I went to one knee as a soldier in green coveralls came into the open, aiming carefully at his head.
If you know anything about my name, then you know that only those very close to me call me “Shoura.” My friends, of course, call me Sacha. You will understand, then, why I hesitated. The soldier held his hands up in a gesture of surrender, and I recognized my own brother! And right behind him, the American intelligence officer at the briefing with my Commander! Before I could move, or speak, the tank itself became visible, or at least, its turret. And the tiny American flag on its radio whip! It was Sergei, my brother and his men! The T-55 ground to a halt, and I recognized Pavel looking out of the commander’s hatch. In tears I sprang forward, dropping the Makarov, to embrace my brother who I had very nearly killed!
“Shoura, you are all right?”
“Da, brother! How do you come to be here? Why are you here? Why is the American here?”
“Time for that later, Captain.” Dan handed my pistol to me and gestured to Pavel impatiently waiting atop the turret. “We’ve got to get out of here. Your IRLF friends are on their way down the hill now.”
In the front of a T-55, there is a space for the bow-gunner. Though the position is deleted on modern T-55s, the seat is still there and it is there my brother placed me, with Vadim actually smiling over the transmission hump as I bucked the rudimentary seat-belt on. Safe, and out of the way! He and Dan clambered back into the tank, and Vadim swung it into a wide arc, heading for the valley through which they had come earlier that afternoon.
Our course took us low into the valley, and looking through the viewport I could see an explosion directly to our front, mud and smoke spiraling upward.
“Target RPG, azimuth left 310, range 200, destroy!” I could hear the whining of the motors behind us as Pavel rotated the turret.
“I see him. Quickly, while he reloads!” The coaxial machine-gun spat bullets toward the enemy.
But Sergei, peering at him through the commander’s optics, saw the RPG man fire again! “Vadim, stop!” Vadim wasted no time, cramming on the brakes. I braced my feet against the glacis armor in front of me to keep my seat as the T-55 ground to a halt, the rocket-grenade hissing overhead to detonate far to our right.
“I have him, Pavel…” Sergei triggered the antiaircraft machine-gun, and the RPG man fell in a hail of bullets.
“There’s another one! Range 450, load HE!” Dan slammed a shell into the rammer. A high-explosive shell would be wasteful, but to die by rocket-propelled grenade even more so. My ears rang with the deafening report as the T-55 rocked, the 100mm high-explosive round obliterating the grenadier in a haze of smoke and mud.
“Rest in peace,” Pavel grinned at Dan.
“There! Behind that building to the right!” Vadim barked into the interphone. “It is another damned track!”
“Azimuth right 45, target track, range 150, destroy!”
“Dan, Load HEAT!” As Phinin rammed another shell home, Pavel zoomed in his optics. “Now, my mujahid brother, roll the right way and I will give you a pretty present….” The MT-LB nosed out from its lair, was it ignorant of our presence? Pavel took his chance. The laser rangefinder blocked by foliage, Pavel took his cue from the scope optics and fired. At that range, the HEAT round punched cleanly though both sides of the driver’s compartment before exploding, killing the driver as it passed. The APC began to roll backwards, out of control, down the incline behind it as we passed, heading north again.
North, toward the Gumista, and Russian-controlled Abkhazia.
We used a lesser-known road for this part of our trip, for the T-55 would make better time than going cross-country.