ashchenko, chuckled. To the air controller, he said, "Roger that, Rivymiyitevko Main, we're standing by for coordinates."
"Okay, Defender, you are to immediately proceed to Grid Alpha-Z Nine-K and do a bombing run on grid squares KL5 to PL19. Do you copy?"
It was a while before Defender replied. "Copy that, Rivymiyitevko Main. On our way there now. Out."
"Did I hear those coordinates correctly, Volodya?" Ashchenko asked on the interplane.
"You heard it right, comrades," Malenkov replied. "We have just been asked to bomb the hell out of Founder's Park."
The Sonolovichyrevko Founder's Park was a green field in middle of the city, commemorating both Emperor Yaroslav II's establishment of the city, and Galdar Umayev's proclamation of the Republic of Krakozhia. Tufts of hardy tundra grass grew out of the permafrost, and transplanted trees gave it the feeling of a real park. It was a favorite destination for people of all ages, from curious tourists to lovers to poets looking for inspiration. At least, it had been until Krakozhia invaded Rivymiyitevko. As the days passed, the ordinary citizens gave way to the troops of the Rivymiyitevko Independence Movement, and all manner of fortifications now lined the once-peaceful lanes of the park. Their plan had been to delay and repulse any and every Krakozhian attempt on taking the Capitol. Despite the Krakozhians having expected this, they still tried to attack the position head-on, and the number of casualties was enough to turn the fighting into a stalemate.
In fact, the bombing mission requested by the 117th Army Platoon had not been possible until they had managed to disable the last of the antiaircraft guns located throughout the park. And even though they knew that they would destroy what was possibly the last remaining beautiful spot in Rivymiyitevko, in the end, duty overcame all other feelings. It had to be done, or else, the Krakozhian war machine would bog down and the stalemate would continue.
"Defenders, form up and follow me," Malenkov said. He made a tight turn towards Sonolovichyrevko, and the others followed suit. It took them five minutes to reach the location of the park. "On my mark, release bombs. Three, two, one, mark!"
Each aircraft dropped a napalm bomb on the park. They exploded as soon as they made contact with the ground, and soon Founder's Park was burning. Deep in his heart, Malenkov did not want to bomb Founder's Park. Before the Arctic Revolution, he always came to the place to find peace in what was then a peaceful world. He hadn't been to the park in eight years, and now it looked like he would never be coming back. But orders were orders, and taking out the fortifications in Founder's Park were necessary to remove Konstantin Benin—or at least whatever remained of his revolutionary movement, since he had been killed just a few days ago by a surface-to-air missile—from his hold over Rivymiyitevko.
"Rivymiyitevko Main, this is Defender Flight," Malenkov said to the radio. "We've finished our bombing run, and are standing by for further orders."
"Roger that, Defender, we will contact you when we need you."
"All right, squads, move up!" shouted Lev Arigov. Krakozhian soldiers got up and out of their hiding spots and walked cautiously towards the flaming remains of Founder's Park. Even a very strong rain squall couldn't put out the fires, testament to the power of napalm. The stench of charred flesh assaulted their nostrils. The troops went around the park as fast as they could, but it still took them at least fifteen minutes to reach the opposite end.
"Hold!" shouted Arigov. The soldiers settled down on their new positions south of Founder's Park. As he removed his helmet to wipe off the sweat that had miraculously appeared there in the near-freezing cold, Maria Atolova sat down beside him. "Goddamn thing we did back there," she said, "burning up this Founder's Park."
"It had to be done, Maria. Founder's Park had to be taken out if we're going to advance. It's either us or them."
"Anyway, why are the rebels still fighting? I mean, we've recovered Benin and Domshomidova's bodies from the sea and all that."
"Command thought the RIM would surrender when we revealed their bodies to the world, but apparently their propaganda says that no Krav half-breed can kill him. And their bodies have somehow burned up so much that our scientists could barely extract any usable DNA to confirm that they are Benin and Domshomidova. There's also the fact that their new leader, 'Admiral' Gerasim Kharkov, is just as strong and charismatic as Konstantin Benin. He's no Karl Doenitz, but he's good at his job. And we, the Krakozhians, have committed too much resources for this war to just pull back and pull out right now."
Gunfire suddenly erupted from the direction of the Capitol, and four 88-millimeter guns that had been cleverly hidden underneath piles of supply crates sprouted out of nowhere. The guns roared, and shells began landing on the Krakozhian positions. One round struck the explosive reactive armor of a T-80 tank, and another totally destroyed a BTR-70 troop carrier.
"We've got to take out those 88s!" said Arigov. "They're murdering our armor! We need our tanks to break through to the Capitol! I'll lead the charge." He took a fully loaded magazine, inserted it into his UMP-45, chambered a round, stood up, and shouted, "Charge!"
The courageous and almost foolhardy charge of Arigov's squad galvanized the other Krakozhians into action, and soon they were one mob, firing indiscriminately at the steps leading up to the Capitol. Some were felled by rebel machine gun fire, and their bodies littered what was once known as Great Patriotic War Avenue. Those that did make it through the machine guns sought cover behind the pedestals of the marble statues of Krav heroes surrounding the courtyard of the Capitol. The machine guns quickly turned these priceless statues to dust and rubble. A soldier fired his RPG-7 at one of the 88s, and the rocket damaged the barrel and the breech, and it also killed the three-man crew. A demolitions expert, moving under covering fire, ran over to the second gun and planted C4 explosives on its base. The explosion dismantled the gun from its mount.
"Move up!" Arigov ordered, eliminating a machine gun nest with a single burst of his rifle. The other two 88s were further up the courtyard, almost to the steps to the Capitol. Between the guns and the Krakozhians lay barricades of barbed wire, wrecked cars, and a very large number of Democratic Revolution Corps soldiers screaming for blood and revenge for their fallen leaders.
"Cover me!" the demolitions expert shouted as he moved to place C4 on the third gun. But the place was too dangerous for him, so he decided to arm and then threw the explosives at the gun before running back for cover. The explosion dented the barrel, and that was enough to take it out of commission. The private with the RPG fired at the fourth and final 88, which was next to impossible to approach because it was surrounded on all sides by barbed wire and lots of rebels. The rocket penetrated the firing mechanism, and when the crew tried to fire another round from the gun, the pressure from the combustion of the powder broke it open and killed the crew through overpressure.
Taking out the antitank guns had taken all of thirty minutes.
The final stage of the attack was about to begin. As the Krakozhian Army and the Rivymiyitevko Independence Movement clashed at the final steps to the Capitol, a single flight of four MiG-29s flew in formation towards the building. Each plane launched two Starscream cruise missiles, and the defenders' posts went up in flames. The Capitol's façade, a historical and cultural treasure in itself, was ground to dust by the attacks. And before the fireballs of the exploding missiles had even vanished, the MiGs were already turning around to drop bombs on the east wing of the Sonolovichyrevko Capitol—where the largest concentration of defenders were supposedly located, and it burst like an overripe melon struck by a hammer. With almost all of the floors and support columns gone, there was nothing stopping what was left of the structure from imploding onto itself, and a big cloud of red and gray dust billowed up from the wing. It obscured the Arctic sun for the better half of an hour.
Finally, after the dust had settled, the Krakozhian Army was able to move up to the Capitol. Resistance had become feeble and sporadic after they had witnessed their comrades' fiery deaths. As Lev's platoon moved to open the Capitol's doors, the private with the RPG tapped his arm and pointed up to the sky. "Lieutenant, we have unmarked helicopters coming in from our six," he said. "Should we take them down?" He and the others armed with RPGs and shoulder-fired surface-to-air missiles readied their launchers.
"Leave them be, comrades," Arigov ordered, and he pushed down the private's launcher to emphasize his point. "They're Special Forces. They'll help us take the Capitol."
That explanation was enough for the private and the others to stand down.
The unmarked helicopters heading for the Capitol actually belonged to the Rivymiyitevko Cosmodrome Security Force, but upon orders from their commander, they had removed the markings on the choppers to prevent misidentification. The commander in question was Major Vladislav Deranka, formerly of the Rivymiyitevko Independence Movement. He had managed to convince Marshal Oleg Dallutev to let him lead his token force of secret Krakozhian loyalists into the Capitol and soften up the defenses there. He and his men had taken AK-74 rifles from the stock of captured weapons from the Cosmodrome to replace their obsolescent SVT-40 rifles and PPS-43 submachine guns.
"I hope the Major knows what he's doing," said Anatoly Tufuny. "It would be embarrassing if our families found out that we had died at the hands of our 'former allies'."
"I would have no one to embarrass after this," replied Lazlo Kumshyk. "I don't care if I live or I die anymore, but it would be good to make it through this mess alive."
"Gentlemen," said Deranka, "it's time to set our hearts and minds to the task ahead." He then chambered a round in his rifle. Kumshyk and Tufuny shrugged and did the same.
Their helicopter, a Polish Swidnik PZL-3, burst out of the smoke blanketing the city, and the pilot made the necessary course corrections to align the chopper with the landing zone. Below them, they could see the devastation wrought by a vengeful Krakozhian Armed Forces on the city, from the burned-out remains of Founder's Park to the rubble of what had been the east wing of the Sonolovichyrevko Capitol. Deranka took it all in and sighed. He had never thought that the Krakozhians would do anything and everything to remove the Rivymiyitevko Independence Movement from power, but he knew that it had to be done, or else Konstantin Benin and his cohorts would lead the island to ruin.
The PZL-3 landed on the Capitol's landing pad lightly and without incident, and Deranka hopped out of the chopper. He was greeted by the colonel commanding the Democratic Revolution Corps troops defending the Capitol, a close associate but not really a friend of his. They shook hands, and he led Deranka and his officers into the Capitol. "I'm glad you were able to make it to through the anti-aircraft defenses the Krakozhians have set up," the colonel said in greeting. "So tell me again, how did you escape the Spetsnaz raid on the Cosmodrome?"
"President Benin gave me personal and specific orders to abandon the Cosmodrome to the Krakozhians," Deranka replied in a terse, clipped tone. "He understood that without the launch codes, the missiles were useless to us. Some of my men and I were able to escape to Dosservich, and we barely made it out of there before the Krakozhians occupied the city. Yes, my friend, I am lucky to have passed through the gauntlet of defenses surrounding the capital without so much as a scratch."
Entering the balcony above the Hall of Congress, the colonel pointed to the rows of chair below and said, "I want your men stationed there and there and around the hall. I will sound a general retreat when the time comes—"
The colonel was not able to finish his sentence as he made the mistake of turning around just as Deranka was aiming a suppressed pistol at him. He could not even cry out in surprise as two red circles bloomed on his uniform shirt. There was a horrified look on his face as he knelt down, and with his last breath, he muttered, "Why?"
"I'm sorry, Colonel," Vladislav replied to the body, "but I was a Communist, I am a Communist, and I will always be a Communist."
"The Hall of Congress is just ahead of us," Lev Arigov said to the soldiers gathered around him. "But the hallway we're in doesn't lead directly to the Hall. We're going to pass through rooms and other hallways, and for all we know, they could have been turned into deathtraps by the rebels." He pointed at the room and hallways in question on his map. "Everyone grab as much grenades as you can. Same rule applies to those with rifle grenades. And yes, Maria, that includes you too." Maria lowered her hand when Lev had answered her unasked question.
"Any more questions? None? Let's move up."
The soldiers moved carefully through the ravaged hallways of the Capitol. Every shadow became a potential rebel, but at least nobody was green enough to start firing randomly at said shadows. They made it through the hallway without incident, but it was a different matter altogether for the atrium. There, they saw rebels setting up machine gun positions, and others were using the scaffolding used by renovators before the war as sniping positions.
"Throw frags!" Lev shouted as his troops went down for cover. He took one of his grenades, lit the fuse, waited for two seconds to "cook off", and then threw it. About a dozen others followed his grenade, which landed in the middle of the rebels. Arms and legs were blown off, bodies were torn apart, but still the rebels came. One of the machine guns had been knocked out by the grenades, but the rebels quickly made it operational again.
"We're getting murdered out here, Lev!" Maria shouted while firing a burst from her M4.
"No shit!" Lev shouted back. He looked around the atrium and then saw something that made his face light up. "Everyone get to the sides!" he ordered.
The sides of the atrium had once been waiting areas. Now, the plush velvet couches were turned over, burnt, and riddled with bullet holes. The bookshelves were mostly empty, with priceless hardbound tomes lying on the floor like trash. Most of the rebel troops were coming from there, and the Krakozhians actually had a worse firefight there, but at least under the atrium they could face their enemy, and they wouldn't have to worry about being flanked. They would have gladly taken that rather than the enemy machine guns. Both sides also lobbed grenade after grenade at each other, until eventually the rebels were reduced to only a few elements still fighting to the death, which beat a hasty retreat up the stairs leading to the floor above. There, resistance was weak, if not nonexistent. Lev was leading a column of his troops when a rebel burst out of a side room that he hadn't noticed before. Another rebel followed him out and clubbed the first rebel with the butt of his rifle, and he turned around and raised his hands before any of the Krakozhians could fire. Luckily, Lev recognized the second rebel before his finger applied pressure on the trigger.
"Major Deranka!" he said. "What are you doing here? You're supposed to be up top, eliminating the defenses there."
"A matter of inconvenience, my young lieutenant," Vladislav Deranka replied. "I bumped into this very cunning fellow who wanted to know why my troops and I were running towards the Krakozhians, and not away from them. As to why I'm here and not up above, your attack helicopters are raking everything that moves up at the roof, so I figured my men and I would be safer down here. Come on, then; we don't want to miss the fun in the Congressional Hall!"
The Congressional Hall that Lev, Maria, and Deranka walked into was, quite simply, a bloody mess. Bodies upon bodies lay all throughout the hall, and pieces of more bodies were scattered all over. The rebels currently had the upper hand, and a machine gun was blasting away at the Krakozhians from the large podium at the head of the hall. What remained of the attacking force was hiding behind the first row of seats, and they hadn't moved from their position for the better part of an hour.
"We should take the balcony," Deranka said. "We can eliminate the rebels in the flanking positions above us, and we can snipe at the others once we've taken those people out."
The balcony above was not occupied at all, and the three Krakozhian officers capitalized on the situation by moving more troops above and picking off the tenacious defenders. Once those had been thinned out, Deranka said, "Follow me! We must smash them before they can regroup again!"
"Someone take out that machine gun!" Lev shouted. Every time they took out the operator, another rebel would quickly run and take the dead man's place. They needed to render the gun useless.
"I'm on it," Maria said. She loaded a grenade into the M203 under the barrel of her M4 and fired. After the smoke had cleared, she could see that the machine gun had fallen from its mount and its barrel was bent.
"There!" Deranka shouted. "The rebel reinforcements are coming from there!" He pointed at the far wall, where many more rebel troops were pouring in. "Bring down Konstantin Benin's seal over them and stop them from coming out of there ever again!"
"Andrey, take care of it!" Lev ordered.
Andrey nodded, took the RPG launcher slung on his shoulder, took aim, and fired a rocket at the cast-iron personal coat of arms of Konstantin Benin. The supports, already weakened by several bullet impacts, finally gave out under the direct impact of the rocket, and the iron bars holding it high in the air broke. The seal fell on a very unlucky rebel, who was crushed into a meaty pulp. Other rebels were trapped either behind the wreckage or in front of it, and those unlucky enough to be trapped in front quickly fell under the Krakozhian barrage.
"Follow me," Deranka ordered. "I know a way to the top of the Capitol. The Democratic Revolution Corps has set up their command post there."
"Lieutenant," Andrey asked, "who's the major wearing a rebel's uniform? The one who knows where the rebels' positions are?"
"Let's just say that he's a very important asset to the war effort, and that he does not exist," Arigov replied. "Is that understood, Private?"
Andrey understood what the lieutenant meant. "Yes, sir."
Deranka reached a pair of oak doors just beside the podium and the wreckage of the seal. He tried to open the doors by pushing on them, but they refused to budge. "They are blocking the doors!" he shouted. "Help me break through!" Lev and Maria joined the Major, but even with three people pushing against them, the oak doors refused to budge. Finally, in an adrenaline-fueled surge of energy, they managed to push open the doors, knocking down the three surprised rebels that once held them closed. Deranka made sure they stayed down with a single long burst of fire from his AK-74.
"Follow them!" he shouted, pointing at the backs of the retreating rebels. "They will lead us to the top!"
Just as Lev reached the top of the stairs, a grenade landed right at his feet. In one quick motion, he threw it back at the general direction of the rebels, and he threw curses at them at the same time. With his UMP machine pistol in one hand and his M1911 pistol in the other, he blasted away at the rebels, but he didn't pause to see the damage that he'd done as he went for cover. The fight for the eastern part of the floor was short, as grenades flew between the two sides. Finally, the last rebel defender ran for a secret passage hidden by a bookshelf, and the Krakozhians held that part of the Capitol. "Onwards!" Deranka urged, running for the stairs.
"Major!" Roman Zhemnev, who had joined up with Lev's element during the fight. "What of our reinforcements?"
"Let our reinforcements feast on our scraps," Deranka replied. "We are here to claim the final victory! Push forward, comrades, and soon all this will be ours once again!"
"Damn," one of the soldiers muttered to his squadmate. "How long was that guy undercover with the Democrats?"
The concrete stairs, hidden away from the public part of the Capitol, had been built to give maintenance workers access to the many pipelines and electrical conduits that were necessary to keep the Capitol up and working. Now they were the key to Krakozhia's final victory over the Independent Republic of Rivymiyitevko.
"Stop!" Deranka ordered, and the column followed suit. "Do not charge straight underneath the dome. The rebels have established formidable defenses there. If the machine guns don't get you, then the snipers will!"
"Snipers?" Lev asked. "I thought nobody could access the catwalks around the base of the dome!"
"Blame the restoration workers all you want, my young lieutenant, but they were just doing their job," Deranka replied with a resigned shrug.
"All right, do we still have smoke grenades?"
"I do." It was Andrey, the private with the RPG.
"Give them to me." The private handed two gray canisters over to Arigov. They would emit a lot of white smoke three seconds after the pin was pulled and the fuse was primed. "Okay, once I pop smoke, I want everyone to head for the left side of the dome's underside. The right side has been barricaded with barbed wire, so it's useless to us. Remember, go left, not right. Got that? Go left, not right! Left, not right! All right, I'm popping smoke!"
The two smoke grenades went off with a loud bang, and white smoke began pouring out from their tops. With a wave of his hand, Lev and Deranka led their troops through the smoke and into the protection of water tanks stored underneath the base of the dome. "Be careful around here," Lev said. "You don't want your family to learn that you drowned in the Capitol."
As the smoke cleared, the Krakozhians could finally get a glimpse of where their enemies were. Some were waiting behind the same pile of plywood that they had used as a landmark during their dash to cover. "On my mark, engage the enemy," Lev whispered. "Three, two, one, mark!"
The Krakozhians opened up with everything they had, but despite their overwhelming firepower, the battle took the better part of an hour before it was over, and luckily for Lev, only two of his troops were injured, and none were serious. Meanwhile, the rebels most of their force to the onslaught. Only five were able to make it to their final defensive position, at the roof of the Capitol. Deranka and Arigov knew better than to charge directly at the enemy, but one Lev's soldiers didn't, and before they could stop him it was too late. Five machine guns opened up on the poor soldier, shredding his torso like cheese on a grater.
"He's gone." It was a foregone conclusion, but protocol dictated that Lev still check for vital signs before pronouncing a troop dead. "Get him out of here," he ordered. As two more soldiers took the body away, Maria removed a triangular blue cloth tied to the boy's web belt.
"We need air support if we are to take all of the Capitol," Deranka said. "Who has a radio?"
"I'll take care of it," Maria replied. "Command just assigned a Hind to provide us support if we need it." She took the field telephone on her back and spoke into the headset. "Strela 2-3, Strela 2-3, this is Army One-One-Seven requesting immediate air support." She then said a series of coordinates to the chopper crew.
"Stand by, One-One-Seven." A few minutes later, Strela 2-3 went back on air. "The coordinates you gave us are marked Capitol. You want us to attack the Capitol?"
"Yes! And while you're thinking what to do about it, more of us down here are dying by the second!" It was a lie, as they were well-protected from the rebels, but Maria hoped it would get those lazy flyboys into action.
"Uh, yes, yes. Stand by."
Maria threw their last smoke grenade, but this one emitted green instead of white smoke. "Your target is marked," she told Strela.
"Roger that. Stand by."
The roof of the Capitol suddenly exploded as two Krakozhian Mil Mi-24 Hind gunships fired rockets and heavy-caliber machine guns at the defenders. The assault went on for five minutes before the pilot of the lead Hind said, "We have to refuel and rearm. We will not be available for some time. Hope that got all of them. Over and out."
After Maria acknowledged the pilot's message, Deranka said, "I will go first. Cover me." The major swept his rifle around in a 180-degree arc, scanning what remained of the roof of the Capitol for signs of living resistance. His foot stepped on something soft, and as he looked down, he saw that it was a human heart. Although he had seen his fair share of mutilated human bodies during the course of the Krakozhian invasion of Rivymiyitevko, bile still rose up Deranka's throat, and as he fought to keep it down, he stepped on a brain. Quickly he took his combat knife and scraped away the gray matter on his boots.
Deranka finally reached the flagpole flying atop the Capitol. Amazingly, it had escaped unscathed from Strela 2-3's attack, and the major took the time to look at the flag flying on it. It was the flag of the Benin family, three black circles sitting inside a triangle laying on its side in a blue field. He didn't know what it meant to the Benins, and he didn't want to know. The combat knife in his hand became a blur as he cut the ropes securing the flag to the pole. The blue banner floated away in the wind. "Someone raise a real flag up here," he said.
"I have the flag," Maria replied. "I'll raise it." She had unfolded the blue cloth she had taken from the dead young soldier, and it turned out to be the Krakozhian horizontal tricolor of blue, orange, and green. She walked over to the flagpole, tied the flag to what ropes Deranka hadn't cut away, and then let it fly. The Krakozhian tricolor began flapping proudly in the cold wind above Sonolovichyrevko.
The Battle of Sonolovichyrevko was over. The Independent Republic of Rivymiyitevko was no more, its leaders dead or surrendering to the Krakozhians. The Republic of Krakozhia had won this war, and one of its two "Lost Provinces" had been returned to its fold. Already, some of its soldiers were looking forward to the next war, the war for neighboring Karavatsenin.