The barrages started up as soon as it got dark, but it was just before dawn when things really heated up. It was as if the enemy’s gun crews wanted to give the rebels something they could think about during the day when the international observer’s eye’s were on the security zone and the fighting had quietened.
There was the hum of air over a row of bottle mouth’s and the night lit up with fireworks. The men huddled in the trench watched them fall to the earth.
‘I’m glad I’m not under that lot tonight,’ said one of the soldiers.
‘Probably nothing there anyway,’ his comrade replied. ‘You know what they’re like, they’ve been bombing farmhouses for the last week.’
‘You think?’ Serikbekev had appeared from a nearby building rolling into the trench in a cloud of dirt. He paused and brushed himself down, ‘their intelligence has been getting better. Even command was hit last night.’
‘How’d you know that? We’ve only just got back with them.’
Serikbekev smiled, it didn’t take a genius to work out what the roll of impact flares meant. But it was a good idea to keep just how much he was guessing to himself.
‘What have we got anyway?’ he said instead.
‘Well,’ the trench flooded with light briefly as a match was lit and the smell of cigarette smoke filled the air, ‘there’s ten left.’
‘What happened to the other two?’
‘Why’d you care?’ there was a cough and the light went out. ‘They were kicking up too much of a fuss, Grigor put them down.’
Serikbekev shrugged, the welfare of the captives came second to the men that helped keep him alive. Besides the prisoners wouldn’t be their responsibility much longer, all they had to do was get them to the research facility in reasonably good condition.
‘Where’d you put them?’
‘In the meat locker, it’s the only place with a metal door.’
‘Probably warmer than anywhere else inside with the power gone. Let’s have a look.’
When they brought torches up and had got the babbling prisoners to shut up with a few well-aimed rifle blows. Serikbekev counted the heads and massaged his knuckles, ‘What is she doing here?’
‘What do you mean?’ said Bohdan. He’d been guarding the door and now he stuck his head inside to see what Serikbekev meant.
‘Didn’t you hear the doctor? He said no women.’
‘Ah, come on, she’s not a woman, not really. Look at her.’
The girl bared her teeth and hissed before a spit landed on Bohdan’s face. He wiped it off with the back of his hand and sent her sprawling with a kick.
‘You want I should give her to the men?’
‘No,’ Serikbekev paused, he wasn’t sure he was doing her a favor. ‘She’s for the doctor same as the rest. He’ll need as many as he can get.’
Bohdan hissed through the cellar’s darkness. The last mortar round to go off had taken the room’s electrics with it.
‘A dozen or so,’ said Serikbekev.
‘Then why don’t they come themselves? Don’t they realise we’re going to have to walk her out of here? The trucks got a hole the size of my fist in its radiator, and that’s just in one place. What are they planning on doing with her?’
‘Target, acquisition. They want to see if she can spot friend from foe.’
‘Not judging by that last lot.’
They’d all seen the video of that, all the original members of the militia anyway. Serikbekev had been returned to his unit once they’d finally gotten the situation under control. He didn’t like to remember how hard that had been, and there was no calling for Russian support. Their allies were as likely to bomb the militia members as help them with that kid loose.
‘Then let’s get it over with. I hate these night time ops. They make my bones creak.’
Bodhan was one of the oldest members of the militia. During the protests, he’d been the voice of sanity when the going had gotten tough enough to have them whimpering. They could have broken and crept back to their neighborhoods, but the old man had reminded them what would happen after that.
‘You show you’re trouble it won’t be long until they come make sure you aren’t. I’ve seen it before.’
No one had asked exactly who then, they’d been too busy coughing tear gas and dodging batons. But you got to wondering later.
‘Shouldn’t have joined up then grandpa. Seikbekev grinned and spoke into his radio as the night swallowed his men one by one. There was a pool the factory mechanics were running on the life expectancy of each squad sent into the zone. He fingered the few notes he had in his pocket and wondered how much he should put down.
‘Go carefully tonight, let’s bring as many back as we can.’
There was a thunk as Bohdan’s fist met his helmet, ‘always.’
Warm in our beds,
Safe and secure,
A little world made for two,
I never realised,
Everyone else was invited,
Don’t get me wrong,
Your actions outside,
Might make you fair game,
If there is such a thing,
But what you do between the sheets,
Is your own business,
Does it affect your job,
If you take it up the shitter?
Or screw porn stars on the sly?
If you’re kink is wearing rubber flippers,
Or peccadilloes whips and gin,
It’s no one’s concern but your own,
I want the flat I live in not to leak,
I want buses to run on time,
And cars not to break,
I want people to live,
And I think that’s their decision not politicians,
So do I feel this to be under threat,
Because the leader of a country,
Like blondes with big tits?
Why do we have to ignore what matters,
So we can concentrate on crap,
Apparently we’re not animals,
But we spend enough time,
Running in circles,
Picking scabs and toenails,
As we sniff each others arses,
Filth just does get our attention sometimes,
But I can’t stand,
The idea that a man or woman,
Is judged on what they do in bed,
What do you want to do?
Sit at the end of it?
And tell them which strokes a winner?
If Trump screws around,
Don’t judge him on that,
There’s plenty of other reasons,
To hate the man,
I’d say the same for Corbyn,
Maggie Thatcher or Mother Theresa.
ft. Yurii Seribekev
‘Yeah, that’s our insurance policy. Doesn’t look like much does she?’
Serikbekev and the man in the doctor’s whites turned back to the narrow concrete aperture and took in the kid crouched on the ground. It had started to snow and the fat flakes of dirty white drifted down from the yard’s sky.
‘You ever had an escape from here?’ Serikbekev pointed at the high walls topped with razor wire. There was even a steel mesh strung overhead. He already knew the answer, but he wanted to be sure.
‘No, never, this is a secure facility. The Ukrainians even left us the key’s. The Russian’s did the rest.’
It was a good lie, except it had been Serikbekev and his men who’d dealt with the bodies. The Ukrainians hadn’t exactly left them the keys, people who weren’t breathing anymore didn’t have any choices left. Ivan must be worse than he’d thought to be putting his faith in this lot. He turned to the doctor.
‘You’re Russian friend said you’ve been manufacturing since this started. What have they told you?’
‘That this is just the beginning of course.’
Serikbekev noticed the man’s fingers were bitten to the quick and there was blood on more than one as he jammed them into his mouth and began to gnaw. ‘The American expansion will be stopped. We’ll roll it back like it’s made of dust.’ The doctor’s glasses flashed in the half light leaking from the thin window. ‘Russia will be born again like a phoenix rising from the ashes.’
Serikbekev interrupted, he lived in the region, and he’d already heard plenty of crackpots fantasies since the fighting had started. He just wanted to know the capabilities of the tool they’d have to rely on if it all went wrong. ‘When can we use her?’
‘Soon, we have a few adjustments to make first though.’
The doctor produced a small palm head drill. It’s bit made a sound like a cat purring as he depressed the trigger, and Serikbekev returned his attention to the kid in the narrow courtyard.
A series of short pieces featuring Yurii Serikbekev.
‘Ivan’s mad, you all know that don’t you?’
Yurii couldn’t see the faces of the other men in the truck but he heard the reply. As far as he was concerned he deserved it.
‘Say’s you, you got your whole squad killed.’
They were in the back of one of a Kamaz that had seen better days, particularly after it had been requisitioned from the Ukrainian army. It lurched as it hit a pothole.
‘What am I supposed to do with recruits like that? You saw the state of them.’
Serikbekev fingered the scar twisting across his cheek, ‘they were kids. They died well, I suppose.’ He shrugged as they left the trees and what was left of the sunlight spread into the vehicle, but he kept his eyes on the man opposite. He wanted to see their reaction.
The youth’s face never moved. Serikbekev should have known. The ones that had been with the rebels from the beginning had gotten old fast. Up until now, they would have been right to say they’d seen it all before.
‘How long do you think we’ll last if we don’t follow him?’ said a man near the tailgate. ‘You think we stand a chance on our own?’
‘I think we’ll win, and we need the Russian’s help for that.’
But Serikbekev wasn’t so sure as he sounded anymore. He’d been one of the few to make it off the Maidan alive in the last hours when everything had gone to hell, and the Russians loosed their dogs for the first time. He’d thought it was the government who’d made those creatures but after what he’d seen at the river he knew it went way beyond that.
‘I don’t see why we need them, you ask me.’
The man who’d spoken was sat in a corner and most of his face was hidden behind his beard. The rebels had found Ilya in the deep woods, or rather he’d found them. He’d marched from the trees eaves with a deer carcass on his back and his shoulders slung with bullets.
‘This was supposed to be an independent republic we’re setting up.’ said Ilya. ‘How long do you think it’s going to be before things are exactly the same as before?’
He spat on the floor, ‘Always the same the big boys will move in, muscle us out, and before you know it we’re working for them again. What are those things Ivan made anyway?’
It was the most Serikbekev had ever heard Ilya say, but as he watched his eyes gleam he wondered how much else Ilya saw without talking about it.
‘They’re the hungry Ilya, they’re the one’s for whom there’s never enough and the Russians have made sure they’re going to stay that way.’
‘Then we’re fucked. How long do you think it’s going to be before they come back here?’
‘I wouldn’t be so sure about that. The Russians put a lot of work into this. Whatever was in those needles they’ll have worked out how to switch it off. Ivan was working with them for years before the conflict started, he’ll know.’
‘Does he?’ said Ilya.
‘Wait,’ Serikbekev settled back as comfortably as he could manage in the rattling truck. ‘We’re on our way to HQ now. They want to see us at the facility.’
A shell burst hit the faces of the men sitting on the seats. They were all looking at him.
‘What facility?’ said Ilya for them.