No Parades

Efreitor Dmitri Iashvili was in a foul mood. The compartment of the BMP was cramped; smashed hip to hip with seven other men. The stale air stank with the smells of the Motor Rifleman: diesel fuel and sweat, gun oil and foul breath laden with the stench of tinned meat. The bench rattled with the vibration of the vehicle's engine and its treads clattering along the pathetic excuse of an Afghan highway. The carrier bucked as it hit another depression in the road, sending the eight men an inch into the air and slamming them back down onto the hard, thin steel benches. Grumbling and swearing floated through the cabin in Georgian, Russian, and Uzbek. In the Motor Rifles, every man's spine was a casualty.

On a normal day, Dmitri would have merely been miserable. Such was life in the Soviet Army. But today was beyond normal. Sasha died in his sleep last night. Ate half a kilo of opium and never woke up. The war got to all of them; Sasha wasn't the first to turn to the bottle or the poppy. But it had gotten worse in the last few months. The last cordon operation had been ugly. Dead kids. Sasha took it hard. The letter from his now ex-girlfriend was the last straw. Dmitri had watched as they carried his lifeless body out on a stretcher. Now they were saddled with some Uzbek kid pulled from an Engineering detachment to fill the billet. To crown off their misfortune, they were stuck escorting an Afghan government convoy; trucks full of rice and boots and slow, fat petrol tankers that made irresistible bait for the Mujaheddin. Yes, on a normal day, Dimitri would have merely been miserable. But for a day like today, Dmitri was still trying to construct a suitable adjective.

Suddenly Dmitri's ears picked up what sounded like a series of low thuds over the din of the engine. The riflemen began to trade glances pregnant with knowing, fearful anticipation. The BMP lurched to a halt, sending helmeted heads smacking against one another with an dull, irritated clunk. The vehicle's crew began shouting as the 73mm main gun of the carrier belched, its autoloader sending a spent shell clattering to the floor of the cabin. Machine gun chatter followed as the PKT coaxial opened up. From behind, Sergeant Sidorovich began shouting orders over the pandemonium. As Dmitri reached to unbuckle his safety harness, it became painfully clear to him that this hatefully rotten day was about to get a whole lot worse.

On command from the Sergeant, Efreitor Iashvili and his squadmates popped the overhead hatches that gave them access to the outside world. Dmitri poked his head into the afternoon sun. It would have been pleasant, were it not for the scene of pure chaos that boiled all around him. Along the road ahead several vehicles were burning, black smoke billowing into the sky, choking the air with their fumes. The lead BMP had been imobilised, trapping the rest of the convoy on the narrow valley road. The PKT machinegun in the turret continued to chatter, much louder now outside of the hull. The 73mm Grom belched again. The pressure wave of the muzzle blast slammed into Dmitri, pounding into his head, chest, and ears. The shell arced into the air, detonating low on the mountainside to the left. Just above the impact point, Dmitri thought he could perhaps see tiny flashes and puffs of dust that betrayed the attackers' positions. Just then a trail of white smoke lept from the hillside, followed by a snap and a hiss.

'RPG!'

The warning barely escaped Dmitri's throat before the rocket slammed into another truck, pelting the highway with shrapnel and touching off its fuel tank. The sound of the shrapnel bouncing off the carrier was punctuated by the high pitched whine of the occasional rifle round that ricocheted off the armour. Had he a choice, Dmitri would have much rather ducked back into the BMP and waited for this bullshit to be over. He hadn't chosen to come to this forsaken country and had no intention of getting killed in it. Of course, he didn't have a choice, because then Sergeant Sidorovich would kick his head in. So he brought his AK to his shoulder and called out where he had seen the rocket launch, before spraying a burst into the mountainside. His comrades followed suit, seven AK-74s spraying hot lead as their squad gunner Dobrynin poured it on with his RPK. The BMP crew kept pace, the PKT continuing to throw rounds into the side of the mountain. So far it seemed Dmitri's vehicle was the only one who was managing a response. The two BMPs at the head of the coloumn seemed out of action, and the Afghan army soldiers manning the trucks had largely sought shelter in a roadside ditch without firing a shot. Dmitri's squad was the only one left fighting back. That made them a target.

This grew painfully obvious as the sound of rounds impacting the BMP became more frequent. This distressingly coincided with Dmitri's rifle running dry. As he reached reached for a fresh magazine at his belt, he turned to Sergeant Sidorovich. The burly Ukrainian had just begun to speak as he was suddenly cut short by .303 rifle round punching through his helmet, spraying Dobrynin with his brains. As the Sergeant slumped down into the troop compartment, Dmitri merely stared at the once formidable man, paralysed. Sidorovich was not a kind man. It would be a mistake to say his squad loved him. He was a loud, arrogant, violent drunkard who occasionally beat his own troopers. He was also a tough sonofabitch that had brought them through a dozen engagements alive. Now he was dead. An icy fear began to claw into Dmitri as his squadmates traded looks fraught with uncertainty and desperation. The Soviet soldier was not trained to nurture initiative. The sergeants were there to make sure the privates did what the officers told them. That was all. The only Soviet officer in the convoy was in the now burning lead vehicle. The platoon's Senior Sergeant was likely already dead or wounded. With Sidorovich gone, that effectively left Efreitor Dmitri Iashvili in charge.

Fuck.