“If we back up they will know we are not their friends. We have a respite. We must use it wisely. Where there is one gun, there are others. Search carefully, Vadim, use binoculars. Pavel, do not move the turret. We are one big, happy band of mujahids. But Dan, load HE, quietly.”
“Another gun.” Vadim was nonplused. “I estimate 400 meters away. Bearing 100. And something is going on, Sergei, I hear small-arms fire, sounds like pistols. From the top of the ridge.”
“I cannot see what is up there, damnit. Wait, is that…it’s a helicopter! Two men, fighting, and a person in a black veil running…. is that a woman?” Sergei pulled his eyes from the rangefinder, his and Dan’s meeting, the American’s mirroring his concern. “Dan, do you think….?”
“It must be. She’s blown, somehow!”
Sergei immediately rapped out orders. “Pavel, target gun, azimuth 137, range 150, use MG, destroy!”
The turret swung, targeting the nearest Sprut-B gun, and opened fire with the DShK coaxial. The IRLF gunners were caught by surprise, falling at their posts, a fire beginning in the ready 125mm ammunition supply. Across the gully, 400 meters away, I was in the woods, running.
“Sergei, the gun across the ridge is tracking away from us!” Vadim was watching it through his binoculars. “It may think we are firing toward the village, at whatever was going on there!”
“Target gun, azimuth 100, range 390, destroy!”
With an HE shell already in the breech, Pavel centered his sights on the 2A45M gun. He tapped his laser rangefinder, consulting the return. “385 meters.” He squeezed the triggers, the T-55 rocking backward.
“Vadim, forward! Quickly!”
As the tank nosed into the gully, Sergei ripped off his helmet and reached for a Kalashnikov automatic, stowed in a set of clips on the turret over the radio. Pavel looked over his shoulder. “Sergei, what are you…”
“She will not know this tank! She will think we are more cursed mujahids and keep running!” Sergei rummaged on the floor of the tank. “We need to give her a signal…. but what?”
“Use this.” Phinin pulled a small American flag out of his coveralls, tiny-only a few inches long. One of those you wave at a rally, but off of the small stick they are normally found on. “The IRLF wouldn’t have one of these on its turret.”
With Dan right behind, Sergei clambered out of the hatch, tying the flag onto the tall radio whip antenna. He turned and shouted down to Pavel “When we get to the floor of this gully, tell Vadim to slow down! Dan and I will go forward on foot and try to find Shoura, if that is who the woman I saw was. She will be somewhere to the right of that second gun position. Follow, slowly!”
I had reached the destroyed gun, marveling at the treachery of the IRLF soldiers. I could hear nearby diesel motors and clanking tank tracks. Above me and behind, men shouting. There was nowhere to run, or to hide. Soon I would be caught again, my mission failed. And this time, the Sheikh would be sure I did not escape.
Reasoning that there sounded like many men behind me, and only one tank in front of me, I resolved to escape toward the tank. Tanks have limited vision, and the noise from their motors would keep the crew from hearing me. I could see trees falling across the gully and hear the diesels roar. The tank was close. I would have to be careful.
Sergei and Dan led the T-55 out into the tall grass away from the treeline, heading for the remains of the second 2A45M gun. Nearby, I was on the ground, crawling-I could not see it, but I was trying to sneak away from it. I came out into an open space, where the rains had eroded away the vegetation. I looked around, the Makarov in my hand. Keeping down, I began to move for the tall grass on the other side, and heard crashing brush, men running, the tank’s motors sounding closer.
If I will die here, I will sell myself dearly….