Colonel Boris Nemov was still a bit disappointed by the fact he had not been promoted from colonel to brigadier general after the Coup at Sühbaatar. It had been an amazing success. The Mongolian troops had gone under the Russian armor like wheat under a scythe.
He'd met the president, been awarded medal heaped upon medal, but, strangely, no promotion. Annoying. Most likely the Russian government couldn't afford to pay as many general's salaries as they were paying now, let alone if they made more. It made sense but it still stung.
He was, however, still a soldier and he had a job to do. Right now the Iron Man was preparing his troops for the Winter Offensive. At midnight the great movement would begin. Though they'd been sleeping days for the past two weeks or so, his troops were still unused to being up through all the night hours. Groggy men and women were sitting around the campfires trying to keep each other awake. There were two fires: one for officers and a much larger one for the common soldiers. Separation kept detrimental fraternizing to a minimum.
Away from the tents and the fire there were rows and rows of T-1K3s and other tanks. Sitting by itself like a wolf kicked out of it's pack was the brigade's singular leaper. A sprinkling of snow was beginning to come down, and it made the metal war machines stand out brightly. Nemov was the only Russian in the camp not sitting at one of the fires. He was sitting on a log looking at the snow falling.
Nemov looked up briefly to see Yuri Marchenko.
"The officers were wondering about where you were."
"I'm right here. I don't plan on sitting with the troops tonight."
The major sat down next to his commander.
"You've been spending less and less time with the men lately, sir. I don't think the non-coms have really noticed, but the officers are starting to worry."
"What do you think of the snowfall, major? It looks like the stars have lost their course and fallen to earth, don't you think."
Without looking up, Marchenko said, "Yes, sir."
With a sigh the Iron Man realized Marchenko wasn't going to swallow a change of subject. He produced from his overcoat a crumpled, filthy piece of paper and handed it to his second in command.
Marchenko read it loudly, but not loud enough to be overheard, saying, "'To: Colonel Boris Nemov. Colonel, we regret to inform you that in the series of nuclear weapons detonated by the Mongolians your wife, children, and parents became casualties of...' My God, colonel!"
"My entire immediate family lived in St. Petersburg. I had a few distant cousins and relatives in Tomsk and Kemerovo. I am currently," he paused for a moment, "The last living Nemov."
The snow continued to fall, but without a single change in weather the climate now seemed depressing. Marchenko slowly folded the letter as though he wanted to give it back to the colonel, but couldn't out of courtesy. Nemov realized this and outstretched his hand so that the major could place the paper in it.
"My boy Aleksandr was about to graduate. My baby Marina had only just started walking. Ivan, Sergey, all gone in an instant. My mother, my father, my brothers, even my beautiful wife."
"You've continued working and doing your duties just as if..."
Marchenko almost said, "as if nothing had happened to them", but didn't. Even the oblivious Marchenko could clearly see that Nemov felt as though his heart had been ripped from his body and his life was over. But he didn't complain. He didn't cry. Marchenko realized how fitting the name "Iron Man" was. He was as sure as iron, even in the face of utter catastrophe.
The Russian major had just about worked up the nerve to say something else to his commander when the leaper exploded. Simultaneously tents, tanks, and key points all around the camp detonated, and sent the surviving troops into an utter frenzy.
"Manuscripts don't burn"
- Mikhail Bulgakov
Hi, I'm horror and science fiction author Steve Kozeniewski (pronounced: "causin' ooze key.") Welcome to my blog! You can also find me on Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, and Amazon. You can e-mail me here, join my mailing list here, or request an e-autograph here. Free on this site you can listen to me recite one of my own short works, "The Thing Under the Bed."
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