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Tuesday, June 2, 2009

The Last War: Chapter 13

Colonel Boris Nemov was aroused from his slumber at the most godawful hour of the night. After gruffly cursing his awakener, he rose and threw his uniform on haphazardly. He stepped outside to look at Irkutsk.

Most of them were grizzled veterans. They all seemed to have stories to tell about Ulan-Ude or some other battle earlier in the Russo-Mongolian War. They were usually stories of great valor and how one man took on an entire regiment, or how this squad took a tank. But they all ended the same way: "Eventually the Mongols beat us back". The more bitter veterans called the Mongols Horses, Imps, or Monks. The Mongols had not given up even a skirmish to the Russians. There was not a single victory that the Russian people could point at with pride, not even a minor one.

Nemov himself had been in many of the skirmishes, but none of the major battles. He had begun his military career and had been shipped almost immediately to Australia for the Aborigine Revolution. He returned to Mother Russia after that, and took his current rank. He'd been wandering around with his force trying to come neck to neck with the Mongolians ever since.

Boris Nemov was a large, solidly built man, but was more like a sullen, unhappy giant than a ravening ogre. He was hairy, with a thick, unkempt head of hair and a bushy handlebar mustache. He was starving, dirty, and greasy, with holes in his many layers of clothing, and he was an officer. His men were far worse off.

"Mongols," said his second in command, Yurii Marchenko, pointing, “Bunch of god damned Horses coming at us.”

Nemov nodded sagely. The Russian soldiers were scrambling into their ranks and trying to take defensive positions. The Imps were pouring into the city. From the southwest, hundreds of tanks were tearing into the city, looking like a herd of bulls that had been scared into a stampede. From the southeast, all of the infantry and cavalry were riding and marching in, kicking up a cloud of dust that made the whole city hazy and difficult to see through from murk.

Nemov picked up his scanner. All of the Russian troops were a friendly shade of green. All of the attacking Mongols were a shade of blood red. The Mongols definitely outnumbered the Russians, and without the advantage of scanners, this would be difficult and drawn out. (Or, quite possibly short if the Mongols took the advantage immediately.)

All of his officers were gathered around him, shivering partly from cold and partly from fear. None of them had scanners except him, so he could not dispatch orders instantly over scanner. That meant he would have to give standing orders.

"I don't want any of our infantry out in the open. We have the advantage of urban camoflague, so use it. Send your men into the buildings, into the alleys, hiding out in the streets. Get them sniping at enemy commanders, especially armored commanders. You take out a man in the cupola of a tank, you take out the tank.

"I want the Seventh - and only the seventh - actually fighting. You men should be backing up our tanks. Try to board enemy tanks. What is the status of our leapers?"

"None are functional, not since the Imps’ last raid," said one of the armory lieutenants.

Damn. Without the weight of leapers in a battle...oh, well, there was no use worrying about that which can not be changed.

"Govno. Well, without leapers the tanks are going to have to take a hell of a lot of fighting. Don't give up an inch of ground. Attack the enemy infantry first. Try to avoid their tanks. Don't clash with another tank or leaper until you have too. Maybe we can whittle down their ground troops and break them before we take some real damage.

"I'm going to be honest with you all: this is not going to be a battle we will win. Just fight your hardest, and when the bugle sounds three times, I want you all to retreat and get as far away from here as possible. We'll regroup at Angarsk. Understood?"

The officers all barked, "Understood, sir."

"Very well then. Good hunting."

The officers all scrambled off to their respective posts. Nemov shook his head. This was going to be grim. If they all worked their damnedest, they might get out with minimal losses, and some minor damage to the Mongol force. Victory was not even a remote possibility in his mind.

He noticed that Marchenko had stayed behind.

"Da, major?"

"Are you sure we should fight, sir?" asked the junior officer, "Shouldn't we just retreat?"

Nemov gave no answer.

Buildings provided much better cover than forest ever would. A man could be shot at directly in a building, and be unharmed because of solid walls. A man could also shoot out of a building, with relative ease.

Obviously none of the men were concerned with keeping their hiding places secret. Small arms fire came from almost every window in almost every building in Irkutsk. The Imps were not to be taken lightly, though. At one point during the battle, a Mongol tank group opened fire on a small building, blowing it away to it's foundation. The charred bodies of many brave Russians lay unburied under the rubble.

The Russian tanks prowled the streets of the city, trying to kill as many ground troops as possible before engaging a Mongol tank. In a stroke of brilliance, Nemov had ordered the tanks to go out individually, and not in companies. This way, the tanks could not only cover more ground and (hopefully) kill more Mongols, but if any tank were caught in a Mongol snare, it would not mean a devastating destruction of many tanks.

The worst part, the problem that Nemov ground his teeth over, was that the Mongols had leapers and he didn't. True, they only had one, but one was enough. What was a leaper? Only the most devastating piece of military machinery Nemov had ever known about.

Things had seemed dire from the start, but they only grew worse. A Mongol infantryman with a bazooka was starting to hit the Russian tanks hard. He was finally taken out by Russian sniper fire, but Mongolian morale was boosted greatly.

The Mongols began to use a cornering anti-tank strategy wherein four of their tanks went down four different streets until they had boxed a Russian tank in at a four way road intersection. Unable to defend against four tanks at once, the Russian tank would soon be destroyed, with no real damage to the four Mongol tanks. This was the flip side of Nemov's single tank strategy.

Though a lot of Mongols were dead, few of their tanks were destroyed and many more Russian lives had been lost.

Nemov was standing in the street, yelling orders to his men, and waving wildly in the direction where a great concentration of Mongols had been spotted. Immediately, small arms fire began to pour toward the enemy position. Nemov’s face broke into a smile, but it quickly disappeared when a Mongolian tank began to rumble down the street towards him.

He said the Russian word for “shit” under his breath. The tank’s periscope was pointed awkwardly in a different direction. The tankers had most likely not spotted him yet. He weighed his options carefully. He could run, or try to fight. He disdained from the cowardice of running. Reluctantly, he decided to try to handle the great mechanical monstrosity.

The Mongolian periscope was beginning to turn in his direction. He sat down on the asphalt to hide himself from view as the Mongol tank slowly rumbled toward him. As the tank drew closer, he laid down in the street, to hide himself from view (he hoped) completely. Breathing slowly and crossing himself, he plucked two grenades from his belt. He judged the direction the tank’s treads would roll as accurately as he could, then pulled the pins on both grenades simultaneously with a flick of both his thumbs. He carefully, almost reverently rolled them down the street, one toward each of the tank’s treads. One of the grenades hit a slight pothole and popped into the air, striking the tank with a resounding clang. The tank crushed both grenades with it's weight.

The grenades detonated and blew the tank's treads off. Rounds of ammunition and stored fuel blew with the explosion, mangling and fusing the tank into an almost solid chunk of metal. Nemov could hear the muffled screams of the few surviving Mongols inside struggling to get out. He respected the Mongols as fellow warriors, but terrible things had to happen in war. He shrugged his shoulders and left the trapped Mongols to their fate, and helped his own men in their battle.

Colonel Nemov checked his scanner. It was showing that all his troops were being pushed back as the day progressed. The red blocks were slowly bumping the green blocks away, eliminating some of them. Every time a red block disappeared, another came to take it's place. Nemov shook his head at the futility of the battle. The sun crossed the sky as guns rattled on, tanks rolled on, and men marched on to their deaths or glory.

By nightfall, Nemov knew the day was lost, both to the darkness and to the Mongols. The bugle sounded three times.

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