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Миронов Вячеслав Николаевич
I was in that war

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Chapter 1

(c) Copyright 1996-1999 Vyacheslav Mironov ( maxra@mail.ru )

I'm running. The lungs are about to explode. I'm deadly out of breath. I have to run a zigzag, in our brigade we call it to run "a screw".

Lord, help... Help me. Help me keep this furious tempo. That's it, if I get out of here, - certainly give up smoking. Flick, flick. Is it really sniper? I'm getting down and crawlling, crawlling out of the firing limits.

Im lying. The danger seems to be over: it is no sniper, but probably just "randomy" (original Russian word is a kind of such slang, meaning the stray bullets - O.B.A.).

So, now recover my breath, orient myself and move on - to look for the command center (hereafter also the abbreviation "CC" is used to name it - O.B.A.) of our brigade's first battalion. Just a couple of hours ago a report from them was received informing they had caught a sniper. It was clear from the report that he was Russian and, in his own words, came even from Novosibirsk. Fucking home boy. I together with the recons set off on two APCs to get "the clapper" (a kind of the Russian military slang word to name a POW that can tell some important information - O.B.A.), my yokemate had stayed in the brigade's head shack.

When approaching the central train station, the burnt and maimed tech (hereafter technique, armored vehicles, the other words, analogues to the Russian slang to name the tanks and APCs are also "box", "armor", there is a slang word "fist" for the tank also - O.B.A.) and many dead bodies are turning up. The bodies of ours, of our brothers-Slavs, all the remains of the Maikop brigade (the 131st brigade - one of the first units entered Grozny - O.B.A.), the one that spooks (hereafter the name of the Chechen militants, original Russian slang word sounds as "dukh" and comes from the time of the war in Afganistan, the Afgan militants were named by the Russians "dushman", the same meaning as "mujahideen", the soldiers made the shortening with the first two letters of it and transformed into "dukh", meaning in Russian "spirit" - O.B.A.) had scorched and shot down on the New Year's Eve 94-95. God, help me break out... They told, that, when the first battalion had fought the "demons" out of the station building, as a respite happened, one of the fighters, having attentively watched the environs, started howling like a wolf. Since that moment, everybody has been keeping aside form him - a rabid one. Now he charges regardless of obstacles like a bewiched one, there are nothing terrible for him and nothing scaring him. And there are enough daredevils like that one in every unit, both of the enemy and of ours. Eh, Russia, what're you making with your sons?! We wanted to send the fellow to a hospital, but no way - we can't even take out the wounded ones, and that one, though being a crank, can still fight. On "The Continent" he would definitely flip his lid.

Literally in a couple of blocks we came under furious firing. The spooks were pounding from above, madly - about 20 guns - but disorderly. With a couple of fighters I had to leave the APC and force our way through to ours. OK, the men had already got accustomed a bit, had been under fire. And at first I could howl as a wolf, just like that fighter. The soldiers were not mature: some ones rushed forwards, but I had to take the others out of the tech and from the trenches only with the kicks and cursing. As for me, it was no problem, all that is behind me, in Baku and Kutaisi - 90th, Ts'hinvali -91st, Moldova - 92nd (the nations' conflicts on the former USSR territory - O.B.A.) and now again Chechnya - 95th. We'll sort the things out, just let me get out of this hell. But only sound. If I'm a disabled person, I've got a nice toy in my pocket - RGD-5 (a type of the Russian hand grenade - O.B.A.). That's enough for me. I've seen enough what kind of civilian life is provided for our crippled heroes of the past wars having obeyed the orders of Motherland, Party, Government and of devil knows whom else yet during the "reinstating of the constitutional order" on the territory of the former Soviet Union. And now again, we are hammering our own Russian land on somebody's routine secret order...

All this sped through my mind in a few seconds. I looked back - all my fightes are lying not far away, looking around. Their mugs are all black, only the eyeballs and the teeth are shining. And I'm surely looking no better. I nod my head to one of them and indicate another one the advancing direction - forwards, in zigzags, "screw" and rolling. But our jackets are designed not for somersaulting. The sweat is streaming over my eyes, the clothing is steaming, I've the bloody smack in my mouth and feel the pulse in my temples. I've devilish plenty of adrenalin in the blood. Now the short bounds stepping on the fragments of bricks, concrete and broken glass. We carefully avoid the open street areas. 're still alive, gloria Tibi.

Zapp... Zapp... again! Fuck, is it really a sniper? We're ducking into the nearest basement. The grenades are on stand-by - who or what is waiting for us in there? A pair of dead bodies. The uniforms seem to be like ours - Slavs. I motion, that one watches the window, and I myself stand close to the doorframe. The second fighter kneels down near one of the fallen soldiers, unbuttons his jacket and vest, takes off the identity card and tears off the cord with the personal number from the neck. The same is made about the second one. It's indifferent for the lads, but their families must be notified. Otherwise smart alecs in the government won't pay them their pensions, reasoning that fighters have been missed in action and who knows, maybe have even went over to the enemy side.

- Have you got the papers? - I ask.

- Got'em - private Semeonov, nicknamed "Semeon", answers. - What's our route now?

- Now, via this basement, we're getting to the next street, and then to the first batt (battalion - O.B.A.). D'we have radio contact with them? - I'm asking my radiop, private Harlamov. His nickname is "Glue". His arms are long, sticking out of his sleeves, like sticks, no any uniform size fits. His hands are disproportionately huge. As you see the guy at the first time, you get impression that torn off gorilla's arms were sewn on to a man's body. And nobody can rememer why he was named "Glue".

Our soldiers are Siberians. And all together we are "makhra", formed from the word "makhorka" (the name of cheap tobacco - O.B.A.). In the books about Great Patriotic War (22.06.1941-09.05.1945, Hitler Germany against USSR - O.B.A.) and in the movies, infantry is called "the battle fields queen ". In real life, however, just "makhra". And one individual infantryman is a "makhor". That's just it.

- Contact the boxes too, - that's me about the left behind at the railway station APCs, - ask how they're hanging.

Glue steps back from the window and starts buzzing into his handset, calling for the first battalion's CC and then for our APCs.

- Everything's OK, comrade captain, - radiop reports. - "Mound" is waiting for us, "boxes" were fired upon and rolled back for a block distance.

- Fine, let's go, or we'll frost down here, - I wheese clearing my throat. At last my normal breathing is recovered, I spit with green and yellow slime - consequence of my many years smoking. - Eh, mamma told me: "learn English"

- And my mamma told me: "Do not clamber into wells, sonny". - Semeon continues.

There are no signs of the enemy's activity in the window at the other side of the house, and we run in short rushes, stooping down for almost four times of our normal height, in direction of the train station. The aircrafts are flying over the city casting the bombs and shooting at somebody's positions from an unreachable height. There is no single front line. The combats are as the hotbeds here and there and sometimes turn into some kind of cheesecake: spooks, ours, spooks again and so on. In one word, there is a madhouse, almost no any unit co-operation. It's especially difficult to work with the internal forces. In the end, all this is their operation, but we - "makhra" - are doing their job for them. Oftenly it happens that we storm the same objects, having completely no idea of each other. Sometimes we even point the air force or artillery onto IF-men and they - onto us. In the darkness we make shooting at each other and capture our soldiers.

Now we are going to the train station, where about the Maikop Brigade in almost full complement was wiped out. Vanished into the night, with no reconnaissance about the approaches and about the spooks' complement and number. No artillery runs. When after the battle maikopians relaxed and began to fall asleep - that was not joke, no any sleep for a week and only adrenalin and vodka as the supporting remedies - the spooks came up and shot them down point-blank. All as it was by Chapaev (Vasily Chapayev/Chapaev/, 1887-1919, a very popular Soviet commander in the time of the Civil War in Russia, 1918-1922 who died during an unexpected night attack of the white forces - O.B.A.), who had set no guards. And here either the sentries fell asleep or spooks quietly slaughtered them. Everything was on fire, all that could burn and even all that couldn't. It seemed like the earth, asphalt and the houses' walls were ablaze due to the spilt fuel. The people were rushing about in the firey inferno, some ones tried to fire back, the others helped the wounded. Some ones shot themselves not to get into the spooks' hands. Few ones tried to flee - no one of them must be blamed for that. What would you, my reader, do in that hell on the earth? No answer. That's it, then do not you dare to blame them.

No one exactly knows how they were dying. Com-brig (commander of the brigade, colonel Ivan Savin - O.B.A.) with both his legs broken made commanding up to the end, although he could have retreated to the rear. He stayed on the post. Lord, guard their souls and our lives...

When our brigade fought its way through fighting hardly to help maikopians, our tanks had to huck through piles of our Slavs-brothers' dead bodies... And when you see as the tracks of the tanks and APCs chop and hummer the human flesh, how the leading wheels coil intestines of the ones just like you; when a head pops open with a crunch under a steel caterpillar and all around it is sprayed with a grey and red mass of brain - the brain of maybe unaccomplished genius, poet, scientist or of just a good lad, father, brother, son, friend, who hadn't chickened out and had come there in that shitty Chechnya and, maybe, up to his last moment, didn't realize at all what had happened; when your boots are slipping on the bloody mucus - then the important thing is to think of nothing, and to concentrate on the only one: forwards and survive, onwards and survive, save your men, because the fighters, whom you lost, would come to you in your night dreams. And you'd have to write up their death notices and body identification reports.

I would not wish my worst enemy to do that work. I'd rather choke in an attack, blasting from my beloved AKS (sub-machine gun of Kalashnikov, hereafter also "subgun" - O.B.A.) left and right opening my eyes wide, than write those horrible papers in a mud hut. Why are all these wars? Although, honestly, no one of us has so far really understood what has been occuring there and what has transpired there. The only goal is to survive and complete the task saving as many of your men as possible. If you don't do that, they'll send the others, who, maybe, because of your inexperiency, cowardice and desire to go home, will drop under machine-subguns' fire and will be ripped up to the pieces by the frags of the grenades, mines, or be captured. That's all because of you. Do you feel a kind of madness due to such a responsibility? I do also.

Glue noticed some moving in a window of the five-story building, next to the station plaza, succeeded to yell out: "Spooks!" and rolled back. Semeon and I too took cover behind the nearest heap of the broken concret. From behind of his corner, Glue opened up shooting with his subgun at the window, and we began to prepare feverishly the launchers for shooting.

Ah, what a wonderful device is this underbarrel launcher, called lovingly: "launcher", "launchy". Although, weight of the device is a bit too much - about five hundred grams. It is mounted under the subgun's barrel. You can fire straight into the target or launch in an overhead trajectory. It's actually a small tube with a trigger and a safety pin. There is also a back sight, but during the first days' combats we became adept at it so much that now easily can do without it. A standard launcher marked GP-25 lets you easily throw a grenade into the smallest window or send it over any building when necessary. In a straight line it throws to about 400 meters, its frags' hitting area is of about 14 meters. A real fairy-tale. It saved countless number of lives in Grozny. How would you drive out the riflemen, snipers from the upper floors during a quick combat in town? No way. You could try to call for an air strike, artillery and then you must pull out, or try to contact your own "boxes", which, by the way, can be easily scorched by the antitank gunners... And so, every soldier has his personal launchy and he can drive out the ugly foe by himself. The launcher's grenades possess one other incontestable advantage, namely: they explode on impact. Imagine a combat inside a house when an enemy is situated above you on the upper floors and you throw the usual hand grenade with a time-delay of about 3-4 seconds after releasing of the cotter-pin. Now, count - you break loose the cotter-pin, throw it upwards, but this bitch meets some obstacle and falls right back to you. Only later on about January, 15-17, they delivered for us the "mountains" grenades, or as we called them, "afgan" grenades. This thing explodes only when it meets something hard. Before that moment, some local Kulibin (Ivan Kulibin, 1735-1818, Russian inventor of the 18th century - O.B.A.) created the next thing: if to bang the launcher grenade at the heel, then it activates to be ready, and then you throw the darling far away. And, meeting an obstacle, it explodes mowing down everything alive in the closed room.

Then Semeon and I began throwing our grenades into the window where Glue spotted motion. Semeon was able to hit the target at his first attempt, I made it with my second one. The first damned one met the wall and exploded, causing collapsing of a large plastering piece and making a huge cloud of dust.

Making use of this, all three of us, looking sideways at the five-storey house, crossed running the open area, then, sprinting and crawling, in two blocks distance, were able at last to reach ours.

The dupes being frightened imagined we were the spooks and nearly shot us down.

They lead us to the battalion CC where at we found our com-batt (battalion commander - O.B.A.).

Mature is our com-batt. He is not a very huge man, but as commander and personality is great. I won't hide the fact that our brigade is lucky about the com-batts. I will not describe the merits and deficiencies of every one, to say shorter - all are the real men. Who was on the service, was in combats, would understand what I mean.

The first battalion's command center was situated in the railway station's basement. As we entered, com-batt was desperately cursing somebody on the field phone.

- Fucking hell, where are you charging, idiot? You, schmuck, they are enticnig you out there, and you boldly buy it with your nestlings. Make cleansing up, cleanse up all the area around you! To have no any spook in zone of your responsibility! - Com-batt was yelling into the receiver. - Pull the "boxes" out of there, let "makhra" work! You yourself - stay on the observation post (hereafter also "OP" - O.B.A.) and don't stick your head out of there.

He hung up the receiver of the phone apparatus and saw me.

- Good-oh, - he smiled.

- God bless you, - I said shaking his hand.

- What's new in the HQ? Let's go eat, - he offered, merrily looking at me. To see a familiar face during a war is always a delight. That means not only you're lucky, but your comrades are also.

Being still in the heat of the fight, racing and shooting, I knew: if I didn't have a drink at that moment, didn't calm down, the slight nervous trembling would shake me. Or vice versa the half-hysterical condition would catch with the wish to gabble endlessly... So I accepted his offer with gratitude.

Com-batt set on the shell-box and softly called: "Ivan, we've got guests, come on for a lunch". Then the first battalion's executive officer captain Il'in appeared form the next cellar room. Thin and lean fellow, the mainest volleyball player in our brigade, although at his job pedant and perfectionist. In peaceful life always smart, wearing perfectly ironed and shiny uniform, now he looked barely any different than any other one. The same sooty, unshaven, having slept not enough.

- Good-oh, Slava, - he said and his eyes shined a little. We were almost of the same age, only I was a senior officer of the brigade's HQ and he was an executive officer of the battalion. Both of us were captains. We had already had frendship relations since a long while, our wives and kids were friends.

I didn't conceal my emotions and went straight for a hug. Slowly, my nerves were playing off and I was turning a bit hysterical after my short journey.

I didn't worry about my fighters, they were situated amoung ours, thus would be wormed and fed.

- You've come to take the sniper, Slava? - Com-batt asked me.

- Precisely, who else, - I replied. - How did you manage to grab that s.o.b.?

- This dork has been making troubles for us since three days, - Ivan turned grim. - He made up a nest near the station and showered on us over the plaza, knocked down three fighters and wounded our first company's into his leg. We had no possibility to evacuate. We fetched the medics over here, they operated here.

- And how is he? - I asked. - I've already heard that story about the medics, well done, no comments, but what about the company's: will he live'n'walk?

- Yes, he will, surely, - com-batt merrily confirmed, - I let him rest for now, the only problem is about the platoons officers, you yourself know it well, so the commanders are too-yearnies (such unflattering word was to name the institute graduates on the two-years service as the officers; in Russian that slang word is a funny word play about maybe "two-yeary", absolutely nontranslatable, some unprestige name of the institute graduates on the obligatory two years military service, in the officers ranks - O.B.A.). But this lad is clear head. A bit ardour though, like Chapaev on his horse (Chapaev was a cavalryman - O.B.A.), wishes to liberate all Chechnya alone.

- What did the sniper have? - I asked. - Maybe, he wasn't even a sniper after all, you know, could've been some daunted unclear local, a great deal of them're wandering about in the city in these days.

Com-batt and the executy seemed just almost upset. Ivan leapt to his feet, raced to his niche and carried out our, native-produced, SKS rifle. Only the scope was foreign with the untypical bracket, I instantly noticed that, I'd seen such ones before, most probably Japanese. A fine toy.

Pal Palych - com-batt - while Ivan and I were inspecting the carabine, was telling that the detainee had two packs of the rounds in his pockets and they found a case of beer and two blocks of cigarettes in his nest, where he made his ambush. While recounting this, Palych was laying the table: carving bread, opening stewed meat cans and condensed milk containers, salads, heaven knows where those came from, pickles and marinated tomatoes. And, at last, he positioned a bottle of vodka on that improvised table.

Meanwhile I counted all notches on the carbine's butt: equalled thirty-two. Thirty-two lives of ours cut down. The way the snipers worked we all knew not by hearsay. They met us while we were entering the city, at night, using the old maps, maybe of the 1930-40-s. Though we raced, crushing our heads against the walls inside our APCs, breaking up our teeth due to the furious riding and damning everyone and everything, the snipers managed to shoot off the passing armored vehicles' antennas dangling about, and it was made at night and in the clouds of dust. Having no radiocontact ours stopped and the officers sent the fighters to check out what was the problem, - at that very moment sniper killed them. The spooks' shooters have also another ruse: they don't kill a man, but wound him, shooting at his legs, not to let him crawl away, and wait. The downed men shout and the snipers shoot the speeding rescuers, just like the ducks. Our brigade has lost about thirty men in such way due to snipers, thus we have our special account to them. Amazing circumstance is that the fighters took this viper alive.

A few days ago, the fighters of the second battalion discovered a nest, by all clues - the one of a female. All was like always: a sofa or a chair, soft, that's untypical for the men-snipers, drinks, a soft toy. Rifle was put close by. The fighters spent concealed all the day stalking her, completely motionless. No WC and no smoking. Finally they succeeded. What happened next - no one knows, but the Chechen woman took a flight off from the roof of a nine-storey building, but half way down her body was broken from a grenade explosion. Afterwards, the fighters solemnly swore that the woman felt the smell of their unwashed bodies and sprinted onto the roof, and from up there, dived by herself. Everyone, of course, showed compassion, but still regretted that they themselves couldn't speed her flying. Nobody believed that she went by herself for her last dive with grenade. Chechens, as I remember, have never committed suicides, that is in our character - fear of captivity, dishonour and tortures. After that instance, the com-batt of the second battalion declared a phrase, which had become our brigade's motto: "Siberians are not to be captured and do not capture the captives".

Com-batt had meanwile poured out vodka and Ivan and I sat down too. If anybody tells you that we fought there drunken, - spit him in his mug. During a war a man drinks for disinfection, not always one can boil water or properly wash his hands. The front docs' motto is: "The red eyes never go jaundice". We had to take the drinking water from the Sunzha river - a tiny river that flows through the whole Chechnya and also through Grozny. There were so many human and animal corpses drifting in there, that we could forget about any hygiene. No anybody will get drunk in war - that means a certain death. And your comrades never let you do that - what is in the drunken one's mind with a firearm?

We lifted up our plastic glasses - we got a lot of those ones at the "North" airport - and moved them together. There was no clinking, just rustle, "so that our polit-officer wouldn't hear", as officers jested (hereafter polit-officer, in Russian "zampolit", or the mate of the commander for the political work, in the Soviet time the one who conducted political control according to the Soviet principles, later in the army of RF this post was kept, but already without any ideological function - O.B.A.).

- To the good luck, men, - com-batt uttered, and, having exhaled the air from his lungs, bottomed up half glass of vodka in himself.

- To her, the damned one, - I continued and drank also. The heat flooded my throat, a worm wave started rolling inside and halted somewhere in the stomach. Languor spread in my body. All of us attacked the food, it was a rare possibility to eat undesturbed. Bread, stewed meat, pickles, tomatoes, eveything was flying into the stomch. As next one, Ivan poured out vodka and we drank, having silently rustled with the glasses. Lit up smokes. I just took out mine, brought from home yet "TU-134", but noted Ivan's and com-batt's "Marlboro" and put mine back.

- Sniper's? - I was interested, entertaining myself from one of the packs, held out by both of them.

- Yep, - com-batt replied.

- How is the second battalion hanging? - Ivan asked, taking a deep puff at his cigarette.

- Storming the hotel "Caucasus", now we're going to send the third batt and the tanks to help them. Spooks stick up for there and are holding it so far. Ul'yanovtsy and marines assault Minutka Square and Dudaev's Palace (Dzhokhar Dudaev, 1944-1996, - former Soviet general of the air forces, the first leader of the Chechen terrorists in 1991-1996, organized the nationalistic mutiny in 1991, as well as the civil war - 1992-1994 - against the other Chechen political forces - "opposition", allowed and assisted the terror actions against the nonchechen population in Chechnya, was killed in the year 1996 - O.B.A.). But they've no luck there, just losing men.

- That means that we'll be sent in to help them soon - com-batt broke in our conversation. - You must not make here any show with bottles broken against the head, but must think how to save the men and complete the task. I've never understood the paratroopers, they being absolutely sober voluntarily jump from an aircraft, huh? - Palych angrilessly joked.

- And I never understood the frontier guard, - Ivan continued, - they are tought to watch into binoculars and follow a dog during all four years in college. My heart can feel: we'll crunch asphalt over there at that fucking Square.

In my mind I'd already made a decision that the captured sniper wouldn't reach the brigade's HQ. This s.o.b. would die due to some randomy or "when attempting to escape". He, damn him, had already told everything he knew.

In movies agents working with a "clapper" try to formulate the necessity to give up the information he possesses, as well as break his ideology. Real life, however, is a simple thing. Everything depends on your imagination, rancour and time on hands. If you have enough time and desire, you can try to scrape off enamel from his teeth with a rasping file or convince by the field phone. Such a brown box with a side-handle. Cling to your interlocutor two stripped wires of it and spin the handle, having asked him a few questions beforehand. But all this is fine if you're comfortably housed and he ought to be given into clutches of justice afterwards. There are no any marks on the body. It's advisable to soak him in water first. You start up the engine of a heavy armored truck nearby not to let the shouts be heard. But this is for aesthetic persons.

It's simple on the combat positions - you shoot off with your subgun the toes, one by one. There is no one human being who could bear that. He'll tell you everything he knows and all the other things also. Do you feel a seekness, my reader? Just during that time, you, my reader, celebrated the New Year Eve, visited your friends, sleighed being half drunk from a hilltop with your kids, but you didn't come out on the square demanding to save our soldiers, you didn't collect the worm clothes or money for those Russians who fled Chechnya, didn't give some of the money spent on alcohol to buy cigarettes for the soldiers. Therefore, do not look away, but listen to this rough truth of the war.

- OK, let's get the third one over and go to take a look at your shooter, - I said pouring out the remains of vodka.

We stood up, took the glasses, kept silence for a few seconds and quietly drank without clinking glasses. The third toast - is the most important for the servicemen. If the civilians drink it "for love" and students do it for something else, then the military men always drink it "for the died", always standing up and in silence, without clinking. Every one mentally sees before him those he has lost. It is a terrible toast, but on the other hand, you know for sure, that if you are perished, then in five and in twenty five years both some snotty lieutenant, in a God forsaken Fareastern garrison, and a flabby colonel in the most prestigious military district's headquarters, will raise their third glass and drink it for you.

We drank, I cast in my mouth a piece of stew, a couple of cloves of garlic and "the officers lemon" - onion. You get no any vitamins during war, although your body constantly demands them, that's why we called onion the officers lemon. It is should be eaten during war always and everywhere, the smell is horrible though, but we've no women here, so we're accustomed to it and don't even notice anymore, moreover, it fights against the following us everywhere nauseating, turning the stomachs inside out, odour of the decaying human flesh. I'd finished the hors-d'oeuvre, took it with condensed milk right out of its container, fished a smoke out of the com-batt's packet and went as the first to the exit.

Com-bat and Ivan Il'in followed me. In about 30 yards from the basement's entrance, fighters encircled as a thick wall a tank and were having a loud discoursing. I also noted that the tank's gun was somehow unnaturally cocked upwards. As we walked closer, we saw that a stretched rope was hanging from the barrel.

The fighters saw us and made way. The view was, of course, colorful, but terrible: a man was hanging on the end of that rope, his face was swollen from beatings, his eyes half shut up, his tongue hanging out and his hands tied up behind his back. Although, I'd already seen the corpses often enough in the while before that, but I didn't like them and nothing coudld be done about that.

Com-batt began yelling at the grunts:

- Who has made that?! You, sons of bitches, slaughtered, stomachs?! (I do not refer to the other epithets. Ask any line officer, who has served in the army for 10 years or more, to curse a little and you'll significantly increase your vocabulary with the different idiomatic expressions).

Com-batt kept storming, trying hard to beat the truth out of them, although I understood, judging from his sly mug, that he didn't condemn his fighters. He might've felt a bit regretful that he personally hadn't hang the bastard, but he had "to play a movie" before the HQ officer. Both the fighters and I, perfectly read it. We also realized that no one commander would ever make a report to the military public prosecutor about anything of that kind. All this breezed through my mind while I was giving a light to the com-batt's cigarette. It's funny, but this cigarette belonged to this hangman, whose legs are now dangling near my face, then to the shouting com-bat and now I am smoking it while observing this spectacle.

Tired of this too long circus, I asked the fighters surrounding us, amongst whome I saw Semeon and Glue:

- What had he said, before he died?

Out of the clear blue sky the fighters exploded. They told, interrupting one another, that the son of a bitch (the most delicate epithet) squalled he was regretting he had managed to knock out only thirty-two of "yours".

The fighters especially emphasized the word "yours". I gathered they were telling the truth and if he hadn't said his historical phrase, he might've lived a little longer.

Then one of the fighters announced, amusing everyone:

- He strangled himself, comrade captain.

- With his hands trussed up, he fixed the loop on the raised barrel and leaped down from the armor (a Russian slang, meaning tank or APC - O.B.A.), all by himself, right? - I asked choking with laughing.

Then I turned to the com-batt:

- All right, take your hangman down, let's write in the combat report that he couldn't bear the torture of his guilty conscience anymore and thus ended his life with suiside. - I spat out the cigarette's butt and pressed it with my heel into the mud. - His rifle, however, I'll take with me.

- Nickolaich, - first time com-batt called me by my full name (in Russian it is a manner to name somebody with more respect using the second name, not only the first one - O.B.A.), - leave the rifle, every time I look at it, my body breaks upside down.

I glanced into his praying eyes and understood it would be of no use to take away the rifle.

- OK, you owe me, and you, - I turned to Ivan, - be a witness.

- Many thanks, Nikolaich, - Palych was violently shaking my hand.

- Because of this idiot I had to drag myself under fire. And now I have to hoof it back.

- So, take him with you, tell them he was shot during attack, - Ivan made a joke.

- Go to hell, - I angrilessly jested back. - Take this deady yourself and drag back. And if you ever have a carelessness to capture a captive, then either drag him to the HQ yourselves or noislessly finish him off at place. And encourage somehow the fighters who had grabbed him. That's it, we're off. Give us some escort for a few blocks.

We shook hands and com-batt, sniffing, pulled out a brand new Marlboro packet from his inner pocket. I thanked him and called for my fighters:

- Semeon, Glue, we're off.

They came up, fixing their weaponry.

- Ready? Did they feed you?

- Yep. And poured out a hundred grams, - Semeon said. - Also restocked on ammo and grenades for launchers.

- OK, men, let's go, we have to get to the HQ before the nightfall, - I muttered, buttoning my jacket on the move and attached a new magazine to my subgun.

I had a splendid magazine: I took off two machine-gun Kalashnikov magazines. The capacity of the ervry one is fifteen rounds more than the usual stnandart for subgun - every one contains 45 cartridges. I clipped them head-to-toe with an electric tape - this gives you 90 rounds always at hand. It's a pity only that the subgun's calibre is 5.45, not 7.62, like before. The 5.45 bullet has a large ricochet and the bullet "steps aside" and the 7.62 round does properly apply force. There is such a fairy story - as if during the Vietnam War Americans had complained their gunsmiths about their M-16s wounding too oftenly, but killing very few (the same thing is about our AK-47 and AKM, however). Then, the gunsmiths came to the troops right to the trenches, watched'n'examined the problem and began experimenting on the site: they drilled a hole through the bullet's tip and soldered a needle inside the hole. These operations resulted in less stability when flying and in more ricochet than the old one, but also in shifting of the bullet's gravity center and when it hit a man, it reeled on itself almost all of his guts too. So, there were less wounded ones and more fatalities by the enemy.

Ours didn't produce anything more original, but to follow the Americans and, during the Afghan campaign, swapped 7.62 calibre Kalashnikovs for the 5.45 ones. Maybe some one likes it, but I don't.

We buttoned up, took the weapons, jumped up a few times and looked round each other.

- God speed us, - I said, turned around, and saw five fighters who were busy carrying out the same manipulations, they were ready to escort us.

I looked again at the strangled sniper, but the tank's gun was back to its normal level and the rope with the dead man were already taken off.

- All right, let's go, - I ordered and indicated the first battalion's escorting fighters to go first.

Being aware of the surrounding terrain, they didn't select the path over ground as we had chosen, but dived into some basement first and lead us through the heaps and breaches. Once we even went down to sewerage and afterwards had to climb up somewhere. I completely lost orientation and checked our itinerary with my wrist compass. It confirmed the correct direction. In about 30 minutes, the sergeant, who lead us, halted and searched for a cigarette. All of us lit up cigarettes. Then he said:

- That's it. Now, from here, the distance of about five-seven blocks, no more, to reach your boxes, but no more underground way. You have to go further overground without us.

I finished off my cigarette and shook the sergeant's hand, then I said goodbye to every escorting fighter and added:

- Good luck! We all need it.

- You, guys, move on and we'll stay here for 10 more minutes for any case, - the sergeant said.

- Let's go, - I ordered, turning to Semeon and Glue, pointing them at the direction. As a first one, I popped out from the ruined basement, took a tumble, rolled and began scanning the surroundings moving my subgun's muzzle. There was nothing suspicious there and I waved to the guys. First, Semeon quickly jumped out and then Glue with his radio transmitter.

Moving on in the same this way during the next forty minutes, we finally met with our "boxes". As soon as we started for the home base, we were attacked with the furious fire from the upper floors.

The heading APC by which I rode, took a spin to the left and broke into the corner, then slowed down and finally came to a complete halt. All of us, riding on the armor, were cursing and firing.

- Mechanic, you, banged at head, motherfucker, quickly get out'f here, - I yelled into the hatch hollow. Then ordered the fighters sitting next to me:

- Set up the smoke diversion!

- Caterpillar's torn down! - The driver shouted popping out from the APC.

- Fuck a duck, everyone off the armor! Four'f you're pulling caterpillar back on, the rest's defending. Get two launchers ready, others - subguns, second vehicle - cannon. That's all, guys, com'n!

I was seized with the heat of the battle again. The first feeling is fear, but after overcoming it, you begin to taste blood flavour in your mouth and suddenly find yourself feeling cool and mighty, all your senses sharp. You note everything, your brain works like a good computer, instantly gives out a correct decision, as well as lots of other possible options and combinations. I rolled down from the armor in a flash, one more rolling aside and I was behind a fragment of the concrete wall. I'm convulsively trying to find the target, but can't find where from are they hammering on us. OK, now breathe in, breathe out, once more, that's all, I'm ready, come on, Slavs, let's pull their eyes on the black asses! Adrenalin is storming in my blood again and the jolly passion is boiling anew inside of me.

The fighters should not be ordered twice. They promptly and knackily pulled out the pins from the boxes of the smoke makers and our APC was wrapped up with the colorful clouds. Russian soldier is thrifty and, just for any case, nicks off everything that lies around uncared. So, when taking the airport "North", the lads collected all kinds of these smoke makers. The fellows in the second APC echoed our trick with the smokes. And they did it just in time, as the spooks, obviously, realized that they could not mow off the infantry from the armor at random and started pownding on us with RPG.

What is RPG? It is a standard rocket grenade launcher, a nicest toy, that has a sister too, called "fly" ("Muha" in Russian spelling - O.B.A.), a tube-like devise, the first modifications were telescopic. Both ones can be used against armors and infantry. When a rocket-propelled grenade hits an obstacle (on the rule, an armored plate), it blasts off thin, needle-thick spurt that burns through the steel and creates a surplus pressure and a jolly temperature of about three thousand degrees Celsius inside the vehicle. Of course, the tank's ammo detonates. Such a horrible explosion rips off the tank's multi-ton turret, tosses it off at about 30 meters distance and tears to the pieces bodies of the crew and landing force. So many infantrymen died as they were still confined inside their mobile steel traps. It happened sometimes, that mechanic or the spotter had the open hatches and were only cast out by the explosion, a bit broken and shocked a little, but they were alive and no invalides.

Now, these sons of bitches - the spooks - started hammering on us with their RPG and additionally with the "bumblebees" ("Shmel'" in Russian spelling, a type of the shoulder-fired flamethrower - O.B.A.), but neither they could clearly see us, nor we could see them. It can be noted, the whole scene looked pretty comical. Wrapped up with the heavy, standard black smoke, from which the colored aircraft smokes were jollily raising, like geysers into the sky: blue, red, yellow. They tangled in the air, mixing up and coming apart again, diverting the enemy's attention.

Our second APC's cannon made also a speech, firing at random in the direction of the dispensers' salvos resounding. And then, something blew up in the direction of their firing positions. Maybe we were able to hit something, or the antitank gunner made a mistake in the heat of the combat. "Bumblebee", same as "fly", is just a tube and only for the total idiots, there is a note with an arrow "shooting direction". No one knew what had happened over there, but God was on our side that day. As there was no more gunfire coming from the spooks' positions, the fighters jollily howled, mostly they yelled out curses and interjections which were clear for the warriors all over the world.

- Shut up! - I bellowed at them. - Keep pulling the track on. Second APC - on guard.

I stood up and started to limber up carefully my numb back and feet, letting myself no any second of relaxation and scrutinizing the building in smoke cloud clearing where the shooting came from.

Judging from the firing angle it was the second floor. In the combat's turmoil and due to the smokes, I could not clearly see where from they had fired upon us. Then I could see through the smoke a huge hole gapping in the second floor, blasted by the explosion, the black smoke was coming out of there.

Semeon who stayed next to me during the whole combat joyfully declared, pointing at the hole in the wall:

- Cooked, the s.o.b.-s! Vyacheslav Nikolaevich, can we go to check up?

There was an entreaty in his eyes as if his fiance was awaiting for him over there. I was itching myself to do that.

- Wait a second, - I told him and asked the mechanics, pottering about the armored car, - How long will you deal with that caterpillar yet?

- Any time now, comrade captain, maybe 5 more minutes, - wheezed one of the fighters, assisting to pull on the caterpillar onto the leading cogwheel.

- Semeon, Glue, Mazur, American, Picasso - follow me. The rest on the repairing of the wheels and watching our backs. If we're not back in half an hour, you move two blocks to the north. Over there, you wait for another half an hour and then ride back to the brigade's HQ. Sergeant Sergeev takes over from me for the time of absence. Call signs are the same. That's all.

And now to the fighters who'd go with me:

- OK, devil's children, let's move it. Picasso forward, Glue - rear, Semeon - right flank, Mazur - left flank. Grenades on stand-by.

- And me? - the puny but having an external charming fighter, a first class qualified rock climber, put up his voice, he was nicknamed American, as, when he was joined up, he was wearing American flag shorts just visiting the office.

- And you'll go close by and watch your ass, - I replied in jest. - Let's go to cleanse the spooks.

Everyone perfectly realized that the words "to cleanse up" meant to take no prisoners. "Good apache - dead apache", - conquistadors' motto matched our case best of all. What could some spook, especially some infantryman, impart to us? Simply nothing: no maps, no caches, no communication systems - no any thing. Moreover, a wounded s.o.b. would demand taking troubles over, you'd have to set men to guard him. And he could play some kind of dirty trick, sabotage, for example. No exchange could be dealt about him. Finish him off and that's all. It would be better for him also, as we would not torture him at least.

Chapter 2

We climbed the second floor keeping all precautions. In two neighboring flats the firing positions were made. There were the antitank gunner lying in one flat and two shooters with machine guns Kalashnikov in the other one. The most astonishing thing was that they were boyos of about 13-15 years old. One of the shooters was still alive and being unconscious was quietly groaning. He wouldn't survive judging from his profusely bleeding stump instead of the torn off leg. Our cannon shell had hit the room of the antitank gunner and seemingly destroyed his ammunition store. I looked around once more, my good mood was instantly gone away. Of course, those were the spooks and they had shot at us and they had thirsted for our deaths, but... But they were boyos. Greldge! I spat aside and ordered the fighters standing by: "Finish him off and then sweep the block, someone might've crawled away". However I was not sure of that.

The bursts of three subguns resounded - these were Semeon, Glue and Picasso, every one making a short burst at the wounded body. The whole boyo's body flexed out, the bullets ripped his chest open, some one hit the head, it cracked spraying the floor... I was calmly watching that murder. After that I turned away form the corpse, no, I still do not like the deceased ones, but maybe that was a natural reaction of the normal healthy organism? Who knows. I took the pack of the sniper's "Marlboro" and offered my fighters cigarettes.

- I've told in the clear Russian: "Sweep the block". Who has not understood? - I uttered, taking a puff. The fighters left, mumbling something, to obey the order. Meantime I groped about the pockets of the died ones, hardly stopping the vomiting and fumigating myself with the cigarette's smoke.

Wow! A military ID and many of them. OK, let's see: Semeonov Aleksei Pavlovich, born 1975. Semeonov, Semeonov, Semeonov. Something was stirring in my memeory. Was it that Semeonov from the engineering-mining battalion, who went missing after we had stormed the airport "North"? They had sent the fellow for some mine sweeping fire-cord and the boyo vanished. Could it be he, shooting at us? I attentively studied the spooks' faces, matching them to the badly preserved photo on the military ID, looked in the breach at the wall and looked at the antitank gunner. No, thank God, no. Came back to leafing through the pages in his ID. Sod it! Our unit, our Semeonov. Your deaths saved you from a lot of troubles, assholes, otherwise you'd have gotten a ferocious decease. I would've dealt with you myself, during all the wars on the territory of the former Soviet Union, I learnt well how to make clapper ring, so that the one would stay alive for a long while and not mad at all.

In an instance my sadness about the boyos, as well as about their wasted down souls was gone, and I felt only spite, so deep one, that my teeth were cramped. If it's necessary, I shatter many ones with my own hand and do not grudge my own life for our fighter, for the Russian, just only to give this booby alive and unharmed back home.

The shouts of my fighters were resouning at that moment from the ladder:

- Comrade captain, comrade captain, they found some our guy up there on the roof. - American shouted choking.

I flew headlong up the stairs and felt no shortness of breath. A dead soldier's body was lying nailed like Jesus on the cross, just on the roof. His own cut off penis was stuck into his mouth. Even meaning that his covered with the dirty crust face was smashed, I was able to identify him owe to the photo: he, he - Semeonov. And although I had probably seen him about ten times before and had never even spoken to him, a lump rolled up in my throat, the tears welled up and something was pinching in my nose. I regretted that I had never got to know him before: in my opinion, he was attached to our brigade from Abakan (a town in Siberia - O.B.A.) just before sending to Chechnya.

- They had nailed him to the cross and put it up on the roof, seemingly the cross collapsed due to the explosion, therefore we hadn't notice it before. - Picasso began to explain, feeling a little awkward that we hadn't discover the lad at once.

- That's our soldier. - I articulated as cool as possible, hardly breaking the lump in my throat, stopping shouting and cursing, - Semeonov, of the sappers. Was missed in the "North" while minesweeping. I found his military ID on one of the shooters.

The fighters were like current-stricken, they started to fuss about Semeonov, carefully removing him from the cross, while doing that, they tried not to hurt him, handling his body, as if it was still alive, whispering, as if not to wake him up, and the tears were dropping from their eyes complicating that work. I looked away, pulled out a smoke and lit it up, thirstily inhaling and pushing down the lump in my throat. I was glancing sidelong to see how things were going on. When Semeonov's body was at last removed from the cross and some kind of stretcher was made of the lying about boards and rags, and the body of the martyr was laid on it, I said:

- Glue, get on the "boxes", ask them to come closer, say that we are carrying "cargo 200"... Our "cargo 200" (In Russian military slang that means "the dead body" - O.B.A.).

I went as the first one checking the way. The fighters carefully carried the stretcher as if Semenov were wounded. Glue brought up the rear, being loaded with the transmitter and the remains of the weaponry, that we had discovered by the spooks.

Having left from the house we loaded the body into the landing force compartment inside our APC and started our way. I felt the real woe would betide any spook who tried to poke his nose into our way. To confirm my thoughts I looked back, and saw the same empty and terrifying eyes of my fighters, the same as my ones, with the only revenge fire blazing inside and nothing more - no any thought, emptiness. I craved for blood, blood and blood to vent my fury, to break a skull with my subgun's butt, to crush ribs under my boot. To pierce and tear their arteries with my knuckles and ask before their deaths looking in his, her, their eyes: "Why did you, carrion, shoot at the Russians?"

Well, steer clear, s.o.b.-s, no mercy to you, neither to anyone, nor to the elderly, nor to the children, nor to the women - no anybody will be spared. Both Ermolov (Alexei Ermolov, 1777-1861, Russian general, hero of the wars against Napoleon, lead the actions of the Russian troops during the Caucasian war - O.B.A.) and Stalin (Stalin and KGB Chief Beria organized deportation of the Chechens and Ingushes in 1944 reasoning as if they massivly collaborated with Hitler - O.B.A. ) were right - this folk is not to be reeducated, only exterminated.

Our APCs were both speeding ahead as if they were able to feel our mood with their engines running absolutely fine, without any breaks, they periodically puffed at us with their oily exhaust fumes of unburnt fuel, adding some kind of foppish gloss to our black appearance. But our eyeballs were ablaze with mad fire, demanding vengeance and there was no place for cowardice in our souls, there was no wish to flee. Probably, in this state of mind, a man covers with his body a machine-gun's loophole to save other lives with his own one. Desire for vengeance transforms into the care of the neighbors and self-sacrificing for the others.

Looking with one eye sideways at the surroundings I was able to feel with my skin any movement in the houses ruins. Resting subgun on my elbow, having fumbled in my pocket, I pulled out other military IDs taken from the dead spook and began reading. Petrov Andrey Aleksandrovich, well - Maikop Brigade. Elizar'ev Eewgene Anatolievich - internal forces (they and the frontier guards have their unit numbers marked with four digits and the army has theirs marked with five ones). Altogether, eight IDs. Altogether, eight lives. Where are you lads? Seemingly, no one will ever know and your mothers will be crying up to the ends of their lives, there're no graves of the sons, they can't visit them. All this is awful.

I had looked through all the IDs and made certain there were no more fighters from our brigade and no one homeboys in there. I hid them back, looked at my scamps and shook my head, assuring them that none of the remaining IDs belonged to anyone of ours. They again turned their concentrated faces away, watching the fleeting viewes of the recent combats.

Demolished buildings and houses, trees tornblasted out with the roots. The burnt and given up tech was seen here and there. There were mostly the bunt tanks with caterpillars broken off and their turrets ripped off and tossed away for many meters. APCs, armored trucks with their thinner armor plates and being lighter, were just blasted to pieces - all depended on where on the gunner hit and what kind of ammo was situated inside. Some mechanics were lucky, the others - not so much.

It was painful for me to look at the broken trees as I liked nature. A man has to make a choice. He can refuse to come here and go to jail for desertion or to inflict himself an injury, to buy "the white" ticket (a Russian slang word to name the situation, when the youngsters do not want /their parents do not want them/ to go on the military service and organize with the bribes or personal connections the formal document that the one has legal reason not to go to the army - some illness for example, but that is not any real situation about the guy - O.B.A.), there are almost no things which the cunning brain of the Russian citizen could not manage. And the trees and the animals are quite another thing. They are not guilty. A men had planted or tamed them due to his whim or need, and the others have come and maimed, broken them, and they can do nothing in response. Neither trees, nor animals can flee or defend themselves. Thus many have met the death together with their owners on their homes porches. The ones, that have survived, will be eaten later by the people from the famine in a little while. I frequently saw in these days humans, tottering about with the swaying gait like shadows amongst the ruins. Mostly these were elderly men or middle-aged women. Everyone, who could hold the weapons and think more or less sober, went to be guerillas to vengeance on us. No problem, we, in turn, will take revenge on them. Thus, this vicious circle is closed up. Every one of us thinks he's fighting for the right, holy aim. We all believe in our own gods, praying them to help us and demanding retribution for deaths of our friends, swearing the adversary. But Lord sends the spoils and the losses equally for everyone. OK, so we'll fight. Although, it is pretty hard to wage war against the whole nation, it's much easier and plainer to wage war against a regular army of one particular state, that's what we'd been taught to do. In an open field, you knocked out your opponent, then occupied a town, picked up the spoils and went back, again to the field.

It's here like in Afghanistan, fight all the folk and fuck knows how long time, and the whole action is not even a war, according to the law, this is a trivial police operation to reinstate the constitutional order, but no one had ever known and no one will get to know what is this order. OK, while the spooks and we are mincing each other dead, someone in first capital city has hit the jackpot. I've seen a lot of such things. At war some ones' failure is health, but the others bail the wealth. No even one son of a bitch is judged for all the blood they've spilt over the spaces of the former USSR. I don't mean the Baltic States (author makes hint at the actions in Lithuania in January 1991 - O.B.A.) - a couple of yard geese and OMON (the special police detachment in the USSR and Russian Federation - O.B.A.) guys were sent to jail, so what? They've got nothing but avenge for the deaths of their friends, but what about those who gave them orders and commands to make such actions? It would be interesting to dig with a bayonet into their navels and look in their wide open in pain and fear eyes listening to their deafening screams and breathing in the smell of their blood with the fly open nostrils. That would be real fun, but not that other thing...

And there, the people have lived by the criminal laws for four years, we sent them a lot of money, supplied with weaponry, trained them in our GRU camps (GRU, in Russian, abbreviation to name the Main Reconnaissance department of the Defense ministry, author makes a hint that the secet services of RF assisted the Chechen militants - O.B.A.). We wanted them fight instead of us in Osetia and Abhazia, - as if we were not even aware of what's going on. And when we were no longer in need of them, they should've been eliminated, but no, - we tried to domesticate the Chechen, a thick fuck to you, moscow softbrothers, he changed against you. But why, however, should the whole country have been suffering due to your sorting out and why have we rushed to here from Siberia, only to break up you, the sluts? China is closer to us than Chechnya, and the men from ZabVO (Zabaykalye military district, in southern Siberia - O.B.A.), DalVO (Far eastern military district - O.B.A.) and TOF (the Pacific navy, based in Vladivostok - O.B.A) are brought here too, and they have the States and Japan just close by. One thing isn't clear for me, why have the spooks left the oil refinery undamaged and it is strictly forbidden for us to use any heavy weaponry over there. Here is our Air Force, jollily bombing the city's living quarters, but neither the Staropromyslovsky (district where at the refinary was situated - O.B.A.) district of Grozny at all.

All that means: the plant is the property of some person who can hush at our defense minister and tell him that he may not touch it, - you can level the whole town to the ground, but don't dare to make that about that refinary. Of course, when a Russian soldier flies into a rage, it's very difficult to hold him back, and not every spook is also aware that he may not poke his nose into it. He naively guesses they are actually fighting for their own fucking freedom and this idiot doesn't get any idea that we all are simple participants of an ordinary criminal quarrel, the usual gangs' sorting out as a matter of fact, but though very big one. One tiny baron decided to cheat the godfather and start his own business, then the godfather sent his own hood, the russian army, over, to sort the things out. But the tiny baron was a smart ass, he squealled about independence and his "bulls" got anxious too. That's how the quarrel had begun and no one can remember about why they stirred up trouble. The hoods are busy taking vengeance on each other, meanwhile their barons are making quick bucks. They expropriate benefits and pensions, explaining the problem comes from the war, and the little baron pulls in the islamic world now, using the worthless religious mottos. Lord, we beg Your pardon and assistance!

My APC took a sharp U-turn, and that nearly cast me off from the armor. That's right, idiot, your task is to keep always watching, but not to bill and coo, otherwise you are snapped down or can break your neck falling off the vehicle. Your commanders are the ones to think for you and give you a ready-made decision. Your objective is to survive and complete the task. All else is shit. Take Andrei Petrov, the former mortar platoon's commander, following some principles, before being sent he demanded that he should be given two weeks to train his subdivision, reasoning with the fact that the fighters had been joined up just in November and had touched a subgun only once before - during the oath. He got his discharge in order to teach the others not to do so, discharge with disgracing to be a coward, a deserter. They placed a raw lieutenant - two-yeary, institute graduate - on the post. Where is that lieutenant now with his mortar platoon? During storming the Airport he lost almost all of his men and perished himself too. That is just it. They take too many idiots to army, and you have to worry about some of them for two years, but about others for twenty-five years.

We tried to persuade our multi-star commanders that we were not ready for any war, neither technically, nor logistically. The men were not phisically prepared. In December, when the command came to take on the troop trains an go, it was awfully frosty. As it is the custom in our army, the summer type diesel fuel was filled in the APCs, and its consistency was like some tomato sauce. So, some clever persons from our District offered an idea to mix this "sauce" with kerosene for diluting this sause. They did dilute... One of the kangaroos blew up right in the depot with its full ammo load on board, nobody was hurt by some miracle, and the second one did it while loading onto cars, but God was again on our side. And, as it is the custom in the army, these explosions were used to write off lots of the property and weaponary just like the case described by Suvorov in his "Saviour" (Victor Suvorov, Vladimir Rezun, born 1947, a former soviet spy, fled to the West in the 1970-s, this his book is about entry in Czechoslovakia, 1968 - O.B.A.). According to the official documents, those vehicls had on board: not fewer than fifty uniform sheepskin coats, twenty-five night-vision devices, no fewer than a hundred pairs of the felt boots and camouflage uniforms. When the papers should have been signed by the corps's HQ representative, he read it and ordered: "One coat and one camouflage uniform are for me". Supplies officer added each one of them to the "lost" coats and camouflage uniforms in the report and gave it with the demanded ones to the general, he signed the papers without batting an eyelid.

Now this general is together with us, somewhere here. Thank God, he does not hinder the leading of the brigade, but just signs the papers to reason the "battle losses".

After that, I was thinking of convincing lies reasoning why sniper had died and was not brought alive to the brigade's HQ. I realized, of course, that no one would be breathing in my face with his honourable anger, but only with disappointment that he couldn't have personnaly reeled his guts on his elbow. The special officers and recon guys will be particularly upset. Both the ones and the others getting some enemy in the hands are craving to practice in the inhanced investigation techniques. We can do that too, the difference is they handle it graceful, but we make it simple, although we can make it quicker than some ones. Excessive drinking can't ruin the craftsmanship.

There was some motion in the ruins, something blinked in the rays of setting sun. My mind didn't even clearly react yet, but my hands quickly raised my subgun, the index finger clung to the trigger, taking off the looseness. And only after that my intellect switched on - I saw our brigade's anti-aircraft gunners, building their positions in ruins of some house. They met us with their subguns barrels too, but all of us had enough brains and coolness not to open fire. Moreover, they just began to turn their "Shilka" - a large calibre anti-aircraft gun, ZSU-23, with four doubled barrels - in our direction. By pounding with such a machine we would've been utterly chopped. All right, at least we identified each other on time. We merrily shouted something to each other as the greetings. So, that meant the CC of the brigade was at a stone's throw away. Aha, there is the fire-fountain blazing from the broken gas pipe. 200 yards further and we're at "home". Now we can already relax a little.

- Hey, radiop, - I said to Glue, - let them know we're coming, not to let'em start firing off.

Glue tattled something in his headset and motioned to me that we were welcomed. We had no wish to talk or even shout through roaring diesels and noise of fighting, and it was inappropriate as there was murdered friend aboard. Everybody felt guilty a bit, that guy had died, although, on the other hand, realized that he himself could've been lying there in the place of that boyo.

The vehicles retarded a bit and, manoeuvring with a slow speed, we passed an impovised labyrinth of the wall panels remains and bricks frags. Soldiers, with the dusty faces seeming due to that be made of stone, watched us through their subguns sights from behind every corner with their red eyes exhausted and tired from the shortness of sleeping. Having recognized us the lads let their weapons down and greeted us with smiles or gestures. I had a feeling our officers and privates had already been betting on me delivering the sniper alive or not. Personally, I wouldn't stake my money on his safe delivering. Being the same tired, we greeted the sentries.

Luckily, we had returned before the daybreak, as some smart-pants, I wish him get scrud under belly, in the Defense ministry invented a new passwords system for us. Everything was nice and simple before that, but after that, a man could understand it only having finished ten years of a school and drinking half a liter of vodka. For example, before, the password was "Saratov" and the reply to it was "Leningrad", it was as plain as could be. And there were some fighters who could barely read or write - outcomes of the "perestroika". The core of the new system was the number actual only for the next twenty four hours, let us assume thirteen. And the sentry, seeing a silhouette in the darkness, challenges: "Halt! Password - seven!" Now, you have instantly to take away seven out of thirteen and instantly yell in the darkness: "Reply - six!". After all this, the sentry must add seven and six, get thirteen and then let you pass. But, if any one of you can't count well enough or gets confused, then, according to the Statute of the garrison and armed guard service, especially during the combat operations, the fighter may and can shoot at you without any court decision or some investigation, and no one public prosecutor would move his finger to jail him. You are fool and should've learnt your maths at school. Fine, if you are not completely shell-shocked or deafened and the sentry can weigh, but some smart guys call out fractions or negative numbers, that's when you recall all of this fighter's relatives with some bad words and must remember school maths course. For all this, some moscow shithead got a gratitude, or maybe, even an iron on his chest. Those snakes are able to do that without ceremony.

Having such thoughts we drove up to the semidemolished kindergarten, where at our brigade's command center was located at that time. I jumped down from the APC, rubbed my numb cold legs and stepping with my stiff legs went to the executive officer lieutenant colonel, Alexandr Alexandrovich Bilich, nicknamed in the brigade San Sanych. On my way, I turned back and shouted to my fighters:

- Unload the hero, be careful.

Fighters understandingly nodded their heads.

San Sanych was about 1.75 m tall. The hair light brown, almost blond. Broad shoulders and constant laughing flashes in his blue eyes or maybe it only always seemed to the others? San Sanych was somehow an odd-ball amongst all the officers in our brigade - he was naturally well mannered. At first, it seemed be superficial, ostentatious, but the more you got to know him the more you were convinced that it was really in his nature. It seemed, he should've not been born in our mad century, but in the times of chivalry, balls and duels. Even now, when we are more or less bottled in OK, trained how to combat in the urban environment, started hammering our enemy and when the war, maybe only at some places, transformed into the trench warfare, lieutenant colonel Bilich was able to find some time for the brief morning exercises.

Every morning, if it was possible to catch any dozing during night at all, we hobbled out of our cellars shaking from the cold, because it was a winter, southern one, but still winter. As a rule, there was no water, and the bristle, grown up during some days, was no longer rough, but was laid rather fuzzy on the face. However, looking at your direct supervisor, you, unwillingly, pull yourself together and can find time and water for shaving. Although, many officers, being some superstitious, some just plain lazy, did not shave and grew beards and moustaches. By some ones it looked absolutely not bad. And our recon platoon chief, lieutenant Hlopov Roman having natural dark skin and having grown a dense beard, was the image of a Chechen. And during fighting for the station, he was shot upon by our fighters. He had a luck, having put on a helmet and his armor vest, otherwise our protectors would've definitely pop him. Since that time Hlopov - we nicknamed him Hlop - had taken a habit to shave himself daily, no matter what were conditions and situation.

About one and a half weeks ago, when he and the reconnaissance commander broke through to the Airport "North", the allied troops commander's HQ, on the way back they ran into an ambush, their APC was blasted by antitank gunners point blank. Hlop instantly died, the recons commander was badly shell-shocked, the fighters forced through to ours during the next two days. They brought back the Hlop's mutilated body and the concussed, almost deaf and blind, recons head, captain Stepchenko Sergey Stanislavovich. As they recounted afterwards, the days they spent in basements and by nights, running risks to get subguns bursts from enemy or from ours, they fought their way back to ours. They slept in turns, using parts of the poor Hlop's body as pillows.

Maybe after his shock or maybe after hiding in the basements with the dead body, Sereoga Stepchenko got the head problems. We were able to cure his eyesight and hearing with vodka, cognac and spirit, but he couldn't stand closed and tight spaces anymore. Mostly he was OK, working and fighting, but sometimes he nattered complete delirium. Our brigade's commander, colonel Bahel Alexandr Antonovich, made an order to dismiss Stepchenko from his post and watch him so he wouldn't do any trouble. There was no chance to evacuate him as even our wounded were lying in dug-outs, helicopters were not able to come. Recon-compony's commander senior lieutenant Krivosheev Stepan was appointed to act temporarily as the reconnaissance head. Bilich San Sanych took care of Stepchenko, not just of him though, but of everyone around him. He ordered that the fighters, who had brought Stepanchenko and the Hlop's remains back, would be awarded each one the Hero of Russia title. But all these papers were till that time kept in the exvecutive officer's mobile safe.

Bilich on principle recognize neither inhanced investigation techniques during conversations with the enemy, nor damning his own men. But the interesting thing is, that if you yell cursing at somebody, then everything is done more quickly and precisely. My experience prove that to be so.

And just at that time I had to explain that intellectual hussar that I failed delivering the sniper due to the only simple reason - the fighters got nervs broken down and they hung him up on the tank's barrel. Rolling over a few combinations in my mind that could more or less spare San Sanych delicate nature's thin strings and let the com-batt and Ivan off from the hook, I entered the HQ building.

On the way in I met our supplies officer, Kleymeonov Arkadiy Nikolaevich, everybody was describing him: "Suvorov (the most successful Russian general, lived in the XVIII century - O.B.A) told correct words that we can hang any quartermaster without any doubts just after one year of his service". Looking at plump face and fine figure of our "rear-deputy", you realizes that the Generalissimo was absolutely right: in his time, Kleimeonov would've dangled on some shaft. His personal luggage has been growing in size evry day, regardless of the fighting.

- Ah, Slava, how was the trip? Got the shooter?

- Allas, Arkadiy Nikolaeich, he kicked the bucket, - I made a mournful mien, my eyes were expressing a different feeling though, and the rear-deputy joined in my game.

- Really? - Kleymeonov wondered getting a perplexed face and asked me.

- Weak heart, - I grinned, - he was wounded in addition, so he didn't survive up to the departure. But I should somehow delicately explain that matter San Sanych. Not to make him upset.

- He's too busy for that sniper now and nobody believed you'd bring him. Moreover, Il'in and you could've organized for him harakiri over there on the spot. It is a pity though, that you have not brought him, we've people queuing up to interview him, - Kleymeonov grinned.

- Was there anybody betting on sniper be brought? - I asked.

- They did bet, but mostly on him not be brought.

- By the way, I also brought a soldier with me, Semeonov, disappeared during storming of the "North", my fighters now are unloading him. What else is new?

- But you were gone only for four hours. Oh, yeah, - voice of Arkadiy Nikolaevich turned to be gloomy, - executive officer of the second battalion was wounded.

It seemed for me that the walls around us swayed.

- You mean Sashka Pahomenko? - I asked.

- Himself. They tried to break through to the hotel "Caucasus". There are as many spooks over there as the demons in hell, so he was hit on his chest. Medics couldn't get to there. Medical orderly applied a dressing. Now we're making a storm group of the recons ready. They'll try to get him out of there under the cover of darkness, - I could see Kleymeonov was pretty upset, telling me all that.

Captain Pahomenko Alexandr Il'ich was a favourite in our brigade. Very tall fellow, open-minded, he loved jesting. He knew many anecdotes, funny stories and practical jokes, never malicious. The main things about him were his responsivity and sincerity always deeply winning over the people around him. While talking to him, in literally ten minutes you felt like you had known the man since your college years. Havimg all that, he was never any layabout or a sponger. He was always the first one where it was the hardest situation, always rushed in to help neighboring one, therefore our officers and soldiers doted on him.

He could help both with his words and deeds, he could also swear like devil - was a real virtuoso in cursing. He was able to steer the wheel of an APC as a mechanic-driver and fix an engine in freezing cold or give soldiers good lectures. In a word, the very type of the officer that our mass media were always drumming in us. Detesting the enemy, never hiding his feelings, never refusing to come helping out, a trouble-free one. A bit noisy at times, but you get used to it in a while. He was such a guy for us, Sashka Pahomenko, he always asked to call him "simple Il'ich" (a kind of ttpical Russian joke - the full name of Lenin, 1870-1924, was Vladimir Il'ich Ul'yanov-lenin - O.B.A.). It is strangeful, but in war, these little, long ago forgotten trifles about relations to people suddenly surface in your mind. And now this joker is lying in some semidestroyed house basement and has a hole in his chest. Lord, give him power.

- OK, Arkadiy Nikolaevich, I'm off to visit San Sanych, - I nodded my head and headed off along the corridor.

- He's in there with united command's representative. Bahel is out in the third battalion, meanwhile this clean-cut chap is rivetting Sanych's brain. They'll probably throw us in somewhere to break through, where other elite forces shat themselves. It's always the same, they have got to receive medals and firing at the parliament palace in Moscow (a hint at the Russian constitutional crisis of 1993 - O.B.A.) and we, Siberian "makhra", have got to crunch asphalt in winter. But then, we are to go back and these s.o.b.-s will talk with beautiful girls about their feats posing for the cameras flashes, - he spat, gave up and went off.

The corridor was full of officers and soldiers, smoking, taking a snooze, leaning against walls riddled with the bullets and frags and raising their heads now and then when hearing close explosions or shots.

This kindergarten had cost us one dear. Somewhen Dudaev announced that Chechnya did not need scientists but did need warriors, therefore the boys should learn at school for three years and the girls - for only one. And as the women should stay at home all the time, the kindergartens became obsolete, therefore, some persons, close to his government, some ones paying bribes, others by force, seized the kindergartens. That one was rebuilt to be a privte residence too and was taken by one of the bandits. The owner and his gangs fought for it with ferocity.

We spent half a day driving these vipers out of there and when we finally had broke in, we saw that he had maintained a pretty good live style in there: carpets were everywhere, not of the cheap stuff but the handmade ones, expansive furniture, crystal, china, appliances, which we had seen only in commercials. We attentively watched the photoes with the owner of the residence and his inmates. We lacked women there, that was for sure, but I have never seen a Chechen beauty, neither on the pictures, nor in real life. All of them had small faces, small eyes, some hooklike noses and small mouths, just like rats, in my view. Everyone has different tastes, though, as it's spoken, - "there are no ugly women, but lack of vodka, however I couldn't drink so much..."

Occupied by this kind of thoughts I entered the room in the basement where at the brigade's HQ was made. I put aside a raincoat-tent covering the entrance, pushed the door and felt the hot warmth coming from the army camping heater-bourgeois (a Russian slang word for the potbelly stove - O.B.A.) in the corner. I guess these heaters are still used only in the army, and as long as the Russian army exists, it will always be used there on manoeuvres and in war to offer soldiers warmth and comfort.

- Comrade lieutenant colonel, captain Mironov is back now, the order is obeyed, - I reported, looking at Bilich tearing himself from the map. Next to him, also leant over the map, there were my yokemate or, as we called each other, "accomplice", major Ryzhov Yuri Nikolaevich and some strange officer.

- We've been waiting for you, Vyachaslav Nikolaevich. Have you brought the sniper? - The executive officer asked me, inquisitively looking in my eyes. - Here is your friend, - he motioned to Ryzhov, - was betting a packingg-case of cognac on you don't bring him.

- If I had only known the question was about cognac, Alexandr Alexandrovich, I would've brought back at least his head. But that dog died due to his wounds and probably heart failure. This dog was, in his own words, our fellow-countryman, from Siberia. I found thirty-two notches on his rifle's butt and a fine Japanese scope too.

- Where is the rifle? - Ryzhov took interest.

- I left it back for com-batt and Ilin: as they show it the fighters, the latters get ferocity. And it's also not a bad supplying for them.

- Aha, dont pile it on, about "supplying". We all now need the only kind of supplying - the air support, approximate enemys lines and base where from the sluts get their support. They were surely not ready for this war and therefore have prepared nothing. Neither armaments, nor ammunition, nor food.

- That's yet not all, - I interrupted Bilich, - on the way back we were fired upon, took the meeting engagement, counterattacked, annihilated our enemy and found these on a spooks corpse... - I held out my hand with the Semenov's military ID. - Our fighter. His name is Semeonov.

Again a lump got stuck in my throat, making it difficult to talk or breathe. I pulled out my cigarettes and Bilich didn't object, realizing what state I was in, although himself was a nonsmoker. After taking of a few deep puffs I felt the lump disappearing and continued:

- The sluts, probably, were torturing him for a long time, and while he was still alive, cut his penis off. Then nailed him to a cross, like Jesus. Penis stuck in his mouth. We brought him back, the fighters have probably already offloaded him. Here is some more, - I extended the rest of the IDs, - these ones I got off from the dead spook too. No more of ours though.

San Sanych carefully listened to me, looking straight into my eyes, and after that took the IDs held out, briefly looked through them, noting only the units' numbers, added them up to a pile and handed it to the unfamiliar officer.

- By the way, let me introduce you, - he turned to the major, - Major Karpov Vyachaslav Viktorovich, united HQ representative, General Staff officer. And this is, - he said pointing at me, - captain Mironov, our HQ senior officer, an adventurer and a warrior and still can't get used to the fact that he is no a company's commander, but staffer now, - San Sanych somehow fatherly chided me.

I was taken aback a bit by such unexpectedly hearty recommendatnion of my chief about me. I held out my hand, the major held out his palm in return too.

- Vyachaslav, - he introduced himself.

Namesake. We'll see, what price the bird you are and why in hell you've flown here up. Evidently, one of the big shots, since he is sent to us. They might want to blandish us before giving some suicidal task or maybe to find out what is the atmosphere in the brigade and then to give the commander the sack. These moscow fat cats from love this kind of tricks.

I looked at him a bit more carefully that time. The mug looked familiar, but where I had seen him before, I couldn't recall at that time. OK, we would figure that out later. The fact he was from Moscow and from the General Staff, immediately made me, like any other line combat officer, contact warrior, feel an antipathy. All the disasters come from the moscowers and all of them are swines, graspers and grudges. Any soldier learnt that axiom, watching them come to control checks and do nothing but squiff. And after that they leave back for home with the large reach gifts. These moscowers are sooterkins, in a word. It's partly their fault that we're here. Moscow had planned the first storm of Grozny as well as this one. Both the 25th of November (25.11.1994 the Chechen political opposition forces with assistence of the Russian tanks unsuccessfully tried to battle Dudaev forces out fo Grosny - O.B.A.) and the first of January will be the black days in the Russian army's chronicle.

I quickly thought about that while I was shaking the Moscow officer's hand and squeezing out of my face some kind of smile. Although, I think, my smoked mug reflected all my thoughts pretty well. But I wasn't able to send this fop to hell right there, in presence of San Sanych, whom I respected too much.

- Vyachalsav, - I introduced myself back to moscow fop.

- Major Karpov, take these IDs to the HQ, please, let them work out which regions the soldiers are from and notify their families, - San Sanych passed the books to him.

The moscower nodded his head agreeing, took the IDs and without even looking at them or counting, thrusted them into the outer pocket of his jacket hanging on the chair's back. Any normal officer having though respect to the died ones would've put them into the inner pocket.

I was hurt to the quick very much and asked the son of a bitch with almost unhidden irritation:

- My dear, aren't you going to loose the Ids? The human lives are still behind them, huh?

Spotting the rage in my voice, San Sanych and Ryzhov looked at the bird of passage as if he was a public enemy. He must've understood his lapse faltering out something and convulsively placing the IDs into his jacket's inner pocket. Meanwhile this filthy little toad gave me a very expressive look, as if he wanted to grind me into dust. Come on, boyo, look all you want, I can pacify a drunken soldier with my look, I can make you, smart alec, kneel down with my look and subgun. I calmly stood the look of his watery unexpressive eyes. He looked himself milksop. About a meter seventy in height or even less, lean and with a small head. All white-blond, like albino, except his eyes, they weren't red, but rather colorless. His appearance was just repulsive, and his long forelock, that he constantly put right, was even adding some subtle female feature to it. And maybe he was "gay", a mischievous thought flashed in my mind. The General Staff Officer is a pansy. That would produce a full unrest. Well, I heard it was very fashionable in Moscow already at that time - alternative sexual lifestyles. I'll keep aside from sleeping with him. Though, I think he's just lifeless, like a fish or jellyfish. I might offer this pansy boy to paint himself with some carrot color, that would be more funny. And that would be good mark for snipers.

I imagined just for a second the major painted in red color and a smile widely stretched my lips. Karpov nervously studied himself - was something wrong with his dress? Having ensured that his uniform was fine and realizing that I was just laughing at him, he angrily stared at me in response.

Knowing my explosive behavior and to relax the atmosphere, San Sanych declared, talking to everyone at the same time:

- Let's stop plotting against each other for now and go to see the Semeonov's body. We'll fill in the papers and you, Vyachaslav Viktorovich, - he looked at Karpov, - will have to take it with you to the airport for sending home.

We all moved for the exit. Officers and soldiers were already standing out in the yard. The body of Semeonov was carefully placed on the canvas rolled out, the hands were folded on the chest, the nails holes in the wrists were clearly seen, somebody thoughtfully covered his face with a soldiers' handkerchief. Hats off, all the present ones were just standing around in sorrowful silence. It could only be read on their tensed faces and figures what was in their minds. It was the snipers luck that he had been finished off over there, otherwise he would've lived over here for a long time, to his chagrin.

Bilich came over to the diceased, took off the handkerchief, looked at his dirty face with the mask of horror frozen on it forever, sighed and, turning backward to the standing next to him Kleymeonov, gave him an order:

- Arkadiy Nikolaevich, fill in the corpse identification and prepare the body to be sent home. The HQ representative will take it with him, when leaving back.

- Precisely, Alexandr Alexandrovich, - and then to the surrounding him fighters, - Take the hero into the building. It's warmer in there, we'll lace up there and call for the clerk, tell him to prepare the corpse identification act, the death notice and everything that relies.

Everyone went fussy and active at once. Bilich announced, talking to Ryzhov, the moscow fop and me:

- Let's go eat.

I had, of course, nothing against a nosh and nipping up, but not in the company of that colorless mug, that's why I politely refused his offer:

- Thank you, comrade colonel, but I'd rather do it later. I have to wash off the dust first and make the reports about sniper and Semeonov. Other paperwork demands my attention.

- As you wish, but at 21.00, welcome to me with the report, com-brig should be back by then too, - San Sanych said attentively looking at me. It seemed that he realized what was the true reason for my refusal.

They went inside, I watched the fighters carrying all the remains of Semeonov into the building, then turned around and went to my truck.

Every HQ officer had his own truck. Yurka Ryzhov and I shared GAZ-66 with a plywood box van. Although, any officers preferred to spend the few minutes of rest in basements, Yurka and I liked more our box van. We also had a personal driver, Harin Pashka, stood one meter and seventy tall, with broad bone, large and almost always smiling mug, little tiny eyes, but red hair, according to soldiers' fashion, almost shaved hair at the nape and always waving forelock. Naturally, Pashka was crook, worm, and snoop, but I had repeatedly observed him in the combats, many times he pulled out the truck with us, from under the fire, therefore we liked him and trusted him. In the peacetime Pashka was a wilful, worst discipline offender, great fan of tanking up and a womaniser. His pregnant fiance was waiting for him back at where we had come from. He had another year to serve till army discharge. Pashka knew literally everything that was going on in the brigade keeping warm friendship with all the fighters from the HQ, communications hub and canteen. He supplied us with all the news, some things he got to know earlier than we did, receiving his informations from the comms operators. And this gave us more time to prepare and then to make good advices and initiatives during the meetings by Sanych or com-brig, while others were only digesting on the received information. For that our command highly regarded us as the excellent officers. Although, we were not born yesterday also, the head start was never a burden.

Walking up to our truck I noticed with satisfaction that Pashka managed to fill up the sandbags during the day passed and enclosed the truck with them. Now we can almost freely breathe. There is a plume of smoke rising from the chimney meaning that we'd got heat, hot water and dry cigarettes. I came up to the door and called up without opening:

- Pashka! Where are you?

- I'm here, comrade captain. Guarding.

Pashka's figure emerged from the darkness, I glanced at the position, he had chosen for his guard and noted to myself that he did it rather cleverly.

- All right, my my born under the rose son, what've you got to make your father happy? How did you behave yourself? - I jokingly asked him.

- Everything's fine, Vyachaslav Nikolaevich. Here, I enclosed the truck with sand, got some food too.

Food was a problem, the same was about mattresses, underclothes and uniform. Reinforcement columns fell behind at the "North" yet, it made no sense to pull them out following us under the numerous fires. Only the tankers, carefully guarded, brought up the fuel for vehicles and power generators. Of course, every officer and soldier had reserves in their trucks, APCs and tanks: canned stew and containers of kasha with meat, but was that real food, or a paved road to stomach ulcer? That's why all ranks were constantly busy hounding for nutrition.

And when storming this nice former kindergarten, we found a plenty of food supplies and alcohol beverages in its basements. Much of that we had already eaten and drunk, but we all knew who amassed most of it and using personal charm or Pahka's foxery and impudence, periodically expropriated something from the comms operators.

- Sonny, - talking to Pashka, I worked my way into the box van, - What kinds of picklings and oversees liqueuers do you plan to soften up your old and ill father?

- Dutch ham, smoked mutton, sardines, I think French, and two bottles of cognac, judging from the labels also French, - he reported.

- Got the hot water? - I inquired taking off my weapons, jacket and ammunition.

- Yep, full teapot, - reported Pashka, throwing the subgun behind his back.

- Let's go, flush some on me and then we've dinner, - I have already comfortably settled in the warm atmosphere of the box van and now unwillingly stepped out into the night cold, especially having to undress myself.

I slowly and carefully washed myself, snorting as a cat and spitting out dust that clogged my nostrils and mouth. We had still no any bath-house there, for that reason we had gathered a lot of refreshing napkins and some cheap Polish cologne in the airport and periodically, undressing nake, rubbed ourselves with them. We just chucked our underwear, putting on new pairs each time.

I got back into the box van, put on some clothes and was wiping up my subgun with a piece of cloth, meanwhile Pashka cut up the ham and the stinking lamb ribs and opened up a can of sardines. In the center of the table he set up the sealed bottle of cognac with the inscription "Hennessy". I opened it and smelled the content, it smelt not bad. Poured out into the plastic glasses. A bit more to myself, a bit less to Pashka. I lifted up the glass, looked though it at the light, shook it and smelled once more, I definitely liked the aroma.

- So, Pavel, to good luck.

We chin-chined and drank.

- Vyachaslav Nikolaevich, why haven't you brought the sniper?

- You do know, I'm sure. Have Glue, Semeon, American and the others already told? He died from the heart failure and his wounds, the rest is not of your business. Now tell me the news. Isn't the war over yet?

- No-o-o-o, - pronounced Pashka, - it isn't, but the order is given to speed up the assault of the hotel "Caucasus". They even promised us the air support. And then the brigade will be thrown to storm the Minutka square with the Dudaev's Palace.

- That's where we'll all fall dead, because it is an obvious suicide to storm a structure of this kind with only one brigade. What else?

- The second battalion's executive officer was wounded. And singer Shevchuk from "DDT" (Yuri Shevchuk, born 1957, a Soviet and Russian singer, songwriter, leader of the rock band DDT, gave concerts during the war in Chechnya in the years 1995, 1996 both for the Russian soldiers and Chechens, developed the pacifistic theme in many songs - O.B.A.) is sitting there with them. Ever heard of him?

Chapter 3

- No, 've never heard of that one before. What's he doing up there?

- Nothing really. He came to the "North" to give a concert and then asked for a ride to the sharp end. He left all his band at the airport and dropped in to ours, but nobody really guessed that the second battalion would be then besieged so that nobody would be able to get out. Annow he's stuck there, the men told by comset he was crackjack, not scared at all and even rushing to fight himself.

- Annow they'll surely throw our reserves in there to get him out and take the hotel "Caucasus" by the way. Finally they evacuate all our wounded to the "North" and then go home.

- The moscower was lounging about asking the soldiers what's up in and about fighting, wormed himself into the confidence.

- You should've send that holer to hell and theres an end of it. They won't send you any further than to front. That his activitiy is a competence of our own polit-officer, and we've all seen him at work and at action. He's not hiding behind the soldiers' backs and doesn't guzzle his private rations under bed. And never plays any heroical shows either. OK, I'll sort the things about that condom out. I can't remember for my life where have I seen him before. But I've spoken to him somewhere.

- He says he was in war at Prednestrovie (a mention about War of Transnistria, 1992 - O.B.A.), it was there something like this here. You were there too, maybe that's where you have met this one?

- Maybe, we could've met there. I can only tell you, Pashka, though that there was, of course, a funny foul-up in Pridnestravye, but comparing to Chechnya all that was like an innocent amusement in the fresh air. There were the combats of more classic trench style, although, Bendery and Dubasary changed hands a few times. But overall, comparing to the local madhouse - boy-scout camp "Sunny".

Now I noticed that Pashka was wearing a rifle round on a cord dangling on his neck - an ancient soldiers' amulet, supposing that very bullet was made for the guy. Eh, if it could've been only so. These amulets only relax your mind and deaden your vigilance. I grinned:

- You'd better hang a grenade there by its safety pin, and I'll pull it, or a mine, or a missile, how do'ya know that bullet was cast for you, but no any bomb-frag? Or maybe a concrete flag-stone, go ahead, hang everything on your neck, it might be useful. Do'ya remember they found the fighter from the tank battalion strangled by such silk rope with bullet? It didn't save him. Thus, Pasha, don't be a bully - take it off and use the bullet for the purpose intended.

Talking witty this way, I slowly jobbed in the food put on the table and leant back to the box van's wall, lit up a sniper's cigarette and took a puff. The cigarette was wet though, possibly due to my sweat or humidity, as it was sure not may.

- Pashka, gotta dry cigarettes?

- Yep, - he handed me a package of "Pamir", or, as we called it, "A mountains beggar". Because it had a picture of some kind of hobo with a curved stick over in his hand and wearing a health-resort's panama and jellaba, just like a basmach (a name of the Soviet power enemies in the Middle Asia in 1917-1930s - O.B.A.), spook, in a word, and being on the mountin pass. - Please, Vyacheslav Nikolaevich, there are more getting dry on the heater. Give me yours, I'll dry them too.

I took the package, twirled it, lit up and stashed it in my pocket.

- Give me paper, I'll write the report about Semeonov and about sniper.

Pashka gave me paper and sat down close by:

- Cossacks arrived to commander, asking to let them fight. They submitted even the letters of recommendation from the commander-in-chief, - Pashka softly said while cleaning up the remainders of my dinner form the improvised table, meanwhile I was writing the report.

- Well, if they are so anxious to fight for the Russian idea - let them do it, they fought pretty well in Moldavia, even captured the weapons for themselves in the combats, - I said without breaking away from my paper.

- And Bahel said the same thing and sent them to the recons. All five of them.

- I should drop in and meet them later.

Suddenly, somewhere close by, a desperate shooting broke out. Both of us flew whirling out of the box van at once. I convulsively pulled on my jacket; my bag with a couple of spare magazines was dangling on my arm. In case of an attack on the HQ, every officer and soldier knew his area of responsibility, his position and the field of fire. That's why without any fuss we rushed to our little trench, dug up by Pahka a few days ago.

The shooting was in long bursts, that meant the skirmish was a close one. Someone was commanding in the darkness:

- North-east, white five-storey building, an infantry groups discovered, about ten men in all, could be a distracting manoeuvre.

Not much could be seen in the coming nightfall, except a few blurred silhouettes. Somebody started launching paraflares. Pashka launched a couple too, and I noticed the spooks crawling towards us in about thirty meters. They were all dressed in good Turkish camouflage of significantly better pattern and fabric quality than ours. If a spook of my size comes on my hook, I shall peel him. There, in Pridnestrovie, we once caught a policeman, in May's excruciating heat, my feet were almost cooked boiling in the barren boots and that mark was wearing high ankle boots. There was a shortage of them at that time, and that one had light afghan type with the reinforced soles for mountaineering. So I got them off him. Back then. In Moldavia, we didn't kill the captives, all the same they were orthodoxes, like we were, and fighting only because of krushmors-politicians. And at that moment I had been wearing them for three years, and it was OK, although they lost their attractive looks but nobody produced such ones anymore. Maybe, someone will pull them off me just like I had made that. And perhaps I'll be alive or maybe dead. It is on the knees of the gods.

I touched Pashka's elbow and pointed at the spooks team.

- Fire ahead, - I whispered.

And we opened fire in short bursts. We could see the little geysers of earth, mud and snow soar up lit with the flares' light. The spooks realized they had been discovered and fired back at us. They were in a worse situation and thus were letting off long bursts crawling backwards. Someone began shooting with underbarrel launcher cutting them the way back. Suddenly a machine-gun opened up from behind us, do these riff-raffs really wanna encircle us?

No way, assholes! I felt my fatigue getting away and again heady passion of the combat was seizing me, the flow of blood was thrusting in my head and forcing out the remainders of the grogginess.

- Pashka, cover me, I'll work about these sluts with my launcher, - I told with excitement, getting the launchy ready.

- Come-on my darling, don't let me down, - I muttered, pushing the first grenade into the under barrel launcher.

"Bang", my launcher said, spitting the grenade out towards the spooks. Long hit, I took it into account and made correction. The second shot. Gotcha. The grenade exploded right in the middle of the crawling sideways spooks' group. Two of them were whirling around, obviously wounded, the third one got up on his knees holding his head with the hands and then, still holding his head, dropped with the face down in the mud.

- That one's cooked, - I commented in ardour, meanwhile watching for another target. But the rest of the spooks managed to hide behind the stones fragments and began to barrage at us from their subguns. Now, the flares hanging worked against us, clearly showing away our positions.

A launcher grenade exploded right behind us. It looks like they have the launchers too. "Issued from the same warehouse?", - I thought, bitterly grinning at my gloomy thoughts.

I switched from launcher to subgun then, trying to spot where the enemy fire was coming from. Some tramping resounded from behind, we turned around sticking our weapons into the darkness, ready to fire. That was Yurka Ryzhov.

- Phew, booby, you scared devil out of us, - I said getting back to my occupation.

- But it's more funny to be here, than to sit there with that Moscow gnat. s endlessly ragging. You've made this wrong, that document's not correctly filled in. Don't write down that the man was captured prisoner, but indicate that he's being illegaly retained by the illegitimate armed formations. He also recommended that our brigade alone speed up advancing on the hotel "Caucasus". To take it in the shortest possible time and then proceed towards the Minutka and storm it on the move. - Yurka stopped for a second and then added: - Straight forward.

- They must go to hell. They need it and so they can assault it themselves, and as for us, we need the air support to pound it good, - I angrily yelled, firing back into the darkness. After the Yurka's news I went frantic and was pommeling with long bursts, - Yura, I just knocked one out with my launcher, the other two are whirling over there, probably wounded.

Judging from the shooting, we saw the spooks did not want to leave just like that, somewhere from behind our backs we heard "Shilka" talking, the one that was set up this morning. Well, now it'll chop them up like salad owe to its rapid fire and calibre. Yurka together with Pashka were jollily barraging at the darkness with the subguns long bursts feeling excitement, preventing the spooks from raising their heads up.

- Slava, the Moscow mutt said he had seen you somewhere before. Maybe in Kishineov.

All then it dawned on me.

I recalled everything. When we were transferred over the front line to Kishineov, having no any IDs by night, and then back, this dork was there in the staff department of the South-West direction. Then this office was transfered and altered to be Defense ministry of Moldova. And this fop stayed there in the same department and in the same rank. Our personal folders fell into the Moldovans' hands. As a result, all of us were named the war criminals, and I came to him asking to give back my personal folder, but he made a pose: no, you are war criminal and I wouldn't want to be an accomplice. Then he suggested I leave immediately or he'd call the guards and arrest me. The slut was chameleon, but, apparently, had also to flee from there. In a couple of months, they declared an amnesty and I've been being - so far - neither a criminal anymore.

The spooks began again hammering our positions with the launchers. Somebody screamed behind our backs after the grenades explosion. Shit, someone was wounded. We spotted the firing flash in the darkness and shifted our fire over there. In a couple of minutes there was a screaming and some noise over there.

For a few more minutes, in excitement, we kept shooting into the enemy's direction, but there was no response, apparently, the spooks retreated having got enough rebuff. We did not even remotely desire to go and check that our theory. When sun rose we would sort it out.

- Overtly, the old owner came to take back his cognac, - jested Yura.

- The bada might've forgotten what Karl Marks had written in the second volume of his "Capital", first paragraph.

- And what had he written, Vyachaslav Nikolaevich? - Pashka enquired in the darkness.

- Its quite simple - was yours, now is ours, expropriation of the expropriators. If they hadn't jerked, we wouldn't have come here.

- Is there still anything to drink? - Ryzhov asked me.

- Surely, don't you worry, and haven't you had a drink with the colorless? - I replied.

- We have, but this slut is too fussy. We didn't offer him any cognac, but rather vodka. This dork asked in passing if we had any spoils.

- Moscower, phew, fuck his mug, - I spat on the earth, meanwhile, in complete darkness, filling up empty magazines by touch. - All seems quiet. Let's slowly go back, I still have to finish my report and attend the briefing by San Sanych.

- Let's go. Pashka you stay here as a sentry, if you spot anything - make a row, we'll run up and rescue you form ugly Chechen, - Yurka jested.

We got out of the trench and, shaking off the stuck lumps of dirt from our trousers, went to the box van. The officers were walking by to their trucks in the darkness to prepare for the briefing.

- Hey people, who was wounded? - I yelled into the darkness.

- The comms' driver, Larionov. He's OK though. The frag only pierced the leg through but the bones are sound. He is in the med-company now. He'll survive, - a voice answered me from the darkness, sounded like the deputy commander for the weaponry Cherepkov Pavel Nikolaevich.

- There won't be soon any possibility to place the wounded ones in the med-company. We should try to break out the blockade and ship them all out, otherwise we'll lose them, - Yurka loudly said coming up to our truck.

- We should noddle about it and offer our fathers-commanders, - I continued his idea.

- Let's hit a huniefcognac and go to listen to the moscow pimp ranting, - Yurka said, casting his subgun to the corner, - as Im sick of doing it alone. According to the moscow perception, we're not able to fight, weve to inspire the men that they imagine themselves stormimg Berlin and that Dudaev's Palace is Reichstag. Its some paranoia. If they were allowed, these bastards would put us in the earth in piles for their loud victorious press releases, - Yurka was heating up more and more, that however didn't prevent him from pouring out cognac and opening overseas tasty oily sardines cans.

- All right, Yurok, don't row, let's drink up and later, on the briefing, we'll bonk the asskisser. Don't worry too much. Whatever the seniles cook up, we are the ones who are to carry it out. With the air support and artillery back up as nowadays, we'll brew no beer. He must go to hell. OK, - I lifted the glass with the amber liquid to my eyes' level and looked at the colors playing, - let's start, to us, the good guys, and to the death to the fools.

- Oh yeah, only in your dreams, - Yurka wasn't just going to cool down and, it seemed, was boiling over even more. - Fight them all you want, but the fools will be keeping the score anyway, it looks like they are intentionally working for the Chechens, only to lay as many our men out in lavender as possible.

- OK, Yura, stop yelling, we have to think of the way to get the wounded out of here, any hell they give us no any break till the beginning of advance, and during advancing we'll get more wounded, you know the maths yourself. In my oppinion, tomorrow morning we must take the recons' asses, the third battalion, whatever can still be driven in it, and break out. Otherwise we'll lose innumerable many men. Let's drink, - I raised my glass up and drank without clinking. Yurka drank his one too.

Since we were under our full strength during the departure, we were reinforced by one more battalion from Novosibirsk. According to the plan, we had to complete all preparations by autumn and depart for Tajhikistan integrating into the 201st division (The 201st Gatchina Twice Red Banner Motor Rifle Division - O.B.A.) or some peacekeeping force, but any hell, to fight for unclear reasons and for unclear personalities. So that battalion arrived on new, experimental APC-3s. The vehicle was planned to be and looked great, - however was total shit indeed, stuffed with electronics like your foreign car, my reader. But it was made by our, that is Russian, producers. Thus, at first, we had a hell of time with them, it wasn't able to fire on the run, as electronic equipment failed from vibration. All its spotting and sighting systems were electronic, thus it got jammed, pox on it. But if this shit did fire, it couldn't run, again due to the computer. Well, in a word, - very crude, terrible car. Twenty-four men of the third battalion died in the first days of January, because those buggered electronics stopped. Terrible statistics. And all because of that tech being not properly run in at all was shipped to the troops, furthermore, to the actions' zone. Many ones were scorched, we had lost already about five of them. We moved them off to a safe place and used either as machinegun nests - the cannon jams for the next half a day after the very first shooting - or as a taxi charter to drive through relative safe locations. I wish the hands of the dorks, who accepted that crude fresh shit, were torn off.

After our second whipping off I was listening to Yuri telling me about my Moscow namesake being on fire after I had left: in war, he said, some officers let themselves loosen and did not exercise proper behaviour code towards their superiors, the discipline was lax and so on and so forth. Then, having sent all that moscow folly to hell, we drank up the bottle and left for the briefing in a good mood. Our souls felt a wish like teaching the moscow inspector a lesson of politeness and art of war in front of all the brigade's officers. The feelings about all the inspectors are always the same in war - they can send you nowhere further than to these trenches and can make nothing worse, and their reprimands are no any gonorrhoea, they'll hang out there for a while and then fall off. To the point, my dear reader, - gonorrhoea is "the officers cold". And a good half of the officers when being yet the cadets in the colleges managed to catch it, and in the Army, as opposed to the Civvy Street, this disease is not considered be shameful. You never can tell.

At the briefing every officer knew his place. As the HQ officers, we were sitting close to the executive officer. The briefing room was situated in the former children's gymnasium, which became a living room for the Chechen owner, where he built in a nice fireplace, which we stoked with his own furniture with might and main. By the way, mahogany burns bad, a lot of smoke, but no much heat.

Our com-brig was sitting at the head of a large dinner table. As we could see he hadn't any time even to wash himself up since his return, and judging from his mood, the second battalion's things did not go smoothly. Somebody was talking behind our backs, I turned around - it was the officer acting as the reconnaissance head. His mug was just as dusty as the com-brig's one. I guessed they went together and therefore asked him:

- How was the journey with Bahel? What's about the second battalion?

- Fucking fiasco. On the way back we drove into an ambush, one APC was scorched. Mechanic was wounded, Gusarov, d'you know him? So, that one was hit. At frst the track was broken, then they shot upon us. We barely went off from under the plastering.

- No, I don't know him. - I shook my head. - Bad injure?

- His hands are badly burnt, the frags cut his shoulder, part of his ear was mowed off. If they save his hands, he'll be fine. It's a pitty though, he is an intelligible mechanic and I wanted to make him a sergeant.

- Listen, I'll be suggesting now that before we go out and help the second battalion, we should evacuate our wounded from the med-company, its going now to be lots of them, and your driver will be driven out too, at the same time. For that we have to organize the third battalion and your scamps. What do you reckon?

- Of course, I'm agree. While we were offloading the wounded one, I remembered that there was a republican chemists' warehouse there nearby and our medics have nothing but aspirin and their enthusiasm.

- OK, go ahead, make a suggestion. We'll work on that and snatch the medicines from the spooks. Otherwise addicts and speculators would ransack them.

- Comrades officers, attention please! - Executive officer appealed to all the present ones.

The humming in the room stopped and everyone was now looking at the command of the brigade.

- Over the past day, our brigade was fighting in the locations: train station, hotel "Caucasus" and over here to defend the base area. Also, while visits to locations of the brigade's subdivisions, several HQ teams were fired upon and got into the brief actions. As a result of the combats, our brigade has lost, - the absolute silence instantly came in the room, - two ones: private Azarov - tank battalion, sergeant Harlapidi - engineering battalion. The wounded ones: executive officer of the second battalion, senior lieutenant Pahomenko, first battalion company's commander lieutenant Krasnov, private Gusarov - recon-company, and private Larionov - communication battalion. The body of private Semeonov was discovered and delivered - engineering battalion - who was earlier declared as missed in action. The man got a ferocious death, - here San Sanych tore himself away from the paper and looked at all the present ones and continued already not looking in the report, - his was being tortured for a long while, then nailed to the cross and his penis was cut off and put into his mouth. I must report you, comrades officers, that was a horrible scene.

The room went buzzing, the officers, despite the presence of their command and inspector from Moscow were loudly and resentfully discussing the murder of the soldier.

- Calm down, comrades officers, - Bilich resumed his speech after a break for a while, - I am indignant by this not less than you are, but let us dedicate our emotions and malice to the enemy, we can now do nothing about it being just here. The first battalion captured a sniper, in his own words, our countryman, from Novosibirsk. Captain Mironov was not able to bring him here, the latter, in his words, died from his wounds and heart failure.

And again the room went buzzing with noise, this time with approval. Those, whose eyes I met, were nodding and winking to me, as if I was the one who finished the sniper off. Some one from the rear ranks declared: "His guilty conscience did persecute him, and so the heart was not able to bear it". Officers cackled with approval. It was a semi-darkness reigning in the room, only the table with sitting com-brig, executive officer and Karpov was illuminated, all the rest, correspondingly to the further placement, was all sunk in the darkness. That's why those at the back rows were making all sorts of comments without any fear of being recognized. Lucky guys.

San Sanych had to call for order again. Slowly the buzz settled. I was gradually watching our com-brig and the moscower faces. If our commander's lips were touched by a smile after the comment, then the inspector contorted his dirty mug with thin lips, showing his most negative attitude towards all happening at that moment. A typical monkey: the higher it climbs the more you see of its behind. It would be interesting to know if he had ever been a platoon's or a company's commander or did he jump on the HQs' parquets straight after the college graduation? I've gone through all the necessary stages and ranks, I've never elevated in ranks before the right time kissing commanding asses. That's probably why I travelled through all over our country and lots of wars. I do not wish at all my son serve in the army, although my father, uncle, father in law and I as idiot have graduated from the same damned military college. If I had learnt English, I wouldn't have hung about here.

After that San Sanych told us about our upcoming objective that Karpov had brought, meanwhile the latter was swelling from importance of his mission, it seemed that was his idea and we owe everything to him up to the end of our days. The officers tensely listened quietly exchanging their comments at times.

Then Karpov rose to a point of order:

- Comrades officers! The united forces command has set up an honourable task for you: amongst the first troops, you are to burst in the den of the savage and annihilate him. The very Commander-in-Chief himself is keeping this operation under control. You showed yourselves to advantage in the past battles and therefore, on behalf of commander, I am expressing confidence that the warriors-Siberians will cope with the set task with honour.

And more of that hogwash, in the worst traditions of the soviet cinematography. If he guessed his listeners would devote him the incessant applause, he was profoundly mistaken. Nothing but quiet chuckling and heckling comments resounded in the room. Then someone from the back ranks clearly and loudly articulated "To hell you must go". From the construction of the phrase I was able to figure out who that was, as well as many officers did understand that. Only one person in the brigade did speak in that way - our tank battalion's commander, Mazur Sergei Mikhailovich. When we had entered Grozny, we had forty-two tanks T-72, and by then we had twenty-six ones. During ten days of combats we had lost sixteen tanks, as a rule, together with their crews, therefore major Mazur had the absolute right to send all moscow wise apples as far as possible and most oftenly.

Everyone was waiting for the response. It was not slow to follow.

- Who said that? I suppose it's not very smart and decent officer and it is unlikely that he dares come out and say it right in my face.

Mazur instantly rose up, and pushing the sitting ones aside, went to the sitting at the table.

- I said that, and what? Because of the holers like you I have lost forty-eight men and its unclear how many more I will lose because of such gaga. Why won't the air force and artillery hammer down this damned square with all sitting over there? And the troops would block the approaches and pinch down everyone who would try to get through, that's all. However, there won't be so many Russian soldiers' blood spilt and we'd have only to spend more time.

Everyone was watching Karpov. He embarrassedly groaned and began:

- The question is that the whole world is watching what is happening over here and all major news agencies and television stations have even got accreditation at our Head Quarters. And if we use air force and artillery against such square in the city, the world community might not understand us. As you correctly mentioned, it would take more time, but our countrys leadership needs to finish this conflict as soon as possible. And the local opposition, which is on our side, would also be against using air force and artillery to solve this problem. Maybe some of the militants would wish to surrender? Moreover. We've received authentic information that a group of well-known human rights activists headed by the Duma's delegate Krylov (aithor makes a hint at the group of the "human rights" activists lead by politician Sergey Adamovitch Kovalev, born 1930, who were in Grozny assisting Dudaev - O.B.A.) is situated in one of the Dudaev's basements and he is the guarantor of Dudaev's personal safety. As a result of a massive air strike he can be hurt.

- He must get sweaty feet in his mouth!

- Go to hell!

- I'll be the airforce spotter, so that the lads wouldn't miss!

- The slut must be hung!

The well-known human rights activist Krylov was called with many unflattering epithets. That shafu would've gone on for a long while, if the com-brig hadn't uttered in spite:

- That will do! Please comment on the merits. Orders are not to be discussed, but to be obeyed. The particular details like air and artillery support, deadlines and co-ordination with the other units will be worked out later. I am listening. Note the hotel must be taken and the approaches must be cleansed up within the next three days. Any suggestions?

I raised my hand up.

- Permit me, comrade colonel, - I waited for the commander motion to me and continued, - If we have such combats ahead of us, it is possible to assume that we will get more wounded ones, but there is not enough place in the sickbay to get more ones, there's not enough medicines also. Therefore, I suggest the following: tomorrow, with the forces of the third battalion, supported by the recons-company and chemical protection company, we would break away to the "North" airport and bring all our wounded out of here. Next, in our close proximity, we have the republican pharmacy depots. The medicines will not be useless for us.

- These medicines are only for assistence to the local population! - The poofy moscower made again a remark. - We must never do that, it would set the people against us!

- Shut up, major, - com-brig cut him off, - we've already let you have the floor. With this war we have already set the people against us so that bad is the best. Mironov, continue.

- I've finished, in principle, if my plan is approved, I offer to head the convoy myself, personally. We have only to notify the battalions so that they ship their wounded over at the CC as early as possible, and at about 9.30 wed leave. And if everything goes according to my plan, we could be back by about 17.00. Quite enough time to work about the pharmacy depots.

- What about the hotel "Caucasus" and plaza?

- I suggest that during evacuation of the wounded ones, I or someone else would contact our direction leader in the command main staff and discuss all available options. If somebody takes over the train station from us, then the first and the second battalions will be able to knock the spooks out of the hotel as easy as ABC, we can also give them the third battalion for support by the cleansing up operations. And if we can also move one of the self-propelled howitzers' battalions a bit closer, well be able to complete the task within the set deadlines. Only if our friends-neighbors don't shell us again at the "Norths" bidding, as it has happened many times before, - I couldn't restrain myself from getting at the HQ inspector.

The discussion of all pros and cons about my actions plan took a long while after that and in about half an hour debates, commander approved my plan overall. He made a decision to head personally the convoy to the "North". He also took several staff officers with him: me with Ryzhov, reconnaissance head, medical company's commander, third battalion's commander and supplies officer. After a calculation, it turned out we had one hundred and twenty-two wounded including all from the battalions, but many of them refused to be evacuated. One would think though, for them that war was over, they didn't chicken out or self-inflict their wounds, for many of them were made or prepared the awarding papers. Some ones could be discharged before their military service terms due to the wounds. Not at all. Even many of the badly wounded refused to be shipped to the rear. Their officers had to yell at them, to order, to argue.

Many fighters were openly crying, as if they were unjustly hurt or punished. Some ones didn't want to leave because of the soldiers' brotherhood, the real one not the imaginary one, some were frankly saying that the thirst for vengeance for their fallen comrades wasn't quenched yet. And looking in their faces and their eyes madly blazing with the inside fire, but illuminated thereat with some light, you understood that those men were ready to give their own lives for the comrades around you. To give, having no doubts, not dealing any bargain with death or adversary, but just to stand between the flying bullet and his comrade, demanding no rewards, privileges or indulgences. I have been asking myself a question and I haven't found any answer up to nowadays: maybe that is really this grandeur of the Russian soldiers spirit, that no any army in the world has been ever able to break down? Despite the fact, that every government in Russia has been hating and even dreading its own army, constantly trying to break its backbone, make the thing, that no adversary has ever been able to do. But the Russian "makhor", regardless of his leaders' machinations and desperate resistance of the enemy, has always killed the foe, gnawing deeply at the enemy's throat, avenging for the deaths of his dead comrades, even dying himself. The death of one would cause and will cause yet the desire for vengeance in the other mates around and this will go on up to the last soldier. And the government, realizing this paradox, will periodically give the new adversaries, because when the obvious enemies are dead, and you, having tasted the blood and being not able to stop any more, will look back.

And when you do look back, you will understand, my reader, that while you were fighting there, on someone's obscure order, the life in your country was calmly going on and flourishing. Somebody even made a gross capital owe to that war, someone else moved money abroad, and your comrade soldier, whose mutilated body without legs you were dragging under the fire, yourself bleeding and sweating, now receives a pension of 300 rubles from the state - for both of his lost legs.

And after the third toast, he shall grab your hand and, looking in your eyes, ask you with anguish in his voice: "Why, why did you pull me out of there?" You will feel sad, annoying and ashamed that you saved his life. And that very deed, that you were so proud of - and maybe even rewarded for - will be the most shameful and offensive act of all your life.

Because due to the whim of the state you're sent to this butchery, but then chucked out. The same thing about the still living ones and about all the dead ones. Damned and forgotten. Nothing was there. All this was your paranoid fantasies caused by the posttraumatic syndrome and multiple concussions, but don't you worry, we'll cure you in the puzzle house during five years, drop in. And we'll disperse and shorten the remains of the army, so that they don't tell anybody anything and don't discuss our actions. Same as the witnesses are knocked down after a crime, the militaries are dispersed after each of the "liberating" operations. After Afghan, after the withdrawal of troops from Germany and so on. Because they knew for sure the army could turn back and behold that the real enemy was located right nearby, in Moscow.

Thus, when you get your sack for the Civvy Street or are locked in a garrison off the beaten track, you'll look back at your life and realize that the brightest, the most memorable and unretouched feelings, impressions, the taste and price of life you did experience just there, in some war. Your whole life would be then divided in two parts: BEFORE and AFTER that war.

Here you will face the choice, the eternal Russian question: "What Is To Be Done?"

You can try and live like the others, but you do know that you won't reach good status. You can try to enter the police force, to the point, they do not willingly take us there, they say we are all crazy. We can become contract killers, it is our familiar business, and they say, is paid good. To kill, but not so many people, not for some principles or vengeance, but for the money. Are you able? Dyou get sick? That's just the point, but some ones do it.

There is a third way however - mercenary. Although, it can happen that you'd fight side by side with those you were shooting at not so long ago, but that's OK, the money doesn't stink, and if you like it, you will take vengeance on the locals for your fallen friend who had been your recent enemy.

All our wounded fighters knew all that well. Some ones knew, some others sensed it intuitively, with their nape skins, and all that was what a man should have lived for, and if they left that time, they would never experience it again. That's why they were clinging to any chance to stay. The commanders plainly deceived some of them, telling they were only going out to accompany the column and would then come back to the brigades positions again. Some of them believed it, the others wanted to believe, hoping that the convoy wouldn't be able to break out and would have to return, some ones believed that before sending to the hospital they would splendidly fight for one last time and send a lot of true believers to meet their Allah.

They do like squealling "Allah akbar, Allah akbar", - we do also guess that he's "akbar" - but they don't rush to meet him. That's not good. Moreover, they are promised to enter paradise for the sacred war against the infidels. Therefore, we do a good deed, sending them to paradise, but they are resisting it like blind puppies.

That night at the command center was sleepless. All of us, Yurka, executive officer, reconnaissance commander, lots of other officers and I were examining, working through the options for the convoy route, we connected to all the next units, arranging the safe passage via their territory and co-operation in case if the spooks attacked us. Mechanics were busy getting their vehicles ready for the journey and cannoners tried to adjust APC-3s. There was enough work for everybody.

When all the questions about the bringing of the wounded ones and about storming of the pharmacy depots were answered and arranged, only the HQ officers stayed in the room. The head of the operations department initiated the briefing, then we were discussing our options about storming the buildings complex located on the Minutka plaza. At first we told many thoughts about the united command and Moscow wise apples, but gradually we cooled down and the briefting resumed its calm course.

Unanimitily, we made the conclusion, that a head-on storm of the square would be a sure suicide. Especially as we had to seize the bridge over the Sunzha river leading to the plaza, and then, driving our men under the raking fire, we could simply absolutely lose them all. That bridge was right in our way towards the square. And it was not possible to avoid it, unless we made a detour through a half of the city.

Suddenly, officer of the HQs guard barged into the room.

- Comrade lieutenant colonel, - he anxiously started addressing to the executive officer, - the moscower left.

- Why left? - San Sanych asked being confused.

- He got on his BRDM (combat reconnaissance patrol vehicle - O.B.A.) and said that the HQ had called for him and left.

- Long ago?

- About fifteen minutes ago. I contacted him by radio station, he said that he had to be at the "North" before the sunrise.

- Crazy, idiot, blockhead, he'll die himself and bring the men to the death. He should've been riding together with the convoy tomorrow morning. Full, cretino, - the head of the operational department, major Ozerov was furious.

We all perfectly realized what that meant - riding on a light armored APC alone, in the darkness, through a town during war. The final result was almost always the same - to be captured by the spooks or shot by ours. Every soldier knew that, not mentioning the officers. Did that moron really consider that his position of the HQ offier would save him from the bullets?!

Martial law in Grozny was actual, and due to that sometimes we were not even able to send our worst wounded to the better equipped hospital at the "North".

And so this upstart, this stuffed shirt, endangering the lives of the soldiers escorting him, just vanished into the night.

We immediately contacted the "North" and told them about their moron. It was likely he did it on impulse, trying to get to the Command HQ before any news from here could reach them, and report that we dared openly debate over the orders of our superiors. Regretfully, he had the poor Semeonov's remains with him too. No peace for the dead lad. Forgive us, private Semeonov.

There was a panic in the HQ on the "North". Of course - officer had gone missing, the officer, let in, maybe only partly, on the plans of the leadership, moreover, the Main Staff officer. Seemingly Karpov actually knew a lot of informations, because a search party was organized to look for him in the middle of the night. Over the air, it was going on God knows what. All detachments were reporting that the BRDM with the moscower had not yet passed through their blockposts. We were ready to face being quartered, as well as the examinations and interrogations of the United HQ whether we deliberately sent him away at dead of the night. Thus, instead of getting a bit of slumber by the night, we were busy making up the reports that we had never been to there, did not get there and all bullshit of such kind. God save you from being accused of sabotage against your superiors. You may make of the enemy a pocket souvenir, but don't you dare look askance at your chiefs. Well, there is sufficiently lot of the morons for us to face in this life. Although, we pitied the bastard, the Russian one, and the fighters in his escort got a problem for nothing. For some reason everyone was convinced that, if the units along his route kept silence, then he certainly fell into the hands of the spooks, God, let him be captured already dead, otherwise, a lot of our plans would have to be changed.

Sometime about eight in the morning we received information that the BRDM with Karpov drove into the OMON (OMON - a detachment of militia (police) for the special missions, special forces in the police of the RF - O.B.A.) roadblock that was set up right before the dusk fell down. As we had predicted, he was acting up being vain of his rank. Of course, the OMON lads gave no a hoot about some Main Staff together with their major Karpov. At first, they really mistook him for a spy and for the rest of the night he and escorting grunts were being mercilessly beaten. Before the sunrise, knocking out the admission that he was a spy, they put him before the firing squad a few times. A couple of times they even executed him firing the shots above his head, making him to say that he was a spy. In the morning everything was clear and the airborne fellows arrived, stuffed policemen's mugs for their grunts, picked up Karpov in a state of insensibility and the remains of Semeonov's body and left for the "North". After that Karpov was sent back to Mozdok with the first available flight and from there, mos def, further to Moscow. Certainly he'd be awarded with an order of some sort and later would be, on TV or in his memoirs, talking about his feats, how he, alone, rode through half of Chechnya, or something like that. Good luck to him.

Chapter 4

At about eight a. m. we began loading our wounded on and lining up of the convoy. By that time, the vehicles from the first and second battalions fought through to us and brought their dead and wounded ones. Since there was not enough room in the kindergarten's yard for everyone, only the most painful ones were loaded up there, the rest ones, who were in clear mind, were squashed into the vehicles with the help of stretchers, crutchs or with the hands. All, who were still able to fight, sat on top of the armors. Everyone perfectly realized that those wounded ones inside the armored carriers would inevitably die in case of a direct warhead hit or a mine explosion, thus, the responsibility for them heavily weighed in the minds of those riding atop of the armors. The convoy turned out to be larger than it was expected. Fifteen APCs, the wheeled trucks were denied as even a subgun's bullet could easily go clean through their box vans, not to mention about the cumulative warheads and mines.

Luckily or maybe not, a dense fog fell down on the city. On the whole, they have very loathsome weather over there. It was cold but there was no snow, there was not even mud under the feet, there was a complete thick mash and your boots got stuck in it, and you had to pull them out spending lots of efforts and they came out with the huge lumps of filthy sludge stuck to them. Our tech got the same problem. What would be there in spring? During the night, the earth surface was a bit frozen and thus, we counted on the quick and successful slipping off due to the fog and frozen soil. The buzzers radioed all of our neighbors and the "North" that the convoy with wounded was leaving.

One paradox was that all the troops, regardless of the kind, had been using the same radio frequencies and call signs that they had used when entering Grozny. All of which meant that scanning the radio traffic within the range of 3 to 30 MHz, during the day, you could easily find out where each unit was located and what exactly it was doing over there, the names of the unit's commander, radioop and all sorts of other useful and not so useful informations. By the way, our enemy was not more clever and quick-witted, also using their frequencies and call signs unchanged for weeks. In short, we deserved each other. Services of the radio interception and disinformation of both sides of the front line were equally good. However, Chechens had one unquestionable advantage - they could speak Russian and therefore were able to misinform us, but we could not make the same in Chechen.

Not infrequently, during the combats, as well as during the breaks between them, the aborigines got on the radio contact with our troops and tried to make propaganda including, of course, threats. So since the first days they began nicknaming us "dogs". When we were liberating the train station they disoriented our neighboring artillery regiment, and they, thinking they had spoken to us, were conscientiously pounding us for half an hour. And unfortunately those cases were not isolated. We had to spend some time to stop getting into the Chechen tricks and guiles with help of the codes and passwords system, but there were lots of ours having already been killed or wounded before. And all the same, our brigade, and the units that co-operated with us, had been keeping use of the old frequencies and call signs until the very time of our withdrawal. The military decay and it can't be helped. Unfortunately, it was not only in that thing. And any initiatives were met by the bosses with some bayonets (Russian saying meaning "to oppose adamantly"- O.B.A.).

Considering all that, we clearly realized, that not only leadership in the "North", but also a half of the militants located in Grozny got to know the information about our convoy's departure. Nevertheless, even realizing that decision to be a probable suicide, we did make that, as without the proper medical care, the men could simply die out there, moreover, they tied up the others, as they had become a burden and an extra target, and, considering the planned attack, we had to prepare the room for expected injured men. And after a short hesitation, entrusting us to the fate, we set off. We had to ride about fifteen kilometers along the streets of the semi-demolished city reminding with its ruins the chronicles, made in Stalingrad more then a half of a century before. Every basement and every window were the nests of the mortal danger for us. A sniper, an antitank gunner could hide in there. And they could've graduated the same military college as we did and trained together with us to fight in Afghanistan, Angola and in numerous "hot spots" of the former USSR...

According to the well-developed and proved tactics, the first and the last vehicles are annihilated as the first aims, after that the rest of the convoy is methodically fired upon. Trouble-free tactics. Almost nobody is able to survive.

- On the vehicles! - The order came from our brigade's commander. He got on the second APC.

The recons were riding on their two vehicles in van of the convoy and everything was quiet for the next ten minutes. In a couple of days after we had entered Grozny, our united grouping's command ordered us to make the identifying marks on all the tech. So for example, our vehicles had letter "S" painted on their sides, meaning Siberian Military District.

A bitter taste suddenly appeared in my mouth, although there was no nervous excitement yet, that would come later, I knew that, as well as the others of the expedition participants did, we all had experienced the same feelings. Suddenly an importunate popular song motive played in my mind: "Ah, I wanna burst in town!" Yes, that's right, I really do want that, but it is better to burst in Mozdok, where our command is situated, which in turn, heads our united grouping's command. Nobody really knew why the hell we needed that command, which, behind the backs of the units direct commanders, always craved to lead the particular subdivisions in Chechnya, and that practically always had some sad result for the latters. The most interesting thing was that the ones located in Mozdok got the same privileges, as we did, though, they weren't large, but we did honestly earn them. And namely, one day over there was counted as three ones and we would be paid double salary scale for the time spent over there, when we came home, and that was all. And did you, my reader, think that we would be enjoying all the privileges of war participants? Bullshitty. It was no war in Chechnya, there were no combat actions, all this is only the mass media fantasies.

Being occupied by these thoughts, I don't forget to look around attentively when passing by the houses ruins. So much we've destroyed there and we'll destroy yet even more. Ruining is no creating (the Russian proverb - O.B.A.). I attentively looked at my fighters' faces. They were sitting nearby on the armor: all covered with dust, weather-beaten by local colds and winds, smoked by the soot from the numerous shooting and grenades, mines and projectiles explosions. I noticed a grunt with the head patched up, having burnt through tankee's overall on and sitting astern. I peered at him. Wow, namely that guy was born with a silver spoon in his mouth, mechanic-driver with the surname of the German or Jewish origin - Goldstein.

We had people of all nationalities and nations in our brigade including even uzbeks and tadjiks. And this tankee was driving his tank entering Grozny and the infantry was taking cover behind it. At that time no fighter knew that you had to go in front of the tank and only in that case it will cover and save you. Now they know and are able to do that, but not at that time. Those lessons cost us too much. Since we entered the town at night, the guy was driving in the position "on the march", disobeying the order, - that was sticking his head out of the hatchway. Nobody knows why some sniper didn't take him away, the other tankees were swiftly killed, but that one was lucky. He was lucky again when an antitank gunner put rocket into his tank's right side. Goldstein skyrocketed out of the tank like a cork, at about fifteen meters height and fell on a tree's top. I guessed the worst case - he went down. Fat chance, he is sitting here, only his head is bandaged, so everything else was sound. Probably, his concussion was bad, don't bother, they'll treat him in his historical motherland. I can remember when the conscriptors arrived six months ago, he begged to be assigned anywhere without access to the secrets (author means that the servicemen getting access to the secret informations are under the special regulations and they are not allowed to leave the country during the special terms of 3, 5 or more years after discharging from the service to keep the secrets in Russia and prevent the possible losing of the secret informations; "historical homeland" - author means Izrael - O.B.A.). If he weren't in the Army, he would leave for his relatives already long time before. His parents had already left, but he was still finishing up his graduation from university and didn't complete it in time. In any case the lad is being discharged now and will be treated like a human being by the good doctors and in the human conditions.

That leader or soloist, hell knows who he was, of the "DDT" group, Yuri Shevchuk, brought from the second battalion, was also there with us, riding on the fifth vehicle in our convoy. He was brought together with the wounded executive officer and three wounded fighters. He turned out to be a snappy fellow, everyone expected him to pose himself as an untouchable superstar. There was nothing about that, he was extremely easygoing chap, having sat with the second battalion in the basement for three days, under the spooks' constant fire and counterattacks, according to the witnesses, he didn't hide at all. He acted like a real man, assisted the wounded ones. They didn't give him a weapon though, as he was shortsighted as a mole, and were asking God forbid him be hurt. In other respects, a great fellow. Supposedly, the spooks offered the battalion to surrender, and they answered them back that there was Shevchuk with them, but the spooks didn't believe it. Ours let them listen to him singing on the radio and then he spoke to them, and the Chechens offered to bring him out, even guaranteed his safety. He refused however. He also promised (and later we found out that he really kept his promise) to send the wounded ones, and not only from our brigade, to a hospital in Germany, paying for that from his own pocket and his friends' assistence. He purchased for them artificial limbs and wheel chairs without organizing any shows. There were no reporters or news conferences, everything was modest and quiet. In a word - Man.

The recons going ahead radioed that they were fired upon and then got to fight and were fighting. Estimated enemy's force - about 20 guns. Nobody used the grenade dispensers still, shooting only with the personal launchers and subguns.

We made our decision - forwards, break-through. Because of the fog we couldn't clearly see our enemy, but they couldn't also see us, their firing was at random. Com-brig ordered to put up the smoke covers and we added black smoke to the fog, just like tar poured into a milk barrel.

Coming closer, our vehicles opened up firing at first with their cannons mounted on the APCs at the reported by the recons positions. Then APC-3s opened up from their machine-guns and finally, we too, like in a well-schooled orchestra, assisted with our subguns and launchers barraging. It was a great panorama. From the thick black cloud of smoke, about a kilometer wide, where nothing could be seen, the fiery spurts of bursts were gushing to everywhere, periodically the bombs of the launchers were flying, making smoking tails behind themselves. A scene, that could be worthy of an artist's efforts. The passions tension was unbelievable! We couldn't know if our path was clear or not - maybe, during the night, a wall collapsed or somebody made that specially. Or maybe an antitank mine was hidden somewhere in the piles of trash and chippings. But there was no fear both in my mind and in the eyes of the ones who with I was at that expedition. We all knew that if we failed to break through, our wounded friends would die. We decided to go ahead. To the death or to the victory.

We were definitely lucky, the engines roared on high revs, adding their semi-processed fuel exhausts to the thick smoke cover. And although the convoy stretched along a lengthy distance, com-brig decided not to break it down into the small mobile groups but still to march on as unbroken column.

Having gone past that distance, we had been keeping our speed as high as we could squeeze out of our nice kangaroos, most off sudden, finally we left that place without any friendly fire accidents. Nobody was shooting after us any more or chasing us, as maybe the spooks retreated or due to some other reason, nevertheless all of us knew that it was still too early to relax. Forwards and survive.

Reconnaissance party going ahead of us, radioed that they had reached first of our neighbors blockposts. That was already better. Now ulyanovtsy (a popular speech to name the soldiers of the paratroopers unit based in Ulyanovsk, up to 1924 this city was named Simbirsk - O.B.A.), the airborne units, will walk us through their territory. The guys are not bad, but they only lack obstinacy and do swank too much. They can't stubbornly fight for some target for a long time. They furiously push at first, but gradually calm down to a stop. They are good acting as a supporting force, being lead by the others, but it is a difficulty for them to make somethinig independently. They have been trained to assault an objective, destroy it and disperse, and after that to blow up something. They are not prepared for these hard lingering combats. "Mahra" is quite another thing. During the intense heat, rain or snowstorm, we'll complete the task anywhere: in the North, deserts or swamps. We'll get all our bones lost in battle, but do complete the objective.

Passing by the blockpost we saw the airborne guys greetingly waving us and baring teeth on the same smoked mugs as ours. It was a delight to see that we were not alone there in that land, hostile to us.

Their com-bat promised to send a party for cleansing up the area where at we had been attacked.

In case they found spooks' corpses there, he would register them as his win, and if we succeed to reach the disposition of our brigade, then we, of course, would write victorious reports, indicating the approximate number of the annihilated enemy's forces. Some humorist at the "North" calculated how many enemies we had knocked down there in Chechnya. It turned out that during the 10 days of the fighting we had generally wiped out the entire Chechen population twice around. It was strange, it had passed only 10 days, but seemed like at least half a year had passed. If you believe the reports of the commanders during the Great Patriotic War, the army of the Wermacht was annihilated more than 100 times. As for us, we didn't have to liberate half of Europe, but according to the reports we were ahead of any army of the world. Thus, my reader, listening to the news bulletins form the front, always multiply our losses by three and divide enemy losses by two, then, you'll get a more or less clear picture of the combats.

The airborne lads tried to seat their wounded to us, no chance. We could hardly squeeze our own asses on the armors, inside the vehicles, our own wounded were piled up almost one on the other one, like the logs. Would you like to go with our convoy? You're welcome, but send your own vehicles and organize also escort. We won't be waiting for you as we take into account every minute. What are you saying? Louder, the engines are working. We're riff-raffs? Fine, we're riff-raffs, but you are still to evacuate your own men. We have neither time, nor power to quarrel with you. We perfectly understand you, if we start arguing now, you might even convince us or prepare your own vehicles. You should've thought about that beforehand. You had all night to organize that. Cheers, good-bye, good luck. No, don't bother persuading us. Where did you send us? Stay still here, we'll be coming back, wait for us. We'll talk to you later.

We were watching our com-brig talking to the paratroopers' com-batt. Of course, we couldn't hear anything, but observing the gestures the officers were using in their conversation, everybody understood who sent whom and where to and what was the answer of the sent one. When their dialogue was finished, I and the fighters around me cackled all together. But no one dared yell anything insulting or make a gesture of that kind to the paratroopers. We all understood that they had aslo the wounded ones, but they could bring their wounded ones themselves. We're all a bit foxy in our souls, like the Jews, enjoy solving our problems on the spend of somebody else, but please neither such principle questions.

So we left the zone of the paratroopers' responsibility and entered the area where for about ten blocks we would be moving through the zone of the spooks responsiblility and they were also controlling it. OK, sluts, we'll transport our wounded and take care of you. No distractions. I raise my hand up and the fighters start careful watching the ruins surrounding us. I've no wish to talk, scream or instruct and being on the vehicle, it's senseless - the roar, fumes and dust from the vehicles ahead let nothing be heard and if you carelessly open your mouth, it'll be clogged with filth full and you'll have to spit and expectorate it out for a long while. One more thing. Riding atop of APC is violently shaking and throwing up and if your mouth is open, you can smash your teeth or bite your own tongue off. There is a fairy story that some fighter, not from our unit, of course, - as we can not have such morons - bit his tongue's tip off in that way. The doctors sewed it back, and that booby was discharged after that thing. I've heard lots of these fairy stories during my service, I can easily write a novel now. I like especially the fact that, according to the witnesses of the soldiers, nothing has ever happened in our unit, but our neighbors have a constant chaos and therefore there are many of cranks. But the neighbors have exactly same opinion about us.

The fighter next to me shouts something, pointing his finger at the top floor of the building remained intact and firing with his subgun in that direction. My reflexes operate in a flash. My subgun let off a few bursts before I consciously stopped and attentively looked in the target direction. A pair of binoculars that lay on the window frame dropped inside blasting to pieces from the bullet. If you want to pull through, you must shoot first and then think and look. Everyone masters this commandment after his first combat. I'm yelling and waving with the hand to stop the shooting. Gradually, it abates dying out. I do not censure the fighter. In our line of business it's better not to undercook the vigilace, but to overcook it.

The vehicles are speeding forwards without slowing down. Recons party radios they are again getting in combat. This time the ambush is simultaneously from three directions. Recons are waiting for the main forces approach, as they can't succeed themselves. Commander calles the neighbors for assistance, to strike the spooks in the rear, meanwhile we are speeding full steam ahead to help out our reconnaissance party.

The last APCs in line have retarded a bit so that in case of an ambush we wouldn't become completely entrapped. As we approached the cross-roads, where our recons party took turn, the avenue was barricaded with bricks, two neighboring streets had already been checked, they had been blocked also, and thus we were either to break through or to retreat. If we did decide to retreat, there was no any guarantee that we wouldn't run into another trap. Com-brig made his decision: break through. Both Ryzhov and I completely upheld his choice.

Those who could fire weapons leapt off the vehicles and the carriers rolled back assisting us with the fire. First, we decided to push the spooks deep inside the block and then try to dismantle the barricade under the fire. Hiding behind the piles of trash we were shooting back. The fire exchange of both sides was intensive. A grenade exploded somewhere close to me - the pieces of a blasted fighter flew into the air and dropped 5 meters away from me with dull thumping. In a couple of seconds another soldier died the same terribly. In the heat of the combat I had no time to look who that was. Next to the second died one, three other fighters were whirling on the asphalt, screaming from pain and squeezing the wounds. Their jackets were soaking in blood just before my eyes. All thought at first they were killed and wounded with a launcher. But when the third soldier shifted a brick and noticed an F-1 grenade, lying under a pile of chippings without its safety pin, then everything was clear.

We must say the bastards were educated ones, there is no denying that they have talent. They cleverly chose the ambush position and had considered that we would lie down and engage oncoming fight and our lying positions, foisted by them, they mined with the hand-grenades. In a combat you have to move willy-nilly around, tumble, sink and hide behind the boken concrete peaces, bricks, chippings, and that's where these "nice" toys are - F-1 grenades without safety pins. You move the brick, its safety lever flies off and in 6 seconds, welcome, explosion. Frags of this "nicest" thing cover an area of two hundred meters. No one mine gives the same effect.

We were returning fire and faced that dilemma - either to step back or to try counterattacking and fight the spooks out from the surrounding buildings. A jolly perspective. Neighbors radioed that they were hurrying to assist and had called for the air support. That was exactly what we did not need. A soldier has many enemies in war, but one of the biggest is his own air force. Whether they'll hit the enemy, that is a question, but to cast the bombs over their own positions is a certain thing. That's why we asked our reinforcements rushing to assist to call off the "sky assisters". They could shurely assist to send everything to hell. Instructions to storm the building were passed along the chain. We also told our "boxes" to open up maximal barraging, keep going like that for 10 minutes, then die away and wait for the further instructions.

Every soldier and officer has in war his personal first aid kit, which contains an ordinary set of medicins. These are painkillers and antishock remedy - omnopon, promedol, antivomiting remedy, the tablets alleviating the effect of radiation and chemical poisoning. There are also disinfectants for the water, you can cast it into any puddle except the one of the seawater, it'll seethe for a while, the sediment will drop abottom, and you can drink it. It'll have a chlorine stench though, but there will be no any disease.

Every detachment has so called fighting stimulators. When soldiers are dog-tired and can't move their feet any more, not to mention attacking, their will is paralyzed by fear, then their commander gives the order to hand out these tablets for the completing the task and rescuing the men. They eat them, sit for a while and go tally-ho, onwards. No one knows where from the power comes and the fear completely dies away.

At that moment we had neither those tablets, nor any need of them. After a few fitst combats, where the spooks were prevailing in every aspect and every little victory we gained at all was dearly paid in efforts and losses, now the men are experienced and confident and the spooks get a deserved response, they will not kick against the pricks any more, filled with hashish smoke and squealling something about their Allah. When you see it at first time it's actually quite awful. They charge like the bewitched ones, unafraid of any bullets or death.

And then our APCs mightly thundered. Cracking salvos of the APC-2s' cannons and machine-guns, at first, muffled short barking bursts of APC-3s' guns, but then they quickly caught up with the firing intensity of the old well-proven "two-s". We also weren't behind the "boxes" pounding the buildings with our subguns and launchers.

APCs had worked for the arranged ten minutes and then stopped as it was agreed. The jingling from the shooting and explosions was still in our ears, but we had to run onwards. Our enemies had at that time more problems with their hearing, sight and sense of dimension. Our shells were exploding in their tight rooms, causing them to go crazy with terror. They were also still in awe from the air shooting and frustrated for some while. That's why we had to go onwards, onwards, onwards.

This time nobody had to rouse the soldiers to getting up from the ground with his own example, making them to follow him as it used to be during the first days. No, they rose up by themselves, some ones with the ancient shout "hurrah", the others just squealling from fear and supersurplus of adrenalin in the blood, all were running forwards. When you plunge into attack in such way, something primeval wakes up inside of you. It seems you are watching yourself from aside, observing all the scene of the comat, apparently noticing every corner. Do the common fury and fear produce at such moment this collective intellect?

While we were overcoming with the wild wails the open space of about 100 meters, we were met with the rare and discoordinated fire. No one of our men was injured, the fighters were discharging the long bursts on the run and from the waist aiming at the broken windows where from the mortal metall was rushing.

At last we burst in the doorway of the former apartments block, other groups are storming the remaining four entrances of the former "khruschevka" (slang word meaning the special type of the houses, made of bricks, with the small flats, built in the times of Khruscheov, the leader of the USSR in 1953-1964 - O.B.A.).

The human psyche and eyes are built so that we always notice what's on our right side at first and then what's on the left. The spooks used that thing and when we barged into some room they were standing to the left of the entrance and while we were automatically checking out everything on the right side, they had a few seconds to shoot us down in the backs. We spent some time until we learnt to toss a hand-grenade before entering inside and then enter and look first to the left of the doorway.

The sunlight started already to break through the fog but it was still dark inside of the building from the shooting. The dust, mixed with the burnt explosive and some other chemicals, was hanging in the air, hampering the visibility.

Together with me some fifteen men barged into the block. Looking sideways I glanced and remembered the fighters. Seemingly there were no cowards amongst them. All were run in and battle-hardened. Three flats on the ground floor, meaning that we should expect the same plan further up. Three fighters took guard on the upper platform between the ground and first floors, covering us from possible attacks from above. The rest fighters knackily make their hand-grenades on stand-by tearing away the safety pins and holding the grenades in the hands and shout to the other ones: "Ready". Knocking down the doors, they're not even locked up but broken off by the explosions, barely hang on the hinges. From the mighty kicks of the soldiers' boots they fly away and fall down. I yell out: "Hide, com'n!!!"

We recoil from the doorways, hide ourselves behind the jutting out concrete walls. The grenades, probably about eight of them, almost simultaneously detonated in all the three flats. The explosions make a noise in my head, the smoke and clouds of dust are flying out of the broken up flats entrances. Move on, move on and don't slow the tempo. Om left, on right. The dust in the air, can't see any shit, two long bursts from the waist level. We don't need any prisoners, have nothing to guzzle ourselves. Move on, move on. Kitchen, nobody's there, bathroom, the door is covered, aside, two bursts from the waist, the bathtub of the cust iron could be a nice shelter from the grenade's frags. I nod to the fighter next to me, covering my rear. He jerks the door open and I pull the trigger slowly moving my subgun's barrel sidewards. It is convulsing in my arms like alive one and showering on the bathtub with a mortal stream. The smashed off pieces of the tub are flying asides in the air. Meanwhile the other fighters are firing into the next rooms, dark from dust and smoke. The wardrobes and shelves attract also our attention. That's all, the three-rooms flat is checked. Move on, upwards.

The fighters guarding the platform, sign that there is some motion in one of the first floor's apartment. The soldiers spring out of the other flats and join us. Those who guarded the staircase move one more floor up. I don't have to set the people, every one knows his manoeuvre himself well. No need to yell at anybody. All of us work together like a well-set mechanism. Everyone covers another one.

We repeat the same process on the first floor. We barge into the appartment tripping over a dead body ripped up by a grenade explosion. That one's cooked. Checking, there's nobody here. Three more levels, attic and dark basement must be checked. Move on, move on.

The fighters report they've discovered two more corpses in the next flat. Fuck'em. Moving along. I look at my watch: it took us seven minutes to check the ground and first floors, we have to speed up.

On the second floor, when we knock the doors down, somebody yells out: "Don't shoot, don't shoot!" No accent. I raise my hand up. The fighters do not toss the grenades waiting. I shout: "Com'out, hands over head".

A filthy chap is coming out, with hand-grenades hanging on him and a Chechen knife (the gadget is a dagger welded together with knuckleduster) on the belt, looks to be Russian. Smearing the tears on his face he's shouting that he was just mobilized, he's just an ordinary con and nothing else, has never killed anyone of ours. I notice some five personal personal tags dangling on his neck. Earlier, they were given out only to officers and warrant officers, now, since we have entered Chechnya, every soldier gets the one. It looks like a little metal plate oval shaped, about five centimeters in length and three in wide. Along its length the plate is devided in two parts, upper part has mark "BC CCCP" (the Russian abbreviation, means the military forces of the Soviet Union - O.B.A.) stamped on it, the lower one has a letter and a six-digits code. Every soldier has his own code. The plate is cast from a stainless churlish alloy. First they started using these plates after a first experimental rocket fell down onto the arrived committee and burnt it, all had died (Nedelin catastrophe happened on 24.10.1960 - O.B.A.). Every soldier wears such plate in war, just like the American one, except they have one more with the family name and blood group.

And so I noticed that "ordinary con" wore those tags on his neck. There was a lot of rabble, hanging about in Chechnya, ane it could have been welcomed to Russia only for dropping in a jail, but just there, they were like the brothers for the local bandits. As the local Russians told us, to prove their loyalty they mocked at the brothers in blood even worse than Chechens did themselves.

I seized with the left hand the dog-tags cords, every soldier didn't want to lose his dog-tag, that's why the cords-ropes were durable, coiled them onto my hand and pulled the con trembling with fear to me. The fighters had understood everything. Some spooks collected personal numbers of the soldiers they had killed.

- What is this, slut? - I asked him and kept pulling the cords to me.

- I found them, I swear. I haven't shot. They forcibly seated me here, - he wailed weeping.

I came up with my subgun against his chest and pulled the trigger. The bullets ripped the chest open smearing my trousers with his blood. The body jerked backwards from the shooting, but it was still hanging on the tags' chains, the neck vertebras crunched. It seemed the the dead soldiers souls wouldn't let their murderer go free. Keeping the barrel still against the dead body I asked the soldier next to me:

- Cut off the ropes.

He took off the chechen knife from the died one and cut off with one motion, the corpse no longer hanging fell down with a thud. The fighter held his hand out with the dagger offering it to me. I shook with my head and he hid it under his boot-top. I straightened up, put the personal tags into my pocket and gave an order:

- Grenades on stand by, move on.

Again explosions thundered and we barged into other flats. We found five more corpses. Without clearing what and why and not searching them we fired a couple of bursts into each one of them just in case. One of the "deceased" suddenly revived and tried to grab his subgun - cross fire simultaneously coming from three subguns nearly chopped him to pieces.

And then we heard a grenade explosion and the subbguns cracking. We quickly finished the checking of the apartment and popped out to the stairs platform. The combat was going on over there in full swing. The spooks from the upper floors were attempting to break through downwards. Three fighters were keeping them up there, two more soldiers, covering us from the sudden attack from the basement, appered in time to help them. We also actively participated in the shootout. Over there on the narrow platform we hindered each other. The spooks began flinging down the hand-grenades. Hustling together on the platform we couldn't hide from them. Thank God, the morons threw the grenades just after they had pulled the safety pins out. Thus we had time to push them down to the lower floors.

Well, the going gets tough but we get going, two of us are shooting with their launchers from position on the knee, the other four are barraging the spooks with their subguns, letting them not move. Meanwhile something blew up there - a terrible crash resounded, the ceiling collapsed in the kitchen on the second floor. Five fighters quickly dived into the breach and now the fighting shifted into the apartaments of the third level. Coming up, we were shooting almost point-blank in the spooks' backs. We were afraid, of course, to hurt our own ones, but that time we were lucky. After the cleansing up, there were twelve dead militants lying on the third floor. Not bad at all, if according to the Fighting Regulations the ratio should be one defender to three or four of the attacking ones.

On the fourth floor nobody but two deceased ones greeted us. We carefully came up on the roof. Nobody. It meant that we were the first ones up there and had to help ours in other entrances and I distributed my men. I myself choose the one, where Ryzhov went into. Walking on the roof we could hear the fighting crash in every entrance.

We carefully open the hatchway's lid, judging from the noise, the fight is going on between the ground and the first floors. We are starting the cleansing up from the forth floor downwards. The voices and the gunfire are coming from the two-room flat, they're shooting outside. OK, sluts, let's roll. Grenades on stand-by, a nod, a kick on the door, we throw the grenades in and take cover. Explosions, move on, move on, one stayes on the stairs guarding, turn on the left - burst into an empty corner and burst ahead. The fighter on my right checked the right side discharging a burst into it. We finish off two wounded by the window. Next to them lies an RPG-7 rocket grenade launcher, a fine toy. We take the launcher and five remaining warheads for it with us.

The spooks downstairs apparently realized what had happened and intensifyed their onslaught. They strive to get out from the trap, but ours on the other side also figured out that the help was close by and were shooting more intensively. We came down to the third floor. Shooting through the doors and tossing in grenades. In two flats we discovered a couple more of the mudjaheddins' corpses. No idea whose job that was, some earlier one or ours, but that did not matter anyway. Move on, move on, downstairs, tempo, tempo, hold on, fellows, we're helping you.

The militants tried to force upstairs hoping to wipe us off. No way, I'm yelling out:

- Yurka! Stay there, I'll meet them up here.

We hear the tramping and throw the grenades, instantly duck behind the wall to hide us from the frags. One soldier screams, a frag hit his arm on the rebound. Two men stayed behind to render him the first aid. Two fighters and I fire into the pitch-dark cloud of the smoke and dust after the explosion. No one is shooting back.

- Slava! We're coming up! Don't shoot!

- Let's move, lads, slowly, maybe some slut is still hiding there, - I yell to my fighters.

We're slowly moving downstairs, ready to fire at even a slightest suspicion of movement or noise. On the platform between the second and the third floors we stumble upon the torn apart bodies of our recent enemies. The clothings on some ones are still burning. My nostriles are tinkled by the stench of the scorched flesh, wool, rags and something else, terrible stinky, provoking the vomiting urges. I can scarcely stop it. Suddenly, the soldiers' mugs emerge from the darkness, they're coming upwards. We're all happy and hugging each other. Here is Yurka, we hug us.

- Still alive, demony, - we're looking at each other, like lovers after a long separation.

- We've beaten shit out of these fucking borers. We hammered so that their souls are off! - Yurka was excited. Despite the cold, everybody was steaming hot.

- I grabbed some shithead in there. He shouted he was just a con, but he had personal tags dangling round his neck. Here they are, - I pulled a bunch of the tags out of my pocket and put them back, - I sent him off to meet his victims.

- You made the right thing, they settled firmly in here, set machinegun. Not one could approach, thank you.

- OK, let's go, you owe a bottle to me. - I took a packet of cigarettes, my ones from home, "TU-134", the sniper's smokes were long gone, it was a pity, they were really nice. - Entertain yourself, the threat for NATO.

Happily chatting in that way, though still in the heat of the fight, we walked outside. The fighters helped my wounded lad, following us, he walked by himself though, the rubber band was fixed on his arm, that meant he'd survive.

The combat outside died away also, apparently, the spooks retreated from the other positions, realizing that we would've gotten them too. The barricade was also nearly dismantled. The neighbors-soldiers were approaching form that direction.

- Slava, look, what the hell is that? - The approaching soldiers had some tanks on the backs, some type of the packs, having in their hands metal tubes connected to the tanks with the rubber hoses.

- In my oppinion, these are the flame-throwers. I've never seen them in reality, but heard that some units got them from the emergency reserves and dragged them over here. Certainly, a marvellous thing.

Meanwhile all ours left the building and the arrived soldiers, making jokes, approached the basement windows and having tossed a pair of hand-grenades in there before, started pouring from their flame throwers, these things turnd out to be the flame throuwers of the pack type. Great. The streams of the flame, human hand thick, widening up as they left the pipes and of about 10 meters in length were flowing into the basements. At once we smelt stifling stench of the burnt petrol and of something else yet.

- First class gadget. I wish we had the same ones, we'd quickly smoke the dorks out. We should suggest commander to ask for them in the "North", since they are going to throuw us on Minutka, we need them, - I said, watching with admiration as flame throwers having finished with the building cleansed up by us are preparing to fry some other structure.

- I've heard, there was a flame-throwing tank in Afghan, but it turned out to be useless in the mountains and was taken off from the production line, - Yurka said climbing up our APC.

- Such shitmorons. They could've thought that we'd have to take towns somewhen instead of fighting in the mountains or open field. Moskowers, what you can possibly get from them, only urine samples, and those ones will be fucking hopeless too, - I spat out and tried to settle comfortably on the top of the armor.

- Attention! All ready?- Then the order came through the convoy: - Move on! On march!

As we set off, APC underneath me sharply plunged forward trying to shake us off backwards, but clinging to each other and to every extending part on the vehicles' surface, we held on. Internal forces are lucky. They've the carriers APC-80, it runs fine, smooth, quick and nice, but we've tractors.

As we approached the flame-throwers' roadblock, we greeted again each other with shouting.

The rest of the journey was pretty uneventful, although we were ready for surprises. The first outposts and guarding blockposts of the "North's" guard were emerging along the way. The whole regiment guarded the airport. When rumors came that spooks planned to assault it, another paratroopers' battalion was taken to help the defending.

- One battle is over and another one is going to start, the longer and harder one and more important too, - I said to Yurka.

The mood was changing from the merry, since we came back alive, to more stern and serious, we had to attend the briefing with the command's representatives. The latters were impatiant to send us to our deaths.

Chapter 5

- Regardless of the outcome I'm getting drunk myself stupid tonight, - my good mood had totally gone by that moment and I spitefully looked at the guard of the "North". They have already managed to wash up the uniform and some were even flaunting in new uncrumpled uniforms.

I looked at my trousers spattered with the blood of the killed con, my oily, dusty, filthy jacket many times burnt and even twice pierced with the frags through. Ye-a-ah, if you appear wearing such a suit in a civilian life, militia ("militia", "milition" - police in the USSR and RF - O.B.A.) would arrest you at once as a tramping vagrant.

- Precisely, Slavian, we're getting drunk today, especially as I owe you, - Yurka, on the contrary, had a fine mood.

- Where are you planning to get vodka? From under the trestle-bed? - Ryzhov and I, before entering Grozny, parted the costs for three boxes of vodka, and from force of habit I got from the comms operators seven liters of spirit by exchange for the new camouflage uniform. Thus, I would be surprised very much if my yokemate could find vodka in any other place.

- I can get it only from there. Spooks closed their stalls and our Voentorg (the name of the military shops' net - O.B.A.) never comes out beyond the "North".

- Listen, there is a Voentorg trading spot close to the hospital. Let's try to buy some beer down there, on the sly, huh? - I awfully wished some beer, right at that moment, I even imagined its tight, viscous, cool gurgling stream rolling down into my throat and heavily bumping into my stomach walls. And I would drink it right from the neck, I hate glasses. Maybe it's my unfit family upbringing, but I just like it and I can't do anything with me.

- Great idea. All the same hell, we'll have about twenty minutes, while they are offloading the wounded. But the only problem is if they actually've beer and if we've got enough money? - He said, unloading almost useless here money from his pockets and counting it.

- I've got some more, - I said pulling out some crumpled paper notes, - we must get cigarettes too, preferably something of top brand.

- D'you like a beautiful life, don't you? - Ryzhov sneered.

- Yeah, I do, especially when you see how people live just in fifteen kilometers form you, - I looked round at "the royal court" regiment's disposition with a sigh.

- Be patient, we're now coming to the hospital, so what will ya tell when looking at women, - Yurka already frankly mocked at me.

I decided to keep up a conversation:

- I'll either rape ten of them or blow my brains out.

The hospital we were approaching was located on the left from the airport, in the ex-restaurant building. Rumours proved that restaurant used to belong to some relative of Dudaev. Along the way we met nurses and doctors, some of them were women. In war any woman is a goddess. The matter is not only about the sexual deprivation. Looking at or simply talking to a woman you don't harden up so fast and the thin thread connecting you to the normal life doesn't break so quickly, and we had no women in our brigade. Maybe that's probably why we were so drawn to them. But the first desire, of course, is pure sexual attraction, but why don't we have mobile brothels following us? The wars of old time were something! Unhurried, positioned ones. The enemy was respected. The nice cuisine, mobile brothels, champagne and white shirts. The times have changed to be worse, on my point of view. Although, the medical science nowadays on top. So far, none of the incoming wounded has died here.

- We've come! - Com-brig leapt off from his carrier as first one.

Everybody followed him, limbering up their numb legs and rubbing the frozen bums. The doctors and nurses came running and started disembarkation of our wounded and dead ones. The latters would be placed in wooden coffins and then the coffins in the zinc boxes, the boxes would be soldered, meshed to make it easy to carry and not to confuse the top and the bottom, and sent home to their parents as "cargo-200". The parents will also receive the death notices and thanking notes for their sons' wonderful upbringing. That's all about it. The commemorative salvo made with dummy rounds would thunder over his grave. The military cadets or young soldiers would shoot. Both ones are potential candidates for the same "magnificent" burial in the nearest future. The God of war demands new sacrifices and opposing sides supply them in full.

Then parents or the widow will be paid ten-year salary: the whole five million rubles (in the year 1995 a standard salary of a normal worker in RF was about one millon roubles per month - O.B.A.), during the next half a year they'll visit them and after that, as it is the custom here, they'll be forgotten. And when the mother, widow come to the authorities asking for help (no matter which, military office or local administration), first, they will politely get rid of her with excuses and then tell her there are neither money, nor possibilities to help. And if she persists, they state: we, personally, did not send your son (husband) to that war. Go asking or sorting the things out to those who had sent him and you can not come here to us again because those who had sent them to the death had forgotten to allocate money for your pension for the lost bread-winner, for repairing of your house roof, for setting the telephone and so on. You can, my reader, complain all you want, there will be no result. The power hungry ones would say about you: "This is that woman (man) whose son (spouse) died in that war". That would be said with such a feeling of negligence that regarding to neither your age, nor your health you would sob, my reader, and run away to come back here never again, even if they would allocate for you some funny money for the New Year's Eve or 23rd February (the Day of the Soviet Army, is celebrated in RF also as a tradition - O.B.A.). Now think, if it's worth sending your son into that butchery because of some ill Commander-in-Chief (President of RF Boris Eltsin at that time - O.B.A.). Think seriousely. During the Chechen campaign, he had a grandson of the conscription age, but for some reason, I had never observed him over there, even making some excursion.

Meanwhile our wounded were being loaded off and carried into the hospital rooms. We followed them. Precisely nobody was paying any attention to us. Ryzhov and I were staring at the women-medics, not trying to flirt anyway, they had already been shared and distributed long before and without us. And our appearances made us also not to be trusted. We were searching for the semi-legal Voentorg trading spot or any local crook that could sell us spirit and cigarettes. The history of the wars all over the world shows that there have always been some niggling squanderers making bucks by reselling small wanted goods. Nothing real law-breaking, and on the other hand, they are doing good matter supplying men on the front with those little joyful things from the normal life that the men are deprived of. All you should have is money. At war some ones' failure is health, but the others bail the wealth. Maybe we should let it be? No, I cannot, my upbringing and poor life experience wouldn't let me do this.

Therefore, we were mooching about the hospital asking soldiers where we could get some beer and cigarettes. But since that was an evacuations' hospital, as a rule, soldiers never stayed there for longer than a day and thus knew nothing. But suddenly we noticed a soldier, with a mug, larger than both of Yurka's and mine put together. He wore the new camouflage and standing next to the open window was leisurely smoking puffing a ciggi. That mug expressed smugness and self-indulgence. It seemed nothing around concerned about him. He did not look as wounded at all.

I dug Yurka in the ribs when he was frankly staring at a nurse rushing about her matters and fortunately enough walked past us. Judging from the thirsty expression on the Yurka's mug, he'd already raped her about ten times and was going to do that again.

- That's enough to rape the women, we're situated here with a peacekeeping mission. You'd better look at that scene, - I pointed at the mighty worrier, - in my oppinion, his body can be used to plug up ten machinegun nests at the same time. It seems he represents the whole might of Russia's armed forces. What d'you think, Yura?

I talked specially in loud voice for the grunt hear us. Yurka read my plot and played accordingly.

- Yeah, man, right you are. This lad lacks us in the recons unit, they need some kind of human shield or better yet in the storming group to pull out the wounded ones.

The soldier slowly looked askance at us without even turning his head. As many other officers we didn't wear any shoulder-straps and stars, signing the ranks, as snipers had that bad habit to choose the officers in the first place. They've a kind of some total hatred for us. Well, every one has his own complexes and for them it's professional one and, moreover, well paid.

- Sonny, - Yura started politely'n'smoothly, - what would you say, if we invited you to visit our brigade for some excursion, so that you, slutty, could see the war with your eyes? You, fag, will surely just come home with a metal thing on your chest having never seen any combat at all.

Yurka was quietly telling all of this, thus passing by doctors didn't even pay any attention to us: some soldiers were standing there, slowly-peacefully chatting, no trouble, no quarrel.

- You, go just to hell, - the fighter leisurely mumbled without turning back his head even, and there was so much scorn in his voice that it made my blood boiling over. Instantly, the spite ran high. I know myself, in the moments like that I can scarcely control myself and can do lots of stupid things, but the realizing comes to me later.

- Now, turn around, nit, as a battle officer is talking to you, and immediately beg your pardon, - I tried to calm my voice down too, but the words were boiling up inside. No one soldier has ever dared insult me, no matter what state he was in. Being an immature lieutenant I had to calm down a drunken guard team. And there, that rear louse dared offend two oficers.

The fat polecat turned his head around and mockingly stared at us, saying no any word, with his appearance obviously scoffing at us. Both Yurka and I realized the words were useless to convince that animal and we had to act. There was a niche near by, where at the cleaning stock was kept. Making no any extra arrangements we quickly took the youth's arms and shoved him into the dark and stuffy closet. I clutched at once his throat to keep him from screaming and Yurka came with his subgun up against the guy's groin and pressed it. Even by that meagre lighting we could see that the lad went pale. His eyes were popping out and screams were bursting out of his throat, but I was preventing him from shouting, squeezing his throat stiffer, allowing him only to breathe. I leaned over to his ear and whispered:

- I'll now release my hand a little, if you, scumbag, promise t'give us 'ur apologize calmly and quietly. Beer and cigarettes too, I'm sure you've got some. If you're agree, blink once, if not, I'll just strangle you right here and my friend'll shoot your balls off. No one'd care, you'll be written off as a battle loss. And if you try t'make some trick, the story'll be repeated. The crumpled throat and the balls shot off, or we can load you up on the truck and exchange for beer and cigarettes by spooks. To the point, you dork, we're offering you yourself t'make the same deal. Get it, asshole? - I squeezed his throat harder and Yurka pressed his subgun a little more in.

The fighter's eyelashes were blinking like butterflies near a light bulb:

- I'm sorry, please forgive me, comrades officers, my mistake, I promise, that won't happen again, upon my honour, - tears were falling down from his eyes, but I kept my grip on his fat throat.

- What about the second part? - Asked Yurka, hinting at the beer and cigarettes.

- No problem, in a minute, - The soldier was bustling about and reached his hands somewhere behind his head and produced a six-pack of beer "Holsten" and a block of "LM". In our slang - "love of militioner".

At last, we let the foul freely breathe. I leniently slapped his cheek, pulled out the crumpled five thousand rubles note from my pocket and shoved it into the whimpering fighter's hand:

- Do not be ever rude, youth, and maybe you'll stay even alive, and here is the money for your goods, so that you wouldn't tell anybody that we are gangsters. By the way, lend us a few bags for the comfort carrying of the purchases, will you?

The fighter turned around fumbling in the darkness for something through the buckets again. He got here a nice hiding-place, something clinked inside the buckets, something metal, seemed to be like a pistol. Would the boyo really be naughty? I drew my subgun out and came with its barrel up against the base of his scull, just at the point, where it and the spine join end to end, and pressed - there is pain spot there. If you quickly and violently hit it, a person falls down unconscious. Yurka instantly came with his subgun up against the spine near the kidneys.

- Sonny, do no stupidness, - I spoke in an unctuous voice again, - or you, bastard, decided to die like a hero, then com'on, try.

With my left hand I took off trophy narrow stiletto from the sheath and applied it to his throat, pressed it a bit, the cold blade affected better, than the subgun from some reason. I wonder why? Something metal clinked again, he must've dropped the pistol back in the bucket. Removing the stiletto form the throat, I jerked him towards me and pressed again the barrel under his chin. The fighter lifted his hands up, and he was holding a case of special gear at his left one. I dipped my left hand behind his head, found a pistol and took it. Cricky! A pistol with a silencer - the gear for the noisless and flameless shooting. Great. He took it by stealth from some wounded recon or a guy from a special unit. I punched on him with the pistol grip, on the nose, just on where the nose connected with the forehead. He was slowly and silently falling down on the floor. We let him down on the floor and went away, picking up our bags and putting there inside the beer and cigarettes.

Outside, the unloading was almost over and com-brig gathered up our officers to visit the briefing by the grouping's command. We threw the bags inside our kangaroo and instructed mechanic, that if the ones were stolen, he would be castrated and left there in the hospital. The fighter brightly nodded his head and carried on the undressing of the passing women with his eyes. Following our commander, we were slowly puffing the good cigarettes and discussing our arguments against the head-on frontal storming of the bloody Minutka.

- Let's do this: airforce, artillery, tanks, rockets and after they've all hammered down, "makhra" goes in, huh? - Yurka asked, enjoying his cigarette and observing almost the peaceful life around us.

- And the napalm bombs would be better, so that everything round would burn and some loud jolly music for the spooks jofully sacrificing their lives to Allah, - I was feeling appeasement and almost sexual satisfaction from the calm surrounding atmosphere and my cigarette. Damn, a man needs so little. Good smoke, peaceful atmosphere and women being near by.

Suddenly, we saw an acquainted officer, we stormed the airport "North" together, and then his regiment was set to guard the air-field, some ones have luck.

- Yura, Slava, you're alive, great! We've heard about your feats. And've heard about Karpov too. We thought you smashed him, but all was then cleared, he's silly. He is to receive The Order of Courage.

- So, you thought Slavka and I smashed that fucking stronzo down?

- Not really, but everybody knows he is a vile rat.

Yurka and I loudly cackled:

- Sasha, as we saw him for the first time, we gave him exactly the same nickname. Rat is rat. You'd better tell us what is in store for the Minutka and for us.

- Guys, marines and paratroopers tried to take on the fly that fucking Minutka, lost about thirty men and were rolled back. Now they want to send you.

- Blow it out!

- There is that shitty peacemaker is sitting there too. Radios to us all the time with statements. Listen to the anecdote about him. This peacemaker for the human rights with his delegation committee are sitting there, inside the Dudaev's bunker and everybody has just forgotten about them, no food, no water. They wonder what to do. Suddenly, he makes a suggestion: "Let's all convert to Islam". The others ask him: "Would it help?" He says: "No. But we could cook a soup out of the scraps!" - Sashka cackled up satisfied.

We spat both from his news and form his anecdote and also smiled.

- Men, I've got to be commandant here now, you're welcome to visit me. Now, excuse me, I have to run; somebody broke the head of one fighter in the hospital.

With our jaws dropped from surprise about Sashka's new appointment, we went to catch up with ours. We didn't care about the fighter. I vouched for his skull was fine, nose-bleeding was nothing, probably he stumbled over something in the darkness. Does anybody in our army dare punch on such great lad? Of course, no, and while he was lying unconscious, the officers appeared him. With his excessive weight and high blood pressure much nonsense can appear. Set him on a strict diet, comrades doctors. Or better yet, give him us for a week. You won't recognize the young lad.

Some officer came out and said general Rolin was busy at that time and would have time to meet up with us in about ten or fifteen minutes. His majesty is on the telephone with the defense minister. Fine, let him talk. The same hell, nothing good will come out of that talk. Com-brig left to radio the brigade and see how they were.

We saw Sashka returning and called him:

- How is the fighter, Sasha?

- He's telling some bullshit that two officers beat him up. He pissed his pants while unconscious. The description, - he stared at us with suspicion, - sounds like you two.

- Sashok, d'you seriously think that we're able to beat up a soldier? I personally squeeze throats, - I started.

- And I usually shoot off the nuts. You know us too well, - supported me Yurka.

We gazed at Sashka Holin having the hurt faces, as if demanding that all accusations must be taken off.

- Just you, damned bullies, I do know well. I've seen enough. You would care neither about yourselves, nor about anybody else. So, did you flipped the fighter down?

- Sasha, - I again spoke in the sincere voice, semi-hugging him, - our dear man, please explain us, in your words, - two bullies, what for did you rush back to the hospital? We've never noticed anything merciful in your soul. Even when we brought over our wounded, you, apparently, were so busy, that had absolutely forgotten to come and greet your friends.

- Who, by the way, came to rescue you, when the spooks cornered you with the fighters in the edge of the air-field, - continued Yurka, - and, I feel uncomfortable about reminding you this, you swore by all the saints that you would never forget your saviours.

- And now, my dear friend, you want to sell off your guarding angels as some recycling tare. - I continued again. - We, on the contrary, have never even mentioned that your assistent was dropping the stolen..., pardon, economized by you propety for speculation prices, and the slut even tried to threaten us with a pistol. So, Alexander? I guess your fighter just hit his noddle on something.

- Why did you beat him?

- He told I should go to hell, and very frankly, and didn't apologize, do you weigh that, Sasha?

- Well, I'll teach the shithead a lesson.

- Sasha, since we have found common ground, I could now make you an offer to give us some humane assistence.

- But you've already snapped it up.

- Lie, slander and calumny, - Yurka stated with zeal, - we didn't steal, we bought it for five bucks. Or five thousand rubles. It was dark in there, both rubles and dollars were in the same pocket. Is that true, Slava?

- It's the real truth, I paid off myself. It seems for me that your fucking sidekick is trying to hide some of that illegally made profit from you. By the way, we bought only one box of beer, with so li-i-i-itle beer cans, and a pack of the "love of militioner", and you, meaning all this, are going to send us directly to one transport.

- Just imagine, - Yura was unstopable, - if we were killed in action, God forbid, of course, you would naturally be sad, because you had never given us three sticks of good salami, vodka of the Moscow brand "Crystal", a couple of bottles of good cognac, surely some cheese, and a few more bits and pieces. And we will visit you in your night dreams reaching our hands out to you and tell, - we started grabbing him like vampires, - "you, sneak, pinched down snack!"

- Yeah, Sasha, - I interrupted, - I can surely survive without a pair of beer packs and good cigarettes, but it would be nice of you to throw in some dry fish for the beer and...

- That will do, knuckleheads. Please give me some water, ma'am, cause I'm so hungry and've no bed for tonight also, - Sasha mimiced us. - If you two hadn't saved my life, you would've been eating free food in the commandant's office yet.

- That's why, during that combat I said to Slavka: "Slava, look, so good captain is dying over there. Let's save him and he, when he is a warden, will feed us till the end of the war." Slava, is it correct?

- I must die, if it's not true. Yura, that would be cool, to rest up in the brick for a week or couple hunting lousies. Three times meal a day, clean sheets, one can take off clothes, steam-room. - I closed my eyes stargazing and stretched myself with the bones' crackling. - Kicks! Sasha, maybe you could send us, and your fag will change his evidence in two weeks, saying he mistook us for somebody else and they'll let us free, by that moment the war could be over too. Think about it, Sasha. I'll give you cognac for that.

- You're naturally idiots. Spooks haven't called your brigade "dogs" for nothing, you'll gnaw down and make mad anybody.

- We are going to see our commander now, listening to him trying to agitate us to go on the Minutka. So, I'm thinking, Slava, to suggest that he takes just this tiny regiment off from the airport guard duty and throw it on the Minutka, and we would make guard here. Then, after you take Minutka, we might move on and fight. How about that, Sash? To the point, have you tasted all the girls around here?

- No, they are all shared, don't disturb the private propety.

- You could share one with us for a couple of days. We'll bring her back later, don't be greedy!

- You are knuckleheads, real knuckleheads.

A deputy assistant emerged from the HQ and called for our group of the staff officers to enter.

- Sasha, we'll be there by the commander for about forty minutes, so, don't forget that humany aid, otherwise we'll come to you in your night dreams. And tell your servant that if he's ever boorish to us or spreads heillish gossip about us, he will get not only slight fright. Wait for us and we'll be back again, bear, please this pain, -- I paraphrased a line of a well-known poem. - And, my dear, don't forget the beer, but the rest is a must.

Yura even blew Sashka a kiss, playing the fool.

- We'll meet again, darling! Welcome us!

Sashka spat aside, clearly showing his attitude to our foolish plays. Passing by soldiers were watching wondering that scene of farewell.

We followed the officers going into the airport building hurriedly smoking off our cigarettes and chucking off the cigarettes stubs. During war we usually smoked, concealing the cigarette in the fist, by that way sniper wouldn't see the light. That habit worked around by day also. It's senseful. If your habits are different by night and by day, it is easy to get confused and make one fatal mistake.

All of us walked into the boardroom where we met the grouping's commander, major-general Rolin and our general Zaharin. In the past his surname was of Armenian origin, but after the meltdown of the Union he was recommended to change it. That's how he turned from Avakian to Zaharin - his wife's surname.

The windows in the meeting room were plugged up with the sandbags. The poor light didn't reach the corners where at people-shadows were sitting: comms, orderlies, batmen and lots of different people helping or platitudly grovelling the general.

- Please take the seats, comrades officers, - Rolin rose and shook Bahel's hand, then simply nodded to the rest of us.

- I have just spoken to the defense minister Grachin. At the uppermost level, - Rolin emphasized the "uppermost level", - they came to the decision to storm the Minutka square buildings' structure. I was appointed to head the operation and your brigade is to carry out this complex and responsible mission.

At the end of the speech his voice turned to be ceremonial. I wonder if he and Karpov had the same teacher. Although, he's apparently not from Moscow. Hell knows "who is who" in their HQ.

- Our operative group has worked out a plan, coordinated with the General Headquarters, approved by the defense minister. General Zaharin has just familiarized himself with it. I'm also asking you to listen attentively. The correct completion of this task will allow us to eliminate the militants' forces, headed by Dudaev, in the shortest possible time. They are all now stationed in the State Bank's building and in so-called Dudaev's Palace, - he began pointing with his finger at the map laid out on the table (judging from the expression on Zaharin's face, he was not delighted with that plan), - the rest of the buildings are insignificant and of no particular interest for us.

It was surprising that a military officer, especially planning such a bloody battle, was so scornful of the structures nearby, where at the militants were located and said no any word about two bridges, leading to the square. These ones are guarded and mined for sure.

There are immediate, subsequent and major objectives in the army. They always start with the immediate one, then, come to the subsequent and after that reach the main one. And if they start with the main objective, mentioning no any subsequent ones, moreover, naming the names of such persons as Dudaev, that proovs to be bare politics. Politics means death, absolute downfall for the military man, because these knuckleheads never think of the perished people lives and consequences, all they're interested in is the result and the quickest one. Objective justifies any methods. Jesuitical axiom.

We all stared hardly at the map, it turned out that we had to cross over both bridges in almost parade style. And what if we couldn't make it, or only some part of our forces would cross over, and then the spooks would blow up the bridge? Then, those who did rush, the quickest, the friskiest ones, would be slaughtered by the spooks as the sheep before our eyes. No one of us liked that shady enterprise. We are professional servicemen and have been learning to risk lives of both ours and others since the first year in college, but to perish absurdly like that - please, let me be out of that thing. All faces in the room turned grim, everyone understood that if we didn't stand up for our mind at that same moment, then the end of the Maikop brigade would seem like an innocent children's walk in the park. Especially meaning the fact that was not even the train station, that was their president's residence, symbol of their national pride. The only solution seemed to be either a nuclear bomb casting or a long and persistent work of the airforces and artillery.

So-called executive officer of the grouping colonel Sedov emerged from the shadows. No one knew much of him, but the wars often promote the great commanders as well as mediocrities on the peak of the military Olympus. I couldn't tell anything about Sedov, but if it was he, who worked out that plan, lying on the table before us, then he was not a mediocrity, but a war criminal, or rather criminal with the shoulder-straps. Sedov started speaking. His conduct was well schooled. He didn't seem to be threatened by Rolin and he had made the speeches already many times. He was a line officer judging from his weather-beaten face and military bearing. We'd listen to him.

- Comrade general, comrades officers, - started Sedov, - the enemy concentrated the main forces on the Minutka square's area.

"Aha, the latest news" - I thought to myself.

- That's why to break finally down the resistance of the enemy, demoralize him and knock him out of the city, you are offered to carry out the plan, approved by the defense minister and confirmed by the Commander-in-Chief, - now it seemed that Sedov was admiring himself. He was inflating with pride, self-importance and with the fact that his plan - now there were no doubts about the authorship - was confirmed by the Upmost.

- You are to capture quickly the bridges over the Sunzha river on the forced run and impetuously burst in the square Minutka, then accomplish capturing and annihilating of the enemy's infantry inside the state bank's building and Dudaev government's residence, so-called Dudaev's Palace, - Sedov continued his singing.

"Hello, dear ass, how was Christmas?" - breezed through my mind.

- For assaulting of these buildings, several airborne, marines units and the Leningrad (the name of Sankt-Petersburg in 1924-1991 - O.B.A.) regiment will be attached to your brigade. You will be backed up with artillery and airforce.

The most interesting thing was that he didn't name the units' numbers and the amount of the airforce and artillery support we would hopefully receive. Would that be one air-wing and one artillery battalion? Shorter, the plan seemed raw and superficial, and in case of failure, we would obviously be assigned to be the ones bearing the full blame. Jolly vista!

- The storm is designated to be in two days. During these two days you are to take promptly the hotel "Caucasus", then hand it over (to whom?) and move out to the Minutka, - it seemed Sedov had figured out all with the utmost clarity and naturally we should've too, thus being inspired right at that moment we had to dash riding on the black horses out of there and capture Minutka. Gaga! Gaga! Gaga!

- Comrade general, comrades officers, I've finished. Has anybody questions? - Judging from his question's tone, he must've thought that only degenerates and morons could ask questions - what could you expect from the Siberian "makhra"?

- What are the estimations of the enemy garrison on the Minutka square, about their armament, are the bridges mined? - Our com-brig quietly but rigidly asked, emerging from the shadows.

- The amount of the militants' forces does not exceed three to four thousand men (his precision is jolyfull, who cares about one less or one more thousand). Their armament consists of the usual infantry weapons plus underbarrel launchers, RPG-7, and light infantry mortars (how about racing on the square under the mortars bombing?)

- What about the bridges?

- We do not have any precise information whether the bridges are mined or not. All approaches are under heavy fire, defended with ambushes and nests of the enemy without any possibility for clearing up this question. However, we are constantly working in this sector. And the comrades from the local opposition constantly help us.

We all widely smiled. A Chechen would not sell another Chechen, but to betray a giaur (the word, used by Chechens to name the ones, who are not of the "tru" faith, the nonmuslim ones, who had better be murdered - O.B.A.) is always a delight for them.

- You are all laughing in vain, - Sedov was irritating, - recently, in Moscow a query was initiated by the local opposition whether our invasion and senseless violent actions have caused the republic's economy an irreparable damage and made the people angry against us. The partisan movement is growing more popular (they found light by night). Because of that, there is an opinion, that we must kill the militants under no circumstance but only disarm them and let them go home, as in their majority they are only modest frightened peasants, spring comes and sowing is soon. Otherwise we'll get famine in republic.

- So, to hell with them! - I let it out in the mortal silence. Everyone instantly burst laughing and I attracted attention of both Rolin and Sedov. Yurka gave me a nudge, but it was too late by then.

- You must've missed the point, comrade... - Sedov looked at my shoulder-straps and seeing no stars continued: - By the way, why aren't you wearing your proper insignia?

- Scared of snipers, comrade colonel, - I replied as modestly as possible, although felt an urge to provoke a huge scene.

- It's all nonsense, do you really think that snipers are watching your stars? No. And how will you lead the complement if you don't have your insignia?

I was just ready to speak a long and unflattering tirade devoted to the shoulder stars, as well as my opinion about his lousy plan. I am no hero, but in war, you quickly figure out there is no worse thing for you than this, well, maybe only if you're wounded. And so - fuck all these clever persons. You want to lay me off, your're welcome!

But Bahel forestalled me, he must've understood that a scandal was going to follow due to me and thus began:

- Comrade general, we'll sort out later why captain Mironov is not wearing his stars. That was me who allowed my officers to take them off. I am worrying just now about the forthcoming operation. These concised timeframes would not allow our brigade, which has been engaged in heavy fighting, to force carrying out of your plan (Bahel emphasized the word "your") without appropriate preparing, I also offer to make immediately the order about the massive air and artillery strikes on the square buildings' complex. To continue the endless striking on until the beginning of the operation assaulting the square. Two hours before the beginning of the operation, the airborne sabotage-reconnaissance units must assault the bridges and prevent all attempts to blow them up. To the point, could you tell us exactly which units would act in co-operation with us? I guess the head-on assault of the Minutka is a senseless suicide. I will not obey the order, which is exactly tantamount to execution of men by firing squad.

- D'you realize what you are saying, colonel! - Rolin was raging. - I'll make just now a phone call to Grachin and send you to the court martial! And I'll simply arrest you at once and you'll be with the first plane in Moscow! D'you know how many ones wish to take over your post?!

- If it saves my men from slaughter I'm immediately writing my letter of resignation! - Bahel started shouting also. -You are afraid to smash this sodding square with help of the airforces, but aren't you afraid to get a few thousands men fallen, choking with their blood?! You'd better think of that first before you think of your public image of the tough guys...

- Shut up, traitor! - Rolin erupted. - You're out of your mind, colonel, you're a coward. I'll make Hero of Russia of you, idiot, in five seconds. And you, what're you all staring at? Get out of here!

No way, fuck you, general, we'll tear up the throats for our commander, let him only tell us "tally-ho", we'll break everybody here.

- We uphold our commander, that is a suicide to storm the square without previous air and artillery runs, - somebody commented in the darkness.

- Does everyone think like that? - Rolin squinted and heavily looked around. - O-o-u-ut! Guards! Get them all out of here, disarm them, convoy the traitors to the brick!

We only huddled together closer side by side in response. Silence. Mortal silence. The entrance door opened and two privates and an officer ran in, ready to obey any order of the commander. All of us prepared for the worst possible outcome. General Zaharin suddenly interrupted the silence - what a brave Armenian.

- Let's all neither act impetuously. We will let the officers now go to breathe some fresh air and ourselves stay in here and discuss possible solutions for this situation. Let's keep cool and neither feverish haste. It's obviously for everybody that a head-on storm would be dangerous, but together we must find the optimal variant, - and now speaking to us: - go, comrades officers, wait outside, nothing is going to happen, I do promise you.

- Go. Wait. - Com-brig odered us. His voice was cold.

We left from the room. All of us were nervously trembling. The guards followed us. Someone seized their chief upon the neckband and whispered:

- If you, slut, even think about arresting our commander, I'll kill you, got it?

- What about the order? - He asked in scare. His fighters kept away by the walls.

- D'you wanna live?

- Yes!

- If you are given the order to arrest him, we'll attack you and you hand him us over kicking up no any racket. Understood? This way we'll let you and your fighters live. Did you understand everything?

- Yes!

- We'll now move our vehicles up a little closer, and you don't panic. When our commander with our general come out, we'll calmly get on the cars and leave. Note, we don't want your blood, but if you stand in the way, we'll kill you. Understand? You know who are we?

- I do, you are "dogs". I understood all.

- You've understood nothing. We're no dogs we're "makhra", and we'll break down anybody for our commander. That's it, go. And if you or your fighters make something wrong, we'll fight. D'you like that?

- No I don't.

- That's right. We are here to fight not each other, but Chechens. They want to send us storming Minutka head-on. They send us to die. But we don't want to. That's why Rolin is shouting. Go and don't do any troubles.

- OK, I've got it. I've heard you're real bullies, but to jump on Rolin like that is beyond everyone's expectations. You, guys, are crazy! - Officer of the guards has already recovered himself from the first shock and was walking with us towards the exit. His face simultaniously expressed both admiration and distrust.

We came out steaming hot and lit up. We were smoking, hungrily digesting the newly received information. The one acting as reconnaissance leader, since he was the youngest one, was sent to move the tech closer to the airport. Officer of the guards was told to give the order permitting moving of the tech closer to the airport's building.

- You're crazy, men, I'll be condemned! That's sabotage!

- D'we have to tie you up, huh?

- Tie me up, kill me, but I can't give that order.

- OK, chill out, fellow. We'll move the vehicles only to your posts. All right?

- OK. But let them stay there, otherwise I'll fire.

- We agree.

We all were perfectly aware of our actions and of the fact that disobeying an order, especially during combat actions, could result in anything up to the execution by firing squad without court-martial and investigation. The Military regulations - the law fo the army - clearly states: "An order must be obeyed undisputedly, exactly and in time. After the order has been obeyed, it can be appealed against." And who can then appeal against that order after our entire brigade drop all the bones on this fucking square? Whoever lives through will be permanent mental home clients.

Ye-ah, this looked like an armed mutiny, namely so could be called our open refusal to obey the order.

- Slava, what do you think about leaving for somewhere, like the battleship "Potemkin" (in June 1905 there was a mutiny on that ship and the crew killed the officers and lead it abroad - O.B.A.), huh? - Yurka asked, hungrily inhaling. - For Turkey or for somewhere else.

- With our APC, over the Black Sea bottom, not a bad idea. Play neither tricks, nor a mad thing. We haven't done anything illegal still. There is an article in the Military Regulations that if you guess the given order violates The Constitution and the laws, you have right not to obey it (after the first "Chechen conflict" the General military Regulations were changed and that article was deleted in the new version). And to lead your men to perishing means death. All Czechoslovakia is a bit larger than Chechnya, but the preparations for the troops entry took six months (the action of the USSR in the year 1968 - O.B.A.), and here, it was ad-lib. Because over there it was considered to be a foreign country, but here they can put down a million ones, both on one and other sides. Bastards, - I chucked off my cigarette butt and pulled out another one. Unaccustomed after "Prima" (a brand of the Russian cigarettes - O.B.A.) to the weaker tobacco I just couldn't get enough of smoking with these ones. - Look, Sashka is coming up with help!

Next to Sashka processing with all importance, there was our old acquaintance - corporal from the hospital with a patch across the bridge of the nose and swelling blue-black bruises-glasses under the both eyes - carrying two heavy boxes.

- We told you just to watch your manners, sonny! - Yurka and I were widely smiling. - You didn't want to deal normally with us, so, you brought it on yourself.

- Don't be so ill mannered meeting the unknown persons or you'll die before your discharge. - I added. - If I had punched on you a little higher, I could've crushed your skull. You are a lucky lad, green kido, we could've held on until you make your move with a pistol and make a post-mortem right there without any narcosis.

Sashka came just on time. His appearance with the uneasy-going soldier distracted us from our bitter thoughts. I had no desire to become a criminal, while I was a patriot in my heart, I did not want to lose my men on the square and then shoot myself. The conscience, the officer's honour would not allow to live on with such heavy load. I furiously wished I were drunk - those two boxes and bags contained the alcohol that would let me avoid for a short while making that horrible choice. However, we might not do it just there. Or they would accuse us of drunkenness for sure. All present officers perfectly realized that.

- Have you, men, just declared a mutiny? - Sashka was anxious. - You stirred up some havoc. People are talking about your capturing.

- No, we just said that the commandant of the airport ulcerated desire to lead his comandant company ahead of our brigade against the machine-guns, but you see, he did not want to send you. Just digged his heels in, full stop, he says he would never allow his favourite captain to be perished. But about you, shitheads, he says us, I don't give shit about. Go, perish, says, the whole brigade of yours with your commander and valour general, I'll throw a Hero in every one of your coffins, - I was again on the point of my blood boiling over. I knew that neither Sashka, nor the fighter had anything to do with it. I just needed to break out the spite on somebody.

- Or Sasha, you could give us this bastard, we'd write up the request on his behalf for moving, and at the gunpoint of his own pistol he'd sign anything. Nobody would hear the shot, as for the body, we'll throw it somewhere far in the debris. What do you, scum, think about that?

I was waiting for anyone of them to reply, at least with a gesture of some kind. But they both were silent. My mood was gloomy and ferocious, all my feelings and thoughts died away, bound into a tightened spring, ready to pop open with a gigantic momentary charge of energy. Sashka and fighter were still speechless.

- Sasha, have you loaded up everything you promised? - I calmed down and pulled myself together, but the spring was tightening stiffer and stiffer, sharpening my perception being already sharp even without it. - Let's go to load it up.

We went off to our APC. I walked ahead, then fighter and Sashka did at the tail of the procession. The thick and impassable mud was everywhere and the sun already began to set. I opened the infantry hatch and the fighter began to load Sashka's gifts inside. Sashka came over. I kicked the fighter sending him inside the vehicle's belly and I slammed the door after him. Then I seized Sashka upon his collar, pressed him against APC and took off my pistol. Sashka turned pale, his eyes enlarged, he looked at me and then at the gun.

- Now tell me who gave the order to encircle us? Hurry up, you know either ours now or spooks later finish us off anyway. Hurry up, slut, tell me all.

Yurka came up behind me.

- They're besieging us. It'd be pretty difficult now to make our way into the building, they've dragged in there a company, not fewer than that. The antitank gunners are in there too, the range is point-blank. - Yurka was absolutely serene, but ready for action.

He quietly said to Sashka:

- Come on, Sasha, tell us who and what said and what's the order?

- Sedov came out after you had left and ordered not to let you out from the "North" - the passwords are already changed - and the order is not to let into the airport building. If you attempt to leave without permission or enter the building, we must open fire without warning. He said all brigade was planning to go over to Dudaev. I was given the order of distracting you, trying to make you drunken. That's all. Let go of my throat, you're strangling me. You're still bullies. What are you going to do with my fighter? - Sashka was rubbing his neck.

- Take him, he must've already shitted his pants from fear. What's the password?

- I don't know, they only told me to make you drunken and quickly get out. What do I tell Sedov?

- Tell the truth, the fighter will confirm. So, that means they'll start slaying us, since you're told to get out promptly. OK Sasha, go. Good bye.

- Slava, Yura, everything's going to calm down. They'll come to an agreement. D'you wanna me go to Sedov and Rolin and ask them to leave you alone? Or let's go with me and when it's all over I'll let you out. Come on guys.

Sashka told "when it's all over", and only the executing by the firing squad could be over. Because I realized at that moment, that I would not return fire at ours, but in their eyes, however, we are militants accomplices.

- Thank you Sasha, go. Just tell all of them we're not traitors. Even if we die here today, we're not traitors. Good bye.

I opened the hatch and the fighter started back.

- Don't be afraid, get out. Have you heard all?

- Yes.

- When asked, tell what you've heard, - and when they went off a bit, I couldn't restrain myself and yelled out: - Don't be rude to strangers!

The fighter drew the head between shoulders, like from a punch.

- So, Slava, let us go?

All the way back we walked uttering no any word. There was empty darkness in my soul. Any talking seemed pointless. Absolutely nothing depended on us anymore, nothing. We made all decisions for us. All that was possible - awaiting for the slaughter, like sheep.

All the officers herded together and were talking about something. Our fighters were all atop of APCs, the engines were all started and many cannons were wheeled towards the airport's building. We came closer to our officers, it seemed that every one of them was talking at one go, but no one was listening to anybody:

- 're they really going to shoot?

- What would you do?

- We have liberated this airport together with them. Sluts, dorks, whores!

- They sold all Russia and now fuck us down!

- Hey, who'd now lead us on Moscow!

- My father, front'line soldier, was right, meaning the worst enemy is situated in Moscow - that one wishes you died most of all. The next enemy - our air force, and only then comes the third enemy - the Germans!

- Yura, Slava, what did you decide? - Everyone was now silent staring at us.

- I, personally, - I emphasised "personally", - will not shoot at ours. The commandant said Sedov had ordered not to let us out of the area. Not to let inside the building. Password was changed. There is about a company-sized unit moved inside the building. Now maybe even more. I'd say, we're in shit.

- So, you say we just stand here and let them shoot at us like at the partridges? You're something, well, I never!

- If I wanted to leave, I would've left long ago. It's only a hundred meters to the airport. Sedov told them we wanted to go over to Dudaev and thus were refusing to storm Minutka.

Noise and rumpus started. Everybody was indignantly shouting and rowing. It would be impossible to describe the dialogues since I could write only omission points and conjunctions between them. As, for example, "...and...", "...or..." and the words as "to hell", "damned" etc. If you, my reader, can replicate the mood like that, you can compose about twenty examples yourself. I can only say that all politicians and the military figures of the past years as well as the ones that were in power, ours as well as foreign, were mentioned, the same their parents and other close and distant relatives were mentioned.

The officers and warrant officers of the regiment guarding the "North" were all standing on the airport's porch, also herded together into the large crowd. So to say: our "potential enemies", who were, not so long ago, our former colleagues, allies, comrades-in-arms, brothers. Our lives mainly depended on them that time. If they believed Sedov's lies, we're doomed. Whatever decision they make, I will not fire back at you, guys. I fill very sad. I wish I were outright instantly killed, but not wounded. Or maybe I shall now just shoot myself? No, not yet, not all has been done, I can do that any time - it's never too late to make that play.

Meanwhile, behind those closed doors the fates of the brigade and of every one of us were being decided. Much depends on the ultimate decision. The fates of Chechnya, of Russia are in the hands of four men, who are now furiously foaming at moth proving each one who is right. Or maybe our commander and general are already under arrest. It would be foolish to execute a battle commander and a general without a court-martial or investigation. We, on the contrary, can be all easily knocked down with a pair of machineguns now, and any investigations can be made later. Ye-ah, if you want to return home, you must shoot first and sort everything out or ask any questions later. I have been following that truth myself when meeting with spooks, and now feel quite uncomfortable acting as target. Occupied by those vile thoughts I didn't even notice that I had the only one cigarette in my pack. The taste in my mouth was bitter due to tabacco and to the stupid situation. I pulled the last smoke from the packet and a thought stung through my mind: maybe that was my real last cigarette? I started puffing it slowly, striving to enjoy every bit of smoke I breathed in. All right, guys, I'm ready for any outcome now. With every inhaling calmness entered my soul, the quietness and the confidence in my forces came in. I'm no sheep, waiting to be slaughtered, I am a human being, having consciously made his choice. I started watching attentively a small group of officers near the airport building who certainly felt also uneasiness. Perhaps, they were trying to make some sort of decision. To fire or not to fire at us. To slay or not to slay, that was the question.

Chapter 6

(c) Copyright 1996-1999 Vyacheslav Mironov ( maxra@mail.ru )


In the center of our "potential enemies" - our "execution" squad - there was Sashka, standing and lively telling something and actively gesticulaing. Come on, Sashka, agitate your men. At some distance, there was one acquainted fighter, and he was attentively listening to the officers' conversation. Many of the officers interrupted Sashka's talk asking something, but it was impossible to understand what namely they were talking about. From the uproar being heard, it was clear that the conversation was serious. Then Sashka called for his fighter with the plastered nose and pointed in our direction giving him into the hand something. The fighter broke into a run. Running alongside our group he expressively looked at me, thrusted some paper to the nearest officer, speeded up and ran towards the hospital. Well, everything's logical, commandant had sent the fighter to take a bottle of spirit from the hospital. The view form aside was proper and well. But we had to read what kind of resume had been made about us. To live or not to live.

The officers crowded together and unwrapped the paper:

"'re shooting above the heads. Makhra".

What then happened, wow! Rejoicing, joy. That was as if in the last minute, before the execution, you become forgiveness.

- Well, Sashka, fine fellow! - I uttered appealing to Yurka.

- Yes, it was not in vain that we had rescued his soul, now he helps us. Greatful. Now we must water this sponger with vodka, until he sinks or falls down under table, - Yurka was also joyfully excited.

- No any Sedov is able to cause the "makhra" to quarrel.

- We've been at war together with these men. 've seen each other in actions.

- We were together shit-bearing under the mortar bombing.

- Dived together into the sewerage hiding form the snipers.

- Damn'em.

- To stir up "makhra" against "makhra", they wanted that.

- Fuck you, swines. You can't do that.

- We'll not shoot at each other.

Such retorts were heard form the officers mouths. Someone decided to go to the officers of our "probable enemy" and drink to that matter, but the others stopped him:

- Are you fool?

- But what's the matter?

- They have the same many informers as we do. D'you wanna bring the men down?

- We'll, by the God's will, go away, but they can get problems.

- We're only standing and smoking.

- Correct. Are waiting for the commanders. We don't know anything. Nobody was going to shoot at anybody and especially nobody wanted to render a resistance against the orders of the commander-in-chief.

- Heh, I would drink now!

- Shut up, don't hurt my soul.

- We'll take today the medical stores and taste the medical spirit.

- Oh hell, we should yet take these stores today. I've forgotten at all.

- But there is a small work for about a couple of hours. The main thing is that the fighters would not grab the drugs.

- I'll thrash'em, they'll get a brainwashing. That's just what we need - in my battalion someone would play about the drugs. I'll smash the jerks.

- They're cursing however too long in there, it's time to finish. We have yet to go home and take the stores. What if the neighbors will be quicker.

- They'll not dare. The stores are in our responsibility zone.

- They'll quietly take them and lap out all the spirit.

- I'll smash'em. To guzzle my spirit? Fat chance.

Everybody had already forgotten the former fears and was actively discussing how he would take the republic medical stores. All of us made an unanimous opinion that taking must be quiet, without extra stir and with the minimal shooting or we can make damages to the medicines and to SPIRIT. Spirit, especially spirit-rectificate, that is the clearst spirit, - that is great. That is a kind of the "liquid currency", which would provide you for exchange the deficit spare details for APC and a kit of the new uniform, and you can also drink it in the evening. That is not a false vodka, in this case you can dilute in so as you like. And you will get no any poison, and there will not be any cracking headache in the morning. The spirit-rectificate is not made of the oil, but of the corn, of the top quality grain.

The officers became calm and gave the fighters commands to turn the cannons off from the airport and sit inside the vehicles just in case, but not to go outside, and if the APC would be even knocked down, then not to start any returnig fire. In a word, from our side we forsaw all that anyone of our fighters would not dare begin the return fire to hit, otherwise it can happen something irreparabel. Then comes revenge. The revenge for your friend. We here, in Chechnya, make only revenge. Revenge for our died friends, revenge for ours, Russins, who were killed in Chechnya, who were mocked at, who were driven out from their flats. That's a terrible thing - revenge. What if we bring it into the peacful life, the main thing is that it would not turn to be the sense of all the life. It can happen. It's interesting for me how shall I look at these Chechen mugs in my city? The best thing is to send as many ones to the hell as possible. It will not be allowed to make such a pleasure at home. At home I must prove the fault of the one. And everything's easier here. Chechen means enemy. There are the white the black ones. The white ones, these are we, are the good guys, the black ones, Chechens, those ones are the bad ones. Bullshit. We are the ones who have come on their land to kill them. Do they want independence? Let them choke with it. We would take back the Russians. All the Chechens would be deported back on their historical motherland, what for do we need some "fifth column"? We would enclose it with a fence in and let them live in their independent and souvereign land. There would have been no any victims in men, and it would have been a million times cheaper.

If you've killed one man in the peaceful life, you are a criminal, murderer, if you've killed thirty ones, you are a warrior, and if the count is about millions, you're a conquerer. Your name will be pompously written upon the very tables of the history. The grateful descendants will compose the poems about you and make the monuments.

It has already passed more then one hour and there is still no any news form our commanders. I wish nothing bad would happen. It is also all quiet in the guard of the airport, there's no any movements, no bustle, it means that they're yet not arrested, that means no reasoon for troubles, jerking and fuss. And nevertheless what if some one of the shooting at us takes the aiming a bit lower? The destiny is the destiny. The fate is the fate.

The officers, feeling boredom, began talking cock-and-bull stories. That's interesting and the time's running quicker. And from the psychological point of view that is better then the guessing what will be with you in ten minutes, it distracts from the sad thoughts. Especially after such a stress. It was a necessity to speak out. To speak out anything. I've heard rather many such fairy stories during the service and I myself can tell many ones, therefore they called for me:

- Slava, recount us as you were a millionaire.

- But I've told that already two hundred times.

- Narrate us, don't be obstinate.

- That happened so. After the graduating from military college I, being snotty lieutenant, came to Kishinev, entered the unit, represented myself, as it is the custom, made a party and so to say poured myself in the collective cup, took the command over four platoons instead of the one, there were also not enough lieutenants at that time. One time I was at the main office of the South-Western direction. And Kishinev at that time, after the hungering Siberea, seemed for me to be a paradise. There were the sausages, meat, wine, clothes in the shops - up to the eyeballs! And that was in the time of the "dry law" (in the time of Gorbachev rule, 1985-1991, there was a political action against the alcohol in the USSR, in the years 1985-1987 - O.B.A.). I thought that I would die there being a senior lieutenant but would never go away form that warm place.

The company's commander was from my college, had graduated from it only three years before me. I had come without family, didn't find any flat yet and lived at the barracks. So, in the evening the company's officer comes to me and says:

- Slava, my wife together with son have left for vacation. Let's go to my place for having a supper an'get a bottle.

And there was nobody drinking any vodka in Moldavia. There were oceans of wine. And not the fortified, but the dry one, and the wine form the shops would be drunk only by the tourists, the local ones drank ony the home-made wine, it was sold in every house. The Moldavians produces three types of wine - "for myself", "for wedding" and "for sale".

The toppest class was the one "for myself". Made of the best selected grapes, no any gram of sugar. This wine would be produced in a small quantity, drunk by the owners and given also to the honest guests. The company's made a friendship with one Moldavian - sometimes sent him soldiers to assist, sometimes gave something - that Moldavian gave us the wine kept for himself.

The other wine is "for wedding". It's made of the outsqueezings of the preparing remains of the wine "for myself", there would be added not very good sorts of the grape, but the ordinar ones. This wine would be made for some large family celebrations. In principle, man can drink it.

And the wine "for sale" - those are the outsqueezings and outrinsings with additional sugar, plus a bit spirit, completely for the selling out.

Man has told something, man must make that. We've taken two three-liters jarries with the wine "for myself" and went to have a supper.
And just in that time there were the large military trainings "Autumn-88", the trainings were made on the territory of the Kiev district, Odessa district, there was also the Black sea navy in action. Our unit was appointed to participate in these trainings in ten days according to the plan. We were going with a trolley-bus, were discussing the forthcoming actions about the trainings. And there was a colonel next to us, and as I was a green lieuta, I knew nobody. And that one proved to be the head of the main commander's office. There was such post. And he lived with the companey's in the same doorway. We greeted each other, spoke about something. And he suddenly flaps himself at the forehead:

- Guys, - he says, - I'm going to the trainings tomorrow and I've forgotten, was busy with the matters, there is a birthday of my daughter tomorrow. I've bought a doll for her. But I've left it in the office, have forgotten to take with. Men, make please a good thing. Come to the main commander's leagal adviser, I'll phone him, tell him that you're from me. Take the doll and bring to my daughter. Tell that that's from father. She asked for it so long time, and behaved herself good. And I promised. Otherwise it will be a deceiving of the child. Would you make that?

- All right we'll make that! - the company's assured him.

Meantime we approached the house of the company's, came to him and made a good party, as it is the custom, drank a bit, ate a bit, discussed everything. In the morning the company's tells me:

- Slava, you takes the doll from the adviser and I bring it.

- And where does this adviser sit?

- I've no damned idea. Ask the orderly officer for the comms.

And I had been on the service for only a couple of weeks. I knew nobody, but my signallers. So, I came as bold as brass to visit the orderly officer of the communications group and asked him:

- Where is the legal adviser of the main-com? Where does he sit, how can I come to him?

- Why do you need him?

I had a thought that he being a normal officer was able to take a joke and would normally react to my words:

- You know he had phoned me. Invited to himself. Told me that I had some aunt in Canada. She died and all the inheritance had bequeathed me.

- You're fooling about!

- Why fooling! I got myself fucking mad. They say a half million of dollars. Maybe they made a mistake, I'll go now to find out everything, - I say absolutely seriously thinking that he understands me and my quip. I told that and forgot that.
That one explained me in detail how I can come to that adviser. I went on. That adviser was already waiting for me. He gave me the doll. A huge box and there is the doll, matching the large box, inside it. Can you remember there were such dolls at that time, produced in the GDR, stepping and speaking something? So, that one, in a nutshell. The box was nice. About hundred twenty cm in height. I'm walking. 've already forgotten of the talk about the dollars. And there is a crowd of the officers standing at the exit and that orderly officer for the comms is in the center and he's telling something. I've come, they stop talking. Well, I think they were talking about me if they keep silence now. I've come and say hello.

- Well, Slava, have you spoken to the adviser? - The orderly asks me.

- Yes, all is OK, - I seriously answer, but feel that I'm ready to burst with laughing, wondering if they have really bitten the children joke, - we've cleared up everything. It turnes out that I am really the heir. So, they have given me the money at once. True they have taken away twenty five thousand dollars as an income taxation, but the rest of the sum is mine. There was no bag, so I had to pack everything in the box for the doll. So, now I'm as a fool carrying such a box.

- You're kidding!

- Show us the dollars, I've never seen!

- You're so lucky!

- You're telling us lies, certainly.

- I'm telling the lies?! Ask the adviser, I've just been to him. And I'll show you no dollars, or otherwise I'll not reach the barracks, somebody will knock me down somewhere. Just you are the ones who will kill me. And the bucks would be parted. I know you, cheats, well. I'm also such one.

I came to the barracks, gave the doll to the compony's, told him everything. We both laught about that and forgot it. In some time the rumours about me being a millionaire were spread through the communications group. Every time the story would be told in a new way. Every time the sum of the heritage would increase. The women in the communications group were excited up to the hot pissing thinking about me to be already married, but nevertheless made eyes and flirted. Absolutelly unfamiliar officers came to me and asked:

- Are you Mironov?

- Yes. And what's the matter?

- Is that truth?

- Truth, - I answer, but am mad with laughing, - but what's the matter?

- The heritage, is that truth?

- And why do you have interest? Do you want to rob me, don't you?!

In a nutshell, I gave neither "yes" nor "no", but answered the question with the question in turn. I muddled the asking ones up. There were the ones who came and offered to invest it in some business. I evasivly answered that there were already many offers and I was considering them. In a word - crazy house.

The end of all that epic is the next. The politdepartment of the HQ has counted the komsomol fees that I should have paid in the currency. They have visited "Birchy" (the name of the Soviet hard-currency shop - O.B.A.), - can you remember there were such currency shops, - found the funiture to buy for the politdepartment.
And now they send for me and commander of the unit to visit the special department. And they make the prophylaxis about me. I explain that it was a joke and that blockhead orderly for comms can not take a joke. And besides that spreads gossip.

And we, the specials say, are jumping on the heads, have stopped our work and check you up. We've checked all your relatives. You have the admittance of the first form, you've a right of entry to the key documentation. And now we get some aunt in Canada. You've provided for us a hot work. And these ones form the politdepartment are also some clever ones, he-he-he, they've already chosen the furniture.

In a nutshell, everybody laught and after that I wrote the report directly in there: have never been to, have never become, does not know anything, does not see anything, does not hear anything, will never say anything to anyody. That's all, men. I would be nicknamed as a millionare, as a millionnairy and as Koreiko (one charachter, secret millionaire in the Soviet time, form the very popular humorous Ilf and Petrov novel "The twelve chairs" - O.B.A.) for a long time yet after that.

- They're real blockheads.

- That was great as you, Slava, played about'em.

- You see, I've heard this story, but I thought it was only some fluttering. It turns out it happened indeed. Well done!

- Slava, as we've still some time - tell about the "posthumous" money.

- What money?

- Haven't you heard?

- Well, I'm attached.

- Then listen to. Slava, tell us the one about the "funeral" money.

- Not the "funeral", but "posthumous". Listen. It had passed about a couple of years since the moment as I was a "millionaire", I got already the senior lieutanant. And imagine, it's whether July or August, Kishinev. The heating is unbearable, asphalt is melting. And I and the one form another company make two hours of the marching training with the weapons under the heating sun. With the jackets, service-caps, boots on, with the sword-belts. In a word - a nightmare. One hour with one platoon, thhe second one - with the other one. The marching area is large. He with his platoon are in one corner, I - in the other one.

And I felt boring, was simply bored at all, I decided to play a trick on that one. In the pause, when one group of the fighters was giving the weapons back, and the other one was becoming the ones, we were sitting in the shadowy, smoking and I asked him:

- Have you already got the money?

- Why the money, it's two weeks up to the pay. You seem to be overheated in the sun.

- You are overheated. Were you on the reading of the orders on Friday?

- No, I was preparing for the duty.

- Exactly that is the matter, you don't know, but say that I am overheated in the sun. The order of the defense minister was read. It is stated there in it that on the case of the officer's death the posthumous benefit of three thousand roubles for his familiy is to be paid, but on the officer's reasoned report and decision of the commander this sum is allowed to be given also when the one is alive. So, I have got it. I had a thought that you would dig me down in the earth without any benefits also, only not to bear my body's stinking. And everyone of you would throw off a rouble. You'd buy some wreathy. You'll have to make that, no other way.

- You're telling the lies certainly. And how much have you become?

- Three thosand. To the last rouble. Now my wife and I are thinking if we buy a second-hand car or a good furniture for the flat. Don't know. And maybe it's better to keep this money in the savings bank getting a small interest.

- You'd better buy a car. And how can you get this money?

- Very easy. Give a report on the name of the com-brig. So and so, I ask your permission to give me the posthumous benefit in sum of three thousand roubles. And you must write the sum in words also or he'll send you to rewrite, I was already sent to do that.

- Listen, and why don't the other ones get the money?

- I have no any damned idea. Maybe they don't need the money or maybe the routine does not let to do that. The inspecting control is near at hand, and so they had not time.

We made one more hour of the marching training. I finished earlier and quickly ran to the com-batt. I say, so and so. Just now the senior lieutenant comes to you, comrade lieutenant-colonel, please, sign his report. Sign it without reading.

- Why should I sign something without reading?

- Sign, that's a joke, you'll see later, we'll laugh together.

And I ran back to my company, redressed myself, an'am sitting in the office, waiting for the outcome. There's a phone ringing. Com-batt:

- Mironov, quickly to me.

I quickly went down to the battalion commander's office. He was sitting and looking as a new polished coin smiling with all his thirty two teeth.

- Well, Mironov, you're something. How was you able to create a posthumous benefit? And I'm amazing that Kriukov had bitten it! He-he-he! Why did you got an idea to fool him?

- That's easy, comrade lieutenant-colonel. He was so loudly commanding all two hours that the ears were blocked. Probably, he wanted that you could appreciate him.

- I heard his commanding, I thought the same thing, - com-batt commented.

- Well, in a word he bored me, and it was such a heating, I was sweating through and it was boring. The boring was so deep that the cheek-bones were being cramped. And Kriukov was continuing his shouting. Although there was all the marching area deviding us, but nevertheless he got to me. And I got a thought to play a trick on him, and in the smoking room I got an idea about the "posthumous" money. And that was the coincidence that he was absent on the last orders reading.

- Now the fin-chief will phone me, he must've got a damned shock for sure from the Kriukov's report, - com-batt lit up and allowed me with nodding to smoke also, we were waiting for the call from the financial department's chief.

In a couple of minutes there was a call. Com-batt took the phone:

- Klenov, listening.

- Good afternoon, Valerii Pavlovich, - the voice of the fin-chief resounded in the tube, com-batt took the phone a bit aside and so I could hear all, - this is chief of the financial department captain Golovanov.

- I'm listening to you, - com-batt got the convulsions from bursting laughing.

- There is Kriukov here with some report, demanding the "posthumous" money, has he overheated by you in the sun? Who exactly has sent you? - it was heard as the fin-chief was speaking to Kriukov. - Did Mironov tell you? You've found the reliable partner! Can you remember as he had initiated a shitty-chatting two years before, and everybody in the main HQ was jumping on the heads. And he had played trick on you, dupe, also. To listen to Mironov is not to respect yourself. Comrade lieutenant-colonel, that was Mironov who played a joke on Kriukov. He nattered him that there was some order of the defense minister and that the officer being alive has right to get his money allotted for his familiy to bury him. Bullshit. Go, go, Kriukov, away and take you report with. You can say Mironov that if he drawes me in his playings, then he will get the money always as the last one. Excuse me for disturbing, comrade lieutenant-colonel. All this upset was from Mironov and Kriukov believed him.

And as long as Kriukov was on the service at the unit, all the officers tried to recall this thing to him and poked always fun at him. But on the other hand, if I told whatever else, the serious things, the truth, then nobody could already believe me, they guessed that I tried to make a joke on them and make a laughing stock of them in the eyes of the others.

I finished my story and everybody around me burst with laughter.

- Well, Slava, you have beaten this Kriukov pepper under the ass!

- Was it really your personal idea?

- Really my personal one, as it was just boring.

- That's good that you have told us that, now I know it's better to check your words.

- So, that's again the same thing. It's everywhere the same about this story. The men cease believing me. Ugh, - I spat befor my feet and feigned to be destressed.

- No problem, Slava, we've joked.

- Look, com-brig with general are going out!

And there were indeed com-brig and general going out from the building. They were accompanied by Sedov. Sedov was frankly smiling, just as the one painted on some ad poster "Welcome". He was invitingly laughing and telling something pointing at us, obviously he disclosed our preparings for the defense. OK, you can laugh, buffoon. You, fucking strategist, should better care about your fate instead of this laughing.

General told Bahel something and returned into the building, and com-brig went towards us. His face now was especially terrific and tired meaning that normally it had always been gloomy before, and that he had always rarly smiled. He came to our gourp.

- Did you want to defense us? - He asked us lighting up.

- Yes we did, comrade colonel.

- But they have assembled together more than a company, the passwords were changed, we were not let out, the explaining was that they would shoot aiming at us, if we made attempts to enter the building or leave the area of the airport.

- Yeah, and haven't they blamed us to be the deserters?

- This was worse - they rumoured that all our brigade was preparing to leave for Dudaev.

- That's a mad raving. And the airport's guard had believed that? We together had stormed this citadel however.

- Thanks to God, they didn't. They had thought, consulted themselves and sent us a note they would not shoot at us.

- That's good there's somebody who is still believing us, I was blamed to be the same one. To be a coward, betrayer, to make a treason against the Motherland. They wanted already to arrest me, but obviously there was an effect from your activity. So, they changed the mind. Otherwise that would have been a madness - ours would have shot ours! They called to Moscow. I spoke to the vice-chief of the HQ, convinced him that would have been a senselessness. They have no wish to take the liability on themselves and always answer that the things should be sorted out locally. Shiteaters. All right, let's go "home".

- On the vehicles, on the vehicles! - the same command was repeated by all the vehicles' chiefs.

Slowly, the column was formed and we started the way back. Our officers staying in the headquarters reported us that the way for the column had been "cleansed up" and in their words the "neighbors" had also "cleansed up" the road and the adjoining buildings. But they could not only give any guarantee against mines on the way, the spooks tried a couple of times to block the road but were chucked out, and there were not enough forces to check the road about the mines. We've never easy time.

But we were lucky. The way back was without any accidents. The wounded ones had been brought to the rear. The hands were free. Then we had only to discuss the plan of the storming of Minutka on the breafing. And there were no doubts that we would have to take it. It was clear from the fragmentary phrases of the commander that the storm was prolonged for four-five days. Meaning some high motives Moscow prohibited to make any airattacks. We'll go not far away with our artillery and the firing power of the tanks and APCs. Yeah, the perspective is not jolly.

I was ordered to lead the action about taking of the medical stores. While we were absent the reconnaissance checked and cleared up that the stores were being not guarded.

We were received as the heros. There was all the command center of the brigade meeting us in the street. The fighters had sent per radio the short information about the situation during the staying at the airport. And everybody was awaiting for our returning back.

- Wow, they're alive!

- We've heard, yes, how you kept defense near the airport.

- Why have you made Rolin and Sedov so afraid? Maybe they phone just now to Moscow and complain about you. He-he-he!

- They must get sweat feet into the mouth! Damned complainers, asslickers.

Such dialogues were made by the ones who had come and the ones who were meeting us. The men were already tired of the moral straining. I shouted:

- Who was assigned for the "cleansing up" of the medical gate - gathering in thirty minutes near the blockpost at the exit from the CC.

Yurka and I went to our box van, we had the packages and the boxes with the "humane assistence" of Sashka in the hands. We had not eaten yet, and due to all these troubles we had the wolve appetites. Looking forward to have a filling meal we were spittling and our stomaches were rumbling. There was a smoky going off from the heater's chimney over our box van.

- Pashka has well done, has got somewhere the firewood.

- Now we're washing us with the warm water and cut in every nip. I'll have time before the briefing, although I should prepare, I'll better doze an hour, - Yurka rolled up the eyes dreaming. I was envying him without any black thoughts.

- It would be good to sleep three hours, Yura, wouldn't it?

- That would not be bad. Take these stores quicker not to be late for the counsel.

- Yes, I guess we'll quickly manage that thing.

- Take from there the tablets against the intoxication, I'll use them at home.

- I'll take, if the doctors point what are the ones. Otherwise, I can take for you the different ones to taste - you can spend your time sitting and tasting, and you can take the ones which would be OK, I'm not greedy thinking about friends.

- Say, why do they send you into all adventures? You're already not a boy, you're a senior officer of the headquarters.

- I'm a senior officer of the headquarters for the co-ordination, and nobody exactly knows what's that. Co-ordination with whom? With the next units. I've already arranged that. Co-operation between the batallions? That's not my problem. It turns out that they have created this post, but for what fucking aim - nobody knows. To the point, this post should be set only during the battle actions. In the peacful life I'm simply the senior officer of the staff in my unit. And I don't like also to sit without any action. I'm getting wild.

- And we had a thought in our empty heads that you were informery form the "specials". Was attached at the very last moment. No concret responsibility. And now 've watched at you. You're ours. The same "makhra" as the other ones.

- That's good. Hey, Pashka, open the door, I've the hands full of things, - I knocked on the door with the elbow.

The door flew open. We dropped into the box van. It was warm inside. Pashka had cooked a dinner, brewed the tea. There was a water being warmed on the stove. We threw down all our "gifts" on the trestle-bed.

- Sort out the things there. We don't know for sure what's there. We'll go to wash us, - Yurka told.

I threw down the weapons, armor vest and jacket meantime and stretched myself:

- That's good! Unbelievable, the people in the peaceful life go without all these irons. Greatful. Well, let's go to wash ourselves and I must soon lead the column to get the vitamines.

We went out. Yurka had also thrown all his "harness" down. The steam was flying up from our bodies. Pouring each other we were slowly washing ourselves. You feel the huge pleasure from the small gladnesses during a war, you pay normally no attention to these things in the peaceful life. You remember about them only when you can feel them. Everything will probably go as usual on arrival home, and there will not be so much peasure during the usual washing and during the puffing with a good cigarette. It will be enough only to open a tap with water and the best of all - to get into the bath. Oh, a bath, I'm ready to build the whole poem devoted to you. As when you're dirty as a pig during longer than two weeks, then a bath comes to you in the dreams as a woman, and you wish it not less than a woman. I simply keep silent about steambath. That is only ephemeral hope. I'm sick of usual sponging down with the cheap eau-de-Cologne or with the cheap vodka only to take off all the sweat and fat. And to feel myself again a kind of a civilized man. Or say so, a kind of a man not aside from a civilization. If you stop paying attention to your view, you will very quickly go down. You get the dullness, the fullest apathy, "who cares" mind about your life and about the lives of your colleagues. A psychologycal breakdown can happen also. That's why the commanders chase their subordinates watching their appearance. They try to make them remember about their human appearence with any pointing, and making that they point also to all the other human values like humanity, mutual aid etc. The same thing is about the cigarettes. You can easily buy a pack of any cigarettes in any stall, when you're at home, the only question is to have enough money. But it's a kind of cult here.

When we had returned to the box van and saw what Sashka had put into the "human aid", then our spirits rose. There was an open bottle of the Dagestan cognac, smoked sausage of three kinds, the overseas tins of fish in oil, a cheese and - my God - a lemon! The sliced up lemon strown with the sugar had already given the transparent, a bit yellow syrup and was so fragrant. The lemon scent made off all the smells of the dirty bodies, unwashed socks, cheap eau-de-Cologne, onion, leather and of much other muck. The lemon smell was holding sway over all the other aromas.

We started our meal. The stomaches were cramping from the hunger. At first we uncorcked the dagestan cognac. We've poured out and smelt. Hm-m-m-m-m, the smell of paradise.

- Set off, - Yura told clinking the glasses with Pashka and me.

Everybody drank, drank, following the habit, as vodka, after a breath out, feeling no taste. But there was a smack of cognac in the mouth and aroma of it. Nobody wanted to bite instantly. Everybody was sitting enjoying the inside feelings. After that everybody took without any haste a slice of lemon and put into the mouth. How great is that!

- OK, men, you can relax here for a long time yet but I have only ten minutes before the leaving. So, I'll make it quickly, - I told that pouring in myself a half of glass of cognac and moving up the snack closer.

- Yes, of course, Slava, of course, take more, - Yurka poured out cognac himself and Pashka, and we rose our crackling "aeroflot" plastic glasses.

- What is our toast now?

- Indifferent! For the fortune! OK? - I had no time for sentimental narrations.

I wanted to eat full, although as the doctors say that's harmful to eat before combat. Then let them starve themseslves. That will not go so - to refuse such a cognac and such a bite due to the routine combat!

- OK! - we rose up our "cups" and moved them together.

And it happened again - the invigorating moisture streamed through the throat down warming everything on the way with the affectionate heat. Yurka began to pour out the third one. Having the mouth full of food I indicated and mooed that I need only a little. And Yurka splashed for me only symbolic drops. We quietly stood up, drank, without any clinking. The third toast is the third toast. We bit our snacks. I forced into the mouth everything, the cheese, all the sorts of the sausages, and lemon came in over these things. All right. I watched the time.
- That's it, men, I must go, - I stood up and began to dress myself. Yura and Pavel helped me to put on the armor vest.

- Bye-bye. Don't go away without me, maybe I'll get something tasty.

- Good luck, try not to be late for the briefing, - Yura flapped me at the shoulder.

- And you remember what they will decide about "Minutka".

- Eh, my heart feels that we'll spit blood on this "Minutka".

- We'll see. Bye.

- Good luck.

I went almost running to the blockpost on the exit from our brigade's CC. As long as I can remember myself, in the peaceful life it was always so, that I walked quickly. The friends made the jokes that I hurried to live and to feel. And here everybody has the gait of the tired, staid kind. And nobody makes anybody hasten without any special reason.

There were already three APCs and the MTLA (medical tractor light armored - O.B.A.), with typical crosses on the sides and on the roof. Although if they shoot at the column, then they will scarcely spare the medical vehicle. The wounded enemy is enemy anyway and the spooks have not signed the International convention about the POWs, they have their own opinion on the happenings, we have our own opinion. Sometimes we're unanimous, but we're not unanimous in the main points.

There were the officers standing close to the APCs and tractor. The mixed command. Three doctors, two platoons' chiefs from the third batallion, the platoons' chief from the recon-company. I came closer, the officers evidently were telling anecdotes or fairy stories. By the other situation I would also tell something or would listen to, but not now. In an hour, maximal hour and a half it will begin getting dark and then we'll have to delay everything on the next day and return back without any result. I greeted the ones whom I had not seen yet that day.

- So then, the recon has reported, - I motioned to the platooner from the recon-company, - that the stores are practically unguarded. Therefore I guess that there are no any special troubles foreseen.

- Exactly, I was personnaly there today. There is no any guard, only the suspicious persons are wandering. Most likely, they're pillagers.We took one, but he died. He was not able to tell anything plainly, we took the ampoulas with morphine and some more muck. Maybe he was a simple drug addict, but maybe he was a speculator.

- Again died!? - the ironic officers' exclamations resounded. - You with Nikolaevich (this was about me) seem to come to an arrangement. Yesterday he had brought no sniper, now he says that that one died due to the heart problem, you personnaly made the post-mortem, didn't you, Vyacheslav Nikolaievich? And now the unknown person dies without any word by you.

- Stop talking! - I broke off the talkings. - I go with the senior lieutenant Voronin on the head vehicle, all the others are keeping the distance of hundred meters. The doctors are in the center. On the vehicles.

The officers spread out and began to clamber on the vehicles. I watched the column, everybody seemed have taken the place. I've checked the radio contact to everybody, the contact to CC. Everything functions.

- Forwards! - I made command both my driver and all the column. There was the inside connection in this APC at least, and I had already rolled about with the APC of the first batallion, that was a comedy, I must report you.You're sitting on the armor, the mechanic-driver is tied round under the armpits with a rope, and you must pull him, lead him. When you pull the right, he drives right, the left - he followes left, you make back on yoursrlf - wo, whoa. Everything is as if it's by the horse, I offered to seat there inside the platoon's commander, who had managed that situstioin with the technique with such a result, and to tie the ropes to his ears, but it turned out that he was missed.

We set off. And again these grey colors, mud and cold. When you sit on the armor, outside, then you have to put a pillow under the ass not to get prostatit or not to get any specific coldness. I had at thet time a seat of some foreign car. Just before me, near the base of the cannon, there was a senior lieutenant Voronin sitting.
The nicknames are oftenly given according to the family name but Voronin had no nicknme like Voron (in Russian it means "raven" - O.B.A.) or Vorona (in Russian it means "crow" - O.B.A.). Voronin had the nickname Zubastik (in Russian it means something like "teethy" - O.B.A.). He was a fanat of his skill, was mad of the weapones. His toppest hobby was a cold steel. He masterly worked with the dagger. There were many ones in the brigade, and me too, who were able to slaughter a man with dagger during two minutes. But the absolute recordholder was Zubastik. The knife was simply flying as a lightning in his hands. To cut the main veins of a man, - these are the ones on the wrists, elbow bends and in the armpits, the sleeping arteries on the both sides of the neck and the ones in groin, - Zubastik was able to do that during less then one minute. He also perfectly threw the dagger. He was about meter seventy, slim, with tendons and sinews, the disobedient, thick as fishing-line, black, rich hair grew on his head. The finger bones were smashed and on these points there were the hard formed calluses. The chief-lieut was unverbose, but the ones, who saw him in the affair, respected him and nobody had any wish to name him Vorona. And not because the one would run the risks of the kick with the heel into the teeth in turn. No, the man was able to inspire the other ones with the respectness to him. He did not insulted the soldiers without any serious reason, kept cool, would never tear the ass for promotions and didn't pose himself as a hero or a militant. The man only made his work. I liked such ones - the calm, composed, sure in themselves, unchatty ones. Maybe it will be your task, Zubastik, to take the bridges across Sunzha. And your skill to throw the knives and to cut the throat quickest will be demanded. No any sound, no any agonizing screaming. But the sentry is already dead. There were a couple of visits of the special detachements' men, we set together a couple of days in the basement, they saw Zubastik and asked to send him to them. Fat chance! We do need such personnel for us. The fellow in distance of twenty steps can hit with the knife on a handle of the spade at the first attempt, and that's in the twilight! Imagine now that would be neck of the sentry. That's just it. And that's not in a film, but in the real combat. The commandos threatened us to apply to the HQ, to the GRU. When the war comes to the end, then we shall apply ourselves about career upgrading of this cut-throat.

Meantime we came to the ruins of some school. Voronin called per radio his fighters and with his hand waving invited me to accompany him. We went down into the basement of the school, went upstairs through the remains of the ladder on the first storey, where the recons had settled themselves with the relative comfort. One of them was Uzbek, his surname was Badalov, and I've forgotten the surname of the second one, can name only his nickname - Pliers. The fighter had an outstanding appearance. His mouth was of some unbelievable size, irony of the fate. Almost from one ear to another ear wide. And the lad had to stand up for his dignity in the fist-fightings for all his life. He was not high, his body was built firmly, was good in the actions. He applied for the reconnaisance himself. And when he had just come with the other new recruits, all the brigade gathered to see how he was eating. He brought the spoon with soup to the mouth not as all the other usual ones, in the center, but somewhere near the cheek-bone. Later we got accustomed, but at the beginning it was a real comedy. But then the fellow was renowned for the fist fighting standing up for his own dignity. At first he was sent to the tankees, then he applied himself to the recons and was able to stand the test fighting against the experienced recon. And the main thing was even not the win over the partner, but the will to win. By such fighting there are no rules but the one - no beating into the groin. When there is a visiting comission, the fighters wear the gloves and the helmets. There are three rounds of three minutes every one in this test fighting. In the end of the second round Pliers sent the old recon to the deep knock out, in spite of the fact that the one was larger of the boyo-recruit in weight, higher and oder.

And Pliers recommended himself to be a perfect one in the actions, evidently the spite which had been collecting in him since the very childhood and had no any exit, was here demanded. This recon liked to work with the arms. He liked to break the necks. He could slink up to the spook-sentry, pulled him at the feet, that one fell down, of course, the hands came forwards to protect the face and head against the banging on the ground. On the whole the psyche of a man differs from the one of a woman. A woman in view of the danger shouts maybe even better then a jet plane starting the flight, but a man keeps silence, he is concentrated, he wants to conquer the enemy. Both we and the enemies know this fact. It seems a very simple thing - shout and the others come to help you, but no, the spirit of the fight and the psychology do not allow to shout. And then, after the spook's quietly fallen down on the ground, Pliers jumps on his back and coming up with his knee against the place where the neck connects with the back, holding his forehead, he abruptly pulls the head of the enemy. The crunch rings out - the spine is broken and there's no any blood. Someones, including also me, your obedient servant, do not run risks (and this method is only a kind of special preference) and simply cut the throat. Soundless and the enemy chokes with his own blood. It's simple, cheap and effictive. The spooks make the same things about our sentries, therefore our sentries regulary shoot through all the sector of their responsibility, throw the grenades, tighten the mines-traps, "surprises" - the usual wire with the empty tins. There are many clever things, and you will also think about them yourself, if you want to survive being a sentry at the post.

Badalov was also a good recon. At first everybody suffered with doubts, he was all the same a Muslim, his serene comment in turn was that the Russians also slaughter each other. And he had been brought up in Russia and therefore he was used to our customs. And he really recommended himself to be a true warrior in the very first days. Fine fellow.

And now they're standing before me - Zubastik, Badalov and Pliers - reporting:

- Everything's still, comrade captain, the store is not guarded, only some pillagers made a visit, but they left after one of'em had died.

- And how did he die? - I'm asking expecting to hear some routine sweet fairy-tale.

- We'd tied him up and put to some corner for some resting, he cut with the window glass's splinter the straps and rushed racing, so I had to knock him with the knife down. He had warm thick clothing, I wanted to hit on his leg but my hand made a mistake, the hitting was on the throat, - Zubastik justified himself as some pupil.

- All right, doesn't matter, - I wove with my hand, - have you checked his pockets?

- Yes, we have, there's nothing but the medicines, I told you of'em.

- Look at these cunning faces, - I pointed to the fighters, - it seems for me that you've found something more.

Zubastik looked at the fighters as a wild animal:

- What are you hiding?

- Here is it, we've found in his boots, - Badalov took out a pack of the crumpled roubles and dollars from the pocket.

- Take it, - Pliers held out the same pack of the native and foreign bank notes.
Without any arrangement both of us - Zubastik and I - recoiled from the extended money.

- You've earned it and you must arrange everything about it, - I lit up, gave Voronin one cigarette, and we went to meet our vehicles, they had already come and were roarring now with the engines in the former school's yard.

- What will happen to these boobies? - Zubastik anxiously asked me looking in my eyes, I could see that he was feeling sorry for the fighters.

- Nothing will happen if they keep the tongues silent. It's so - they had to report and officially give the money, but after that some one in the "North" or in Mozdok would appropriate the money putting it into his personal pocket. Teach these boobies that they must stand firm on their feet, the recons must be tough guys however, - I mentioned mocking, and that hurt his self-esteem. - And now send'em together with the miners to check the mines, if the building was mined. And after that they should carry the boxes into the vehicles and unload them for the docs on the CC. So, go to them, we'll come now also.

- Yessir! - Zubastik answered, turned round and noislessly disappeared behind my back.

I clearly realized that then the platoon's commander would smash the mugs of his subordinates. And I would not regret about them. And he would "educate" them not for their trying of appropriation of the money and also not for hiding it from the official revenue office, but for no reporting the commander, for no giving the money to the common money-box of the platoon, of the company, for the keeping quiet, "ratting" as well as for too quick breaking down in the view the headquarters' authorities, i. a. me. I would absolutely not amaze when having returned back I saw the smashed noses of Badalov and Pliers.

The usual active bustle was on near the vehicles, the fighters having jumped down form the armors, took the circle defense, the officers went inside the former school with the miners sent as the first ones.

- What is a situation, Slava?

- It seems to be still. There is evidently no guard. The recons were sitting all the day and saw nobody.

- And are there any mines? Or some other "presents" from the brotherly people?

- No fucking idea, the recons have not checked yet, but have left this honourable mission for the miners.

- Should I leave the guarding near the vehicles?

- It's enough that only the mechanics stay here, the others go with us to carry the boxes.

- You're right, we'll not make it ourselves.

Everybody was quiet: if there are no mines and other traps, then all the action is an easy thing. Meanwhile we went on the first floor, and the recons met us there, wiping up the bloody snots, and Zubastik, rubbing the fist bones. As I saw form the boot imprints on the soldiers jackets, the toppest kick of the platoon's commander was used - the kick in turning. And as the fighters wore the armor vests, as there was no danger for their insides from those mortal kicks. Only the educating process. The fighters realizing their fault were not able to look in my face. Maybe they were not agree also, but most likely they were ashamed for their acting. To say exactly - were ashamed that they were so easily caught in the talking.

Chapter 7

- Who needs medical help? - Doctor, captain of the medical squad, Ewgene Ivanov, came up to the fighters. A very intellectuall fellow, clever one. Tall and thin. Having the glasses on, with moustache, his skull shaved, he seemed to me to look like a popular singer Rosenbaum very much. The grunts jerked, turning away from him.

- Nobody needs anything! - Pliers pushed away, but the doc, in typical for any doctor manner, seized him and turned over:

- Quiet, patient, don't twitch or I'll accidentally break you something. Well, your bones and partition are sound, you will live, but if you die, then the autopsy will reveal the reason why such a young and pretty creature passed away.

- Let's go? - Zubastik asked surrounding him officers.

- OK.

I gave the order and pointed with my finger at Pliers, Badalov and the sappers:

- You go ahead, we'll cover you, don't stay too long, if there are lots of mines, we need only one passage, only to enter and to get out. Misters docs, are you ready?

- Yes, sir! - Doc Ewgine answered for all.

We set off in column one by one, looking round and covering each other's backs, ready to scatter off and take a perimeter defense at any moment. There were no sounds from the direction of the left tech, but only the buzzing of the APCs' running engines.

- Zhenya (a kind of typical friendly nickname for Ewgene in Russian - O.B.A.), - I caught up with doc Ivanov, - Yurka asked for some tablets against getting drunken.

- There is one very radical remedy against getting drunken, d'you know what's the one?

- Not to drink at all?

- Precisely! You've known, haven't you?

- No, just guessing.

- Amazingly. Usually people are taken in. Could you really have guessed?

- You see, Zhenya, being just as cynical as you are, I try, the same as you do, to take my life unseriously, otherwise I can flip the lid, and all that happens - God has willed it so.

- I wonder how do you manage to keep your sense of humour?

- It's simple, really, the Turks have a wonderful expression "kysmet" which means "destiny", that's what I do follow. There is a fate and theres no escaping from your destiny anyway. If you are destined to live so many years and to die from a grenade explosion at some particular moment, then it happens, say what you like, regardless of how cool you are and how many bodyguards you have, your guts will be hung out by means of the grenade. By all means, all the rest happens in the same way.

- D'you seriously believe all this happens so?

- Yes Zhenya, I do. Have you really never had cases in your medical practice, when your patient, according to all the medical rules, must've been already dead, but he is still alive there, in spite of all your efforts? You can reject even all laws, but according to the laws of existence he's still living. Have you ever got that case, Zhenya? Don't try to assert that his organism turned out to be surprisingly strong or other nonesense. You have to agree that there is something inexplicable in many medical cases.

- I agree, and there are especially lots of such cases appearing here, in extreme circumstances, so to say.

- And there are many cases when men perish all around, but the only one goes and is like bewitched one, and nothing can injure him.

- Yeah, I've met something like that. Can you remember that platoon, from the first battalion, got lost, was parted from the main forces and ran straight into an ambush?

- I can remember that for sure. They were all shot point-blank.

- Three of them did survive though. Two were wounded and one had not even any scratch on him, and everyone had a thought the guy was hiding behind the others' backs. And they nearly knocked him down in the rush. But the wounded confirmed that they stayed alive only due to him, he pulled the burning APC from under the fire and only having made sure that all the others had died picked up the wounded ones and drove off. Thus, I think you might be right in many aspects. Aren't you yourself afraid of death?

- Of course, I am, Zhenya. But maybe, I'm just prepared for this, you know. But I'm scared of becoming invalid more than of dying. Promise me, Zhenya, that if I ever get onto your operating table without any extremity or with some other bad thing, you will give me a chance to leavepeacfully this world. I understand you can't do it yourself, but please give me personally this chance.

- Firstly, in my opinion, Slava, you've got a psychological breakdown and this is just state of shock. I've heard what happened at the "North" and that you refused to shoot at ours. You were the first one who refused to, and due to your acquainted commandant of the airport our ex-allies also collectively came to the decision not to shoot at you. Therefore either get drunken or come to me and I'll give you some tablets. By the way, we're now picking up them here. But do not overdo this. As for the death, everyone is free to do with his life whatever he means to be necessary for himself. There are no any hopeless situations, there are always a choice and an exit. Maybe, it's not the option we would prefer, but there is always the one. People create problems and only people are able to solve them.

- You've got no damned thing, - I wearily waved with my hand, - I'm not a nervous schoolgirl, and it's no breakdown. It's much heavier for those men on the frontline. I am just scared of being disabled, that's all. I do feel a huge respect to men like that Maresjev (a charachter of the book "Story of real man", based on the real story about a soviet pilot, who had lost his legs during the Great Patriotic War, but due to his will and assistence of the friends was able having the artificial limbs to restore the ability to drive the planes - O.B.A.) fight for the life, despite all the obstacles and machinations, but I would not be able to. I'd better put my belly on the grenade having released the pin, than to live as a disabled person. Let's stop this talk or we might evoke evil, keep your fingers crossed.

- Look Slava, the sappers are motioning, they must've prepared the passage. Let's go, and we'll continue our moral dispute later having a bottle of good cognac or playing cards.

- Fine, but, you, scoundrel, still haven't promised me anything. Please remember my request. Okay?

- Right-oh, but stop it. I can listen to any request, but I must not make it at all. Understood?

- Understood. OK, let's go.

- Found anything? - I asked the sappers, coming closer.

- A trifle, comrade captain. A "lemony" (analogue of the Russian slang word, meaning the hand greande of F-1 type - O.B.A.) was tied up with the wire to the door and that's all, - the sappers reported being satisfied with the little work.

- Go and attentively check up the stores' area, and when it's done, come back and help us load the boxes.

As the fighters heard about the loading up, they instantly flew away - try to find, at the war also, a fool to carry heavy boxes! Even for the benefit of a large common cause.

I looked around. Republican chemist's warehouses were a complex of large storehouses, like hangars, and two administrative one-storey buildings. I turned to our docs:

- Well, gentlemen Aesculapius, what do you think we should start with? There is dime a dozen of buildings. I suggest we spread out in small groups, and you say what can be of use, we carry it outside and then load onto the vehicles. Any questions? Objections? I shall accept the ones in written form, please, not less than in triplicate.

Some giggles resounded, and we all spread out on the stores area.

- Zhenya, - I asked Ivanov, - I wonder if you only know what you'd like to find?

- I sure do, - he opened a piece of paper with a voluminous list on it, I took a glance at it, but almost all was written in Latin, - don't bother, you couldn't read any of it.

- Can you understand this? Handwriting is not like yours.

- I'll sort the things out. We have to look for tranquillizers, anti-shock remedies, neurostimulations, anti-burns, breath relief substances, cardio medicines and the others.

We came to the gate of the nearest hangar. It was locked up. I indicated to the private:

- Make it! Look the ricochet not hurting anybody.

Everyone stepped back behind the soldiers back and he smashed with a short burst both the usual granary padlock and the mortise locks deadbolt. We walked into the semi-dark hangar. The long rows of the shelves with the boxes were stretching far away.

- Hey doc, watch what can be taken as a rescue remedy, look at the expiry dates.

- It is as dark as in a black's ass in there, put some light on it so that we can see.

- He-h, you, Zhenya, were everywhere and know everything, have seen everything,- I sarcastically noted and everybody around approvingly cackled.

- Zhenya, is it really so dark in there? - A voice came from the darkness and again friendly laughter resounded.

- As soon as I catch the first one I'll shove you swines one by one in his ass and after that you'll tell us what about the lighting in there, - the doctor kindly snapped.

- And if we pinch a female Black, we'll make a complex check-up.

- Mulatto girls would be better, they are much prettier.

- They say Korean women are also very nice.

- But a bint from Ryasan (a provicial city in Russia - O.B.A. ) wouldnt hurt either.

- Fellows, the women in Europe are all horrible, no one is better than our Siberians.

Talking in this slow and jolly way about black ones and about the women, we slowly moved along the rows of medicines.

- Help me climb up, - Zhenya climbed up a shelf, we helped him, he opened up a package up there and helping himself with a torch, started digging in the little boxes. - OK, take them down, carefully, there are ampoules.

- Found something useful?

- Yes, cerebrolysin.

- What kind of sore is that? Crackjaw.

- It's not a sore, dummy, it's a medicine, helps when brain shaking or a concussion.

- But it can be useful for the young soldiers by concussion, and we, officers, have no brains any more, but the only thick bone inside, - I had a kind of lyrical mood. After the shake-up at the "North" and previous it briefing I just wished I would not think about the future and would like to relax a little.

- Sometime during my graduating year in college, - I continued, - we had one funny case in our company. During the graduating year we already lived in the cadets' dorm. Of course, the rules were not as strickt as they used to be during the first year. And somewhen in April, we get up in the morning, going to the toilet, the sergeants are kicking us out for the morning exercises. It's cold outside. We rarely made any exercises, but that time, I've forgotten what was the reason, they started kicking us out into the cold. To make the exercises. Maybe an inspection of some sort arrived or something else happened, I can't remember for the life of me. Anyway, one of the cadets, named Popov, decided to blow it off. He said he wouldn't go, not for toffee. Our squad chief was naturally touched to the quick, so he grabs Popov and starts yelling at the guy that he must go. Popov gives him the finger. The squad commander, as the one who gave an order, according to the Regulations, must get the order be obeyed by any available means and he punches Popov on the face. And Popov was returning from toilet and had a big carafe full with water in his hand. If you remember there were these huge faceted carafes of thick glass in the army, and so Popov hits his native boss with that carafe right on the pate. The carafe breaks down, blood mixed with water from carafe is streaming down over the chief's face. In short, he tumbles, we think the guy's dead. Popov is confused, drops broken carafe's neck down and makes off via the corridor. All of us kneel down near the squad chief, but he pushes everyone off and sprints like a tiger following Popov, catches up with him, knocks him down and starts kicking him. We barely managed to drag him from the guy. We thought the fellow was in shock and that's why he couldn't feel the pain, but the bleeding is going out from his most probably split skull. We called for a nurse from the first aid post and she examined him, he was sent to the hospital, they made an x-ray, check-up. Resume: the skull was intact, without any tiny crack and the lad had no any brain shaking as they said. And you say we've brains. Bone! A civy would've been dead, a young cadet wouldve probably been seriously hurt, but a military college graduate was none the worse for it.

- Yep, that's right, servicemen's skulls are not to be broken on the first try.

- Doctor, you've seen a lot of skulls. Which ones are tougher?

- Paratroopers. They either regularly hit with their heads on the plane's hatch or land on their heads sometimes too, - the hangar was shaken with the laughter eruption again, - I'm kidding, of course, every skull is different, unfortunately, the one doesn't get any thicker due to the military service. Could you imagine how thick could be the colonels' and generals' skulls?

- Yeah, precisely, imagine, men, how thick must be Rolin's skull! It could bare a direct hit of a tank projectile.

- A man could probably go on the attack without any helmet.

- Help me up over here, there's something interesting, - Zhenya again started to climb up, we helped him, held him. - Yeah, just what the doctor ordered! Take it, carefully.

We took a small box with cardiamin and some other muck.

- It's to help the heart activity, - Eugene explained, leaping down and shaking off the dust.

He climbed up in this fashion about five more times, took boxes and passed them down to us, we, carried them outside and left them all there under the sentries' care. After that we visited a couple more of other hangars, smaller than the first one. When we were leaving the last one, everyone's pockets were full of vitamins and the soldiers were carrying the large tin cans with them. All of us jollily threw them in mouths, were chewing hematogen (a kind of the vitamines, fudhe candy bar - O.B.A.) and some ones found the anti-nicotine chewing gum and were working hard with the jaws, hoping to quit smoking. I loaded up vitamins, hematogen, anti-nicotine patches, zhen-shen balsam, tablets for Yurka, peppermint tablets and some other stuff.

Everyone had wonderful mood. I looked at my watch and thought that I might even be on time at the briefing. By the thought of the briefing I became gloomy, the relaxation time was over, we had to go back.

- Hurry up! The sun is setting.

It's true, the twilight began to descend.

- Hurry up, take the boxes, we should not spend the night here.

Suddenly, we heard disorderly firing from the direction of the left APCs.

- Fuck a duck! I had a thought this expedition would go quietly, let's hurry! - I sprinted forwards, carrying a small package with medicines, that was given me by Zhenya, he told there were the drugs.

To take everything, we had to blow up a little door of metall. For some strange reason no one had yet managed to take off the drugs or maybe we were just lucky. We got the rare medicines and I had an extra deep feeling we'd soon need them very much.

The gunfire slowly died away in a little while. Strangeful. Either our drivers were confused or maybe, the fight was lost by ours.

- Onwards!

- Hurry up!

- Hold on, guys!

- You're dead, sluts!

- We'll fry the motherfuckers!

- 'hope the APCs aren't scorched!

Screaming the foul words and shouting we rushed ahead over the school's ruins. The school's upper floors at the rear had all collapsed, having made with its debris a long hill gently sloping down to the very warehouses. Coming down was easy enough, but running uphill, stumbling over the fragments of the bricks and concrete, was not easy. A funny kids rhyme suddenly popped in my mind: "Yeah, we're doing no light work dragging hippo from a bog". Being complete out of beath, falling down and getting up again, tearing off the skin on our hands and faces and busting the ampoules with medicines, we ran up the school's first floor and dashed down. Since I had the smallest box, I was in the lead and was the first one seeing the next scene: our drivers were peacefully chatting with some other unfamiliar soldiers, about fifteen of them, next to our APCs. I stopped still in the shadow and attentively looked at the unfolded landscape.

Everything seemed be calm. I saw nobody hiding or slinking about. Absolute idyll. I recovered my breath and spat with green and yellow slime again. I must quit smoking. Others came up. All of us, with weapones ahead, started to come down slowly. Those guys could be deserters or maybe again escaped cons. We'll see and make them out.

Coming closer, we saw that the fighters, according to all the signs and parameters, were ours, the same ones like we were - "saviours", "members of the southern campaign". Having noticed our arrival, the driver of my APC jumped up to me and threw his hand up to his hard hat in salute and reported:

- Comrade captain, during your absence nothing particular happened, with the exception - we mistook our neighbors soldiers group for the spooks and fired upon...

- Have you got "twohundredths", "threehundredths"? (Russian military slang: "Cargo 200" - the dead body, "Cargo 300" - the wounded one - O.B.A.)

- None, we found out at once.

- That's good, if all of you were better shooters, then you might've slain each other.

- Comrade captain, platoon leader of the 125th artillery regiment, lieutenant Krikov! -Lieutenant, barely older than his direct reports, came up to me and represented himself.

"Krikov - Kryukov", it rhymed inside my head. It's strangeful, I recollected Kryukov at that day and some hours later met Krikov. That all was funny.

- When have you graduated from college? - Some one asked behind my back.

- This year, - lieutenant rather proudly answered.

- I see, - I pronounced, - that is luck that you haven't laid down each other's lives. What the hell are you shying over our territory?

- We went for some water for the battalion. When we went down, there were no of you here, but returning back we ran into. We had not enough people and heavy water cans, and so we ran without reconnaissance, every one was carrying water.

Lieutenant was telling and always saying "we", as if it was not him who made the decisions, but all collective, though that was most probably true. He was very "green" yet. I had the urge to read a lecture to him, but I restrained myself. He won't learn anything anyway until he often enough bumps into crap. But that "crap" though could be the first and the last one. Thinking of that I spat again. Blockhead, he'll die and his men would perish too. I couldn't help saying:

- Next time, lieutenant, take either more men or fewer cans, otherwise, you'll get into some ambush, - I told him in low voice watching him from under the brows.

That one shrank under my look and most probably wanted to say something daring in response but then he changed his mind. Ehh, greeny, all your thoughts could easily be read on your face. He vacillated for a while and then compassionately asked:

- Comrade captain, allow us to ride with you for a few blocks to ours, I wouldn't like to stamp our feet all the way back, as well as wouldn't like to meet the spooks either.

- Sure, get on. Is the water from Sunzha? - I asked stupid question, where else, but from Sunzha it could be.

- Yes, from Sunzha. We were under the fire twice while taking the water, - lieutenant was bragging.

- If they wanted to finish you off, they would've left one good sniper there and you would stay with your tanks on the riverside. Where did you take it? - I rolled out the map while walking back to the APC.

- Over here, - Krikov pointed at the spot near the school, five blocks down from it. - And they fired from here.

- I see, we wouldn't take water over there, tomorrow they'll be waiting for us up there for sure. Did you at least repulse them?

- Of course.

- Fine, get on.

We loaded up on the armor. Set off. In a few blocks lieutenant asked to halt.

I gave the order and APCs halted. Lieutenant Krikov and his fighters leapt off, waved us good by and walked off to the regiment quarters, bent down under the heavy weight of their cans and flasks. In half an hour we were back at our CC. The docs ran to med-company to sort out the spoils.

I went off to my box van where at Pashka was putting firewood into the stove.

- Tell, what's news? - I asked him taking off my armor vest.

- No news, everyone is at the briefing. Is that true we'll have to take Minutka soon?

- Yeah. - I coldly said, - how long has been briefing going?

- For about hour and a half. They called for you a few times.

- I am going, - I walked out and lit up on the way.

Kneading the mud, I came up to the headquarters. Crowd of officers and soldiers standing close to the entrance was lively discussing something. I wanted neither to put off so sweet cigarette butt, nor to get sitting in there again discussing those suicidal plans. The question was how many hundreds of us will die. The enemy's souls at the "North" and in Moscow didn't want to pound Minutka with air and artillery support. But they put the tighten cap on the deadlines. We had to discuss just at that time which battalion was to be given under the shooting. How could we survive ourselves. The officers tried to tell me something, but I wasn't listening to anybody, I was racking my brains for the right phrases and arguments in favour of my variant, which I hadn't yet even finished composing, but some details already appeared. There was, it seemed, a small chance to reduce the loss of life. Having apparently read my state of mind, my associates left me in peace. I silently nodded them, tossed off my cigarette's stub, which fell into the mud in an arc-like trajectory. Just like the life itself - a thought flashed in my head - as soon as you get uppermost, you roll to decline. So many lives would fall without even reaching their uppermost heydays during the next days. Old men invent a war, they are already impotent, but've still lack of wisdom and have as many ambitions, as the young ones do. They do not want to lose their power, so they compose so that the young people will die for the old men's ideals. The old men, after having satisfied their senseless ambitions, will steal the money invested into the restoring of the ruined things. And we, the witnesses, of their insanity and temporary madness, will be being chased into corner. The same as it was about the "afganers" (the Soviet veterans of the war in Afganistan - O.B.A.). They presented them to be idols, heros at first, and later they narrated the stories about them being the drug addicts and alcoholics. Postulating the idea, they say those vets were unable to cope with a mighty enemy, but supposedly slaughtered the peaceful population and were able to fight against the peaceful inhabitants. They did not allow the men to speak out, set them into a corner, accused of all extreme sins, announced the "afgan syndrome", but they forgot to enumerate all the syndromes on the former USSR territory. Every "hotspot" is another "syndrome", but there are too many ones, even for such a large country as Russia.

I was just "winding up" myself, it was better to come in being already angry and "wound up", than to come in and do that in there. Everybody was already tired and dulled of endless converstaions and dead-end situation. And you are barging in being aggressive, angry, ready to tear every one who is against your point of view. And you introduce a fresh streaming, a new opinion about the problem. The idea began already to go out of the subconscious. The main thing was that our captured men were not being in the Dudaev's Palace, or we could knock them out too. There is a gadget that sappers use for clearing of mines, I don't know the name of it, but it perfectly works. The thing consists of a rocket with three jet engines, one for the flight and two initial boosters. This crap takes off and drags behind it a thick hose stuffed with trinitrotoluene and flies straight in one direction. When that hose (we name it "gut") unwinds all, the rocket slumps and in a half a second the gut's trinitrotoluene detonates, making a clear rut of about four meters wide. This "viper-pterodactyl" is employed to make the passages in the minefields. Those mines that did not explode, after the detonation would surely be pushed out on the surface anyway.

Therefore, if we get close to that freacking palace and send a few of these "pterodactyls" toward it, then there will not be much of that whorehouse. The most important task would be to destroy the lower floors. It is high and unstable, the rest with the spooks and all the contants would fall soon after. But again, it is important that no ours are inside, but only the spooks. I walked up to the entrance, moved my subgun behind my back, and pushed the door open.

- May I be present, comrade colonel? - I distracted Bahel from his explanation.

All battalion commanders, their executive officers, deputy com-brigs and other brigade HQ officers were bent over the map. About four more men were smoking near the window barricaded with the sandbags.

- Come in, Mironov. How was the journey?

- Everything was well, comrade colonel.

- Please, take a seat and do not interrupt us. You can ask later about any unclear things, the others will explain you.

He turned to the map again and moved his pen across it, using it as a pointer. I understood that the question was about the storming of the State Bank. That meant, on the map, the brigade had already crossed over the bridges and successfully moved across two hundred meters of the open area under the enemy's barraging fire, I should ask them afterwards how had they made that. But that would be later, for that moment nobody had to disturb the commander. The time would come for me to stand up and express my preparation, like any other one present there. As the first one, the lowest in the rank and post officer would speak. It is made deliberately, so that the opinion of the higher-ranking officers weren't weighing on them, after that the higher ranks and posts may say, at the end, com-brig will do the summing up. He, commander, is the only one in brigade who is responsible for every single thing, he is to estimate the situation, make decision, give out the order and control the way it is obeyed. The executive officer could somehow get a piece of the pie later, but mostly it is liability of the commander. The same order is in the trenches. Why did not battalion, company or platoon complete the task? Commander bears always the fault for the unit, that has not completed the task. Interrogation will be strict and swift, they won't investigate for a long time. Best case scenario, they'll tear off his shoulder-straps, throw him on the ear out of the army to build the national economy. And he would be lucky one if he had enough length of service to get the special pension. But what if he had not enough?

The other story: court martial, dishonourable discharge, his medals are taken away and get to the jail with shame. In our country, the most fearful prefix to your status is "ex-". If they do not respect and spit, but he deserved it, to tell the truth, at the ex-President, than they do that even more so about an ex-combat commander's rank. And if they found out that he was in war, then it would be a must to ruin him, as he's dirty with blood, and he had certainly murdered the civilian inhabitants. He's a war criminal - halloo, tally-ho!!! We, the law-abiding citizens, have killed no one, and if any of our countrymen are being slaughtered somewhere in the hole on the south of the country, so that should be some reasonable thing. What else would you wish, reigning gentlemen? Would you like to send our children to the next bloodbath? As you like it, sir! We voted for you, so, how can you possibly be wrong or groundlessly defame anybody? Neither a chance! Didn't you, my reader, think like that, did you? Or maybe you're still thinking so?

Chekhov (Anton Chekhov, 1860-1904, the great Russian classic writer, maybe his name is the third one after Dostoevsky and Tolstoy - O.B.A.) told once that you must daily squeeze a slave out of youreself, drop by drop, but it must be added that our rulers should daily squeeze a lord out of themselves.

Just have a look at the map and a question appears. How can really a republic, which is even not seen on the map, be threatening Russia's sovereignty? No, it can't, unless, you only feed and support this motley general (author means general Dudaev - O.B.A.) with his fiery speeches. He's indeed nothing but a petty Fuhrer with Caucasian accent. When they needed to kill Lev Trotsky (Leon Trotsky, 1879-1940, one of the main leaders of the October revolution in Russia in 1917, later one of the main political competitors of Stalin - O.B.A.), he was murdered like a street dog, in Mexico, with a simple ice picker and without even any grenade. And what about that ex-pilot? I refuse to believe that there had been no possibility or wish to kill him, the same about nowadays.

For announced reward they'll serve you his head on a plate decorated with salad. Every man costs some money, if you can't buy him, you can "order" him to be killed for half of the price. That functions, unless he has some x-files against you or unless he is your partner about some secret account in a bank in Zurich for example.

And we, like rams, would again go to the ballot-boxes and vote for those who'd organize the new bloody "hood wrangle", slaughter our children and force veterans of the Great Patriotic War to dig in the rubbish dump looking for the empty bottles.

It is not a question about communists, democrats, socialists and other masters of jabbering, no. All of them have a wish to eat bread and butter, paid from the pocket of yours, my reader, and mine. And all the wars and catastrophes are specially organized for us not to become thoughtful about this pillaging.

Meanwhile the briefing went on, the plan was drafted and presented. The time has come for us to speak out opinions and ideas about the problem. Suddenly, San Sanych was called by an operator to take an important phone call. All of us kept silent, maybe we would be taken off from this butchery. He came back to the table more gloomy than he had been before. He sat down with a helpless look in our faces, we kept silence, com-brig could not longer hold it:

- Just tell us, don't torment us.

- We've received the reconnaissance reports confirmed by the opposition, that all our wounded, captured ones are being brought up into the palace. We are to be extremely careful during the storm. The air support was refused, no "Grads" or "Uragans" (the code names of the Russian heavy artillery systems - O.B.A.) would be provided either, and we are to use only our own artillery.

Complete silence was broken with the sounds of wheezing, moving chairs, shuffling boots and a sudden loud crunch of the pencil broken by com-brig. It seemed he didn't even notice that he broke the pencil, still twirling two fragments in the hands and staring into one point. We got paralysis by analysis.

- We can't go in without artillery or air support, we'll lose the people, - the first battalion's com-batt began.

- And we can't storm also, when our captives are situated in there, they'll die. We all realize they'd mostly die regardless whether assault would be with artillery support or without it - tank battalion's com-batt continued the thought.

- Either the spooks will murder them or we'll stop their sufferings with an accidental burst, grenade or the mortar bomb explosion. I have no wish, absolutely no wish to become a murderer of our countrymen. It's a stalemate situation, it comes to the same thing, - third battalion's commander was thinking aloud.

- It's not likely we could rescue the captives, but we lose a lot more of our subordinates. We should take into account the possibility of counterattacks. - Informal first deputy com-brig, artillery commander, continued.

The pause was too long. Com-brig tossed away the fragments of his pencil.

- Ten-minute break. Your subordinates are to be told nothing! After the break everyone must be ready to speak to the point, everyone has up to three minutes.

All of us went outside to breathe in some fresh air, visit WC, have a smoke and talk about all the things without commander.

- Fucking disaster!

- What the hell have the bastards made.

- Now, for sure, we'd have to climb up those walls having only daggers.

- We've to think, not to shout. - It seemed that the tank battalion's commander was not at all concerned about all this noise. He spoke to the artillery commander and to the commanders of the art-battalions, they were standing nearby:

- Would you be able to get your self-propelled howitzers a little closer to the palace?

- Scarcely. The bridges won't bear us. How much is the wright of your tank? That is it. My self-propelled cannons are too heavy, and on-board ammunition stocks are too small. They should be constantly resupplied and you know what is their speed, three times slower. We'd have to be somewhere close, dug in the closed position, then, we'd "put" above your heads and houses right where you'd say us.

But it seemed the "tanks'" com-batt wasn't listening to him anymore and was slurring something to himself:

- Small stocks, the speed of resupplying, revolver. We should make a "revolver", a carousel. Exaclty, carousel. First, infantry goes in, then, our tank stormily fires. No APCs, their calibre's too small.

He called for his executive officer and they began to draw and discuss something. The break time was up and we all went back to the briefing. Everyone took his former place. Com-brig began:

- Comrades officers, all of us understand the current situation. We may not storm but we may not also not to storm. We've made the calls to Rolin and our next units, with wich we have to take Minutka. They are giving us the carte blanche. We are to take, and what will be the cost, that is our responsibility. Please have your say.

The silence hung in the room. The "chief tankee" took the opportunity:

- As I understand it, we cannot use air force and artillery since our POWs are situated in the government's building, is it so?

- Yes, it is, - com-brig confirmed.

- Fine vital observation, - someone giggled at the back.

- Our APCs on the other hand have too small calibre and too thin armor protection, thus are unable to produce more or less effective fire from the long distance. Correct?

- Yes, - com-brig again confirmed, not understanding still what was com-batt driving at.

- Althought our tanks are properly armored and have large enough calibre cannons, but have the lack of ammunition stocks, thus the firing of the tanks would still be ineffective since they would relively quickly run out of ammos. All the problem here is how to restock rapidly the ammos. But reloading of tanks under the enemy's fire is a suicide, therefore I propose that the tanks go to take the ammos themselves. And to maintain constant bombardment, I suggest a tanks merry-go-round.

- What round?

- Hey, he's got something there!

- Great noddle, man!

Almost everyone grasped core of the idea proposed by the tankee. He walked up to the map and began telling and pointing:

- First, over here, two tanks roll out over the bridge on the opposite riverside, one of them maintains the intensive fire, another one backs the first one with rare salvos but mostly is keeping quiet, the third tank is standing by in the middle of the bridge and is waiting for his turn. On our side of the river, at the bridge's entrance, the fourth tank is awaiting for action, the fifth one is reloading. Having spent all its ammo in the intensive firing, the first tank is returning to our bank of the river to be reloaded. The tank on the middle of the bridge, moves in firing position and opens up. The third one, that was at the bridge's entrance moves forwards to the middle. During all these movements, the tank that was stationary and kept silent now opens fire not to allow the enemy to destroy the moving tanks. In this way we are able to maintain the constant required density, precision of bombardment and support our infantry. We do the work of the artillery. Artillery can pound the areas, we can aim at the small windows, - he finished his speech provoking approveing laugher of the others.

- This is great!

- Tankees, well done!

- Thank you for idea, - com-brig shook tankee's hand.

- I have an idea also, - the third battalion's commander stepped ahead. - I suggest we use sewerage network to get into the palace.

- That's wise.

- We could save our men and maybe even liberate the captives.

- What if they set up an ambush? They'll kill us as partridges.

- That's great, but too risky.

- It's a good idea, but we don't know where to the sewerage pipes could lead us. That's first, the second thing is the fact Chechens are already actively using them as the means of approacing and retreating for making sabotage sallies against us. So that, we can run into an ambush. Therefore thanks for the idea, but I think we have to blow the pipes up, to block them up, so that the spooks wouldn't come to our rear. D'you agree?

- Agree, - com-bat said with a sigh of disappointment and settled back into his chair.

- Any more suggestions?

Many ones spoke out the suggestions, but no one could propose anything more radical than the tankees. We couldn't take the hotel "Caucasus" that day and therefore it was arranged with the "North" we would transfer the besieging and storming to the marines. Our men were moved closer to the CC to let them rest as much as possible. The tech had to be prepared for the forthcoming combats too. In conclusion of the briefing the deputy com-brig for the educational management, according to the old terms "zampolit" (hereafter also polit-officer - O.B.A.) lieutenant colonel Sergey Nikolaevich Kazarzhev spoke out.

He stood about a meter and sixty-five centimeters tall, not thin, but, as many infantrymen, with tendons and sinews. He took part in the Afghanistan campaign. His distinctive advantage was that he was not like the other colleagues at the ex-politmanagement making the others dirty tricks, he did not also fly about his chiefs and tutors, asking for advises about every trifle, but he only made his work. He was able to find the common ground with men, be on good terms with them. He had autority amoungst both officers and soldiers. He was respected for his Afghanistan experience, ans also for his ability to serenly work with the associates.

- Comrades officers, there was a phone call from the "North" - two Moscow banks are about to celebrate their anniversaries, and they decided to spend the "bucks", that they saved up for the festivities, on "humany" aid for the military personnel in Chechnya. Therefore, tomorrow we have to send transport to the "North" for the sendinges. Every one of them contains a track suite, trainers, toiletries, a block of cigarettes, two cans of beer for every officer, two cans of "cola" for the fighters and some other things.

- That's good!

- Beer!

- Freebie!

- Lucky are the ones who distributs that "humany".

- Take more, for the wounded ones and for the dead ones too!

- Yeah, get more.

- Need a hand?

- Which banks?

- "Menatep" and "Incom", - Kazanzhev answered shouting down the noise.

- That means the "menatepy and incomy rations".

- "Menatepy", sounds better, like "NATOpy".

- Cigarettes!

- Hey, who is non-smoker? I'll buy his cigarettes.

- Hold on, maybe there are "Astra" or "Mountains beggar".

- Right, they can replace the good ones in the "North".

- Yeah, those rats can steel anything.

- No, they wouldn't, as we attack Minutka.

- They don't care. They'd rather start distributing after the storming, they would get more for themselves.

- Be quiet! - Com-brig's baritone shouted down the din.

The noise abated almost at once, the people were happy distracting from the thought about the future.

- Quiet! - Com-brig repeated again. - Every one has got lots to do, let's not waste time in vain. Any questions?

Everyone had many questions, but most of them were rhetorical. Realizing, there will be no instructive answers, but "go to hell" and "don't play clever person", no one volunteer provoked. Everybody dispersed discussing the forthcoming freebie. This honey word "freebie"!

Yurka and I came up to Kazanzhev:

- Sereoga, don't forget about us while distributing the packages. The most important thing is the cigarettes. maybe some people don't smoke, you know.

- Men, you're not the first ones and you're not the last ones asking me about that. Be conscientious.

- Yura, what's he talking about?

- About conscience.

- What's that?

- No idea. I know kidney, liver, I do know stomach also, but what is conscience, I don't know. How about you, Slava?

- Have never heard of it.

- Sereoga, we have almost absolute monopoly on alcohol, you can't just tell us off and that's it. It's not good.

- Imagine how in good neighborly spirit we'll be urinating on your car's tyres and dumping under your door. Get the picture?

- For the whole duration of this war.

- And this stupid habit can come into the civilian life also. We'll constantly shit on your flat's porch.

- Just imagine, you're coming out to go to service in the morning and tumble having slipped on our dung. All dressed up in sparkling whites and smeared with shit. Offensive, yeah?

- And all this because of some cigarettes.

- Morons.

- Slava, I think we've already heard that before.

- By the way, while you're at the "North", send the airport commandant Sashka regards form us, let him put in more cigarettes and something nice from himself for us.

- I don't think he even remembers you.

- Oh, yes he does.

- So, what's your choice gonna be?

- What choice?

- You'd choose sliding on shit till the end of the service or maybe you'd just give us cigarettes. We don't fight pensioners.

- Get out...

- Yura, he has chosen the shit.

- Definintly. We're starting tonight. Pashka will take part also.

- I wonder if hey have specially found you in the whole SibVO (Siberian military district - O.B.A.) and stuck you in one box van?

- Not only in the SibVO. I come from the main office of the UZN (South-West Direction - O.B.A.) and Yurka is from SKVO (North Caucasian military district - O.B.A.). Therefore it's fate, Sergey Nikolaievich. Therefore, you must constantly follow your hard destiny.

- Slipping on shit. But all that could've been avoided...

- If you only accept to give us more cigarettes.

- And then we'll always be happy to see you.

- And we'll tell our kids how wonderful and hearty you are. But if you don't, we'll also tell them. That you're shit.

- Idiots.

- The client is not matured yet (a paraphrased joke from the popular comedy "The diamond arm", 1968, - O.B.A.).

- Don't worry, he'll fall a few times and he'll be tolerant.

- So what?

- We'll talk tomorrow.

- Oh, you should've said so straight away. Thanks.

- Client is matured. Good night.

While walking to the box van I realized how tired and sleepy I was. At "home" Pashka was at the laid dinner table. He was shining as a cake from Christmas-tree, packed in foil. Having cleaned off the mud stuck to our boots, it made them look like the huge ski-boots, we barged into the box van.

- Why are you so happy, as if a pize winner? - Yura asked Pashka. I was silent, some thought seemed be pretty important, but still not formulated, it was circling in my head.

- So I have heard what you had made at the "North"...

- Shut up. Shut up and never tell anybody. Nothing had happened over there. Have you got it? - I toughly interrupted him. I had desire neither to recall, nor especially to discuss that. - Put out what we've got in reserve. We'll go to wash our hands.

Yura and I left the weapones, undressed us and went out with a teapot of warm water. Watering ourselves and snorting, we carefully washed us up during a long time until the skin finally breathed again. We wiped us up with the tough military ribbed towels, sat down on the porch to light up, letting the night winter not too cold breeze caress our faces. I had desire just to sit like that forever. To sit and think of nothing. Just to be sitting and smoking. The heat from my cigarette in the fist was burning my palm. Serenity. Yurka interrupted my cheerful mood:

- Why did you fly at Pashka?

- He must not prattle too glibly Whatever has happened is now in the past, there's now no use, especially for a grunt, to jump about, no use. He must not run thourgh the CC idly talking about our stories. Just let him be sad, but still silent. I think, if we get out of here, let's touch wood not to speak too soon, they'll yet rack us asking what did you, sons of bitches, plan? Only not to go to the combat or to make a mutiny? So I suggest you to shut up and forget it.

- He-he, but brave hedgehoggy is not afraid of some naked ass.

- We, my lovely, do not take part in the Great Patriotic war, but in the war for someone's property. So the owner of this propety might ask us somewhen, if we didn't try to turn entrusted weapons, people and tech against himself. Yura, we are participants of such cheap vuadeville that we could just simply laugh if it weren't so scary. D'you know why is THIS all?

- Stop it, Slava, you're flipping lid.

- It has already flipped, if I'm asking these questions, - I fished another cigarette from the packet, lit it from the cigarette's butt, tossed it off before me and ground it with the heel.

- We shall also be just tossed out, when the time comes, and it will come, trust me, and even earlier than we all guess. They'll dry the boots with us and toss out. And just like you spit after the smoking they'll spit after us. Mark my words. If we could now bare our teeth to the commander, we can do it again showing it the chief, commander. And maybe even jump at his throat and gnaw at it some day. We're too used to blood and death. I, for example, cannot sleep at silent night anymore. But if artillery does work, or better air bombardment does, I will be asleep like a bear.

- Yeah, me too. - Yura quietly noted.

- Just answer me now this simple and stupid question, what is nationality?

- What do you mean? - Yura couldn't understand. - You're born with it. God has given it to you, if you want.

- But if, for example, a Chechen infant were brought to France. All his life his parents were hiding from him the fact that he was Chechen. They would give him surname, good education, first in a normal French school and later in a French university. All cultured up in their French surroundings. So who is HE? If it's easier for you, imagine it were not Chechen, but Russian child. Pity it wasn't me. So Yura, WHO IS HE?

- French, I guess, - Yura uttered unsure.

- So, you see - nationality is no biological, but rather social category. I. e., people have invented this problem, this national criterion and stir us up showing it. The aincent created the axiom, used up nowadays: "divide and rule". You can also remember the Soviet times, when they proclaimed slogan of equality of the nations and folks, the Russians were sent to the national outskirts of the empire for the military service, whereas the "blocks" (in Russian slang sounds "churka" /maybe analogue is "block"/, a scornful name of the Caucasian and Middlasian peoples - O.B.A.) were always sent to the Baltic republics or to Russia and the Baltic people always went to Ukraine and Moldova. The situation was created for the case if a riot breaks out they wouldn't hesitate to shoot at aborigines, but shooting at the countrymen would be difficulty. And fathers polit-officers specially kept heating of the nationalism.

- What about patriotism? Love to Motherland?

- Motherland?

- Yes, namely to Motherland, - Yurka was triumphing. The question was difficult.

- And what is Motherland, Yura? - I calmly asked him. - I'm not a Jew or a Gipsy, or some nomad. Explain me what Motherland is. What sense do YOU mean under this concept? Once before, our soldiers called out: "For God, Tsar and Fatherland!", then "For Motherland, for Stalin!" and how about nowadays - "for Motherland and President!" or "Motherland and Grachin" (in the novel this name is a kind of the changed name of the defense minister of RF during the time of the first Chechen war, general Pavel Grachev, born 1948, - O.B.A.)? - I spat. - Maybe about twenty years later they'll make a movie how ones march against machine-guns with that idiotic cry. As Grachin once said that the boys died with a smile on the mouths. I'd like to press about 30 grams of the lead in his belly and see how he would die with a smile on the mouth. So, what does Motherland mean? It is President, who had pulled down the USSR and then dipped both of us into one hell-fire, then into the other and into the third one yet. But they even did not make any note about that at the personal file. Would Motherland, that loves her sons, send them to die? Couldn't they surgically annihilate the tumou - Dudaev? You are keeping silence. Of course, they could, they could have made many things. And all of us, and all the world, would applaud that they made such accurate action. They could do anything unless they've a deal with Dudaev. Patriotism? Oscar Wild, he was an intelligent English, said once that patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrels. The main paradox is that I really love Russia, I love the country but I do not like the government. So this paradox bears hatred against the concept of "Motherland". It's difficult to live in the country you're hating.

- So why do you fight? And, in my oppinion, you're doing it pretty well.

- Stop sucking up to me. I don't know myself. I defend Motherland. Paradox. Madhouse. Everything's just easy here. Black and white. Indians and white faces. We're defending our Motherland that they are trying to tear apart. You are about to flip lid from such thoughts. Did you hear the one about a general arriving at the unit to inspect? He's walking around, checking up on the things and stuff. Then he suddenly says to the commander: "It's too gloomy around here, paint the fence in all colors of the rainbow." Commander points to the peak: "Yessir!" So they walk further. General: "And arrange the beds in a chess order, I think it's kinda merry thing." Commander again: "Yes, comrade general!" General: "Commander, don't you have your own opinion at all? You talk nonsense, give stupid answer "Yessir"?" Commander answers: "I do have my own opinion, but I've not got long enough years on service, otherwise I would've sent you, general, with your nonsense to hell". I've not enough years on the servicce, Yura. Otherwise I wouldn't have had this split personality.

- Maybe you should visit a psychiatrist?

- And does he explain me what Motherland is and whose interests I defend here? And why may we not blow up the oil refinery? But I'm just itching to. To pull some pretty ugly joke on someone. The problem is that I don't think they'll restore it spending money from their own pockets, that wound be good, but most probably from the state's budget. By the way, Yura, are you aware of the fact that our air force, first and foremost, bombed to the ground the local finance ministry?

- I am, so what?

- I can bet you that at this very moment in the darkness the air force is bombing no palace of Dudaev, no the spooks' barracks, no their ammo depots, but the Chechen State bank.

- Very unlikely, - Yurka uttered, - however, the uglies, first the Finance ministry and then bank, logically, just before the storm... They can. They're warning spooks about soon storm. Such bastards!

- I mean the same. So, Yura, what is Motherland?

- Go to hell. Unfortunate sophist. You should've been a polit-officer.

- My dad is an ex-serviceman, therefore I got from him steadfast antipathy against polit-officers, but sometimes, there can be decent people amongst them. Rarely though.

- OK, let's go guzzling, otherwise we die. Should we get drunken?

- I'd be happy to, but I don't think I can. Moreover, it was a hard day. Remember, we had eaten about half kilo of vodka per each nose, with only some chicken to bite to it, and it does not bother.

- Yep, it was so, - Yurka grimly spat. - Sod this life! You want to get drunken, but you can't. When I come home, I'll get drunken up to the green snots and put my mug in salad.

- Precisely. In salad. "Winter" one. Up to the eyeballs. But we shouldn't choke though.

We burst laughing. When you ask stupid questions that you cannot answer and forced to tolerate, all you can do is to follow the mainstream sticking together with the yokemate. We entered the box van. Pashka had laid the table and placed an open bottle of vodka in the middle.

- Is there cognac yet?

- Yes.

- So put it on table. Cheer up, man.

Yurka reproachfully looked at me. It was pretty clear - no one could tell if we ever get another chance to drink that cognac later, but his look was expressive enough asking why I hang my own rotten thoughts on the fighter. Pashka left the vodka where it was and pulled out the cognac. I took it, opened the bottle and poured out into glasses almost full. I had a raging desire to get drunken.

- Go ahead! - I lifted my plastic cup.

The others followed my example and moved their "cups" together, they rustled and the dark cognac liquid was waving inside them when we cheered. Capsized. The heavy viscous liquid flew down. I screwed up my eyes with pleasure. It entered my stomach and was spreading in there with warm sensation. We started biting. Without any word, silently. There was nothing we could say. Everything was already decided and determined without us. You could probably draw a request for discharge and go home, but the thought of that had never even appeared.

We were quickly chewing and when the warmth inside my stomach began to disappear I poured out the remains of cognac. Yurka quickly grabbed his cup:

- Are we just having a drinking-bout? We're drinking without any toasts.

- No, we are just having a meal, but if you feel like saying something, say, please, but please make it short, as I don't usually drink hot cognac or especially hot vodka.

- I would like to make a toast, - began Yura, - to God having helped us so far. I would like to express our common hope that the fortune won't leave us and that we somehow get out of this hell-fire...

- So that in a few years we could run in a new one... - I interrupted him and continued.

- Maybe we could, but now or maybe in a day we'll have to go on Minutka, so I ask Lord to send us luck. For the good fortune!

- Yura, are you on the military service now?

- Yeah, and what?

- So, in the army we have the only superior and this thing called subordination, but you, instead of your commander, are speaking directly to God. You've chance to get a penalty back.

- Go to hell, idiot! - Yurka exhaled and toppled cognac inside him drinking it.

Both, Pashka and myself made the same. Something made a fuss in my head. Am I really getting drunkenness?! That's great. I was afraid I could frighten that feeling away and was just sitting there motionless. Alcohol produced slight drunkenness and it was growing more and more.

- Slava, are you all right? - Yura asked me being scared.

- I'm fine, - I unwillingly opened my eyes, - scoundrel, you scared off the drunkenness.

My head was again absolutely clear and clean:

- Ugh about you! Three times!

- What scared off? - My yokemate asked me being bewildered.

- What-what, - I mimiced him, - you, scoundrel, scared off the drunkenness. I'm sitting here, enjoying the getting drunken and now you're worming in with your questions.

- I just saw you sitting as that cat staring into one point when shitting, and after that you closed your eyes at all. I thought you choked. Sorry, man, I've ruined your kicks. You might still catch with it, huh?

- Fat damned chance, - I was being really annoyed, - but I can give it a try, pour out.

I took the bottle of vodka that Pashka had put on the table and poured it out in glasses. Yurka and I didn't bite anything. Maybe after the mixing cognac and vodka, I could get a little drunken. I stood up holding the glass with vodka.

- The third toast.

- The third one, - said Yurka.

- The third one, - echoed us Pashka.

Having stood silently for a while we almost simultaneously drank vodka, sat back in our chairs getting no any hors-d'aeuvre. Then we began slowly and quietly biting.

- Is that true we'll have to take Minutka head-on? - Pashka asked with his mouth full.

- Yes, sonny, it is, - I answered. I knew he couldn't stand when we called him "sonny". Pashka raged:

- I'm not your sonny! I'm about to have my own sonny.

He thought and added:

- Or maybe daughter. And you say - "sonny, sonny".

- You shouldn't have a great intellect to make a sonny, Pasha, it's a ten-minute job and a lifetime of heavy toil afterwards. Look at yourself, for example, we have been really trying hard to make a person from you, but have still achieved nothing.

- Why is it nothing? - Pashka got absolutely furious.

- You drink too much, boorish to us. And we behave towards you like in a family. We should educate you. What would you say, Slava?

- Yep, - I continued, - we should use something more radical this time. Why did you make the guard in the troop train all drunken? A drunken sentry, especially with a weapon, is a criminal. Which makes you, my friend, an accessory.

- Why accessory?

- Real accessory, back in 1937 (the Great Purge, 1936-1938, in 1937 year Stalin had organized the brutal terror repressions against the military and civil leaders of the USSR - O.B.A.) you would've been charged with sabotage and then you would face a wall by the law of the war time. And a lead seal, pressed into the back of the head. - I touched his head, which executioners usually shot at. Pashka twitched.

- These are stupid jokes, Vyachaslav Nikolaevich.

I lit up. Yurka and Pashka followed my example.

- So, Pasha, - I started, - while we're absent...

- And where would you go? - Interrupted me Pavel.

- We'll hide in the basement, - I snapped at him. - Don't interrupt older ones. We'll most probably go with the troops. You, son of a bitch, are top responsible for the truck. And for everything inside it. If anything happens, you... - I stopped him already opening his mouth with a gesture, - If anything happens, you are to return all the things to our families. Have you got it? As for the truck, if anything happens to it, I'll screw your head off and will say that have been so for ever. Have you understoond everything?

- Yeah, I have. It's a hundredth time you're telling me all this. By the way, there isn't much to guard in there besides your dirty socks.

- By the way you might wash them.

- No chance, - Pashka snorted.

- You will wash, yeah, for sure. You'll be washing them, remembering us, and doing it with the dropping tears.

- Even if I do cry, it will be because the stench from your socks will be stinging the eyes.

- Pasha, - Yura interrupted his speech, - we have already got this specifical ritual: whenever we are to go for our dangerous affair, we tell you what to do with our stinking underclothes. But since you're not so keen on taking on responsibility for it, then you do intensively pray for us, and God hearing your praying guardes us, so that you, in turn, is rescued from the ungreatful task to wash our socks. By the way, haven't you forgotten like what do our socks smell like?

- Fat chance! When I was "young" yet, I never washed the "vet's" socks and I'm not about to make it for you. - Pashka was literally boiling over.

His anger only stirred us up.

- Pasha, you know when a person is dying, his last will is the law. Have you heard about it?

- Yeah, so?

- So, - my tone turned ceremonial. - The last will of Yuri Nikolaievich and of mine is, when we die, then thou shalt wash our socks, iron them and return to our families. You are allowed to keep one pair from each of us for yourself. In the memory of us. You may hang them on the wall carpet above you bed.

- But you're not dying yet.

- But what if...

- I'm not going to wash anything for you! - Pashka turned grim, frowning.

- OK, Pasha, we're joking, don't take any offense at. You had better yet pour out the remains. - Yura told.

He obeyed and accurately poured out the rest of vodka equally amongst three glasses. We were patiently waiting until the last drops fell down into his glass. We were counting them in the mind.

- Twenty-two, - Yura said, breaking up the silence.

- I've heard that it is possible to squeeze thirty-three drops out of any bottle. - I interfered.

We took our plastic cups.

- What's going to be on the future day? - Yura asked, appealing to us.

- Fuck knows. - Pashka answered for everyone.

- It is going to be what must be. And let's drink to that. For the Fate and for the His Majesty Chance! - I said.

- That's right! - Yura supported me, - For the Fate and the Chance.

Then he added, as if only for himself, but we were able to hear clearly:

- Man must be ready to meet the death. Let this cup pass from me, - and he drank.

- You've told correct words, Yura, man must be ready to meet the death. So that it would not catch the one being unaware. We must finish our affairs and make no any large debts so that our families don't have to pay for our precipitate deeds. Let this cup pass from me, - I repeated the words from the Gospel and drank also.

Pashka drank too. We quietly bit, swpet the remains out of the plates and tins. Then we lit up again but being already replete and satisfied. The future day did not seem so dark anymore.

- What was that cup you were telling about? - Pashka asked, delighting in inhaling his cigarette.

- Jesus said it right before his death, Pasha, appealing to his God-Father. He knew he would be executed and he was being scared, so, just for any case he asked daddy not to do that. - I explained him. - When you've got time, read the Gospel, Pashka. Very interesting and instructive book. You'll find a lot of useful things in it.

- Ah, the books... - Pashka mumbled.

- Read, Pasha, read. The eternal wisdom of generations is concentrated in the books. You can't base your life just on your personal experience. And how would you educate your child? Which life examples are you going to tell him about? From whose life? From yours? But you haven't seen much besides the constant booze. Would you explain how man should drink or how you made the guard drunken in the troop train? - Yurka obviously had a philosophical mood.

- Yura, don't stamp the lad's brain, - I interrupted him. - At least he won't get a schizophrenia.

- But why is that?

- When I was a cadet I had a girlfriend, medical student. So she told me once that on a psychiatry lecture they were told that if a person does not read books, it is very unlikely that he would ever suffer from schizophrenia. Because when you read a book you feel in your mind everything what the characters do and press everything inside your soul. By this way the book character's personality makes the frames on your one and then you get your personality also deformed. Then something else happens. But I can't remember because there were lots of medical terms in her explanation, I've remembered only this thing.

- Hmmm, you're right, you know. Pashka would not suffer from schizophrenia for certain. But definitely from the alcohol poisoning! - Yura made a resume.

- If, while we're absent, they'll dispense the humane aid, then you will come to the brigade's polit-officer, lieutenant colonel Kazartsev and tell him we sent you. Then you will pick up the aid for yourself and us. If we come back and you, scoundrel, have drunk our beer, it will be better for you to hang yourself. You know our sizes. I'll write them down, just in case. The main point is that he should give a lot of cigarettes. If he forgets, remind him that he promised us the cigarettes. Got it?

- Yep. How many cigarettes?

- I don't know, but we hope a lot. Don't worry, we share them. Have we ever deprived you of anything?

- Nope, never. The other staff officers hide their things, but not you.

- So, you see. We're struggling to feed you, give you something to drink and smoke, and you, shithead, don't even wanna wash our socks! - Yura began the old talk again.

- I'm not gonna wash your socks! - Pashka exploded.

- Don't yell at officers or your pretty face might be messed up. - Yurka said. - We'll pop out for a leaking, and you clean up in here, will ya, and think about the socks. Air the box van so that we could get some slumber. I can't see the palm of my hand.

- I'm not going to wash your socks! - Pashka quietly but obstinately said gnashing his teeth.

- Why are you winding him up? - I asked Yura, lighting up and standing next to him when we were aside from the truck.

- Bored, - Yura simply said.

- No, it seems something is eating you inside.

- Nothing is eating me inside. I've been thinking hard about your foolish questions all the evening. What's Motherland?

- Oh, so you've got it now too. So what is Motherland?

- To hell!

- No, don't send me to hell. Answer the question about Motherland.

- You should've asked me about the sense of life also.

- No, Yura, nobody knows that for sure, but you should answer about Motherland.

- Slava, you're right about one thing. Motherland and government are two totally incompatible things.

- Motherland and state, - I corrected Yura.

- Yeah, it's good, when your country of your domicile is of the only one culture, like Israel, for example.

- But there are lots in the States, it's like a Babylon. And they all understand each other. And state Texas isn't going to secede from the USA. Why? Because they've got enough jobs. If you're not an idler, you can live there like a human being.

- That's right. And in our state everything is set upside down.

- OK, it's enough of philosophizing. We'll figure out no any hell thing and won't get our way somehow. And Pashka's mood due to our socks is bad and for rather long time.

- Yeah, precisely. Let's launch? - Yura pulled a few paraflares out from his pocket.

- Let's do it! - I took a few ones from him.

Having walked some distance away from each other, we lifted up the rockets and fired them, pulling out the trigger cords. Two loud claps resounded almost simultaneously and the rockets hissing loudly raced into the dark height. Over there, in the height, they fired crackling their lights and started down to earth. The sentries also periodically launched the paraflares, thus everything around there was illuminated by the dead artificial light. All things made unusual, oddly broken shadows. When you fire those rockets the feeling is like a New Year's at home. Every time, on the New Year's eve, I brought home some of these lighting rockets from the garrison and after the midnight all our family came outside and launched them. We were so happy, I and my son. The same feeling of happiness for some reason seized me right at that moment. I chucked off the empty shell and picked up another rocket, without waiting for yokemate I launched it again. The heavy smell of the burnt gunpowder hung in the air. Yura was not slow also.

- Let's go sleeping? - I asked after our last flare faded.

- Let's have the last cigarette and go, - yokemate said back.

We lit up. Kept silence for a while.

- You think they'll send us together? - Yura broke up the silence.

- Don't know. May be, but may be not.

- They might stick us into the second battalion until they find a replacement for their executive officer.

- They've got plenty of clear compony's chiefs. 've we nobody in the brigade who wanna be an executive officer?

- There are lots of wishing ones, but little of them experienced the work at HQ.

- D'you think they would offer you to lead the HQ for a while?

- That's possible. They'll not appoint you. You're officer for co-ordination

- We'll see what we shall see.

- Imagine, just now the men in the battalions are to prepare the tech, instruct the men, define the order of the convoy. The ammos, the men. It's a great luck that the commanding posts are in the past. Nothing is worse than a position of the company's commander. He is racing as a dog.

- Exactly. There is a good anecdote on this theme, but with a naval background. An old submarine's commander is invited to visit the main office of the fleet, and they tell him: "We're planning to make the new privileges for the crewmembers. What do you think about that?" The commander is the old, top-experienced old salt: "I'm thinking OK about that". The staff officer: "We want to upgrade the salary scale, more flats should be offered to the officers, the places on the group tours to the health-resorts. We're thinking the staff ashore will burst from envying, when they get any information about that. What do you think?" Commander: "Precisely. But when the first one will be burst ready, please set me on his position!" The same thing is about us. Any priviliges, promised to the company's, platoon's ones, any praises, sung to them, mean the same hell rule - keep aside from these coommand posts.

- Let's go to sleep, the day will be hard.

- Yes. I wonder if we could ever have a real good sleep. Slava, d'you know that you're a splendid parasite?

- Why d'you say so at all?

- As you ask your stupid questions. Motherland, not Motherland. The state, the country. Ugh. My brain is totaly racked.

- On the other hand, I've got much better feeling. I have spoken out and it seems be a bit better. Let the others also suffer a bit.

- That is right my thought: you're a parasite.

- Don't torment yourself. Selfhurting has brought no any use for anybody. Forget it for now. If we get out of here, we can speak of this. The nearist days allow us no any possibility to think. It's better our reflexes work well.

- That's correct, let the nervous system function better. I'm only sorry for the boyos. Many of them will stay here for ever.

- "Nineteen-year ones for ever", as Baklanov (1923-2009, a Russian writer - O.B.A.) wrote.

- It's enough, you're going off the track again. Let's go to sleep.

We came up to our truck, threw out the cigarettes butts and entered inside. Pashka had already tidied up inside while we were absent and was lying in the bed.

- Shouldn't you be on the guard for tonight?

- No. My turn comes tomorrow and in the daytime.

- You're loafer. And who will guard my sleeping?

- It's your sleeping, so you should guard it.

- You're rude again. I should make you dig the trench for the shooting from a position standing on the horse.

- For shooting from a position standing on the horse?

- Namely, as I see you've too brisk tongue.

- And what is the height of the horse?

- Three meters.

- There are no such horses.

- There are. Have you seen the monument to Yuri Dolgorukiy (the Russian prince, 1099-1157, who had founded Moscow in 1147 - O.B.A.) in Moscow? So, you shall dig the trench for his horse and for himself also, if you are rude once more. Have you got it, booby?

- I got, yeah, - Pashka grumbled, turning away from us. He realized that if he bothered us badly, then we could make a lot of things.

It was already not the first time that we took off only the boots and socks, slackened the belts on the trousers. My subgun was at the trestle-bed's foot, Yurka's one was hanging on the nail, above the head. A couple of grenades are under mattress, atop. The trophy pistol noiseless is under the mattress, on the level of the thighs, one round is in chamber and secured by the safety device. Now I can dive into the short drowsiness. It's a pity that I was not able to get drunken. Yurka, scoundrel, interrupted it. I'll remind him about that tomorrow. The lamp lightening our room was hanging over my bed. I screwed it out a bit and everything plunged into the darkness. For the farewell I announced:

- Beat retreat for comms-unit.

One more long day of the routine war was over. God, Fate and Chance had allowed me to stay alive. Assist me later on also. All the life lived through meant nothing, the suicidal storm of Minutka faced us. Lord, help us! I fell asleep after that mental appealing to God.

Chapter 8

Alarm-clock rang at seven o'clock. The night was silent. Nobody tried to attack us. I slept calm, as a log. There were no dreams. There was on the other hand a strangeful feeling that one-two hundred of pioneers (author jokes meaning the teenagers from the time of the USSR who had to be members of the Soviet organistion for teenagers in the USSR and were named pioneers - O.B.A.) had pissed in my mouth. The throat was dry - all the same alcohol produced some effect on the body, pity that the brain was nevertheless clear. I'd like to drink some juce of the salty cucumbers. Heh, the day-dreams. I stood up and dressed. Yurka and I went outside. It was again foggy. So then the weather would be good. I powerfully waved with my hands few times, the blood jollily ran through the veins and arteries. We washed us up and made a smoking pause. Pashka, having got up earlier than we did, cooked the breakfast meantime.

- What have you, sonny, cooked for the fathers? - Yura asked as we entered the box van.

- Coffee, open sandwiches with cheese and the "common grave" - sprats in the tomato soace, garlic, onion, - Pasha answered.

- Why couldn't we overturn inside us a nip? - Yura asked.

- Let's get about fifty grams, - I was not against the idea, although I very rarely drank in the mornings.

- Vodka, cognac?

- Well, "conin", vodka in the early morning would be a vulgarity.

- Pashka, take "conin". Preferably the French one, brand, of the twenty-year endurance, form the South of France. Do we have such one?

- We have the one from Dagestan, sir, - Pasha answered Yura according to his tone.

- That's a bullshit, of course. But having no oficial stamped paper, a man can also write on the usual one. So, we have to choke with the dagestan one, endured with the bugs. Pashka, if you find the French one, I'll forgive you everything. You may even sell Motherland. I'll forgive you everything! - Yurka had a good mood.

Pashka dove into the box meanwhile, the one where at the food and drink were kept, and took a bottle of cognac from it, uncorked it and poured out into the glasses. As we wanted to drink, the knocking on the door resounded and it was open. Our neighbor - brigade's polit-officer Kazartsev Sereoga was standing on the porch. He began shouting straight from the porch in jest:

- Are you, devils, bullshitting? Guzzling cognac with glasses in the early morning. And driving this juvenile criminal to drink! Move aside! Hey, you have fed up a gross ass. Lieutenant colonel has smaller one however. You must be trained. And best of all - be sent to some battalion, there is a lack of men. You'll instantly get skinny, - Sereoga perched himself next to Pashka, took his glass and smelt it.

- Such scoundrels, 're drinking an'not inviting polit-officer at all. That's an outrage. I've to report com-brig - the stuffies're drinking in the early mornings. An'the main thing - what's the drink - cognac. And yesterday they extorted from me cigarettes. The price for your conscience is not more than a coin.

- Will'ya drink endly? Or you wanna depress our mood in the early morning? - I wanted to topple the galss and the polit-officer was chattering near the elbow.

- You've such a flair, Sereoga! - Yurka did not hide his admiration. - Neither earlier, nor later, but exactly at the moment when we poured out, you pop in on.

- He was standing near the door and overhearing for certain.

- Will'ya drink?

- By all means! - Sereoga looked once more in the glass taken from Pashka. - You're too young, alcoholic. What are we about to drink to, man?

- To the fortune. We'll need it in the nearest time, - Yurka was serious.

- All right, to the fortune, - Sereoga also turned to be serious.

We drank. There was not much cognac poured out. Pashka had no his helping of alcohol and therefore was enviously looking at us. We began biting.

- There was a decision made by night to send some of the commanders and staff officers to the battalions, - Sereoga told chewing the open sandwich.

- What the hell for?! - my reaction was instant and sincere. - We'll only hinder the work. The commander of the company and of the battalion will not be able to lead, command fully fledged. We would be as a ballast hanging about his CC. As spokes in the wheels.

- Indeed, Sergey, what the hell for should we hang about there? - Yurka was also wondered.

- Hell knows, men, what do they plan over there, but it was an order from the "North". By the way ours have taken Khankala last night, therefore the main office moves to there.

- And what is the sense? The planes would not land there in any case, would they? Only the "spinners" (the analogue of the Russian slang word for helicopter, like "chopper", - O.B.A.). They should replough all on the "North", the planes, which have stayed over there should be either moved on the Large land or destroyed and nobody will get any head ache. Otherwise they should send the whole regiment to guard the airport, as well as take extra the whole regiment from the front line and throw to guard Khankala! Senility! - I sincerely was not able to understand the sense of all those movements.

- And what is Khankala? - Pashka edged his way in the conversation. - I've heard much, but what is that?

- Khankala is, - Sereoga began by the old polit-offier's habit answering all the soldiers' questions. - former airport of DOSAAF (abbreviation form the Soviet time meaning the voluntary sosiety for supporting of the army, air force and navy - O.B.A.), there are the training planes of the Czechien production concentrated. Duda (Dudaev - O.B.A.) tried to remake them into the fighting ones but had no time. According to the rumours and the informatinos of the reconnaissance...

- These are the same things, - Yura interrupted.

- Precisely, - Sereoga continued, - he was still able to remake some planes into the fighting ones and move somewhere. There are the rockets' launching installations near Khankala. In the former times there were the strategical rockets located over there. And when they pressed us out of there, maybe ours could have left a couple of the warheads with the charges there. I now already would not wonder about anything. Plus there are the buildings in Khankala. We'll go soon to take the humany, so we'll see the new command center of the commander-in-chief.

- Sereoga, let's forget to hell about that Khankala, tell us better what the hell should we be sent to the battalions. As the fighting individuals we bring zero effect. They do not appoint us on a platoon or company. And we've already overstepped these levels. What is the sense?

- Don't know. The order of Rolin. The managers and staffies mostly must be sent to the front line.

- All right, we can make some result, but what can make supplies deputy? - Yurka was already boiling over with the rage.

- Don't shit me the brain, men. The order is the order. All of us are to be attached to the second battalion.

- All together? That's good.

- Have you asked to be with us?

- Yes, I myself.

- What for?

- Don't you wanna give us the smokes?

- It would be better with you, bullies, than with some nit.

- Aha, Sereoga, you've recognized our merits!

- Although you're dupes - Pashka, close the ears - you would not flee, would leave neither me, nor the men. And you would not senselessly jump into the fire.

- Correct. Into the fire - we'll send you into there. The second nip?

- OK, and let's go to the HQ to the briefing. The storm is assigned for today, at midday.

- Fucking fiasco! - I was shocked.

- Are they in the "North" absolutely fucking mad? - Yurka turned red with the spite.

- Fucking end of the brigade! - Pashka expressed the common mind.

- Shut up, fool, don't put the evel eye on us! You'd better pour out and while we're at the briefing fill the flasks with cognac and vodka. One flask - with spirit. You know yourself where the bottle is hidden. And say nobody any word about the things you've heard here. Have you got it? - Yurka was already even not speaking but shouting. Spite, fear and feebleness - these things could have been read on his face.

- Well, I've got it, got it, don't you shout, - Pashka muttered in turn.

We lit up. We had no any wish to say anything, had to get and run in the situation. Pashka meantime poured out cognac for everybody and after the motion of Sereoga himself also.

- Go ahead?

- Sure.

We drank and started chewing the "common grave". Nobody uttered any word again. I looked at the watch, it was 07.40.

- Let's go?

- Let's go. God save us! - Yurka crossed himself.

And we went outside taking the jackets and the weapons and went to the HQ. There were already the staff officers waiting for all other ones gathering to enter the hall for the briefings. The news, that almost all the officers of the brigade's HQ will be distributed and attached to the battalions and particular companies, has already reached everybody. From a few dialogues we could see that nobody realized his position in that situation. And it was not about any cowardice, but about the status of any battalion officer's post to be lower than the brigade HQ officer anyway. Therefore the status of us was two-fold. On one hand, commander of the battalion and his executive officer had to be absolute subordinates to us as the mediators, superviserd from the brigade's HQ. But we had no any wish to replace the commanders, to humiliate their authority in the eyes of the direct reports. On the other hand, we also could not submit to them according to our status, and so that gave us a result when we were of the same practical use in these units like a stop-shield for a hare.

I searched for the commander of the second battalion. The legends were spoken about him. They told that he, being on the armor on the way, had brought with his hands mechanic-driver and commander of the knocked out APC away from under the fire. That he contacted by radio to the Chechens and invited them on duel. When it had happened, and they used the subguns for it, the spooks felt respect to him. He was able to pierce the enemy's shoulder with the first bullet form a distance of fifty meters and he did not finish him off. The spook made a blunder. He fought for his soldiers as if they were his own children. He made arrangements with spooks by radio, aiming that they would let him a possibiblity to take off the wounded ones. The first time they did let him do it, but the second time they shot the MTLAU with the wounded ones. Six soldiers and an officer died at that time. Since that time he had not contacted the spooks about any offers to make a duel any more, but he did send the soldiers and they slaughtered the intoxicated with the drugs spooks during the night darkness. He was not afraid of a bullet and he bypassed, bycrawled, somewhere on the belly, somewhere on the knees, all the positions of his responsibility, and watched every his fighter. He was not squeamish about speaking, joking and drinking sometimes a hundred grams with the soldiers. He did not fraternize with the soldiers, but everybody knew that he sadly bore any death of evry one of them, that he did not want to build his officer's career on the soldiers' bones. He was not afraid to state his personal mind. And the mind was not based on any personal ambitions or offenses, but on the situation and real life. Maybe that's why being forty two years old, having academy behind him, he stayed nevertheless on the level of the battalion commander. He was very colorful personality. His height of about meter eighty five, the weight of about hundred fifty kilograms, and the wight of no any fat, but the weight of flesh and muscles. A faceted glass was absolutely hidden in his palm. He was full of energy and power. To work did mean for him to work, to fight did mean to fight. Both my fate and decision of my commanders sent me together with him and his men to storm Minutka. But the only problem was that he got thoroughly stuck before that hotel "Caucasus". It sucked out so much his blood.

I saw the commander of the second battalion and came up to him:

- Hi, Alexander Petrovich,

- Hello, Vyacheslav Nikolaievich.

- Have you already heard about the venture with the staffies?

- I have, ugh! - With that spit he very colorfully expressed his mind about the happening and about the initiative. - It turns out that they do not believe me. Is that so?

- 've no fucking idea, Petrovich, what're the card plays they're performing. I do not like this playing at all. You certainly know that I am to be attached to you.

- I've heard. And Yurka, and polit-officer also. And what is the politician for? As in thirty seventh year - the special council of the "three"! (The Great Purge, 1936-1938, in the year 1937 Stalin had organized in the Soviet Union the repressions against the ruling staffs in the Soviet Union and the illegal councils of three persons produced a lot of mortal and other sentences against the officers and local civil leaders - O.B.A.) Who will execute the sentence?

- Don't talk any nonsense.

- Slava, I may talk any nonsense, as actually I have no any executive officer. I can not set on that post any company's commander, as the companies would lose leadership, they have no any substitution, the platoons commanders are also knocked out. I spent all the night making that fucking hotel over to the next unit, - com-batt was already not speaking but snarling, boiling. - And now I've got your fantasies. Realize the situatioin, my dear man, I've nothing against you and Yuri, polit-offiser seems also to be not a bad man, but what is all this show for? Don't you belive me?

- Get out, Petrovich, - with your "don't belive me". I was sleeping as a bear and had got also a hook. I've the same mind as you. I'll make no any problem for you at all. Command you so, as experience advises you, you're not a boy already. I'll assist you about anything possible. When you go to the battalion, if they don't send us any fresh idea, take my yokemate and me with you.

- All right. Be only reachable. Take no much vodka, I've enough of this thing, but take the smoks - it's a difficulty. There's also enough food.

At that moment all the ones around went to the main shed. There were already com-brig, San Sanych and our general waiting for us. All the circumstances proved our destiny to be the same, as the one of the general by our brigade, - we should sit and observe.

- Comrades officers, - com-brig began, - we've got the order to start the operation today at 12.00. We've got also the order to attach the officers of the brigade's direction and my deputies to every battalion as well as to particular companies. That thing can provide the breakless co-operating.

The noise arose in the hall.

- Quiet, comrades officers, I can understand your indignation, but nobody is going to replace anybody, and especially it is absolutely no any matter of any distrust. And now the executive officer is reading who concrete will be attached to wich battalion.

Bilich stood up and quickly announced the list. Everything turned out just as Kazartsev had told us, all three of us were sent to the second battalion.

- What is the plan of the attack? - commander of the tank battalion Mazur asked.

- Did we have any plan when we were entering the city?

- No, we did not.

- Now the same we have no any. The first target is the State bank. The second one is the Palace of Dudaev. The others come depending on the circumstances.

The noise arose in the hall again. Everybody was discussing this turn of the matter only with the foul words.

- The first in the attacking are the tankees together with the second battalion, they are to be covered and assisted with the fire by the first and the third battalions. Any questions?

But nobody asked any questions realizing that there would be no any intelligible response to any of them. Slowly everybody went outside. Realizing that I was useless there, I went outside, Yurka followed me. Brigade's polit-officer and second battalion's commander stayed by the com-brig. We lit up.

- So, what are you thinking about that thing? - Yura asked me, lighting up too.

- I'm thinking of nothing. It's better to think of nothing. Let's go to pack the things.

We were gathering the necessary things and drinking to the end the cognac remained after the brekfast during the next hour. After that the second battalion's comm-batt dropped in and we set off ahead. We came in about twenty minutes and our convoy instantly went to the direction of the Minutka. The next units, being already informed about our "glorious" mission, were seeing us off shouting something approving. We were surprised by no any ambush or shooting on the way to the Minutka.

We stopped in four blocks before the ill-starred square and com-batt had collected all the officers for the conference. He briefly pictured the things, which we had been already aware of. He introduced us as the officers for co-operation with the brigade's HQ, added that the brigade's polit-officer would join a bit later, also for the assistence. We were acquainted with many officers. Three of the four companies commanders were the regular officers, and the fourth one was recently appointed instead of the killed Sereoga Maksimenko. But he behaved himself already confidently, as the equal among the equal ones. There was the crash of the airforce attack and of the artillery run being heard from the direction of Minutka. The clanging and crashing were resounding behind us. The column of the tanks battalion appeared in a couple of minutes. Sereoga Mazur was sitting on the turret of the third vehicle, shining with the whites of the eyes and showing the whiteness of the teeth. He stopped the column and leapt down to us.

- Good-oh!

- Good-oh, haven't seen you for a long time, not longer than since an hour. Ready?

- Ready for what?

- For your "merry-go-round". 've already heard. That was useful idea, hopefully the use will be resulted.

- We'll see. When are we starting?

- In about fifteen minutes the airforces fly back and the artillery run dies down, after that our turn comes.

- We have to keep a pause of about five minutes to be sure.

- By all means, they will probably miss the spooks, but they will hit the very best our troops.

- Precisely, that has already happened not the only time. Who is going as the first one?

- You can send your tankees.

- Would you go to hell, wouldn't you? When we entered the city the infantry was chickening out, and I threw my guys against the antitank gunners. That's why let's go together.

- OK, let's go together.

- But my tanks will not go over the bridge, there will be certainly the army of the antitank gunners. I'll assist to saddle the bridge and cross over it, will assist on the other side with the fire, and after that make the hopes on your infantry fortune.

- That's always the same.

- Don't growl, grandad. Pour out, otherwise I'm leaving now.

- Man, you come, produce boorishness and demand pouring out yet. Haven't you any, are you craving for freebie?

- I've some, but too far away.

- OK. Sashka, - the infantry com-batt called for his mechanic-driver, - bring the bite and a bottle of the "crystal" (high-quality Russian vodka brand - O.B.A.).

- Hey, you have a top life style - the moscow vodka for drinking, - we were sincerely surprised.

- That's from my home stores, I'm keeping it for the special cases.

We shared a bottle of vodka among all the officers including companies' commanders, drank and gobbled some frozen canned beef directly from the can. During that drink our artillery finished pounding, the roar of bombers ceased two minutes later. The silence fell down, it was interrupted only by some occasional subguns and machine guns bursts.

- Comrade lieutenant-colonel! - A fighter emerged from the com-batt's APC. - Order from the "twenty second" (it was the brigade commander's call sign): "555".

- Send him: understood and execute, - combatt shouted and ran to his vehicle.

We followed him. The tanks crews and the second battalion companies' officers rushed to their vehicles also, and they set off. In a block distance before Minutka our recons stopped us and told that they succeeded pushing the spooks out from the bridge on our side, but the Chechens lay on the bridge and on the other riverside. It seemed like the bridge was not mined, but they would not bet on it. The infantry landed down from the vehicles and was waiting for a command hiding behind the armors and ruins. Tankees had arrived. It was agreed that "makhra" would go ahead with "boxes" following fifty meters behind.

Com-batt was in the head of his advancing unit together with the first company, breaking all the military regulations of any army about staying behind during attack. Yura and I had no choice but to go with him. Hiding behind the ruins, we reached the bridge making the short rushes. The recons were repulsing the violent onslaught of the spooks wishing to assault the bridge back. The fortifications made of the concrete fragments had been erected from about middle of the bridge. The spooks were heavily barraging our bank with lead hiding themselves behind the fortifications and not allowing us to raise a head up. Chechen mortar-bombers started plastering us with bombs. Meanwhile they made pot-shooting, the bombs were dropping into the river, but every time they dropped closer. In some minutes the first bombs reached our riverside. In addition spooks began shooting with the underbarrel grenade launchers. The crash was unbearable. The bellowing of mortar bombs was amplifying, the bullets and the frags were constantly knocking on concrete blocks, which served us as a shield. We got the first casualties.

In the first company, where at we were situated, a bomb exploded close to us, and a large fragment of it tore off a half of one soldier's head. The body was lying belly down, a half of the neck was torn off and another half bent to the right under the weight of the head. The blood was gushing from the broken throat staining the wall brown. Another soldier crawled up not to render the first aid, but to take off the personal number from the broken neck and to pull out the documents from the inner pocket. When this fighter turned the deceased on the back, the dead man's hands convulsively twitched and clasped the subgun, which had absolutely belonged to him just a second before. As if he did not want to lose it. Having looked at that scene sidelong, we switched our attention back to the spooks. They accumulated the forces on their riverside, an APC arrived too. We heard the familiar clanging and din behind our backs. Ours. The tankees. They could have come earlier.

The head tank made a shot, but this first one was without good aiming, the projectile flew above the spooks heads and exploded somewhere far away behind them. The second shot came closer, it scattered a crowd of spooks with its frags. Several bodies remained still on the pavement, few more were screaming and squirming over there. The mortar bombing ceased, the subguns fire calmed down. Com-batt ordered:

- Second company! Launchers on guard! Fire! First and third companies onwards! - He jumped out as the first one and, rousing the other men to follow him, ran ahead being bent almost to the ground.

The men followed him, some screaming and others cursing, we also ran in the common streaming. Grenades from the underbarrel launchers were rustling above our heads. The frags of the exploding grenades flicked and banged at the bridge and the other riverside. The tank cannons were resonantly talking behind our backs, explosions of their projectiles dispersed, dispelled the infantry on the opposite bank. The infantry crawled away from the bridge and hid behind a burned tank. The mortar bombing resumed. The howling of the bombs affected on the nervs even worse than the explosions. The air around seemed be vibrating, tightening, beating at the eardrums being already callous from explosions. The will was being actually paralyzed. The howling was such one and the feeling was such one, as if that bomb would fall down on you from the height of twenty meters and, having banged on your body, would tear you into many hundreds of pieces and scatter them around. But you slowly switch on your will-power and force yourself to open the eyes and to face the reality.

The second company pulled closer to us, they reported us by radio that the first and the third battalions had arrived and were ready to support us with the fire during assaulting of the bridge. A minute later, the APCs' cannons of the two fresh battalions joined in the chorus of the tanks cannons shooting and subguns cracking. The subguns' voices of the first battalion sounded like dogs' barking, accompanied by more solid large caliber shots of the third one.

The spooks almost stopped up. The opposite bank was covered with the shells' and grenades' explosions. It seamed you could seize the air with your hands, the teeth were grinding dust, the throat was tickling from the burned trinitrotoluene and some other muck in the air. The eyes were watering, the shock, the fear began to go past after the first minutes of the combat. The blood was pounding in my temples, the sweat was dropping from under the skull cap. It was too warm. I unbuttoned my jacket and weakened the buckle of the armor vest. Then I rolled over onto my back, fished out a pack of cigarettes, matches and lit up the cigarette. Yurka, lying next to me, reached out his hand asking with a motion for a smoke. I gave him one. Any talking during that hellish roar was absolutely impossible.

I inhaled the cigarette smoke and felt almost no any taste. Only bitterness. The bitterness mixed from gunpowder gases and nicotine. My experience told me that in five-ten minutes this cacophony would end up and we would have to run, crawl over that bridge. I do not want to! I wanna lie down staring into the sky. The confused scraps of some prayer appeared in my mind. I was not able to remember it. The main thing - onwards and survive. Following our com-batt's order, the fire was shifted deeper. The APCs died down to avoid hitting us. Com-batt shouted:

- Onwards! Hur-r-rah!

The men were jumping out from their hiding places and running forwards, some of them crwaling, the others at all their height. I ran too. The spooks started shooting having seen our attack. Someone shouted screaming on my right. Ahead of me a soldier stumbled on an invisible obstacle and was thrown back with his arms spread wide. His subgun fell under my feet, I stepped on it and almost slipped.

I glanced in passing at the body. The groin was ripped up. The trousers swelled with the blood, the open eyes were looking in the sky without blinking. "Cooked" - a thought flew in my mind. I felt horror. And again I tasted, not a first time at all, a flavour of blood in my mouth. Dreadful, very dreadful. My legs changed to be padding weak. I screamed and it was something unarticulated. Yelling, screaming from horror. Lord, help, help me survive.

We have now to run a bit to reach the bridge. Here it is, blocked up with the fragments of concrete, bricks, wrapped with the barbed wire. About thirty men ahead of us get out on the bridge. The other side opened up with the stormy barraging again. First ten men fell down, two of them were moving yet, trying to crawl back. The rest rushed back and hid behind the ruins of the former spooks' blockpost.

I flopped down too and crept behind a piece of concrete, stuck out my subgun and gave a short burst in the direction of the spooks' bank. I looked back. All other officers were slightly behind. I was the forward officer. That meant I was a leader there.

Trying to shout down the uproar of the battle, I yelled that someone should drag the wounded ones back from the bridge. The fighters ahead motioned showing that they understood. Two of them crawled forwards and the rest opened fire trying to cover them. Seeing that the help was coming, the wounded ones tried to crawl in our direction, but they were not able to move well. Com-batt crawled up from behind and wheezed just at my ear,

- You are a good racer, Slava.

- I race backwrds even faster, - I answered.

- It's jollier here than it had been in the "North", yeah?

- Exactly. I wish only not to let them blow up the bridge.

- Therefore, Slavyan, we need to assault it earlier, - and com-batt shouted again: - Onwards! Onwards, guys!

And again the men moved getting out of their sheltering holes and rushed forwards facing the flying death. Com-batt himself jumped out from behind of a concrete slab and ran forwards, I followed him. The first ones got on the bridge again. The ones, who were crawling up to aid the wounded ones, rose and joined the others.

I get now also on the bridge. The whistling and crash around. The spooks shifted the mortar fire on the bridge. Crash. I am falling down. Sitting up. Examine myself. Everything seems be OK, except I can't hear anything. I slap one ear, then the other one with open palm as if knocking the water out. It doesn't help. The deaf curtain cuts me off from the surrounding world. I got it at last - a shell-shock. An air wave whipped my eardrums and popped them in the wrong side. Nothing terrible. It will pass over. I am looking where the bomb has exploded. I remember the four fighters running ahead of me. Where are they? Right there. The four fighters bodies broken off are lying across the bridge. Apparently, they had got all the frags. I had got no one. For that moment. My stomach is being turned rumbling and I am vomiting, maybe from the concussion, maybe from the view of the intestines or maybe from the fact that the death is so close by and from horror. The vomiting was for a long time and complete - upside down, the gall went out. I spat. Surprisingly, the deafness partly went past with that vomiting. I began to hear the sounds.

The men were running by me. Some fell down and already moved no more, and I was sitting like a fool by the puddle of my own puke and was feeling good. Alive!!! Alive!!! I had bitter taste in my mouth. Was thirsty. I found my flask and made a deep swallow. And immediately spat it out. Pashka had filled it with cognac. I exhaled, my lungs absolutely empty, and made a sip. The head was slowly clearing. All right, I must make off from here. But to leave the battle field with a tiny concussion would not be serious. I looked again at the remains of the fighters, who had gotten my frags.

Forwards, forwards. The thoughts were still mixing up. They were appearing as if forcing through a thick cotton veil. I started standing up. Reeling. I was scarcely able to hold myself on the feet. Everything's fine. It goes past in an hour, hour and a half. Not the first concussion. You cure it with shameless vodka drinking. Everything'll be all right. Onwards! I stubbornly made several steps, stopped and looked around. Soldiers were lying down ahead of me, in the middle of the bridge. Like a Chinese scarecrow, I was standing behind them and swaying. Surprisingly I still had not been shot, the thought flew through my mind. I was able to find somehow at once a position how I could hold the upright state without problem, and then I ran towards ours on the half-bent, still infirm legs. Forwards, onwards.

About ten meters before them I flopped down on the belly and crawled. After reaching ours, I leant against a concrete fragment. The fighters, lying a bit ahead of me, looked back and shouted something, but my brains refused to comprehend yet, therefore I was not able to catch what was it about. Judging from their approving and encouraging gestures, it was about something good. They figured out that my hearing was impaired and lifted their thumbs upwards. I nodded my head agreeingly.

- I'm not wounded, I've got just a concussion, - I yelled back.

The tankees began shooting above our heads. The hostile fire faded and we went forwards again. At that time I was trudging myself along somewhere in the middle. I was afraid of firing because I could hurt ours. The soldiers of the first battalion following us had already entered the bridge. We were able to go through all the bridge at last. From now on, the main task was to hold it. I looked back. With the mortar bombing, the spooks forced the first battalion to step back. And only our, second battalion was at that moment on the hostile bank. The bridge was covered with dead bodies, approximate estimation gave a figure of not less than fifty ones. Fifty died ones for hundred and fifty meters of the bridge. Terrible maths. The first battalion compamies took the wounded with them.

The spooks continued pounding of the bridge and, at the same time, started to shoot at us. They released a smoke-screen, which was an exact sign they would attack. The com-batt's order was spread by a chain: "Get the launchers ready. Fire!" We started shooting with the launchers at the swelling black cloud. The fighters, who did not have the underbarrel launchers, shot with their subguns in long bursts at the smoke. We heard the screaming of the wounded ones coming from the cloud, as well as from our side. There was the tracks clanging heard from the smoke cloud. Was it a tank or an APC? It began to pound our thin positions. The random stones and concrete walls fragments provided fucking bad cover from the shells.

The whailing of our planes resounded from above and the air-bombs poured out of the sky. Have you never been under air strike, my reader? No? Thank God.

The bombs, that meant five hundred kilos of metal and explosives in each one, are flying to the ground with terrible howling. The roar of mortar bombs seemed for me to be a sweet serenade at that moment. Aviation bomb's howling paralyzes body with the horror, makes every cell of your body resonate in unison. The thoughts fly away and you are lying just like a piece of flesh, trembling from fear and awaiting for your death. Everything human leaves you. They told that many our soldiers were killed by our own aviation, but I myself had not lain under friendly bombing yet. And that time I experienced that thing.

The first bomb exploded far ahead, apparently, it induced panic among the ranks of the enemy, because their fire from the smoke cloud stopped. The air wave came from the explosion. It covered us with the horrible thunder and hot air. It seemed the crashing air was going to rip off all the uniform from you, break the ribcage, tear the mouth, cheeks. Eardrums would collapse and the blood was already leaking from the ears. A storm of small stones and chippings fell on us. Someone was shouting aside. I looked at there. A soldier was rolling on the ground, squeezing with his hand the eye. The blood was streaming between the fingers. The company's paramedic was already crawling towards him. The soldiers who were next to the wounded grabbed and pressed him to the ground. One gave him a flask with water, another one ripped his jacket to bare a forearm. Then he took a tube-syringe with promedol from his medical kit and made an injection. I did not watch any more. Judging from the noise, the pilots were about preparing for the second strike. And again that horrible sound. That paralyzing any will howling. You can hear as it is increasing and the bomb flyes to the ground. Instinctively, you squeeze yourself into earth and listen the imminent silence. Everybody is waiting where, on whom that death will fall down. Madame Death.

The explosion sounded unexpectedly close by. On the left flank of our battalion. A storm of chippings showered on us again. It was strangeful, but after all these blasts, my hearing restored almost absolutely and I felt myself much better. The world of the sounds burst in my mind. The ringing in my head after the concussion had not passed yet, but it was worthless to pay any tiny attention to it. I looked in the direction of the last bomb's explosion, there was a huge crater yawning of about ten meters in diameter. There were... There were our soldiers bodies parts, who had happened to be near the explosion, scattered around it. Smoke was belching out of the crater and it was acidly stinking of the burnt explosives, scorched meat and burned wool. All these smells provoked vomiting again. The waves of nausea came up and rolled down. I tried to remember how many people had been there, and it turned out at least a platoon and a half. About fifty people. Oh, my God! We had lost already so many people, but had still not fixed our position on that bank! The loud shouts and moans of the wounded were heard on the left flank. I heard com-batt shouting obscenities into a radio set. He was not using any call signs or following no any discipline. He was simply yelling into the microphone:

- Recall planes! Recall planes, sod it! These fags killed half of my battalion! Recall immediately! I cannot hold out with my forces! Why?! Ask those scoundrels who don't give a shit about where they cast their bombs! Thank them. Recall these perverts. Send me support. I'm starting to dig in. The spooks are attacking now. Have you recalled the planes? Good job! Don't know exactly, but I have approximately more than a hundred "twohundredths" and about sixty "threehundredths". What must I do with them?! Give me some help! Both medics and evacuators. Some ones are non-transportable. That's it, spooks are attacking. If no help comes, I'm out of here. Give me support. And not from air, you jerk, but give our support. They promised highly-praised paratroopers and marines would help! Where are those douches? Ask "North" where they are! Ask Khankala. I do domino, fuck off! No time. Come here and you'll see why I've no time for you. Go to hell!!!

The spooks opened again massive dense fire at us and at the bank where ours were. Mortars and APC cannons were hammering again. Their launchers, subguns and machine guns did not idle either. The bullets and frags plunged with nasty noise into asphalt in front of our thin shelter from time to time, and then they started grinding bricks and concrete fragments, behind which we were hiding. Nasty squealing ricochets flew upwards and somewhere aside. The air seemed become hot from the incandescent metal pieces hanging constantly in it. And again the shouts and moaning of the new wounded were heard.

The clanging and clanking of the caterpillars came from behind. We looked back. Two our tanks drove on the end of the bridge and started shooting. The spooks cut their zeal lower and transferred all the fire on them. Now it was our turn. Combat ordered again: "Onwards!" We left our wounded waiting for assistance and rushed forwards. There was so thick smoke on the square that we could not see a thing at all.

We spread in a chain, shooting from hips level at random, sparing no rounds. It was impossible to see anything in ten meters already even with all the straining of the eyes. The eyes were watery from the hanging gunpowder gases. Onwards!!! Only onwards!!! I am yelling together with the others. Some ones were shouting "Hurrah!", the others were shouting "Sluts! Death to sluts!!!", I am simply screaming with my mouth open wide "Aaaaah!" It helps to suppress the horror. Adrenalin is raging again in the blood, I can break the world record in racing. The dagger bursts of the subguns going from behind of the smoke screen meet us. They are shooting the same way as we are doing, long bursts from hips. Apparently, they had deliberately allowed us to come closer. We drop down, lie. It is suicidal to lie on the same place on the open area. I am rolling over. One roll aside, then one more again. Aha, here is a fragment of some wall so nice for my heart, I painfully hit my shoulder on it. All right, an injury is no any wounding, the bruising will pass. I get a place behind that boulder and begin firing back.

The first shock from the spooks' sudden shooting passed and we got in the oncoming combat. The distance between us and the enemy was not more than fifteen meters, but they had unquestionable advantage. They were hidden behind the walls whereas we were with backsides up on the square.

My subgun coldly clicked and stopped shooting. I got it, no more ammunition. At a wrong time as usual. The attached paired magazines were empty too. I raise the muzzle of subgun up and push a grenade into the launcher. It would be better to shoot from the knee, but I have now no choice. I press the trigger with my left hand finger. The cap-detonator explods and grenade flyes towards the enemy. Shot over. No problem, I now correct the aiming. Another grenade goes into the launcher and the trigger is pulled. While the grenade is flying, I swiftly detach the empty clip and push the paired new one in.

The thunder comes from behind. I look back. Fuck a duck! The spooks were able to hit both our tanks. They are engulfed in thick flames. The sound of the cracking cartridges is heard, the shells would explode soon. Precisely. A moment later, the deafening explosion was heard, and another one - the tanks' turrets flew off. Almost synchronously, both of them slowly, very slowly rose up in the air and, turning somersaults, flew in the different directions. The first tank turret fell into the water with a noise, the second one dropped on our riverside. The tanks continued burning. The body of the first one split right in the middle. The cartridges were still exploding in flames.

Rabid from their victory, the spooks switched their attention and at the same time the fire to us. The mortar bombs were gathering their harvest again. The fighters started to dig in under that stormy fire. The ones, who had got the spots with asphalt destroyed by the explosions and tanks' or APCs' tracks, were lucky. There was open mud there, in which "makhor" would dig in up to his eye balls. But our ranks were dwindling. With every second. Many were wounded. The sun could already not break through the dense smoke. I was hoping to hear shooting on the other side of the square. Namely from there, according to the command's project, paratroopers and marines were supposed to begin their attack. But there was no any combat melody heard from there. A pitiful handful, no more than a hundred and fifty people, was fightling the well-sheltered enemy on the open square.

The shouts and cracks of the subguns' bursts were heard from behind again. I turned back and saw the first battalion trying to cross over the bridge. We began shooting with the subguns and launchers at the spooks with the doubled efforts. But the first battalion did not succeed again in attack and rolled back once more.

And our ranks quivered at that moment. The feeling of desperation rolled on us and fell on us. Fear, the black fear smashed with its mass everything human in our souls. The instinct of self-preservation operated. Without any order, we began to retreat. Not to run, but namely to retreat, snapping back with the bursts of subguns and sparse shots with the launchers. Carrying our wounded. Leaving our dead ones. Leaving the died and realizing that if we did not pick them up before the night, then the spooks would come and commit an outrage against them, would cut their bodies. They would cut off their noses, ears, and private parts and would throw them, together with the body remains in Sunzha to feed fish. Forgive us, guys!

We were retreating to our former positions, where at our own aviation had bombed us. Suddenly we heard a shout: "Daddy is wounded!" Everybody turned back and saw com-batt running to a shelter, his left arm dangling like not his own one, like a cable attached to the jacket. And he stumbled, and fell on his bodyside stamping on his left foot. The fighters ran up to him and pulled him out from under the fire hiding in a temporary shelter. The battalion officers began to pull themselves up, crawling and rolling on the ground. I hurried too. I saw Yura on the way. That meant he was alive! I had lost him from my sight during the recent fight. Major Ivan Genrihovich Kugel, a deputy com-batt, ran up as well. The medical orderly was bustling about the com-batt. He tried to tighten the rubber band and apply the bandages to the wounds. The com-batt lost and gained again consciousness at times. His breathing was hard, something was wheezing in his chest impeding breathing. Pale he was, the large drops of unhealthy sweat were constantly rolling down on his face leaving the gray traces on his dusty, dirty skin.

- Why are you here? - Petrovich asked after opening once more his eyes. - Go to work, don't leave the men. Dig in. Fuck off. While I'm lying here, my deputy Kugel substitutes for me. Onwards! Get out! Work, stomachs, work!

He closed his eyes again and passed out once more. We turned to the paramedic:

- How's he? Will he get over?

- The legs arteries are hurt, large blood loss. I don't know, we must bring him to continent.

- Save him! D'you hear? Save com-batt or I'll dig holes into you! - Vanya Kugel yelled at the guy.

- Don't yell at him, Ivan! We must carry him out, - commander of the first company yelled also at Ivan.

- Then take him and break through! Carry out. We'll try to cover you, - Ivan yelled again. - Try, carry Daddy out!

And then he shouted down the roar of the fight:

- Listen to my order! I'm in command while commander is wounded! The first company must break through and carry him out, and we all must cover them! Dig in and fight up to the end! Buzzer! Buzzer, slut, where are you?

- There's no buzzer, he's killed, - one of the soldiers shouted.

- Get tune companies' transmitters on brigade's frequency and tell in five minutes we'll try to carry our com-batt out. Tell them to meet us and cover with fire. Is it clear?! Forwards!!! Forwards!!!

And raced the first company back under the terrible fire, under the fire sweeping away everything, over the easily shot through bridge. They were carrying com-batt with, who was already absolutely unconscious, as well as three other wounded. They could not take any more with them. Only thirty-three men remained from all the company, a bit more than a full platoon.

We were shooting, shooting changing clips when the rounds were at the end. We looked back over the shoulders. Five men from the first company stayed lying still on the bridge adding their bodies to already so many fallen ones. But the outlived, survived, still alive ones were able to reach the middle of the bridge. Just a little bit more, guys, press ahead! The spooks were furiously shooting both at us and at the first company. OK, sluts, I need only enough cartridges, then we'll talk to you a bit longer. Fucking jerks!

My soul calmed down in peace and serenity. It happens when the decision has been made and you realize this is the end. THE END!!! There is only a finish ahead and, unfortunately, no hell depends on you any more. All you have to do is to sell your body and soul as high as possible. I do not want to die, but I have no any cowardice any more. I had just absolute calmness and clear sober head. The thoughts are clear and precise. The reflexes are sharp. Everything happening around me is sharply perceived. So, what the swarthies, shall we combat?! Some kind of passion, fervour came. Who would win. We were the good and they were the bad. Everything was clear and simple, it is a pity that in the normal life you can not make such determination. A good Indian is a dead Indian! I remembered a line from a song: "Yeah, we've got some bints and vodka and tins, and we're full of beans, an'you'll get AKMS dins!" (AKMS - abbreviation for the subgun of Kalashnikov - O.B.A.)

Let's combat, jerks!

Chapter 9

I looked back. Everybody was slowly digging in. Correct. "Makhor" can gnaw at asphalt to hold the position. I did not have a sapper spade, in military language SSS - Small Sapper Spade. I had to get it. A dead fighter was lying in about three meters from me, a spade in a case was attached to his belt on his back. I rolled to him and tried to unfasten the case, it did not work out. A bullet whistled close to me, I instinctively ducked. However it is well known that the bullet, which you can hear, is not yours, a man ducks anyway. I turned with a jerk the body over, unbuckled the clasp on the belly and pulled off the belt, then rolled back to my place. As soon as I had hidden myself behind the saving fragment of the brick masonry, a bullet hit the dead fighter's body and made it as if shudder. They could have hit me, those fucking spooks. I looked at the site, where at I was lying. Asphalt was crashed in many places. I started to scoop its pieces out with a spade putting them in front of me. At some moment there was already earth mixed with chippings. Not paying attention to my hurt bloody fingers, I was continuing digging in. The soil was cold, sometimes there was mud, everything, what I was taking off, was placed in fornt of myself, reinforcing the breastwork. My chest and belly had already been in a small trench. The head and the legs were still on the surface. I was completely muddy, ripped off the skullcap from under the helmet. My head was steaming with sweat. It was hot, very hot.

The clanging and clanking were heard from behind again. I looked back. The tanks had roped the burnt vehicles with wire hawsers and tried to pull them aside. The spooks began again shooting at them with the mortars and grenade launchers above our heads. All of us stopped digging and opened fire at their fortifications. Feeling the horror, I heard again the cold click of my subgun's breech-block. Disaster, full fucking disaster, absolutely no rounds! Only about seven grenades were spared for the launcher. That was all. Kaputt! A flask and a clip bag were dangling on the belt taken off from the dead soldier. I weighted the bag. Wow! Heavy. We'll live for a while then! We can combat. I pulled out three mags and examined them. Full. Three magazines with thirty rounds each one - ninety. Not so many, but it's OK. If you catch neither fish, even worm is a flesh. I loaded the subgun, took an aim, and gave a short burst at a fleeting shadow. The shadow disappeared. Might be hit, might be not. I switched the firing device to the single shots just in case and started digging again.

Suddenly, the piercing screams of the spooks came from ahead. They cannot quietly-calmly talk even in normal life, and in war they can scream so that the ears get blocked. I heard a familiar clang and looked out. A tank and an APC were rolling out. Jollily. Retreating was impossible, as they'd shoot us up in the backs, and we were also not able to attack in the meanwhile. It was not great to wrestle against a tank on the open square. The different weight categories. Ivan Kugel shouted something, but, because of the distance and shooting, I could not hear anything, but the sounds of pounding with the launchers. Eh, but it was unreal task to knock out a tank with a launcher, especially meaning that one, coated in "active" defense shield.

It's a good thing for tanks, the "active" shield. A number of square boxes are laid close next to each other on the body. There is a high-temperature detonating explosive inside of each boxy. When a cumulative projrctile's or a "fly" grenade's scoarching spurt forces to a tank's armor, it meets on the way such an explosive. The latter blasts and breaks the direction of the flaming spurt. The tank remains intact.

That tank, which was slowly moving in our direction, was decorated with those boxes like a Christmas tree with the toys. The jerks had prepared to meet us. A grenade launcher's shot resounded on the left flank. Judging from the sound, I concluded it was "fly". Cumulative grenade quite precisely hit the junction between the body and turret. An explosion thundered. Smoke and flame belched out from the tank. And a deafening explosion came in a half a second. The turret was ripped off and thrown back. It fell on spooks' positions. A wall collapsed in a cloud of dust. The yells were heard. The thick flame was raging in the tank. Ammunition was blasting inside it's belly.

We ourselves exploded with joyful shouts and wails. Aha, sluts, you should have known us better! What a shot! What a great shooter, so well done. I wouldn't spare a Star of Hero for such a shot! Great job!

The spooks' APC rolled back and began shelling us. The projectiles blasted in front of our frotifications, then behind our backs. The frags hit several soldiers, killing mobody, but just wounding. It was our luck, that their spotter was fucking bad. An anti-aircraft cannon, installed on the APC might have broken our fortifications to shreds.

The clanging and clanking resounded again behind our backs. When we looked back, then we saw two our tanks stopped at the beginning of the bridge on our riverside ready to fire at the spooks. The third one was driving to us, on the spooks' bank, disorderly shooting. The infantry was hiding behind it and launching grenades into the enemy above the tank and our heads. Great!

The spooks' APC retreated back farther and farther and disappeared from the view. We tried our best also, barraging the retreating infantry. The guys were in time, absolutely in time.

The tank came closer, stopped and began shooting almost point-blank at the positions of the spooks sitting down before the State bank. Infantry ran from behind it - it turned out to be the first company of the second battalion and partly first battalion coming back. More infantry was running over the bridge, as the appeared reinforcement said us, those were the first and the third battalions. They also told that combat died having never recovered consciousness. But being unconscious he kept shouting out the curses and orders, was tossing, then calmed down and passed away. Not only the fighters, but all the officers were shocked by the news. Alexander Petrovich had embodied himself to be a colossus, something eternal and unshakable. He had been a core of the battalion, and he was not with us anymore. It was hard to believe it had happened. We had used to losing close friends in the war, but him... No, I could not believe that. I did not want to believe.

Our faces were tensed. Petrovich was not only a commander, but, for his soldiers and officers, he was a kind of instructor, older brother, in a word - "Daddy", "Papa". It was pity, sincerely pity.

The arrived brought more ammos. They were quickly distributed and we began loading it into the half-empty clips, grenade bags, letting the "novices" the pleasure of shooting at the spooks' positions and digging trenches for themselves.

The tank had shelled and began backing not turning the turret and another one started from "our" bank firing with its cannon without halting and approached us. Its place was immediately occupied by the third one. Tanks "carousel" was working! The fun was about to begin.

Adrenalin raged in the blood again, the skin was steaming into the air, excitement of the combat totally seized me. I looked at the nearest fighters. The same effect. If only half an hour before, all of us had a thought how to sell our lives for the highest prices, then at that moment everybody seemed to have the same hunter's heat. We changed form the cornered rabbits into the mature wolves. No! Not wolves. Chechens are wolves, they picture a wolf under the moon on their flag, and they call us "dogs". We are "rabid dogs". Dirty wolves, you should have let the sleeping dogs lie! We will tear you apart, sluts! Tear apart for everybody. For Com-batt! For those guys, who had fallen on the bridge and for those who were lying on that shitty square before us. For our horror, for the bombing. For EVERYTHING!

Com-batt of the first battalion took the power. He was talking by radio for long time and then started to make loud orders. The combat's crash did not allow to hear him, therefore his command was conveyed by chain. The order was that after two tanks finish shooting, we would break through. Attacking the State bank. He had also said that on the opposite side of the square marines, paratroopers and additionally "makhra" from St. Petersburg were getting ready to attack. Let's make Stalingrad for the spooks!

Everybody felt jolly. It is much better when a mob together fights, especially when somebody else hits the enemy in the back! We intensified shooting with the small arms. The spooks constantly snapped back. They understood that our attack was imminent. We'd scorched their tank, the APC was a toy against our tanks. Now they were shaking in terror. It was their turn to sweat frightening!

One tank finished, another one went heading on. We saw a fresh inscription on its barrel, "Catch". We laughed with all our hearts about the tankees' joke. Nobody knew how many projectiles the tank had, everybody was counting.

"Ready!" - the command came. We put ourselves together, made the weapons on ready. The pockets were full with the loaded clips, heavy launcher grenades' bag was painfully banging at the leg. The order "Onwards! Storm!" sounded like a song, and with the last shot of the tank we charged from our trenches and ran forwards. Thunder was roaring behind. The bridge was invisible in a dense smoke cloud of shots and exhaust gases. Our tanks and APCs started driving over the bridge. That meant the HQ was also pulling up close to its battalions, which, crowded all together without knowing who and where, were rushing towards the enemy's positions with shouts or whoops.

We were not met with flowers. Again, not for the first time already, the long subguns' bursts were streaming meeting us, again the mortar bombing resumed. However, due to their wrong aiming or maybe due to our quick running, the bombs were casting far behind our backs inflicting upon us no any damage. A machine gun from the covered behind a wall APC was shooting at us. The fighters began to fall, the front ranks backed up, but the rear ones pressed forwards from behind pushing them under the bullets. And we reached our first goal - a barricade of the piled blocks, concrete slabs' fragments and bricks masonries. It was five meters high and fifty meters long. It must have taken a long time to bring all this construction junk here. A solid construction. A direct hit of a tank projectile would not destroy it at the first attempt. But we were infantry! We climbed up those slabs, encircled the structure from the flanks. The firing contact somewhere was so dense that we and spooks were shooting at each other point blank with the long bursts, which were stopped only when a clip was empty or when the owner of the subgun was killed.

I was running, sweat was pouring down with the streams. Right in front of me, in an improvised gun port, a mujahideen appeared, his face distorted from the fear and spite, he showered on us from his subgun. Being still running I raised up my subgun and gave a short burst at him. He noticed the new danger and shifted the fire on me. I quickly ducked, inertia of my running body pushed me on my right side. From this hellishly uncomfortable position, I shot at the spook. Apparently, I got him, since he disappeared and did not show himself up any more. It is a very rare situation in such fight, when you see the face of your enemy. I was able to see him. Hit means dead, fuck him off. The most important was not that, but to survive and take that fucking plaza!

The spooks intensified their fire from behind of that fucking barricade. The attack's tempo slowed down. The mortar bombs and grenades began to explode among us. By radio we demanded the tank's support. They were shooting again with the direct shots above our heads using the high-explosive shells at the spooks' "construction", as well as at the spooks' rear.

The positive thing abou these high-explosive projectiles is they explode not at the moment when they hit a stiff surface, in contrast to the usual frags shells. A high-explosive frags shell "gnaws" using its weight into the ground and explodes in there, inside. When it happens, the frags are not only of the metallic parts of the shell's casing and its "filling", but also of stones and the ground particles, which pierce a body not worse than any frag. These shells are effective to penetrate and to destroy the dug-outs, covered slit trenches, mowing down all alive inside.

We had to step back. The frags and the bricks, chippings fragments were flying to us, gathering their part of death crop for the god of war. Medics carried the wounded and killed ones from the square. Those being next to them helped also to evacuate their comrades.

The spooks, having sheltered themselves behind the wall fragments, were constantly snapping. The "fly" grenades flew to the direction of the infantry and tanks leaving behind the pallid, almost invisible smoke trains. Feeling that we were marking time, the spooks tried to counter attack us. Under the cover of their grenade launchers and mortar cannoners, they charged from their shelters, squeezed out via cracks, slots hammered by our tanks' shells. With the yelping screams "Allah akbar!" they rushed on us. Many ones had green bands on their heads. I was told that those were suicide fighters or something else. I had no chance to ask spooks about it. If I catch one, I will definitely ask, if I am on time, of course.

With these thoughts I rolled to the left and dropped in a tank projectile's little crater on the left. The ground was still slightly warm and with unbearable acid smell - burnt explosives. I rose a bit and made a short burst at the spooks. I revealed myself, so to say, then quickly looked around. The others were also in haste looking for shelters to get ready for the oncoming fight. I looked at the attacking spooks. About two hundred showed up and were trying to attack. About two companies. Not plenty, kids. Not plenty. We would cope with you, whores, soon.

Screaming from horror and frenzy, the spooks were running on us, desperately shooting with subguns, some ones threw grenades. Not allowing them to come closer, we met them with the subguns' fire. A machine gun started talking on the right, another one a second later, then one more, then a couple more. You can hear a special sound of them. The fighters did not keep silence also. Trying to muffle their fear and horror, feeling the fits of rage, they were yelling too in different ways. On the whole these were obscenities, not virtuous, but short like a subgun's burst. Someone on the left flank made a short burst at the enemy after each yell. Apparently, he was enumerating his killed friends.

- For Fyodor! - burst.

- For Vaska! - burst.

- For Pashka! - burst.

- For Senya! - burst.

He had a special account to the spooks. Involuntarily, I adjusted to his curses. When he made a short, two-three bullets, aimed burst, I made it too, when he was quiet, my subgun also was silent. I waited until he shouted the next name and whispered it too. Burst. "For Mishka!" - burst. I am choosing a dark silhouette of a spook hurrying to his death. Pull the trigger. The spook falls as if he had been cut down. I watch whether he is moving. No. Finished. Cooked. A voice's shouting again: "For Sashka!" Repeat the name in a whisper. Choose the next spook. A green band on the forehead. He is shooting with subgun, carefully taking aim. Slut! A fighter screamed on the left.

Breathe in, breathe out, on the half-exhaling stop the breathing and place the aiming slot, foresight and the dark spot of the spook's silhouette on the same line. Beast! He is not standing on one place, but moving. Wounded soldier is moaning on the left. Just a moment, brother, I'll knock down this fag and aid you. Endure a little bit! Aha! Here is this bastard. Not taking already any aim I give a short burst. The spook falls down and is screaming. Wounded. No problem. I'll finish him off later.

Rolling and suppressing my fear I make a couple of short bursts. Here is the fighter. His face is pale, the large drops of sweat are pouring down on it from under his muddy cap. The left shoulder is torn up. The jacket around the wound is wet and swelled with blood. Using his right hand, he is trying to tighten a rubber band to stanch the wound. It does not work. I'm unbuttoning his heavy jacket to expose the wounded shoulder. The fighter makes a wry face from pain and yells right in my ear. I instinctively start back.

- Don't yell, brother! - I'm trying to take off the jacket from him.

He grimaces. He feels bad. Painful. Very painful. He reaches his breast pocket with his right hand, pulles out an individual medical kit and gives it me. I open it. A syringe-tube with anaesthetic is in place. It is good. I put it aside, unsheathed a trophy stiletto and carefully cut his jacket on the shoulder. Wet from blood, fabric and wadding are not easily yielding. Fountains of dust from bullets rose around us and I heard disgusting yelping sounds of ricocheting bullets. Fucking jerks! Didn't they see that I was applying dressing on the wounded?

I left the fighter, rose on my knee and started pouring the approaching spooks. They fell, lay down and shot back. I shouted our fighters lying nearby:

- Men, cover me up! I'll deal with wounded. Then help me to evacuate him.

- All right!

- OK.

- Let's bury the brutes!

And the shooting rose around, I looked at the spooks. They tried to snap back at first, but then did not even dare raise their heads. You earned that, bastards!

I lay near the wounded, turned on my side and continued sawing his bloody jacket. Whenever I press it, the blood pours out, rolls down by the knife, fingers flowing into my sleeve. It seems as if I am cutting no fabric, but a living being and it is heavily bleeding. Too much blood. I have to hurry. I do not want to lose that fighter. He is bravely enduring all pushes.

I cut off the collar, sleeve and a piece of the jacket over the wounded shoulder. Then, working together, not rising from the ground, we take off the remains of the jacket. I make a long cut on the right sleeve of his shirt exposing the skin, take an syringe tube with pain-killer from the kit. Unscrew a cap, puncture small plastics bag with it and stick the needle in the soldier's arm.

- Be patient now, man! I hate injections myself. It'll be better now, - I plung, the liquid comes out from the tube. I pull the needle out and massage his arm. - What's your name?

- Sasha, - the soldier squeezes the word out of him.

- Everything will be all right, Sasha! Everything will be all right. I'll take care of your arm.

He is agreeably nodding his head. The kiddo must feel too bad as it is painful for him even to talk.

- Hold on, brother, It'll be done soon, - I unwind the rubber band and examine the wound. The smashed bones are seen. - Make a deep inhale, I'm tightening the band now.

The wounded fighter obediently inhales and stops the breath. I swiftly throw the rubber band over the base of the neck, pull it under the shoulder, arm and tighten it on the chest. The guy's pupils dilate from pain, but he is only mooing, being afraid of letting air out. I pat on his cheek.

- That's it, sonny. Now breathe. As often and deep as possible, but don't get dizzy. Got it?

- Yes, - he whisperes.

- Don't speak, man. Save your power. Everything will be fine. Now I'm applying bandage and then we'll carry you to the medics, they'll patch you up. Don't be afraid! We'll break through! - I'm yelling all this in his face and encouragingly wink.

My grimace might certainly have terrified a normal person. The mudstained face was smeared with the blood. But the fighter understood me correct and weakly smiled in response.

Meanwhile, I took his subgun and took a personal bandaging bag from the folding butt, tore its rubber package and packing yellow paper, took out a pin, put it nearby. I unwrapped the wadding-gauze tampons from the package and, trying not to touch their inside parts, applied them to the wound. One tampon to the inlet hole, another on the outlet one. Then, clumsily, not getting up, lying on the side, I started bandaging the wounded shoulder. I looked at the fighter's face from time to time - whether he was alive? Alive. The fighter began to fumble with healthy hand for something in his pockets. Did he want to shoot himself?

- What's up? - I anxiously asked.

- Wanna smoke, but can't find. D'you have some? - he whispered-rustled.

- Sod it! You could have chosen some better time to smoke! - I was glad. - If you wanna smoke, that means, you'll live!

I took out a cigarette, inserted it into his lips, struck a match and lit it up.

- Don't inhale too deep, you'll get dizzy! - I warned him.

I turned back to the bandage. It did not look nice, but it completely covered the wound, wrapped it up. I was steaming. I shouted the next fighters:

- That's it, men! Carry the wounded away, I'll cover!

I lay on the back, took a cigarette and smoked staring into the sky. My soul felt good. I had made too little good deeds in my life, but that time I had probably saved the man's life. Good! So great! I looked sideways and saw three soldiers crawling up, rolling towards us. Then looked at "my" wounded. I was already almost in love with him. I had saved his life. He would live! It was great. I felt myself to be such a good man, that I became proud of myself. Good job, Slava! I turned onto my belly, pulled the subgun to me and looked around still holding a cigarette with my teeth.

While I was saving the fighter, the spooks' attack was buffed. They lay down and were shooting at us. No problem! We'll break through! I joined in the cacophony of the fight with three short bursts at the places where spooks were crawlling about.

The soldiers crawled up, took the wounded and pulled out, dragged, carried him to the bridge. Good luck to you, Sashka! Good luck!

I gave a long burst. The breech-block coldy clicked. No problem. I pulled with my foot the Sashka's belt to me. It had a clips bag, bayonet, spade and flask, I took out one clip, inserted into my subgun, put the rest magazines into the trousers pockets and opened fire again.

The spooks became agitated and started to retreat. Aha, wetted your pants! We rose and charged onwards following the fleeing spooks. We should not spend night over there!

Onwards! Onwards! A kind of a bear's roar came out from my chest. Lion's roar. Onwards, hounds! Only onwards! Let's corner the wolves! Tear them apart like a pack of dogs kills a wolf! Chase after them! Hur-r-rah! Suppress the bastards! You are no wolves! Puppies! We'll send the bastards to no cold cell, but to the hot hell. I jumped up and rushed forwards together with all the others. There was no command to storm. Everybody was rushing forwards in the same heat. Nobody needed to be arousen. There was no need to swear at or kick rousing anybody to rise up or to pull soldiers by collars taking them from a trench. Knock the bastards out! Hu-r-r-rah! Aa-a-a-ah!

The blood was raging again, my mind left me, there were only instincts. Let them work. There was a task, a rabid wish to survive and the mind would be of no help there. Only onwards! Zigzagging, "screwng", rolling, as you like it, but only onwards! A stop meant a death! Only onrwards! Hur-r-r-rah! Switch off the bastards! A-a-a-a-a-a!

My subgun is at my shoulder, I'm making a few shots while racing, throw to the left, rolling, shoot at the barricade standing on one knee, am rolling to the right, once more, a burst while lying. Jumping, about ten steps forwards making another burst. While approaching our bursts became longer. We shoot already disordently. Shot at a sound, a shadow or a flash. Shot without thinking.

My intellect, get away! Blood is storming. A smack of blood in my mouth. I wished I could smell spook's blood with my nostrils, I could see how it was streaming out from the wounds, I could feel the warmth leaving his body. Get away, intellect! Get away! You cannot endure all this. Let a Neanderthal completely enter the body and the brain, let him command. Only then, intellect, you and I will survive and remain alive. Let the Neanderthal take us out of this! Hu-r-r-rah! A-a-a-a-ah! And intellect left...

The power came. Arteries and veins in all the body swelled up full with raging blood. My mouth was widely open, there was not enough oxygen. I felt as if I was observing everything from aside. The fighters and officers ran to the barricade like a single organism. Some ones climbed up it, throwing down wounded and dead spooks. Some ones crawled through cracks and gaps in the wall. The enemy's fleeing. The wolves of Islam are fleeing! Halloo!!! Tally-ho! Smother! Tear them into pieces!!! Tally-ho, hark, halloo!

My subgun twitched itself in the hands with a short burst and stopped, the breech-block briskly and coldly clicked once more again, the right hand detached the empty clip, threw it aside and started to pull out the next one from the pocket. A spook suddenly rose from behind a pile of the broken trash, bristled up and raised subgun to his hip level. It was too late to insert the new clip and convulsively pull the breech-block aside. No time. Only that thought flashed in my mind. But the Neanderthal came into his own again, or maybe it was some other ancient human who had been sleeping inside my brain before that moment. A step with the right foot forwards. It was even not a step, but a bound and the barrel of my subgun simultaneously thrusted from inertia of my body's weight into the spook's soft belly. My mouth is open. I am bawling with inhuman voice. That was not a shout, but a roar of the winner. My own eardrums could barely survive it and were almost broken.

The spook tried to make a shot with his subgun. Ha-ha-ha! Fat chance. I snatched the weapon out with my left hand and flung it far away. His pupils became dilated from terror and pain, I pulled my subgun out. The spook fell and clutched his broken off belly with the left hand, his right hand was searching for something on his belt. I did not know why, but I exactly knew that he was looking for a grenade. That slut knew he would not survive and therefore he wanted to take me with himself. Fat chance, jerk. Bestial smile bared my teeth. I jumped as high as possible and fell myself upon the chest of the lying spook. I directed all the weight of my body on the heels of my boots. I clearly heard, felt how the enemy's ribs crackled. I jumped again and fell upon his chest, but landed already on my knees. I heard the ribs were being shattered and crackling again. Not stepping aside from the broken flesh, I looked in the enemy's eyes. The blood was fountaining from his mouth and streaming from the ears. His body jerked, bent out and stiffened. The open eyes were staring into the sky. The pupils reflected hurrying nowhere, still winter clouds.

Don't you feel sick, my reader? Unfortunately, it is not show off, I'm describing only what had happened in the real life. I am neither a tough man, nor a crazy, simply, if you want to come home safe and sound, you must become a wild animal, the very worst one. And you, my reader, are partly guilty of that. You did not want to hinder the outbreaking of the war. You feel it is happening somewhere far away from you. Very far away, on some other planet. I'm not sure whether I'll be able to restrain all these outbreakings inside of me, when I come back home. The brain is no any appendix. It can play some stunt at some moment, so that you'll wonder later about yourself having been able to make that. Therefore my reader, don't wonder when you get a piece of news in the criminal newsreel about reeling of the victim's guts on a fist. You partly bear fault for that. You can be on the place of the victim, as well as your wife, child or simply your acquaintances, your close relatives. The people whom you love, appreciate, who are the dearest ones for you. And all that happens only because of you having chickened out or pretended that it didn't matter for you, and because of you having not added your voice to the thin chorus, trying to stop the madness. A madness produces the new one. The monster of war will be producing the monsters in the brains of the participants of that slaughter-house during a long time yet, and the monsters will go outside, in the street, and take what on their minds beongs only to them. Belongs by the law of war.

We do not know any other law. The country, the people had turned away, betrayed, forgotten and damned us. "Afgan syndrome" will seem for you to be a fairy tail for the children, when, in five-seven years, we shall realize that there is no place for us under the sun. That place is taken by you, my reader. And then we'll push you. It will be painful pushing, so don't take offense, when we cast your mug against rough asphalt. And maybe you'll die not realizing what's just happened to you. We're not the mad. But we served more deferential, respectful attitude towards ourselves. If there is no such one, we'll win it in the same way as we won it in Grozny in the January ninty five.

Onwards, onwards, tally-ho, halloo!!! You see, intellect, there is nothing to do for you. You will not be able to endure this, you will escape from the reality. From the life. And I will go crazy due to you. No! Hu-r-r-r-ra!!! Onwards!!! Only onwards!!! Tear'em apart, break'em, gnaw'em!!! Why? For my friends' and my own lives!

I did not notice how we appeared on the other side of the barricade. A building of the Republic of Ichkeria State Bank, pox sting it, was blackening in fifty meters ahead. With the wild yells, whooping and howling, we were rushing towards that building. Hidden by the clouds of the exhaust gases, the tanks and APCs were flowing, covered by us, around the former barricade and took the initial positions for shooting. The spooks started shooting at us from the Bank's building. They were shooting with the small arms. Although the distance was long and nothing could be seen because of smoke, soot and burning, their bursts were long like in close combat.

When you're shooting with the long bursts, doesn't matter from the belly or from the hip level, you get too large bullets' scattering. It indicated that the "wolf-cubs" got the nervous breakdown. OK. Bastards, we'll make off with you. Blood. Only blood and nothing else. I liked the experience of spook's abdominal cavity dissection without anaesthesia. I was drunken with the fight. Drunken without wine. Hu-r-r-r-r-ra!!! Onwards, Neanderthal! Blood, only blood and life! A-a-a-a-a!

Nevertheless, the first ranks lay down. Somebody had stopped any moving already. Somebody, howling, squeezing his wound, was whirling on asphalt covered with broken construction's trash. Their comrades, fellows, brothers in blood were hurrying up to help them. We'll tear for every "threehundredth" and "twohundredth". Don't be afraid, guys, let's tear the spookery in the pieces!

Whatever genes were roaring in me, I decided not to pose myself as a hero, but to fall on the muddy asphalt. The dusk had already almost thickened. Those fools, our mister Constitution Guarantor and his defense minister, started the war in winter. It would be much easier in summer. Warm and dry. Long daylight hours. No need in wearing of the heavy sweaty jacket and in worrying about firewood to warm yourself. There would be no problem about sleeping right on the ground. And what about that time?! The winter twilight falls down. The cold comes. The wind drove sparse clouds away, the full moon illuminated us like bright lamps shining on the theater scene. Uncloudy weather proved that the warmth of the ground and of our bodies would not be kept by their wadding isolation, but stream into the eternal cold Universe. Thank you, comrade Rolin, for the support of the air force and support from the other side of the square. If they did not engage the enemy during the daylight, they would certainly let us turn up our toes like dogs on that shitty square. What for? Nobody has any fucking idea what for!!! It was warm at that moment in Kremlin, in the Government house, in the State Duma, in the Federal assembly and it was also warm in the Defense ministry. I was thinking that misters bankers, for whom we were winning gross money breaking our necks, were not shivering from cold.

If we do not go forwards within two hours, we will start dying from the cold. Many fighters' hearts will not withstand abrupt temperature plummet. Alcohol, cognac, vodka, hot food and hot tea were in the very most immediate need at that moment. Otherwise, we'll plug up no luck. All Siberians, we realized that too well, as well as that we'd not get any hot food, the same we'd get no Dudaev's Palace be taken that night. Well, I had some cognac, but what's about the others? By the way, I had cognac indeed! It would not be enough for the whole brigade, that's, clear cheer, not enough, but I could share it with two-three fighters. No problem.

The firing was never interrupted. And two soldiers ahead of me lying nearby jerked next to each other, died away and stiffened. The arms and legs were turned inside out in unnatural poses, the heads were thrown back. Wounded ones do not lie like that. One of the lying next to me rushed to crawl to them, but was caught by the other soldiers.

- Idiot, where're you going? They'll shoot you noting no name. Lie still.

- Yeah, d'you, damned jerks, wanna leave ours?

- They're done in. Sniper killed them.

- Get off, you, cowards! There's my homie, from the same house as me. I don't believe! Let me go! - the soldier was shouting forcing to free himself from the friends' clutches.

One of those holding him lost patience and released the guy. Using the moment, the fighter tried to run to the dead ones, but the same fighter who had let him go strongly hit him with elbow on his bridge. The soldier passed out. Two friends took his arms and gently carried the guy to the rear. Voices followed them:

- Why did you punch on him like that?

- He was in a haste to get under a sniper, and so we just calmed him down. Don't worry, he'll come to and even thank us for that.

- Exactly. He'll be very grateful!

- Now he gets to the med-company. It's warm in there. They'll apply a bandage on the nose. He'll lie for a couple of days there. Fine!

- Come over, I'll smash your mug and then tow to the medics. Let's make that?

- Go'ta'hell.

- Hey men, we'd better now eat half a bottle of vodka, huh?

- Shut up, motherfucker! Don't hurt my soul!

- If we get no alcohol now, we'll have to attack.

- Right, see the moon is rising up.

- We've got either to roll back and gobble alcohol or to go forwards. It'll lighten everything in a minute like a train station's platform.

- What're we gonna do?

- No fucking idea. There are commanders. Let'em have a headache.

- Oh, barbecue would be just right, - someone dreamingy said in the darkness and snapped with a subgun's burst at the spooks' direction.

The tanks behind us began shooting. After several adjusting shots, the projectiles started to hit the target more or less precisely. We accomponied every good shot with cheering yells. It became too cold to lie on the ground. I pulled out my flask with cognac, unscrewed the cap and made a large gulp. I immediately felt warmer, cozier and jollier. At that moment, the intellect of a twentieth century's man got on well with a gloomy ancestor from cold caves, who was ready by the first opportunity to seize the first place and tear the enemy with his teeth. Apparently, cognac was to liking of them both. I made one more large gulp. The blood in my body ran jollier.

The tanks were shooting without any break. The eardrums, rough from the constant blasts crash, could not almost sense that horrible noise. Only the hot air waves from powder explosions were regularly rolling over our bodies and raffling our clothing. Good! Though slightly, it warmed us up. The State bank building caught fire. We greeted it with the winners' wails, lying on the ground. The snow and mud had melted under us and we all were lying in muddy puddles. The twilight came thick, it was night. The moon on the left rose up and was lighting us up. Fucking shit!

The order was spread by chain, "Get ready for the storm!" Based on my previous wars experience, I had a wild doubt about the necessity, rationality and effectiveness of that kind of the night storms, but I should have argued about that in the main office, and there, on the square, I had to obey the order. In two minutes the order about the storm came. The tanks were still shooting and on that short distance they were shooting on the direct spotting. The projectiles seemed flow right over our heads. After ten meter run under friendly fire we slowed down our tempo. We were afraid of getting hit by our own projectiles, and the fragments of the building could hurt us also.

Intellect left me again. I was running not clearly comprehending. Here was the building. The craters from aviation bombs gaped around it, the building was half destroyed, but it was one of the old buildings. Firm shit! The spooks were very aggrassively showering on us with lead. Obviously, they also had snipers entrenched somewhere.

Our first rank... About twenty people were killed or wounded. Men from the second rank tried to drag the wounded and killed ones out of the fire range. Many ones fell too. Some ones were moving, the others, squeezing their wounds, were whirling and howling on the asphalt soiled with mud and blood. Some ones tried to crawl independently form the firing limits. But many... Many men were lying with the extremities absurdly turned inside out, their heads thrown back.

The whole scenery was being illuminated by the fire of the burning Bank, permanently hanging in the air parachute lights and by the indifferent to everything moon. Descended night was pierced by the bursts of tracer bullets from the machine-guns mounted on the tanks. The thunder of the battle, the howl of flying about frags and the squeal of the rebounding bullets, their disgusting squelching, whenever they hit the dead bodies, created a nightmarish acoustic picture, which paralyzed the brain. Not thinking was the most important. Otherwise, the madness was guaranteed. Work, work, work! So, forwards, only forwards! Ten more minutes of marking time at one place meant the end...

Dear parents, wife and other relatives, get a zinc boxy with the body of your beloved warrior-liberator, the re-installer of the constitutional order. Yeah, don't forget to sign. Here, here and here. Please don't fling yourself on us. We did not send your hot beloved there. Why should I know who had sent him? That's it. Accept our sincere condolences. Good bye. No. We can not stay here. We have three more "parcels" of that kind to deliver. Go to the military office and social provision office at your domicle after the funeral, fill out an application for aid and pension. Don't forget to collect and bring twenty five informations with you. All of them must be originals, otherwise we won't give you anything. That's it, good luck.

Fuck you! Fat chance! You won't bring me back in that foul box, unless I lay my hands on myself after a wound! Not to say to quick! Forwards. Only forwards! Come on, "makhra", move your asses! Move on, you, stomachs. maybe, there is still money in the bank. Hurah!!! Money-money, bucks, cabbage! Since this is the State Bank, there are maybe even dollars in it?! Maybe there are, but they won't wait for us. Halloo! Move on! Don't push me in the back with your subgun, idiot, it can shoot!

And the dirty-gray mass of our brigade came alive again and ran, ran, ran. The tanks stopped firing not to hurt us. The Bank was already so close. But what's that?

From the darkness on our flanks we heard the crash and clanging of tanks' tracks. Is it "mkhra" hurrying up to help? Hurah! Ours! Come on, pounce upon! We'll now bury the spooks down!

The tanks indeed drove out from the darkness. They were "T-64". Ours were "T-72". And these tanks of an old construction began to shoot at us almost point blank. Infantry was hiding behind them. Not our infantry. At first we guessed that it was our help, but the spooks had used the moment when in the rush of the battle we started our storm. And they hit our rear from both flanks. Nobody figured out how many enemy tanks were there. They hatched driving into our ranks, with their tracks, wheels grinding and threshing OUR fighters' bodies. Arms, legs, intestines, clothes were being coiled on the leading wheels. At the same time, they were shooting at the tanks in our rear. Again, at OUR tanks. Those could not fight back, because they could hurt, kill, ruin our infantry. So they were as the targets. The spooks' tanks were shooting at them like at the good aimed targets on a training range. We were herded as a cattle flock on a small patch in front of the Bank where at they were shooting at us almost point blank from three sides, letting us not any chance to escape from that trap. Our tanks could not help us as they could kill us and we could not force out to give them a chance to shoot. We were rushing about like sheep.

Someone succeeded in knocking out of one of the spooks' tanks. It burst into a blaze. While the burning tank's ammos were exploding, we made an attempt to break out. By that time, our tanks were all burning bringing additional light to the dazing picture of the square.

No feelings, but the only one. But the only FEAR. The huge fear. It ousted all other emotions from the body, from the head, form the mind. Neither captain, nor citizen Mironov was existing by then, but a shivering clot of shit wanted the only one thing - TO SURVIVE. That was it. Only survive. No long forgotten prayers come into your mind, you are just rushing into darkness. Stumbling, flying down, feeling no any pain from bruises and cuts. Nothing, except terror icing the soul and the body.

The bursts are following us, the yells of rage and pain, screams of the wounded men, but you're already not able to turn back for aiding them. Panic, only panic and fear. The fear's smearing you on the asphalt, forcing you to follow only headlong flight with a furious speed. But you feel that you're staying at one place. You're rushing in the darkness over the square, which you had taken just several hours ago fighting for every centimeter. It is covered with the dead bodies of both our fighters and spooks. You're stumbling over them, falling, jumping up and moving on. The dead bodies of your friends do not provoke already any emotions, no any wish or passion for revenge. The only feeling is irritation. Irritation, that they are obstacles for your fleeing. You've no power, but here they are lying before you.

I feel that my power is close to the end and slow my pace down. Many ours are running around me. The same as mine, their eyes are opened wide and almost without any human feelings, the mouths opened wide in soundless screams. Nobody's yelling. Nobody's shouting obscenities. Everybody is saving power for the run. The spooks are reluctant to come closer to us. Apparently, they were afraid of us striking back in the darkness. Do not corner a mouse, it becomes more awful and aggressive than a cat.

We lost our direction in the darkness. Now we are already running not backwards to the bridge, but towards Dudaev's Palace. Paraflares rose up in the sky above our heads and illuminated the running herd. Those are we. There is nothing human in our faces, eyes, breathing and glances.

The subguns and machine-guns bursted firing. The first rows were mowed down. The rest tried to turn back still running, without any stopping. Those in the rear stumbled on them, knocked them down on the ground, fell themselves. They rose up. Again running. Running in the darkness. The sparkles from fatigue came dancing into the eyes. Nobody helps anybody. Wounded shot themselves, some ones tried to crawl into the darkness. Farther from the light of the ubiquitous paraflares. Moon-traitor, slut, fucking wretch, is lighting already not worse than those flares shining through the curtain of the big fire smoke. I had already almost no any strength. Lord! Only no captivity! The death is better, than captivity! Help me, Lord! Help! Save'n'rescue me!

I changed to trot. I am out of breath. I want to rip off the armor vest and jacket, fall with my open chest on the asphalt wet from blood. And to lie, to lie still deeply breathing in, recovering the breath. No! Impossible. The spooks would come up and then - captivity. No, only no captivity! I tried to run again.

Blood is pounding inside my skull chest like a Siberian river on the falls. It seethes, foams, tries to break down the hindering stones. It turns and moves them. It seemes that the skull can explode from the overstraining and pressure. There is no power to run. From overstraining, I can not hear anything except of the blood pounding in my ears. I slow down to walking pace. Hang the subgun on my neck and put my arms on it. All the body is filled with blood. It is hard both to run and also to simply move the feet. A fighter came running from the right, without saying a word, he grabbs me and drags with himself. After several meters of running I realize, that I have no power and I am only impeding his own run. A barely heard voice breaks through my torn bronchs and nicotine plugs:

- Go. Go. I'm not'f a help for you.

- What about you?! - the soldier almost yells at my ear.

- Go. I myself... - It is hard for me even to talk, not only to run.

- I won't leave you! - Desperation was heard in his voice.

- Go to hell! Save yourself. I'll follow you, - gathering my last strength, I push the soldier with both hands. We fly in opposite directions.

The soldier disappears. The last push consumed my last energy. I sit on the ground breathing hard. Spit out viscous saliva on asphalt. The heart is rabidly pounding. From my studies in the military college I know that it is forbidden to sit right after run, as the heart valves may close and do not open back. But I have no power to walk. When the dancing sparkles went away from the eyes, I looked around with dim and heavy stare. My subgun was still dangling on my neck. No energy to take it off. No energy for any simple motion.

There were silhouettes sitting, half-lying and lying in a little way aside. Most of them were officers. It is understandable, the age and the physical shape, of course, are far from the best ones. And the civilians are sometimes indignant at the militaries retiring on pension earlier. If there were anybody older than forty five amongst us, they would not be found amongst the alive ones later, I can guarantee that. Some ones were sitting on the dead bodies. Maybe it was comfortable, but I had not come into that state yet when you being most absolutely dull would not be able to perceive anything. Everybody was simple sitting and looking in the enemy direction. Somebody was about to resume the broken run after having got some rest. But most of us, including myself, were ready to get the last combat. No power to run. Intellect was awaking, the horror was subsiding. The rage began to speak. It is good, when the rage wakes up. That means that you have not become an absolute cattle yet, an absolute animal. The remains of the human intellect are yet inside you. Intellect is OK, but it was time to think how to get out of that hell-fire, how to rescue the own skin and ass. We had somehow no mood to remember about the souls at that moment. I remembered God as some powerful protector, on whom I laid my hopes about saving of my mortal body.

I got a fit of coughing. A clog of nicotine mucus was torment painfully and slowly making its way out. Sod it, I need to give up smoking or sometime these cigarettes won't allow me to reach a rescuing stone, a hummock or a hole. I spat out a wet clog of mucus. The tongue felt blood flavour, that meant a piece of my own bronchs came out too. I made a deep breath in and it started again gurgling in the breast and the stifling attack of coughing seized me again. It was very difficult to clear my throat. The chest pain stubbed me again, the only desire was to tear my chest apart and let the fresh air inside. I was too tired of running the long distances. I would rather do something simple, short and quiet. My mother told me: "Learn English".

Chapter 10

Meantime the resting ones, having recovered the breath, began to come closer to each other. Approximate expectation gave us the figure of about fifty people to be there. There were mostly the officers, as well as good deal of soldiers and warrant officers. Many ones had already thrown he armor vests off to enable the running. The faces were confused. Everybody started to discuss actively and hushfully the happening. Everybody wanted to speak out after the strongest shock, humiliation and stress. The blaming was put on the whole on the grouping's leadership. Everybody had a thought that the brigade had made everything depending on it.

- They kicked shit out of us.

- Bastards, they lost all the brigade!

- To hell, lost. Many ones got out of the firing limits.

- Fuck! They did not get out! Did you see the tanks burning?

- I saw. Everybody saw. About seven-eight tanks were knocked down for sure!

- And why didn't our ones shoot?

- Don't you understand? We would have been laid resting at that place!

- To be laid resting is better than funky fleeing.

- Thus, why did you rush? You could've stayed over there. Would be posthumously granted as hero.

- Aha, would be overtaken and granted some more!

- These bastards from Moscow and Khankala will never bring thanks.

- If there were no those gorks with their wreched plan of head-on attack on fucking plaza, we wouldn't bunk now, as the Sweden near Poltava (the army of the Sweden king Carl the XIIth was won by the Russian army of Peter the First in the Battle of Poltava, June 27, 1709, the Sweden hastily fled at that time - O.B.A.)!

- Schnooks!

- Sodding fags!

- Rolin for certain intentionally didn't put the other troops in action to let the spooks crush up our brigade deadly!

- Exactly, he can't forgive us for our mutiny at the "North"!

- Where's this goon?

- He should've been here. I'd look at him!

- Bullshit, we'll be blamed for unsuccessful storm.

- Blow it out...

- You'll see. They'll say the plan was magnificent but we had been against it since the very beginning and therefore we refused to execute it.

- Maybe they'll also blame on us for having affection to Dudaev.

- Fuck away with your Dudaev.

- He's as mine as yours.

- I'd like to see him in grave with white slippers on!

- It's still him who tries to drive us in grave.

- Sweet F. A.

- Half of brigade has already been driven.

- Exactly, maybe he'll get to us also.

- We should scarper away!

- Where to?

- To our riverside. Did the brigade's tech go to there?

- Maybe spooks made ambush over there?

- Everything's possible, but we shouldn't prop up here.

- Correct! We must go.

- And the sooner the better.

- Wouldn't they arrest us?

- What for?

- For not executing the order!

- They wouldn't arrest all the brigade.

- It's now not the thirty seventh year!

- And not the forty first when the retreat-bloking detachments were put behind.

- Correct!

- There was no order "no step back" as the one of Stalin! (the order of Stalin No. 227, 28.07.1942, forbidding to retreat - O.B.A.)

- There was the only order!

- Which one?

- A must is not to bother the refinery!

- Stronzos, sooterkins, dog faces, scoundrels, cruds, crums, rubbers, fags, traitors! 've framed us!

- Don't vociferate! Spooks will hear.

- Fuck'em. Let'em listen.

- Wanna be the "twohundredth"? Welcome! But not with us. Go. Spooks're waiting over there.

- Stop shooting the carp. We've to go.

- Correct.

- Quickly go.

- What about ambush?

- We'll struggle, what else?

- Has anybody a radioset?

- I have, - the fighter stepped out of the darkness having the large radioset pickback. Why didn't he cast it away during the "cross-racing" - that's unknown.

- Call for ours, - the voice seemed to be of the first battalion's com-batt.

Radiop started buzzing in the phone breastplate. They answered in about five minutes. Radiop gave somebody the breastplate and that one started speaking. Everybody livened up.

- "Mound-25", I'm - "Uran-5"! How do you reed? Read you also good. Where are we? - And he asked us from the darkness:

- And where are we, men?

- At the south-eastern end of the square. About three hundred meters from the bridge. Ask whether they're ready to back us up with fire, if spooks shoot upon during the breakthrough.

- Hallo, "Mound"! We're at the south-east of the square, nearly three hundred meters from the bridge! If we force through - do back up us with fire! Why you're not there? Where're you? And what about us? Understand. To force to the brigade's former CC. Is that all? What? Who was hurt? And where is he? And San Sanych? - com-batt broke against all the possible traffic rules, but everybody didn't care about that at all. Any one not liking that could try to come and arrest. Everybody attentivly listened to the traffic.

- And what should we do? That is what I myself can advise you. Where to are you driving? Are they pursuing you? Many our "boxes" are burnt? What? Cricky! And what shall we do? Yes, I understand we should go close to the old CC. And did you report to tool Rolin? And what did he say about reinforcing? Nothing? Dork! Domino. Ring off. Out.

- How does it go?

- Tell, don't tip toe.

- Hist. Hush. Let him speak.

- Thus, men, - it was audible it was hard for him to speak, - the first point - Bahel was wounded...

- Wounded?

- Is he alive?

- What's wounded?

- Where's he? - The worried voices were heard.

- Don't break in, let me speak all and you can ask!

- Don't tire us, speak!

- Bahel was wounded in the leg, in thigh. The injure is bad.

- He stays alive?

- Shut your face, dork! - The vexed hollo was heard.

- Stop shouting. You dork.

- I'll come now to break your dull head. Shut up, jerk!

- You jerk! - the kickers were not seen in the darkness. The moon and the paraflares starting up far away produced the shadows but unclear, vague, breaking ones.

- Sod it! Will ya give it a rest or not?

- I'll stand up now and cool you both out! - The voice of the second battalion first company's commander was heard. So, he's alive, smoky!

- Once more, the repeating for the unique dull: the commander of the brigade was wounded in the leg. In thigh. The wound is bad. Being unconscious, he was brought to the "North". Domino. That's the first.

- Have you more news about commander?

- Sod it, why are you so dull?

- Let the man speak and then you can ask your stupid questions!

- Tell us.

- No any more news about commander. It's known only he was being brought to the "North" but they were not able to fight their way - the spooks made a block. They were able to fight the way to Khankala and will bring him by "spinner" from it to the "North" after the first surgery.

- Well, gloria Tibi...

- Will ya shut up, cow, or not?

- Keep on!

- Bilich temporarily is commander of the brigade.

- San Sanych?

- But who else? Do we have many Bilichs?

- Bilich commands the brigade, - com-batt repeated again, - they have left, fought the way to the south. The tech partly went over the bridge but it's not over there now...

- Fucking fiasco of the brigade!

- Exactly. They've broken, crashed... - The hysterical notes were heard in the voice of the speaker.

- Shut up, hystericer!

- What's on?

- They burnt, annihilated five our tanks, three APCs...

- Five tanks?

- Precisely, brigade's fucking fiasco!

- Will ya shut up, won't ya?

- They offered to fight ourselves the way to the former disposition of the old command center and wait over there for the others come closer. I've told all now!

- And where to have they gone?

- They have spooks on the tail. They ran in the ambushes for a couple of times, lost about five more men yet and now have devided into small groups and will concentrate at the former command center.

- Jollily!

- We were crashed as the Germans near Kursk in the Great Patriotic War (Kursk Strategic Defense Operation in July-August 1943 - O.B.A.).

- But shut up you, ugly creature!

- And why d'ya pose as heros!

- We should go to the spooks and surrender. About just the first tanks convoy on the last year November, they just gave back the ones who they had let be alive! (the action organized by the Chechen opposition against Dudaev's regime in November 1994 with the backed up by the secret services of the RF - O.B.A.)

- They'll give you fuck all!

- Have you forgotten what they had made with our POWs?

- And we ourselves are also so nice...

- Yes, our arms are bloody up to the neck.

- There will be no mercy.

- That's fact.

- So, what shall we do?

- What do you mean? We'll fight the way to ours.

- As a first step, to reach any unit and after that to go to the former CC.

- And how can we reach it?

- Someone knows fuck all.

- Let's look in map.

- The map is of forty seventh year edition, it's the same as to look at the "Belomor" package (there was in the USSR and still is in the RF, popular cheap cigarettes of that brand, there is a very rough map of the North-Western Russia on the package - O.B.A.).

- Ye-a-ah. We should come closer to ours.

- Let's start with leaving from this sodding plaza.

- "Let's start". It's easy to say "let's start". And where to should we go? What is the direction? Over the bridge?

- Let's try over the bridge, you see, some of the fighters have gone over the bridge. Kinda heavy fire duel was not heard.

- And would you, on the spooks' place, let the bridge be without protection when having reconquered us?

- No-o-o-o, definitely.

- That's just the point. We and they graduated from just the same military colleges. So that means we and they think identically.

- They do not think. They are "blocks"! (insulting slang word to name the ones coming from Middle Asia and Caucasus - O.B.A.)

- If they were the "blockes" we would not be sitting here and quaking with fear!

- That's precise!

- We have to leave by the same way - to the south-east, and from that place maybe we're able to get somehow across to that riverside.

- Sodding bastards!

- Who are you about?

- About everybody! About both the moscowers and the wiseheads in the General HQ, and the dorts in Khankala and Mozdok. And about Guarantor of our Constitution and Defense minister, and about shitty spooks! Why did devil give me this hole - Chechnya?

- Don't whimper!

- I whimper? I want to live! Understand? I wanna live!

- Well, live, so we do not impede you.

- You do not impede, but the moscow sooterkins do impede.

- They impede all Russia. And what?

- Why what? Let's go to Moscow!

- Just from here?

- You sould get out of this plaza at first, and after that collect the troops to march onto Moscow!

- Eh, we have no leader, headman!

- The headmen are only amoung the Indians and tribes.

- Cut the cackle! Let's go.

- Where to?

- To the south-east, there's no other way.

- But maybe we'll run risks going over the bridge?

- So, do that.

- Are there volunteers to check the bridge?

There was a silence broken by the bursts close to the State Bank and by the screeches of the Chechens.

- Nobody. So, we go trough south-east. We'll look around in the day-time, shelter us, call for ours. Let's go.

- Let's go.

- But maybe all the same over the bridge?

- Go. Nobody stops you. Go.

We had started having spread at the distance of about 30 meters as lengthways as breadthways. We were slowly walking. Attentively watching our footsteps, listening to the every rustle. The moon was being at the very zenith, lighting the way for us as well as us also.

The spooks did not think about pursuing us. They either were afraid or did not want to trouble themselves about pursuing. In the times of the naval battles when there was Katharina the Second the fleeing enemy was not pursued. It was named "to build the golden bridge". Refined undertaking. Ushakov (Fyodor Ushakov, 1744-1817, the most successful Russian naval commander, was same famous as Suvorov, the most successful Russian general of the same time - O.B.A.), having later become admiral, was the first one who broke that tradition and laid in the Turks of those days with might and main.

The mouse should not be backed into a corner and deprived of the rescuing hopes. We were like those mice. May frightened, coursed, but if we were forced into mousetrap, we would fight as doomed. Nobody raced to rescue us. Nobody organized rescuing expeditions. I would not wonder that, if we were able to break free out of that "cul-de-sac", it would turn out there was already no our brigade anymore. It would be disestablished in the likeness of reduction of budgets.

Ye-e-eh, that's not America. They had sent the whole fleet for rescuing of some lost in Yugoslavia pilot. And you see, he was rescued! They found him in the impassable forests and evacuated. What about us? As one wise person told: "Damned and forgotten!" (the name of the film cast in 1997 by Sergey Govorukhin, 1961-2011, - O.B.A.)

Eh, Motherland, you're not mother for us, but an ugly relative! I do not want my son to serve in your Military forces. In order to shoot as me at his own people because of the talantless whim and poitical impotence of the Kremlin alcoholics having gone gaga.

When you are in shit up to eyeballs and it's unknown if you're able to swim out of it, you will damn everybody and everything. All the world except yourself is guilty of everything. But when analysing the existing situation it turns out that there's no my fault in it. There is also no any fault of the ones going next to me. There are only the endless political ambitions. If the cannons are speaking the diplomats should cushion.

Such thoughts swarmed as a crowd in my head while we were carefully getting out from the square trying not to make any noise. We attentively passed over, overstepped the dead bodies. There were our fighters and officers and Chechen militants lying alternated. Everybody realized that our guys would already not be buried, nobody would send their bodies to Motherland. The Defense ministry would economize much on the burying of its own soldiers. It would be allowed not to pay five years allowance, medical insurance for the death, not to outprocess the pension. Why? He was missed without trace and that's all. Yes, we're searching for him, but you should understand us, there is no money, there were the hard combats, communal graves and other bullshit. Lord forbid me to lie myself in such way. I'm not a kind Christian. No! I merely do not want to leave my family without means of sustenance even after my death. So, the result comes that you should die in our country in the way that your mortal remains would be identified, brought to the relatives and earthed with funeral blizzard. A madhouse, no less than a madhouse. And the lads, being overstepped by me feeling no usual nauseating qualms, would already not be given back. Neither given back, nor sent at home. Neither alive, nor dead. The furious appealing of the wag-lawmakers in the sharp polemic will not assist. The sermons in the churches will not assist also. It's interesting, but why the Orthodox Church does not impede such a madness as this war? It's damned interesting. I haven't seen any priests here. There is the only one here, they say, the prior of the local temple. But I haven't seen anyone with a cassock on in the troops or near them. And nowadays the local Russians - who were slaughtered as sheep by the Chechens at first, and after that we plastered them with our air, mortar bombs, artillery, fusilladed in their houses, not knowing that there were ours inside - need as the medical and psychological assistance, as also the God's word. Where are these Lord's servants, take'em devil?

There's nobody. The centuries-old war of the government against the own people is going on. The church is aside as always. And the worse circumstance is that it supports the criminal war. The history comes back but on the new higher qualitative turn of spiral. Why, why, Lord, did it fall to my lot to be born in this just damned by You country?!

Paradox is the fact that I equal deeply love and hate it. I can give my life for my beloved-hated Motherland. But only for the Motherland and not for its governors.

Nowadays a word "collegiality" has become popular again. I've spent much time to realize its sense. And the sense is that this is eternal dream, the faith of the Russian people in the kind good tsar. The master will come, the master will judge us. Ugh! No one of the tsars, governors of Russia, including the today ones, has ever cared of the people. The people is an enemy for the governors and is more awful then the enemies' agents and other abroad evel spirits. Nobody had any thoughts about well-being of the people, NEVER! The dead people is the good people. It's very comfortable to put against the two tribes of the own country. Meanwhile they are fighting, nobody and never can remeber why they live so bad. Why does not somebody pay them the earned money? Where are the pensions? Where are the payments? Where are the scholarships? Why where? The ugly Chechens are guilty of everything. Everything is spent on the war against foe. As soon as we win him and as soon as we restore everything destroyed in Chechnia, you will immediately get back your honestly earned thing. And inflation? Why is infaltion interesting for you? That is the war, why aren't you able to understand that because of the war we had to increase the prices a bit, to print some more money. Nothing serious at all. We do not just talk that you will never get them. You will, will get! Please, be just tolerant a bit. Sure at the Great Patriotic war, they say, they did not pay money at all. Everything was for the front, everything was for the victory! And what is difference now? Doesn't matter that we've attacked Chechnya, and neither they have attacked us! You are to shut up and sniff through the two holes. Otherwise, we have many republics, if you clamour - we'll start war against them, but exactly you will surely see neither money nor your children!

I haden't seen neither at that day, during the combat, nor earlier both Zhirinovskiy's falcons (Vladimir Zhirinivsky, born 1946, since 1990 a scandal leader of the political party in the Russian Federation, who plays shows about the popular, mostly primitive slogans - O.B.A.) and blackshirts, making hands up as a fascist greeting. And namely they were the ones who shrieked most of all about patriotism, statehood, orthodoxy, christianity and other trifles in the year ninety third.

"The Russian people is chosen by God!" Ugh! The maddest delirium. Paranoia! Only a hundred years ago one orthodox was allowed to exchange another orthodox for the thoroughbred whelp without doubts, to flog the one to deadth following only his own whim, to shoot up the one. The torture with strappado is spoken to be our native invention. True the other peoples had the things alike but they quickly went out of fashion. For example the spanish "bootikin". But tortures and prisons took roots in our places in the aincent times. So, it turns out that the third of the population is imprisoned, the ohter third works at the producing where at the conditions differ from the penal colony ones only a bit, and the rest third secures and guards the penal colony and searches at the producing for the candidates to be sent to the penal colony.

The social formation has changed, but the customs, system, minds are the same ones. As the nomenclature ruled us as it does it now. Many ones decided they were really allowed to discuss the decisions of the Clan, Family, so that the last ones decided to divert attention to the unfit object. And to plunder something by the way, to decrease the population. It would not be necessary to feed, to teach it. And so - gone for a burton, bullshit. This is not Rio-de-Janeiro (a paraphrased popular saying from the book of Ilya Ilf, 1897-1937, and Yevgeni Petrov, 1903-1942, "The twelve chairs", 1928, - O.B.A.), this is much worse. And there are only the soldiers walking with the white trousers on regularly before the turn-in. No enough trousers for all of them...

Further and further on we were going from the subguns' bursts cracking and explosions, from the victorious guttural shrieks of the local aborigens having made for us the classical tanks entrapment. The guys studied tactics in colleges good. Having the small forces they annihilated the superior enemy being still, consider, in the march column. Well, no matter, uglies, we'll come back, we will certainly come back. And we'll wholly hold you, bitches, accountable, demanding also the percents, for that shame and panic we had felt couple of hours before. We'll only sort out the relationships with the boors from Khankala asking them about the promised reinforcement and we'll come back. We'll come back maybe pushing with the bayonetts the thick-fleshed colonels from Khankala and "North" in front of us. And even better - we'll skulk behind their bodies. We regret only the guys, the real men, who are lying before our feet, and whose bodies we, being tired, aren't able to pass aside, but merely step over them, they'll not see that. There will be victory, it will be for sure. Let it be even Pyrrhic victory. But it will be. With much blood. We won't leave from here. Not because we do not want, but because we're dangerous. There will be many storms yet, and the more of us stay here, on the dirty asphalt overspat blood, the better the old alcoholics of the former CPSU Central Committee will feel themselves.

Maybe some of the parents of the soldiers lying here had a work on defense factory producing the rounds, projectiles, mines. And who knows, maybe that bullet, frag, missile, mine killed their son. And the wages for the produced output are not paid the parents yet. Nightmare! No, Slava, you flip lid indeed, and flip hard. Such fantasies and associations can not come into the normal brains.

I pawed over my belt. Something was gurgling in the flask. Definitely the half-swallow of cognac, but I'd like to drink some water. I quickened pace and touched the next one in front of me. It was not possible to see in the darkness if it was a soldier or officer. "Everything was confused in the house of Oblonsky..." (a phrase from the classic Russian literature, book of Leo Tolstoy "Anna Karenina", is spoken as a kind of a proverb to mean the greatest mess - O.B.A.).

- Hey, man, have you some water?

He turned back. That was a soldier from the second battalion. When we were running over the bridge he was the next one to me. Apparently he was able to recognize me also and smiled and pointed to the ears. In the moonlight I did not notice at once that there were the thick bloody crusts clotted around his ears. Shell-shock. Very hard concussion. The break of the eardrums. My shell-shock was a baby's prattle on the glade comparing to his one. I indicated with a gesture I was thirsty. The fighter nodded agreeing and not stopping unbuckled the flask from the belt. I made a couple of swallows and gave back the flask. He drank it all after getting flask back. Buckled it, the empty one, on the belt.

I took out mine and, having flip-flopped myself at my throat (in Russia the typical nonverbal gesture to make a hint at some alcohol - O.B.A.), showed that alcohol was still in the flask and gave it him. He made a swallow and gave it me back. I made a motion that he could drink it bottom up. He made that with gratitude. I felt no any sorry for cognac. He needed it more. When having a shell-shock, contrary to all the doctors' admonitions, the servicemen drink hard and bate the pain feelings by that way and come round easier.

We devilishly and awfully wanted to smoke. But nobody risked to make any fire. Everybody was dragging in the quiet silence. Only some spalls cracked under somebody's heel, and that was all. We didn't want to speak and it was senseless. Everybody was crushed by the happening.

Firstly, by the shame of our fleeing, by the loosing of the guys. There were many of them, left and necessary for nobody, over there, behind our backs. And it was not possible to take them away, to bury them.

Secondly, the brigade was dispersed, destroyed, lost in fact.

Thirdly, the commander was wounded and would not come back to us. San Sanych was, of course, a good executive officer, but what was he as a commander? They could send us some undesirable outsider at all. For whom our brigade could be as a stop-signal for the hare. He would come to get advancement, to get rewards, and would relate to us absolutely not better than our President did to his people. We will see what we will see. If we can survive, of course.

Fourthly, well, the sheerest personal uncertainty. What would be about me personnaly in this beef up, about the ones who were strolling next to me? Nobody was able neither to say anything nor even to make any thought of it.

At that time of the two aims which I had had before, and namely to complete the task and survive, the only one was existing - to survive, to get myself out! And after that we would see who was guilty in our triumphal shame. The President was too far away, but the spooks were close by. We were bunking from them that time, but every bloody dog has his day.

But after all it is a pity, sincerely pity, that we can't reach the Guarantor of the Constitution. Sincerely pity. Well, no matter, elections are soon. We'll vote in another way. Not for the prostituts-communists and not for the hysterical Jirinovskii, no! We'll hope that maybe some clear head will be found, who will not wage war against the own people with such primitive, barbarian methods.

Eh, dreams, dreams. The dreams of the Russian idiot that it's possible to put the good tsar in power. The tsar who will not plunder the people, will not bring the people's possession "over the boundary mound", and will not put the money on his accounts abroad. Eh, the dreams of idiot! An intellect can not understand Russia! Russia can be only believed in (author mentions here the words of the Russian poet Fyodor Tiutchev, 1803-1873, - O.B.A.). In other words, is she so capricious hysteric woman, schiz that it's impossible to communicate to her with the normal language of logics? It results so. Who's guilty of that? The governors guess that the people is. The people guesses that the talnetless governors are. And when there is no consent in the comrades, the good music will never come put (author mentions here the words of the Russian fabulist Ivan Krylov, 1769-1844, - O.B.A.). A mad gaga. For which sins, God, for which sins did you let me be born in this country?

And then one seditious thought had come into my head. And maybe there are neither hell, nor paradise meaning the sense which the "revered" church fathers hammered in us. If we suppose that we have lived somewhen in another dimension, but hell is situated exactly here. And the sinners, in other words, the ones living nowadays on this planet, are sent to be reeducated. If you are able to manage suitably all the fallen to your lot ordeals, having not violated ten commandments of Christ, or how many of them Mohammed and other "true" religious teachers have, - then following the results you will be taken to the paradise or sent back to the normal life. Well, as there are always more scums than normal men in the life, then they send the cattles, hangmen and similar to the ones to Russia. This territory is the huge one. And the ones who sinned less - they are sent to the higher civilized countries. So, in the former life I made a lot of dirts, and in this one it seems I've made even more.

I involuntarily smiled to myself about that balderdash. If it had been so easy! Meantime, and while reasoning, the time and the distance quickly went past, we went off from the square far away enough. There were the destroyed houses ahead and aside. Even not the houses, but the ruins. They were taken from hand to hand for many times. And many ones were merely destroyed, the others were staying without the highest storeys, mottled by the frags, bullets, castaway, abandoned, left by the people. Stalingrad and indeed! All this was seen a bit unrealistic in the illusory moonlight. The head was buzzing, the body was craving for the resting, the colored circles were hanging before the eyes because of the weariness. There was already no any thought in the mind. The feet were merely mechanically bringing my body somewhere forwards. Not a human kind, meaning all the sense of the word, but a wordless cattle. Even if spooks attacked now, then scarcely anybody were able to make any smart resistance.

The first ranks had come to some beforetime prestigious house and came in to inspect its remains. You see, it was situated almost in the very center of the city. The apartments certainly were ones of the most expensive and at that time nobody would give for them even a half-brass.

The second small group had left for inspecting of the building standing close by. Even being so deeply tired we perfectly realized that it was impossible to hide in the only ratts' corner. It was dangerous. Therefore we took two corners. We shall be the iron rats, gnawing through the concret floors.

The first group returned back at first and giving a hand's wave offered to take the night lodging and rest in the basement of the nearest house. Nobody was commanding. Merely the ones, who wanted to enter that building, left for it. I went with the second group. Why? Don't know. Went - that's it. About thirty men went into the second building, rather in its basement. But we did not stay in one room - we had dispersed in all directions. It was good that the basement was large. There were six ones having stayed with me. It was dark in that lodgement. We began to strike the matches, lighters shining on our temporary shelter. The room was a square lodgement of five per five meters size. There were two windows looking on to the street. About ten meters to the exit from the basement.

When the matches were fired the rats sprang from the corners in the diverse directions. Many rats. I feel calm about different animals. The main thing is that it would not try to bite or gorge you.

We had set the sentries and, having cuddled up to each other closer, as it was warmer, dropped into uneasy slumber. We wished to eat and drink very much. There were no such possibilities. So, we had to forget ourselves with the heavy night fantasies, waking up after every suspicious rustle and because of the shooting close by.

Regularly waking up to change for the other side or trying to draw in the chill wet legs, hugging each other, whisking off the rats sniffing us, we had slept not more than three hours. The slumber did not bring us relief. The feeling of hopelessness was increased by the hunger and thirsty aggravation. The transmitter was left in the first building, and so we stayed being not aware of any happenings. The people slowly, heavily woke up, smoked, made the "visits" to the fighters and officers, situated in the next lodgement. The darkness outside had not gone past yet, when the smell of the smoke and of the baked meat came from the futher corner. Exactly of the meat. It was impossible to confuse that unearthy smell with anything! But where was the meat from?

All the crowd flocked to the smoke and baked meat's smell. And it was tickling the nostrils, obscuring the heads a bit, provoking the sickly cramps of the stomach, inspiring with the hope for the best, arousing the memories about home, about picnics with barbecues. My God, what smell that was! I had felt such unearthy smell no ever in my life.

When the hungry crowd had come, had flown to the improvised fire made of the funiture remains and papers, we saw two soldiers were baking the small pieces of the fresh meat on the selfmade skewers. The pieces were trickling, the blood was dropping from them, the bree was bubbling. The sight was unforgetable! Naturally, the everybody's first question was:

- Where's the meat from?

- Where've you taken it?

- 've you some more?

- Isn't it a man?

- No, it's not a man! - the soldiers laughed, continuing baking their barbecue.

- So, where have you taken the meat from?

The impatience and hunger thrilled the people. The fighters were uncertainly stepping form one foot to another, baking, obviously having no wish to tell their culinary skill's secrets. The pause was overtly too long. The strain was growing up. The crowd of the armed, worked up to the border hungry males was able to cook the slum-burners to be a barbecue. Finally one of them mumbled:

- The rat.

- Rat?!

- Yes, it's rat, - the fighters confirmed.

- Are you mad? - many ones were shocked.

The stomach was cramping - not because of hunger, but because of sickness. If there were anything inside, it certainly would go outside. Many ones felt the same reaction. But nearly half of us, feeling no any emotions, came closer and began to wonder about the hunting and culinary secrets of the "chefs". As quickly as possible I went out to get a breath of air. "Gourmands'", the exotics lovers' particular comments were being heard after me:

- Have you tasted it?

- No, but look, it's so fat!

- Exactly, how much bree and fat! M-m-m-m! Wow!

- Is it one rat or two?

- One.

- Look, so large.

- There are many of them here - enough for everybody!

- I read and was taught at school that the rats are contagion carriers, including plague.

- We were taught many things at school, what's the sense?

- Don't like - don't eat! - somebody answered with the iron logic.

- Nothing will happen!

- Correct. Nothing will happen, we've only to grill the meat good.

- Well grilling is OK, but not to dry the meat, not to make it dry, fragile and untasty.

- Look, the crust is already baked.

- Precisely! Class crusty!

- Men, let me taste the small piece? Huh?

- And we don't need much.

- If we like it, we'll catch some rats.

- Pity that there are no dogs here, they've more meat.

- A human has so much. Why don't you eat?

- Blow it out with your jokes. You can eat it.

I was not able to bear those talkings, went out and started inspecting of the apartments' remains. The smell, the smoke, being blown out of the basement, rose up the ladder, hunting me literally upon my heels. I started smoking, trying to send away the importunate smell. The stomach was cramped because of either hunger or the thought that I felt the toasted rat's smell. Br-r-r-r!

From the former experience I knew that the hunger feeling would leave me on about the fourth day of not eating. There would be only the dull weariness, but no hunger at all. The thoughts would roll over slower and not about the matter, but about the meal.

When on nintieth year we entered Baku, then we were brought to the Sal'ianskie barracks, and after that moved to the fourth microdistrict as a commandant unit. We were responsible for the law order keeping and for the closing time in that houses block. Our com-batt was not a fool and that's why he organised the battalion's command center in the large supermarket. When we went down into the basements there was thick meal on the ground. There was only the bread dearth. As in that anecdote when the butter should have been spread on the sausage. But it seems as if I'm repeating. The thoughts are hung up about the meal. Instead of the meal I jobbed the bitter smoke inside myself. Some fuss rose up below me. I stopped and listened to. The spooks? No. The excited shrieks were heard from the basement:

- Com'n, com'n!

- Chevy'em on me!

- Where are you chevying'em to, idiot!

- Let's start again.

- There, they ran in that corner.

- Go round, go round.

- Com'n, chevy'em.

- Pity, we can't shoot.

- Damned shooter. Spooks will hear.

- Beat'em! Beat!

- Not with barrel, fool!

- Beat with gun-butt!

- Hey, you, that's not club! Beat with the butt end.

- But it'll be all bloody!

- No matter, you'll wash!

- And you don't wanna gorge?

- Got it!!!

- Many?

- Three ones beaten dead.

- Little, we need more. There's nice horde.

- Let'em beat themselves.

- Stop talking. Enough rats, for all.

- Fat!

- Normal.

- Beat fat ones.

- Can't see if they're fat or not.

- Go round, now we'll chevy again.

Stopping the sickness urges I went outside not to hear the dying rat's cheeps. The nightfall had already passed away. I'd stopped and was watching the street for a long while, could see sort of no activiy. The shooting was occasionally heard from the Minutka direction. But the sound showed that it was not a combat. Most probably, these were the sentries shooting the sectors of responsibility. Running, bent in two, I crossed over the street at diagonal and rushed into the house entrance where at the first group had hidden. When entering the two sentries cautiously met me.

- Hi, bros! - I said to them.

Having seen me be ours they eased and smiled.

- Good morning, comrade captain, - one widely smiled. Showing thirty two teeth.

- What's news?

- Nothing. And what is the noise over there?

- Spooks? - The second continued.

- No. Those are the wisemen happened who had opened the season of hunting rats.

- Rats? - the amazement of one was genuine.

- Rats? - the second one was, on the contrary, thoughtful. As if he was rolling over in his head the thought of the baked rat. His eyes were covered with the dreaming shroud.

- Yes, rats. The fighters brakfasted with the baked ratty in the morning, so the others wished to taste that also.

- Did you taste? - The second fighter asked. The first one felt himself sick getting only thought about rat.

- No. I didn't taste. And don't want, - I honestly confessed. - Where are the fathers-commanders?

- Over there, - the first fighter vaguely waved with his hand pointing at the ladder leading to the basement.

I went downwards into the basement's lodgement, not hurrying, smoking while walking down the ladder covered with the spalls and rubbish. About ten people were sitting there inside. Further, about ten-fifteen ones were sitting and lying in the next room. I saw Yurka dozing among them and came closer, easily kicked his flank.

- Stand up. You'll oversleep God's Kingdom.

Yurka swiftly opened his eyes. And having seen me, jumped up. We hugged one anouther.

- Alive? - He was sincerely glad.

- Alive. I'll not be lost.

- And I unwittingly thought that was all...

- Sod all!

- Well, give tell what's good about you, - Yurka overtly was not able to set himself.

- Why the news? - I wonderd. - All is the same as about you. You can go to my basement, if you want, the fighters have just beaten five rats and are now cooking breakfast.

I told him the "rats" epic in a nutshell. He was amazed, and did not keep silence about his stomach being horrified when it got the only thought about the rat-fleshy.

- Did you eat it yourself? - He asked, hardly controlling the sickness urge.

- No, I have not touched the bottom yet.

- But the rat?

- But why are you wondering? The Chinese say that everything growing and moving is eatable. But you should only be able to cook it in an according manner. No matter, Yura, when we wanna eat, then we'll guzzle a rat and something else also.

- We must quickly go away from here or we go half mad.

- That point is correct, bros. If we sit here longer yet, we'll get all fuck-up.

The ones sitting nearby were listening to our talk and opened the discussion about the problems of nutrition of the improvised things. We did not interfere and stepped aside.

- What does the center say? Have you already connected?

- Have connected. Ugh! - Yurka spat. - Nothing good. The brigade remains are trying to fight the way to the old center. The headquarters, rather all the remains, got circled and are fighting. The paratroopers are cast to assist. I don't know will they fight through to them or not. All situation is shit.

- You haven't brought any fresh idea about the shit. What shall we do?

- Have we already any plan?

- No any plan. Sitting. Reading fortune at coffee grouts.

- We should scarper, before Chechens' cleansing up. They're sure not fools also.

- I've already told... - Yurka hopelessly waved with the hand. - They say it's necessary to sit, to watch around. I just tell it's shit.

- Let's go and try to speak. We're the staff officers indeed.

- Let's go but there will be a little sense.

But as we were going on to the first battalion's commander, as one of the sentries, controlling the entrance in the house, rushed in and shouted in half-wisper:

- Spooks're coming!

- How far away?

- They're in couple of houses from here. They're making cleansing up.

Chapter 11

(c) Copyright 1996-1999 Vyacheslav Mironov ( maxra@mail.ru )

We were really able to hear the grenades' explosions and the subguns' cracking. The shouts resounded:

- On guard!

- How many?

- Don't know exactly, about fifteen men! - the sentry was alreday almost shouting.

- Take the positions!

- They go aside maybe?

- Maybe they'll not see us?

- Don't cherish illusions!

- Come-on, guys!

All of us disbanded. Some ones hid at the exit, the others sheltered near the basement's windows, and a group of the soldiers and officers, Yurka and I went up on the first floor. We set down near the broken windows.

The group of militants was slowly walking through the street, the number of them was indeed of about twenty ones. They moved in according to all the rules of the combat at the urban area. Making the short rushes, securing each other, attentively watching the broken windows and enterances of the houses. Having come up to the nearest house, they stopped. Five ones rushed to the basement's windows, cast the grenades inside and catwheeled back. The others, having taken forth the subguns' barrels, were waiting. As soon as the explosions of the grenades were heard, everyone instantly made a short burst.

After that, having devided into the small groups of three-four ones, they entered the doorways. The short bursts were heard form the doorways. Three of them were staying outside. Then all of the cleansing up the house went outside.

I counted them. There were eighteen ones at all. We had more men, but we had to liquidate them quickly, very quickly, before the main forces came to that place, otherwise we'd chuck away luck. Everyone clearly realized that.

The spooks were coming closer, shortly, gutturally talking over to each other. All of us had stood still. They were in ten, eight, five meters from our building. And now thundered the fire. We fired from above, and from below, and directly. They were also shooting at the spooks from "my" house. The latters tried to defense. But not likely! The fear, the hunger had passed away. The sureness in our forces had come back again. Combat meant fighting. We did need at that moment a victory, let it was the small one, but nevertheless victory - to feel us again the men, the fighters, the monolithic collective. All of us understood that and were mercilessly shooting at the bunch of spooks.

The spooks, who were yet alive, tried to escape fleeing, but cast aground widely spreading the hands. The fighters rushed following them. They tore off the flasks from the belts, took away the grenades and munition, turned over the corpses, turned the pockets inside out searching for the eatable. They crammed something into their pockets, under the armor vests.

The ones who stayed in the building, were preparing to urgently evacuate. We had to go further, to fight the way to ours.

Two more days went past. We were going during those two days seeming endless long, confusing everthing, the day and the night, the dream and the reality. We stayed in the basements in the day time, went by night. A couple of times we fell across the ambushes, but left them making no any combats and shooting back. Some of us were missed, lagged behind. Somebody specially made that not to tie us up. Not to be the excess baggage for the others. Being forceless, they quietly, creepingly came off and lagged behind. Someones consciously stayed behind to defend our withdrawal. Hearing the dreadful shouts that the order was to go with us, they only turned the subguns' barrels at us and sent us away with the obscene words. Some of them, before cursing us with the obscene talk, swiftly gave us their individual numbers, documents, personnal things, letters. At the end they asked us to inform the relatives. They did not want to be "missing in action". And we went on and crept on bringing the wounded and the dead ones with us. When there were already no any powers, we left the killed ones and the died wounded ones in a house basement and swore to come back for them. We buried them in the corner of the basement not to let animals gnaw them round.

We moved on, only forwards. The moving was a life. Nobody already argued or, discussed. Only forwards. We had already no any powers. Only the dull despair made us move on. Only the blind craving for the life was the moving force. The fighters took out with their hands the frags not stuck not deep inside them without any narcosis. There was no any antiseptic to spread on the wounds and it was practically impossible to wash them. That's why, to avoid infection and stanch a wound, - the bandages were used off, the medicine chests' contents were eaten in hunger, - the open wounds were strown with the powder from the rounds, which was burnt after that. The powder flashed, acidly stinking and spreading around the smell of the scorched flesh. The bleeding stopped and the wound closed.

Some of the wounded ones shot themselves, specially exploded themselves with grenades. We took the identifications from their pockets, tore off the cords with the individual numbers and went on, crept on.

Once by night we ran up against a paratroopers group, who had also lagged behind from their detachment and roamed as the blind, left by the mum kitties, the same as we did. We were close to start fire on meeting them. But as everybody was frightened to attract attention of spooks there was a decision to fight with the daggers. And after that we cleared up there were ours. The clash resulted two small cuts and a broken rib. Our fighter jumped on a paratrooper from above and when he dropped sideways kicked him on the ribs. Nothing serious, in a word.

Our radioset was broken a long while ago and chucked away. But the one of the troppers worked quite good. Having caught the old frequency we got the radio contact. And maybe it's good that the frequencies and the call signs are not changed? For all that has somethimg good. Roaming on the air we were able to contact our brigade. It turned out that almost all had come together at the former CC. Yes, we suffered heavy losses, but the brigade was still able to fight. They were waiting for us and would assist us to cross over Sunzha. We had got new com-brig. A certain person colonel Butalov Alexei Michailovich. He had commanded reduced to cadre medical regiment. And so, he had been assigned to our brigade by the order of the Defense minister Grachin at that time. The former com-brig was alive, the leg was saved. He was lying at the Defense ministry Central Moscow hospital named after Burdenko. Good luck to you, Commander!

Everybody was shocked by the news that the former commander of reduced to cadre, and even medical regiment, would lead us. In addition to all colonel!

My reader, do you know what does that reduced to cadre regiment mean? Namely reduced to cadre, but not the acronymed effective one. The usual cadre-reduced infantry regiment consists of commander, executive officer and deputy. As a rule deputy in the weaponry. There are not more then ten-fifteen officers in all the brigade. About twenty warrant officers. About fifteen soldiers. That's all! That's all!!!

The main task for them - to maintain the tech. In other words, making of the time limits works, change of all the rubber-tech devices once per five years and the humdrum of such kind. When it was a Soviet power the nonregulars were periodically taken, so named "partisans", who opened the tech, drove it a bit. After that it was put again in the preservation status. That is a reduced to cadre infantry regiment.

And what the reduced to cadre medical regiment meant, I did not know that at all. The officers and warrant officers who were there with me had never heard about such one also. If the post of the usual reduced to cadre infantry regiment's commander was assigned for a lieutenant-colonel, very rarely for a major, then there it was for a colonel! It was not possible to understand it with the mind. Most likely that regiment was assigned for the third world war. When it was planned to use the weapons of mass destruction.

Besides that, we were told that the new com-brig was from the North-Caucasian military district (abbreviation - SKVO), and we were from the Siberian one (SibVO). During all the times to be on the service at the SKVO was a privilege of the "tricksters" or of the ones moved from the Far Eastern one (DalVO) or Zabaikilskii (ZabVO, military district forsaken by God).

All right, we will worm out - we will sort out, who is who. The fact was the brigade had survived, maybe not all, with incomplete effective, but it was able to survive. And the mainest thing was that they remembered us, and that warmed the soul. The paratroopers rejoiced also. Now, they were also able to worm out to our troops, and after that to reach their units. The dull weariness, indifference to our fates, to the fates and lives of the others had left us. Everybody's mood changed to be much better. Despite the strong fatigue we wished to live.

The action about rescuing and evacuation of us was assigned on five o'clock. Till that time we faced the going through about ten blocks and had to think about something like a bridge. Ours were able to back us up only with fire.

As soon as the twilight had fallen, not waiting for the darkness, we started to go. There were twenty two of us alive, including the wounded ones, who survived from the former number. There were sixteen paratroopers including their wounded ones. So that, our army was raggle-taggle. True we had too little munition, but we had the anger and the wish to survive - enough for the whole battalion!

The recons' group reported that they had found a group of militants in the number of up to fifteen men in a distance of five blocks form our place. You must not think that all the militants were centrally subordinated as in the regular army. No, not in the least. All of them were devided into the minigroups, minbands. Particular formations counted up to a thousand ones. The others - up to five-six ones. The ring-leaders of the large groupings kept, of course, a contact with the main office of Dudaev, somehow coordinated more or less their joint ops. But that whorehouse, which reigned in Grozny at those days, did let neither us, nor militants act coordinately.

Keeping in mind the above listed, together with the troopers, we decided that there was some "wild" band before us, and maybe the usual marauders, masquerading themselves to be militants. We had already met such ones earlier. Although, to say honestly, my personal mind made no any large difference between them. You should know the mentality of the Chechen people to understand that. From the very times of the conquest of the Caucasus that nationality was noticed to be of unmoderate greed and avarice, they were from the very beginning prone to kidnapping to demand ransom. Read again the books of Tolstoy, Lermontov, Ermolov (Leo Tolstoy, 1828-1910, participated in the Caucasian war, as well as Mikhail Lermontov, 1814-1841, one of the best Russians poets, Alexei Ermolov, 1777-1861, general, hero of the wars against Napoleon, lead the Russian troops during the Caucasian war - O.B.A.).

That's why we decided to attack that "brigade" of militants. At first there was a wish to go aside from them, but the recons' group reported that the streets aside were blocked up and it was practically impossible to go with the wounded ones via them. We would have regulary to climb up and come down the heaps of the building rubbish. Inevitable noise, the great risks of some collapses, traumas. We wished much to reach ours sooner. It was also not exluded, meaning the words of the captured "clapper", that the spooks took us for the sabotage-recons group, and they wanted to annihilate it. To annihilate at all losts, supposing that we had seized one their war lord and tried to bring him to ours. That particularly was confirmed by our brigade when they asked us per radio if we were carrying some spook with us. And concerning about that thing we answered that the Siberians do not surrender to be captives and do not take any captives also. It turned out by all parameters that we had to hurry up. And that "had to" was a must. Forwards, onwards!

When you are in war and it's quiet around, meaning quietness by the war standards, you use any smallest possibility to get some dozing and to go slumber as early as possible. And the spooks were not any exception also. They, as all the usual warriors, went to sleep earlier, having set before the sentries.

Their sentries differed not much from our ones. To throw away a dream, to dally, to frighten the enemy, they shot at the areas in front of them. Everyone had his own sector of responsibility. There were two sentries all together. They periodically set off the parachute lights, dallied with trying to shoot at the rats rushing in the light of the paraflars (the night at that time was dark, moonless). Our observation proved no one of them was successful in that action.

In about an hour they came together, and that is the most strictly prohibited at all the armies of the world, and began smoking, that is also catigorically contra-indicated as it hurts the health of the sentries. Firstly, it distracts, and secondly, the flame dazzles. Those cigarrets were the last ones in their lives. It was surely written on the packages that the Ministry of Health alerted - smoking is dangerous for your health. See, both of them were illiterate.

We had quickly and smoothly taken that couple off. They had left for their Allah with the prophet, being absolutely not aware what had happened. It was risky to crawl to them. Too much rattling, treacherously crumbling under the feet broken stones. And as they started smoking, as we lodged a bullet for every one with the noisless pistolls just at the moment of pulling at cigarettes. We made that, bless God, on the first try. Quietly and calmly. Only two unloud claps as if some one audibly clapped with the palms, frightening the rats. We had also not to finish them off.

And after that all of us went into the basement and started the slaughtering of the sleeping ones. It's important in that thing to prevent any squealing of the sleeping one. Therefore, a violent slap in the cheek with the left hand and instant slit the throat.

Have you sick-reverse, my reader? But what could you do, when you want to survive, you'll make not only that, you would gorge on the rotten worse than a rat. So, finally I had to taste it. It was nothing to guzzle. Cold. I was reeling because of hunger and fatigue. The circles before the eyes, even not the circles, but the black spots. We slept only one or one and a half hours per day. Remember we had to sleep not taking off the clothes and lying on the stones. Any large fire to warm ourselves could not be made - they would see us. So, we quietly beat the rats, made the small fire, only to bake the small pieces. All the best pieces were given to the wounded ones. The water was not taken from Sunzha, as there was an open area, they could see us, but from the small pits and craters. And after that the water from Sunzha seemed for me to be a luxurious mineral one from some prestige health resort. And so, when you are already a cattle, but there is a light of escaping from this situatition, and it's looming up, you meet on your way a dozen of weaponed thugs who being poor-clever have decided to fall asleep. What will YOU do, my reader?

I guess that when you lose any border between illusions, half-hungry faints and reality, then, if you have enough power, you will act right in this way. I'm not speaking about any courage, but some power. A man always has enough courage in the extraodinary situation, especially when there are some extreme conditions and an aincent human kind arises in him, and the reflexes of annihilating and of the personnal survival are emerging from the depths of the underconsciousness. Here is the point when you need power, and if you are too weak, drooping limp or banal old, then it's almost impossible to survive. But it's very difficult to job the reflexes back inside after that. They like just frolicing, being free after the many years imprisonment, and do like it very much.

A man enjoys realizing himself to be a kind of some superman. It's especially splendid when the complexes, got as a result of education, such as conscience, compassion to the enemy, fellow creature, are gone away. And the vigour also increases a bit. Why isn't it a kind of a confirmation of the Hitler, Nietzsche theory about the blond brute? The moral condition will also improve, the pain reflexes will become blunt, the fatigue will have almost gone. There is only real Heracles. Seemingly, it results in the stimulation of the endomorphin discharging. They are formed and discharged in organism when you consume the drugs. And here you get kicks without gear.

You'd better, my reader, not participate, even indirectly, in sending the young strong guys to this war. I can succeed myself in driving this wild animal into its cage, and that is really very difficult. It was enough for me to meet it when storming barricade on the square and when slaughtering the spooks' band. And those young soldiers - they can not manage all that, it can somewhen jump out in the "Civvy Street". And so, watch, the reader. I neither dramatize by any means, nor romanticize by any means the situation, but I do alert. Take care!

Quickly, having slaughtered the sleeping militants without hasty noise or dust, we moved on. We walked keeping all the measures of precaution. The edging of my armor vest had been scuffed and torn off for a long while ago. The plates, placed inside, dropped away, that's why I took it off and threw it away. It was easier to go, to creep, but the jacket kept the warmth worse. While regular creeping via the basements, over the heaps of the rubbles and other building rubbish the jacket was torn and the dirty wadding ribbons were sticking out. The wadding fell out also. The trousers were torn in many places. The knees were not protected even by the double cloth. I was not the only one of such view. All the others didn't look better. The mugs were overgrown, and it was already even not a kind of scrub, but some wild hair. The view was horrible, unneat, scaring, repelling and at once some pitiful.

There was an obstruction blocking the street ahead. Seemingly, the building collapsed from the air-bomb hitting. In passing it made a couple of more houses to collapse. We had no time to go round it, but had to climb up that obstruction. The sky was covered with the clouds. It was dark, only the parachute lights were periodically skyrocketting aside. They didn't light up anything for us, but at the same time they didn't light up us also.

We're creeping. Creeping in the groups of two, somewhere of three ones. The building rubbish, broken stones, sand, crashed glasses are scratching, skinning us and cutting the skin. We are out of breath because of the constant straining and little power. We wish we could stop and take a rest but it's impossible. The comrades are also creeping behind me, and use the subgung's barrel as an accelerator for you periodically thrusting it into your ass. We do not want to stand up and go with the short rushes. This is a very comfortable obstruction and necessarily it should be used for an ambush. The dominating point - can not be taken by a hasty crossing, with swoop down, therefore we're creeping.

The dust, the sand are filling up the face, dropping into the wide-open mouth, into the ears, under the collar, into the sleeves. Periodically you spit it out. And forwards again, forwards. Wish to live, wish to survive!!! And here we're already over the obstruction back. We've stand still. The others also crawl up from behind and stop listening, watching the impenetrable darkness. It seems to be quiet. We carefully go down leaving that point trying not to stumble. Now it is near, at a stone's throw away to reach the meeting point - the distance of one block. Some devices to cross the river should be found yet.

Sunzha is not wide in this point - about ten-twelwe meters wide. But you can try to cross it in the darkness. It's a shame, but I can not swim up to nowadays. To float in the water - it's one thing, but to swim surely crossing the river in the winter night, the river which has the beginning in the mountains and that is why it's well cold and rapid, that is quite another thing. Don't forget we have to bring the wounded ones also. That is facing us, anything but simple problem.

Having come to the supposed point of crossing I watch aroud. Jollily! The night, fuck anything's seen, Sunzha's making a noise from below. The waterside is silty, slippery, and to drop down is very easy. We've left the wounded ones to watch the situation and dispersed in all directions. This simple problem can provoke a madness. To find something stiff and light, to throw it over the stinky river as a small bridge and then to go over it.

The searching for the black cat in the dark room, especially when there is no any cat there in the room - that's a devilish complicate work. There are no many trees in the Caucasus. And the ones situated in Grozny were spent for the firewood by everyone who wanted for a long while ago. We, the local inhabitants and the Chechen militants did that. We're the same in this point. Should we bring the slab of concrete? But who's able to take up this shit? So, I'm reasoning, roaming in the darkness, stumbling over different rubbish and quietly cursing out. It's also senseless to search for anything in the houses. All the good things have been already brought away. The earliest guy gets the slippers. And here we are, some goons, coming now, especially by night, and trying to find out something.

Having such depressive thoughts I have come up to the opposite side of the street and am so painfully stumbling over something. Hardly keeping on my feet I sit on some stuff, rubbing the hurt shin. And I see that I was hurt by the fallen pillar of the street light. Well, that's an idea. It can be thrown, if we try, over the river and we can attempt to go.

I trudge back and meet ours and tell about my discovery. We go to call for the others. When we've come back, then we see that the troopers are binding the rope they have found on the first floor of the nearest house.

- Well, guys, are you going to hang yourselves? - I ask the troopers.

- No, preparing the passage.

- And how will you anchor it on the other waterside?

- When ours come then we'll throw them the ropes and let'em tie to APC or to anything over there, so we'll go over this brige.

- We'll see. And how shall we bring the wounded ones?

- We'll try. And what are the offers of yours?

- To bring the lighting pillar and throw it over. And to go over it.

- We can try that also, if we cannot use this way.

- But yes, we can go, and what about the wounded ones? There are bad wounded ones.

- The bad wounded will not go over pillar also. We need some pier.

Everybody begins thinking and creats a compromise. We need both the rope as a banister and the pillar as a bridge.

- All right, let's go to bring your pillar, - the trooper sighs and, having motioned to the others, follows me.

- Don't be dejected, - I console the trooper, - of course, I understand you. It's not the first time for you to fall with the head down but it is uneasy for me and for the others.

- Flub off, - the trooper grumbles.

- Why, are you upset because of that pillar?

- No. I do not like to carry the heavy things. And is your pillar enough long to throw it from one waterside to the other one?

- Enough, enough, - I console him.

- Darkness, - the trooper starts again to grumble, - already now, being unfilled, we stumble walking here, but with that shit...

- Stop grumbling, - I comfort him

- You see, I had to prepare to enter academy and go for the entrnace exams on June, and then I had flown in, so I was sent... - He sighes.

- Had you beaten a mug? - I take interest.

- Well, no, worse. In the end of October we went for the hunting. All the officers of our regiment. Went to hunt a boar. As it's the custom, we'd also taken vodka. Well, in the first evening, naturally, we had drunk to be close to the pigs' screaming. Royally, in a word. And in that year there were lots of boars, very many. So, we had parked at the end of the picked up field. The locals told, by night, the boars, all the brood, go out and shovel different roots. The bears also frolic before falling hibernating. Though, for the bear, we had come too late. So, we were sitting in the tent. Guzzling vodka, as it's the custom. Spinning a yarn. Then I felt an urge "to go out for the windy air". And the guys told: "Take the gun. Maybe you'll bump against a boar. And maybe you'll find an insomniac bear. Take. The Lord helps those who help themselves". So, I had taken it to my own harm, - the trooper sighes, - was standing near the tree, putting on the clothes. The gun was hanging on my shoulder. And could hear in the bushes, in three meters aside a noise, rustle and some grunting. I took the gun and using the two stocks in turn... Bu-bu-buh!!! Then the men with the lights jumped out from the tent and ran to me. I told all. They rushed to there. And there had been the regiment's head mate for the phisical training sitting over there. It turned out that he had come to catch "windy air" before. Why he got a thought to grunt - don't know. In short, I had ruined his skull. There had been a bullet in the stock. That was it. The military prosecutors made a long investigation about that case after that. What it was, whether it was an assassination or a casuality or criminal negligence. I lost much health that time. Of course, my academy entering fried. The criminal case was stopped. They made it off as a casuality. And offered me to go here as a volunteer. And I could have been preparing for the academy...

- It means that was his fate, - I insert a replica. - And mean also, man, that if you had graduated from the normal military college, you would have shot at sound worse. And thus - your reflexes did work.

- Exactly. I was drunken and did not think at all. Is it still far away?

- Don't know, in my view, we've gone. Stop, men! Backwards, we've passed.

We turn back and in about thirty meters find this unfortunate pillar. We've collected around it.

- But how shall we carry it?

- Devil knows.

- It's great shit.

- Shall we stand around or carry it? - I don't bear.

- Let's take.

- Maybe we'll bring it by turning it around? - somebody asked hoping for the easy way.

- It's fragile. We'll bring only carcass when turning around.

- Fragile, fragile, but surely so heavy.

- Hey-ho!

There are fifteen of us. The wounded ones, who were not able to go or were weakened much, were left on the obstruction. All our weapons were left also over there. It would only impede us. In the darkness, we're impeding, pushing, sniffing while taking up this concrete pillar.

- Sod it, that's real weight! - is heard from the darkness.

- When coming back home, I'll request demanding those pins would be made only of aluminium. Carefully, the foot, foot!

- Don't put it under!

- I do not put it under, I've just retaken.

- Has everybody taken?

- Everybody.

- I'm now giving birth to some elephanty.

- I'm now becoming myself elephanty.

- Let's go.

- Why go! I'm under it.

- Hold it, hold it, men, I'm under it!

- Get out. Stop! What are you doing there? Skiving?

- Why "skiving"? I've stumbled over.

- Watch your steps, jerk.

- But, devil, nothing's seen.

- All one watch.

- Quiet, men!

There is a rustle in the darkness, it is heard as a broken stone squeals under the heel.

- Coo, spooks? - somebody askes with the breaking wisper.

To hold this concrete bullshit is so hard. When you're going, then it seems easier, but at one place - beyond endurance. The palms become wet at all. The muscles are blocked with the blood and become stony, uncontrolled. No any weapon. Only, maybe, somebody has a pistol. But the others have only some bare enthusiasm, some grenades and the daggers. And the concrete shit in the weakening hands.

- Men, men! - somebody quietly calls to us. - Where are you?

- In shitty ass'n'n high stress! Fuck you! - is heard in front of me.

- Let's move on!

- Let's go or I'm droping it now! - somebody has implored.

- What d'ya want?

- Men! Ours've come, over there. We've already sent'em the cable.

- Cable - it's good. If this shit's now sent'em, that'll be also good!

- All right, let's go, c'mon.

- Stop!

- What's again?

- 've fallen down and that shit's over head. Painful!!!

- Is the skull OK?

- What could be with it?

- Let's go. Forwards.

And again oathing and damning that weight, we start. Finally, we see the men fussing on the other river side in the headlamps' light. Ours. Ou-r-r-r-rs!!! The power has come back to us. All together we run forth. Blessing, the running was easy. The descent to the river starts. Slipping on the clay on the sprawling feet, flying under the weight of the sodding pillar, we drop almost into the water. And we begin taking up the pillar and throwing it to the other waterside. Here the wounded ones also take part in it. We take up one end of the pillar and try to throw it moving to the other waterside. The pillar, being heavy as a tank, outbalances and drops in the water. Hurry-scurry, we take it out and do again the same. Cold, water, night. They light us with the headlamps from the other waterside. There are landmarks now. Straining the last powers we take the fucking pillar out of the water at our waterside and, having then swung it, throw the other end of it to the other waterside. The hellish worky.

The crossing starts. The boots are smeared with the clay. The feet sprawl on the pillar. If there were no cable thought up together with the paratroopers to be a kind of railing, we would bathe in the black icy Sunzha.

On the OUR waterside we are met as the brothers. Everyone having passed gets in the warm, friendly, dear hugs of our brothers-soldiers. The recons, the docs, the buzzers have come. There are about fifty of them meeting us. The recons pass on our waterside and assist the wounded ones to cross the river. Every one of us here and now is wrapped up and offered a full glass of vodka.

Some one is weeping, some one is laughing. I am caught with stupor. Yurka is jumping around me as a mad and jolting me.

- Slavka! We've crossed! We've survived! Slavka! We've survived!!! We were able!!!

- Able, able, - I wearily brush off from Yurka. - But abate, please. Now we'll go to the box van and pig out.

- Exactly!!! - Yurka makes a noise. - Pig out. Up to green snot. And mug into salad!

- Where are you going to find a salad, monster? - I ask, clambering on the armor of our recons' APC.

The boots bottoms are smeared with the river clay and are slipping. I am able to climb up only at the third attempt. Maybe, alcohol with weariness have also made their business about me. I'm above. Near the barrel. Happy. 've never been so happy yet. And all the life ahead seems for me to be a kind of fairy-tale. If I was able to survive in such a hell, then what could anything else be really worse? If God has taken me out of that shit, then he will pick me out of the other one even more so.

So, we're rolling on. Alcohol and weariness are making their business. Paying not any attention to the shaking and fitfully catching hold of armor on the turns, I am dozing. The feeling of strain and fear has gone away. The fear which was gnawing at me inside during all these days. The calm has come into my soul. I have not had such a calm inside myself for so long time. The carrier jumpes on some wide street and I feel as the wind begins to cool the face.

Nobody is speaking. Everybody is keeping silence. The ones who were rescued are drifting from the bygones and the life-savers are overfilled with their dignity feeling. Step by step I am able to recognize the locality.

My estimation shows me there is not more then fifteen minutes of driving. There are no block-posts, I wonder why. We've drived by an abandoned trench. I appeal to the recon sitting near me:

- Old chap, and where are the block-posts?

- Nobody exactly knows. When we came back we found that our "neighbors" had gone into thin air. We've stayed alone. The spooks venture too far, every night make the sorties. They slaughtered two sentries in the third battalion last night. You'll have enough work, if all of you're not sent to hospital, - the recon yells me in turn.

Apparently, my view is such one that the guy decides as if I am going to hospital.

- Don't you know if our box van with Pashka is intact?

- With Red one? Who made the watch of the troop train drunken when we were going by train?

- Yes.

- Alive. He's not likely to disappear. He did not believe that you and Yuri Nikolaevich kicked the bucket.

I smirk. Pashka does not wnat to wash our socks and laundry. But maybe he is indeed our kind talisman saving me with Yurka from any disaster? Who knows, how does Lord send us a sign and what is this sign? And I would not go to hospital. The bones are OK, and about the shell-shock... Only more vodka and all goes past. We'll battle through!!!

It seemes we are coming to the natal home, I feel my heart starts pounding when the convoy slowly enters the court of already deep native former kindergarten.

We come close to the main office and stop. All begin to jump down from the armor. The ones who are on the CC come out to meet us. The executive officer is standing on the half-lit porch. Our San Snych. There is a strange colonel next to him. Probably, our new com-brig. We'll sort out later what kind of a man and commander he is.

Everybody pats us on our backs, embraces us. They give us cigarettes and vodka. Being ashamed of neither new commander, nor "old" executive officer everybody grabs fifty or hundred grams of vodka, spirit. The unloading of the wounded ones begins. Now the doctors will examine them. When it's possible, the ones will be operated at the place. These are the worst ones. And the others will be brought to Khankala or to the "North". And after that they will be strewed to the hospitals of the immense Russia. That's all, guys, the war is over for you.

Yurka has come from behind, pats me on my shoulder and says:

- Let's go Slava, represent ourselves to San Sanych.

- Let's go.

We have come to San Sanych and speak to our direct commander ignorring the strange colonel:

- Comrade lieutenant-colonel, major Ryzhov and captain Mironov have come from... - we are not able to correctly choose where from we've come. There is something caustically-obscene jumping on the tongue.

- Well all right, stop it! - the cheif steps towards us and embraces us. At first - the one, then - the other one. - Welcome back, guys. Glad to see you alive. Well done. You'll tell us later about your feats. And now, - he applies to the strange colonel, - I represent you, comrade colonel, two senior officers of our brigade's HQ. This is major Ryzhov and this is captain Mironov. And this is the new commander of the brigade colonel Butalov.

- Comrade colonel... - we begin to name ourselves but he stops us with the lazy gesture.

- Doesn't matter, go and take a rest, we'll speak later.

- Go, go, guys, take a rest. We'll speak tomorrow. When you have slept enough, you can come. Good night.

- Good night.

We go to our old, to our dear, to our cozy box van. There is Pashka standing near the door and smoking, his strained figure shows us that he is nervously watching into the darkness. We come from aside and therefore he does not see us.

- Well, hello, our born under the rose son, - I start.

- Good evening! - Pashka has thrown away the cigarette and is now crinkling. To start embracing as a first is a kind of uneasy thing for him.

- Good-oh, Pasha! - Yurka is the first one to embrace him.

After that I come closer to him and offer my hand and after having shaking hands we hug one another. I feel Pashka's shouldrs are slightly trembling under my hands. I clap him on his back.

- That's all, Pasha. All. We're at home. So, receive us!

- Yes, yes, of course, - Pashka begins fussing what has never been his habit. Evidently, after the minutka's madhouse all of us have turned to be more sentimental. - Everything is ready. Everything is in the box van. Come in.

- Wow, that is! - we are admiring when having entered our box van.

Everything is purely washed and accurately erviced. On the box-table covered with the clean sheet, there are the bottles with vodka, a couple of bottles of cognac, one, heaven knows where from appeared, bottle of liquer and beer! Beer!!!

Yurka and I rush to this beer and quietly open every one a can, having not sat or taken off the dresses, and begin to decant the beer directly from the tins insides into us. So nice! So bless!

- Well, Pashka, well, brother, you've made so good turn! - We don't hide our admiration.

- But the beer and everything else were sent for you from the "North". And polit-officer Kazartsev had brought it.

- Fine fellow Sereoga!

- Fine fellow Sashka-commandant.

- And water, Pasha, have you some?

- There is a whole bucket of the hot water.

- That's great!

We quickly put off our rags - all the remains of our uniforms, we have a wish to throw it out, but what shall we wear all this time?

- But throw out your rags, I have got the new uniforms for you from the base area officers. It's not camouflage, but the new one, - and Pasha takes out two packages of the new or as they say in the army "canil" uniform.

- Fine fellow, Pashka.

- Our father-breadwinner, - Yura continues.

We've thrown down our rags, being naked, jump outside, and Pasha showers on us with the hot water from the bucket at that cold Chechen night. That was an enjoyment. Almost a sexual enjoyment. Long and carefully, we were washing our short-cut hair. We were patiently washing and rubbing our bodies. And we gave absolutely no any damned shit about the fact that we were washing ourselves on the brigade's CC being naked in the winter and by night. Let the things slide! We were glad! Glad because of returning back from such a hell. What was Dante hell with its primitive frying pans and boiling resin - not more then a short tale! We're alive!!! I'm alive!!! And I let all decencies slide. I regreted only that we had no women in our brigade.

After that Pasha brought us our cheap Polish cologne which we had privatized yet when storming the "North". Sparing it not at all, we showered it with the cupped hands on the bodies and inworked it. The numerous small wounds, cuts, injuries were painfully pinching, stinging. The former sensibility was coming back into the body. The warmed blood was not only rushing through the veins, it was raging. Good! Warm! Frost didn't matter. The steam was rising up from us.

We came back into the box van and put on everything pure, new and fresh. It didn't matter that the uniform was the usual green colored one and not the camouflage one. The new clean underwear and the same uniform were fondling the body. During our absense, Pashka contrived to obtain some meat somewhere and had cooked at that time something like barbecue. He took a mess-tin from under the pillow and opened it. What a divine fragrance! Greatful!

Yura made a half-glass of vodka for everybody including Pashka.

- So, Slava! To returning back! - Yurka took up our, so familiar, white plastic glass.

- To returning back! Let's drink, Pasha! - we clinked the glasses and drank.

Not waiting for the second glass we attacked at the meal. The starving organism was claiming right. We were quietly chewing and quickly swallowed the large pieces, relaxed little by little and the fuddle welled up. The fuddle was already not because of vodka but because of the warmth and good meal. We quickly poured into the second glass.

- To the fortune, men, let it never leave us!

- Precisely. If it were not the fortune, Pasha, we would not get away at any price. To the fortune! - And again the glasses had rustled, and we drank.

The door was swung open without knocking. There was Sereoga Kazartsev standing on the doorstep.

Chapter 12

- Oh, my God, staffies, you're really something, again drinking. As if you were not able to drink when being mousetrapped!

- Come in, Sereoga, come in, dear!

- Pashka! A cup and a fork are to be offered!

- No, men, I won't drink.

- Forget rotting about. Won't you really drink to our returning back?

- All right, but splash me only a bit.

- We'll drink now the third toast, and you're about only the first one. Catch up!

- No. I'll drink the third one with you.

- As you like it. Pasha, pour! Not so much.

- So, men, the third?

- Yes, the third!

- For the ones who are lost.

- Silence.

- I'm silent.

We stood up and everyone quietly drank, not chin-chinning and after a second of silence. We attacked again the meal, drinking the bear after all this. Whether the meal was fat or some other reason caused it, but the drunkenness was leaving us. The brains cleared up almost at all. The first one, who broke the quietness and the concerted chewing, was the polit-officer.

- So, tell us, heros, how you were able to step in so hard.

- If you speak to us in such a tone, I'll break your snoot, - I warned him. - You should have been with us.

- Should have been but the heads had sent me to take the humany in the "North". I brought it and hold your part. 'ven't left it here, so that the loafer, - Sergey pointed at Pashka, - do not guzzle it and do not drink all.

- And cigarettes?

- I've picked up the cigarettes and beer for you and your paisano Sashka-commandant sent you the bow with the greetings. I'll give them you in the morning. Come on, tell.

- Thus, Sereoga, we can tell nothing. In general terms you know everything without extra talks.

- I know, but tell nevertheless.

Briefly, interrupting each other, we told all that we had to experience. We didn't mask anything, did not whitewash. The impressions were still too fresh, the memory again and again brought us into that nightmare, that, some hours ago, we succeeded to get out from. We succeeded but the other guys didn't.

- There's no our guilt, Sereoga, that we've gone out but the men have stayed there. No.

- Don't be upset. All have already got to know that there is no guilt. We've already reported to Moscow, to the minister and to all the other ragtag. Reported, to say truth, after Rolin, that one presented all as if there had been our guilt in everything. As it happens, only we had to go storming, at least they say that thing in Khankala. And the others had to back us up only with supporting fire.

- There was no any back up. The spooks had made so first-class ambush for us that we stepped in it hard as the blind kitties, - I gloomily pronounced.

- There were more spooks than us, - Yurka confirmed.

- These moscow stronzos had thrown us to die.

- What's about the new commander? - I asked.

- Nothing about him! He turns to be a sidekick of the defense minister Grachin. So he was stuck through that old boy network.

- A moving from the reduced to cadre medical regiment to the combative brigade?

- Yes. To our brigade.

- Fucking disaster!

- We have already discussed it here. He's far from both drawing a map and even from reading it. There is nothing to be heard, but the only dirty words during the official conferences. And when Bilich starts to report and uses the military terms, then Butalov falls asleep.

- Why asleep? - Yura didn't understand.

- Very easily - starts slumbering. Hangs the head on his own breast and sniffs. He is nil.

- Doesn't he want to get Hero?

- It is not clear yet, but the manner of his leading of the HQ's convoy to the old CC - that was fucking desaster, men. Absolute illiteracy. If Sanych did not take the leading in his hands then we would not reach it. When there was a rapid fire upon the convoy, maybe some kiddo was shooting, that bonehead ordered: "Stop! Accept the combat!" And when we stuck into the ambush he ordered: "Go not reducing the speed!" And the obstruction was ahead. Resume: he's fool.

- Nightmare! We will have a hell of a time with him!

- Yes, we will. We'll attack Minutka tomorrow evening again!

- Why attack?

- The order from Moscow. But this time we're not the only ones. True the same attacking direction.

- Again over the bridge?

- Yes, guys, again over the bridge.

- Pour out or we'll flip the lids.

- Exactly, Slava, we'll not see it without a bottle. We didn't take it with Bahel and now we should do it with this medic... Ugh!

- Pour out, Pashka! Make the half-cup.

- To the fortune, let the fortune not leave us! - We drank without chin-chining. The recieved information dazed us. We were quietly sitting, without biting.

- What about Bahel, what about the second com-batt? - Yurka asked, smelling the bread crust.

- Bahel is in Moscow. The leg was saved. In the hospital by the name of Burdenko. And com-batt... - Sereoga heavily sighed. - He's not alive. The body was sent to Rostov and then, by the air, from it to the wife.

- Ye-eah, he was a good man. Memory eternal to him and let the ground be smooth for him!

- Have we lost many ours...there? - The lump was stuck in my throat when I remembered com-batt.

- Many, very many. Many ones were missed. Maybe they're sitting in the basements, maybe they're captured. But they're returning back, sending the messages. Some ones are fighting in the other units. They cannot fight through to us. Thus, the number of exactly died, in other words the confirmed figure, is one hundred men, and the number of gone missing and maybe alive yet - about sixty-seventy men. Not a few tanks were singed also. In short, we should have been sent to parking and forming ranks but we're sent to the hell-fire tomorrow again. Madhouse!

- Madhouse - that is, Sereoga, even soft word. Seemingly, they wanna knock us down. So that only the name and the banner would remain.

- Exactly, the same as about Maikop brigade. Fags! Foul fags!

- Don't be boiling over, Slava, there's already nothing reasoned by us. Let's better drink!

- Let's drink. Bugger all is depending on us. Pour out. A bit for me.

We've drunk. Quietly, without toast, not chin-chining.

- Sereoga, you bring us only the ugly news. As just before the first assault, as now also. Maybe all the evil is inside you? - Yurka looked point-blank at guilty of nothing Kazartsev.

- Well gun me down, you'll see if it will change anything, - Sereoga was unflappable.

- What the hell are we sent again in this thick? - I continued boiling over.

Stupor had gone. The rage possessed me again. I hardly restrained myself being own man. To blow off steam somehow, I was cursing out:

- Jiggered stronzos, sluts, scoundrels, wanked off douches, foul fags, brainless dorks. Knocking'em out's too little. On thirty seventh such stronzos would have faced the wall and got a control lead at head.

- You would've first faced the wall for such talking, - Yura countered being cool.

- You're right. But what degenerates are they!

- Calm down, Slava. Everything's gone passed. Everything's in future. If you are boiling over we'll piss you.

- All right, - I abated. - Sereoga, and what about Yurka and me?

- Don't know, there was no talk about you. But the other administrative ones will be allocated amoung the battalions. I'll be sent to the second battalion. You'll stay at the main quarter.

- I'll not stay with that fucking commander, - I began yelling again, - I'll go to the second one with you. I wish I could paint town from my heart.

- Correct, Slava, let's go together! - Yurka poured out vodka again. He made the tiny bits, every one for the only sip.

- When shall we leave?

- On seventeen according to the plan. We'll come by nineteen. That convoy will be large, and there's maybe an ambush also. Well, there will be again the "tanks carrousel" and... And again with the naked ass on the frits, - the polit-officer finished.

- We'll have some time to sleep!

- Exactly. Now the last cups - and slumber. Pashka! Do not awake, do not turn around, when fire alarm, bring out first of all! All right, come-on! - we'd drunk and having left Pashka cleaning in the box van went out to smoke.

- Did not want to tell into the fighter's face, - Sereoga started, - but they absolutely seriously investigaated the question, whether Bahel specially killed the men.

- Fucking mad!

- Are you seriously?

- Even more seriously. Rolin had memorized you, Slava, they thought that you were saboteur and so... - Sereoga stuck.

- Keep on speaking! That I deserted? Did you want to say that?

- Yes. Namely that you fled.

I fevered. Felt myself becoming bloodshot. The rage woke up. I wanted to crash immediatly somebody's snoot. Preferrably it should have been Rolin or Sedov. The small fry from the mlitary prosecutor department would have been of use also. Or as we named'em - "prosmokchikies" (the Russian slang word to name mocking the public prosecutor, almost untranslatable, a kind of the words play sounding a bit like prosecutor - "prokuriata", with some unexact meanings like "chiken" and "smoked", sounds like "smokchikies" - O.B.A.). I wished a spook came now.

- A jolly cinema. And what, now, I'll be court-martialed?

- No. San Sanych had fought off any blame from you. The fighters and officers, having returned earlier than you, confirmed that you had not put tail between legs, had not shot at ours, but had fought as all the others, applied dressings at the wounded ones.

- Listen, Sereoga, there was somebody who had knocked down the spooks' tank with the first shooting of the grenade dispenser during the combat. It was all covered with the active defense shields but that sniper had socked at the tank turret foundation. For such things, one should be rewarded with the Hero. But what's the name of that guy - I do not know. Would you enquire?

- Exactly, Sergey, we started attack after that top-class shot. Many lives were saved by that shot.

- You, men, are not the first ones who have spoken about this. We've already got to know the name of the fighter. He was wounded, after that died. That is already for sure.

- So, he should, at least posthumously, be rewarded with Hero of Russia. The boyo had meritted that.

- Many ones have been offered to be rewarded but those bastards in Khankala say that the square had not been taken, and, so, why were the rewarding papers sent to them? Fags!

- I would say even worse, Yura. We've sent the papers for the dead and wounded ones. For the ones who had died or had already stopped their war. And these dorks do not want even to listen to us. "Nothing fucking for" - they say.

- Oh, bastards.

- Bastards, - Sereoga agreed. - Khankala is guarded by battalion of paratroopers, regiment of "makhra" and detachment of special forces. They were taken from the firing line. Our side units were taken off. Now we stand the racket both for us and for some other guy. You've seen maybe there are less of block-posts now, huh?

- We haven't seen them at all.

- That's just the point. The number of the brigade has shortened but the zone of responsibility has enlarged.

- Has the hotel of "Caucasus" been taken? - Yurka took interest, starting smoking the new cigarette from the stub.

- Who will take it? There was also battalion of troopers taken from there and moved to Khankala.

- So, they want us to be the only ones fighting the spooks?

- They are sitting pretty well! I like it!

- Well, men, take it easy. Go having rest. I'll say the others not to disturb you. Catch up with slumber. And we'll speak tomorrow about all the other things.

- Fail to return humany borrowed!

- But men, are you thinking I'm a rat?

- No, you're not for while, but who knows... Good night!

- Good night, bullies!

- You are the one! - we shouted with one accord into the darkness on the heels of Sereoga.

- What do you think, Slava, on that subject? - Yurka asked, when we went to the box van.

- I think nothing. I only wanna not to be under court-martial as a deserter. That is what I'm thinking about, - I grumbled.

- And on the tomorrow action?

- Honestly?

- Honestly, of course.

- If we are thrown again as whelps, the only ones, there will be about ten-twenty of us alive, who will be sent either to the nut hospital or to the prison as deserters and saboteurs and so not to let us have loose tongues.

- In my opinion, you have already told that.

- Yes, I've told and keep the same mind about that. If we're able to get out of it alive and not to come to nut hospital and not to come to a prison, then I won't need any better commendation. That's it. And what do you think, Yura?

- Most probably it will happen so.

- Yura, do you hear that anybody's bombing Minutka now? State bank, Palace of fucking Dudaev?

- No, I don't.

- So, that's again the same as before the first storm. Can you remember we had spoken about that?

- I can remember. All right, let's go to sleep. Let's go, Yura. Tomorrow the new turn of the nut house will start.

We entered the box van, quickly took off the dresses giving no damn about possible attack. The skin, the body were tired about wearing clothes. We wanted to take a rest. We quickly fell down. I switched off the light and fell into the deep sleep.

The nightdreams were the nightmares. War, war, war. Nothing except the war. But a couple of times I saw a public prosecutor who was making some accusations but I was shooting at him and throwing his dead body to spooks. If you can dream it, you can do it!

I woke up because of Pashka shaking my shoulder.

- Comrade captain, comrade captain, wake up! Vyacheslav Nikolaevich! Get up.

- Ah, what, spooks?! - Still speeping I started convulsively searching for the subgun.

- No, not spooks, but it's now already three o'clock p. m. It's time to get up.

- Blow it out? - I did not clearly understand being sleeping yet.

- We'll start at five o'clock. Have you forgotten?

- 've forgotten. Where's Ryzhov?

- Has already got up. He is washing himself.

- Have we a breakfast, so, I meant, lunch?

- Everything is ready. The executive officer expects you come in forty minutes.

- Got it.

We've quickly washed us, shaved, ate the breakfast. And waddled, smoking, with unhasting gait, to the HQ. The officers joyfully greeted us by the way. We answered them in the same manner. We stopped at the porch of the headquarters-kindergarten to calmly smoke down. The rumble and the aircrafts' wailing were heard from the direction of Minutka. Not bad, not so bad. I liked all that cacaphony. They'd better exactly cast, but they can dig the holes in all the radius, and you should creep over them and stumble over'em. "Pilots fly high in the sky getting high pay. Mummy, I try to marry such guy without delay!" - I remembered one childish, vulgar song. We'd smoked down, threw off the stubs, ground'em out and went to the executive officer.

San Sanych was situated in the same room. And the table was set in the same position as it had stood before. It seemed that nothing had changed. But there was Butalov sitting on the place of Bahel. Where to will you lead us, the new commander? Having entered we stayed near the door. San Sanych rose his head and, seeing us, invited:

- Come in, come in. Don't hesitate! Why are you hovering at the treshold as the fosters?

- But maybe we've been already deleted from the unit's lists, - I joked.

- Oh, yeah. If one can dream it, he can try it, - San Sanych accepted the joke and answered in the same tone. - What's about mood? Maybe you'd better meanwhile go to the rear or to the medics?

- What for? - Yuri perplexedly asked.

- Maybe, you're tired. To heal yourselves. Will you have some rest?

- All's allright, - I answered.

- And maybe you don't trust us? - That was already Yura provoking.

- No, no. How were you able to think about that?!

- But we were told as somebody wanted to put all the fault on us, - Yura started to act flaky.

I was able to keep myself well in hand but it was hard. Although I realized that Sanych was innocent. And the huge gratitude should be given him getting me off the court-martial's hook. In other case I would roll to the prisoner transport.

- Yura, don't wind up. The executive officer has made all possible to take off all the suspicions from us.

- And why do you know that?

- So, the people in the brigade told, - Yura evasively answered, stepping back from his anger flash.

- All of us have problems about nerves. It's better for us to cool.

- They do too much ringing in the brigade. Too long clappers should be broken off, - Butalov made a word.

- I've sent for you to offer the choice, where would you be during the storm. I need the clear heads in the HQ. So, I offer you to stay here, - San Sanych looked at us with the tired eyes.

We could see that it was physically difficult for him, and evidently there was also no any contact with the new brigade's commander.

- Thanks for the offer, - I started, - but I'd better be sent to the second battalion.

- I'd better also be sent to the second battalion. There are not many experienced officers and I guess that we'd be more necessary there, than here, in the HQ, - Yura also tried to speak politely and toughly.

The executive officer evidently did not expect from us any other answer and threw up his hands in dismay. But then the com-brig looked at us in supprise. Evidently, he had not seen such bullies yet. "Look, look. Accustom yourself, - I gloatingly thought. - We have many ones of such kind - the whole brigade. And whether would you be wanted by our court? We'll see!"

The pause was too long. If there were not that new one, we would speak to the executive officer a little bit more. And to that one - no! The first one who had broken the silence was San Sanych. He sent us to get ready for the expected march and for the forthcoming combat.

All the ones who were able to fight went to combat. The vehicles drivers, some of the radiops, the repairing-restoring battalion, supplying battalion were the only ones who stayed. The doctors also followed the troops. There were only the ones staying at the medical company, who would receive and operate at the place. If anybody would be evacuated. Save and protect. God speed.

On seventeen twenty column of the brigade was formed up and set out to the Minutka. There was a noise of the combat being heard from there. The third battalion and the recons had seized and were protecting the bridge. The damned bridge! They had already passed over it and got in the defending combat on that side. Yeah, they're doing no light work dragging hippo from a bog. Hold out, guys, we're coming!

The convoy was the huge one if to estimate it by the war time rules, stretched out in full length of about five kilometers. Nobody liked that. Especially in the city. No any good thing. We were the exellent targets.

The spooks had the same mind. They hit when the head APC had driven only about four kilometers. There was no any obstructions, no mines. But they simply hit with the grenade dispensers from above and burnt the first two carriers of the first battalion. At the same moment they hit on the middle and tail of the convoy. It was not a combat, but shooting down of the column. The column, having been the single one several moments before, started to break, to tear. The drivers-mechanics, driving their vehicles off from under the shooting, threw them into the side streets, courts, paths, crashed the shabby remains of the near ruins with the head armors of their armored girl-friends. Some of them were not able to break away from the heaps. They were finished off by the spooks over there. That was out of the question to plan any competent resistance. The ones, who were able, left. There was no any sole command. The convoy was too huge for anybody to come and assist it. No any radio connection, no any commands. There was a panic. Again there was a panic. Everybody was for himself. The burning people were rushing about in the fire hell where at the carriers, tanks were burning and exploding, the splashed fuel was burning. The alive torches were falling on the land, rolling trying to blow out the fire. If there was anybody, he tried to assist. At times some one covered the one who was burning stopping the fire with his body. But it happened sometimes that when stopping the fire of the burning jacket saturated with petrol, diesel, then the fire got on the saviour. That one started also burning and died.

The commander's vehicle was going at the fifth position in the column. Everybody was waiting for the orders. Any ones, but orders - to attack, to step back, to engage the enemy at the place. But the orders were not given. The APC of the new com-brig was the first one breaking the line and, crashing the chippings, it drove to some side turn. The air was silent. A bit later commanding was taken over by the executive officer, but it was already too late. The chaos had started in the column, and the souls of the people, left by their commander, were seized with the panic. Everybody was for himself. All who was able should rescue themselves!

The battalions', companies', platoons' commanders tried to organize getting of the people from under the shooting, to force off the spooks' attack. The same was about our second battalion. The first company's commander appointed to the position of the died battalion commander (the deputis, exept the polit-iofficer, died or were missed during the first storm of the plaza) captain Borovykh Andrey Anatolievich quickly thought out and yelled:

- The cannons at the five-storeyed house! Landmark - poplar! Fire! Infantry dismounts and tries to force out the spooks! Work! Fire! Fire!

He jumped himself down from the armor as the first one and started showering on the enemy with the subgun. There was a fighter with the radiostation lying near him. Andrey made a coordination of his subordinates and we were able to force the spooks out from their positions. That was a success, that was a victory. Let it was a small victory but people believed in their new commander. Unfortunately, the other commanders did not instantly orient themselves and the second battalion, both Yura and I, had also to leave. It happened so that Yura was on the battalion's head vehicle and he lead getting of the battalion from under the shooting. Via some courts, passes, by-streets we were able to get to Minutka. The order about storm start was abolished by nobody. And that's why we were not allowed to initiate any personal will. Although we had moved to our initial line nobody hurried to get in the combat. Being sheltered, we assisted our third battalion with the rapid fire of the APCs' and ANGMs' shots.

Now they have already created the ANGMs of the forth generation. A good toy, but there are too little of them in the army because it's too expensive, it is enough to make one weep.

Thus, we force-fed the spooks with such "gifts". At first we started working about the fortification that they had created of the building rubbish. Sadder but wiser, we did not want to lose the men while storming that architectural and historical memorial of the absurd war. We constantly contacted over the air to the remains of the column. Com-brig kept silence and we already thought that he had died. The command over the brigade was taken over by the executive officer. The tankees lost two more tanks. The first battalion lost four infantry carriers. The signalers - three connection devices. Many men were lost - twenty three ones. And how many went missing, it was unknown. The medics, when they rushed from the command center to give the aid, also went missing. They say they made a turn in the wrong point. Senior lieutenant of the medical service Zonnov Ewgene went missing also. Wise lad. Real man. It's enough to make one weep.

Gradually the remains of the tankees and first battalion were coming up to that shitty square. Approximately by three o'clock a. m. the remains of the brigade concentrated in the near streets, courts, siding to the square. At the same moment the place and the houses around were cleansed up. So that no any spooks' swine was able to impede us. We changed the third battalion and the recons collected from all the brigade. The tankees began to start up their "carrousel". But we had neither any wish, nor hazard to go storming at night.

By five o'clock a. m. the executive officer had come up, he was also acting as a brigade's commander. At five fifteen we had come to the conference. The talk was combined with the meal. We were under pressure. In about two hours, maximal in two and a half, the daybreak would begin and we'd have to start the storm. So, when would we have any time to get a meal?!

Khankala also did not hurry to initiate the advance. They waited for us. Having reported about the havoc of the column, we did not hurry to report about us being ready to storm. It would be ideal variant if our troops at opposite side of the square drove the spooks in our direction and we met them there yet. But alas, we perfectly realized that it would not happen and we'd have to beat the horn against, to lose all the bones, but to assault that square. It was rumoured that Dudaev hadn't been situated there already for a long time, but our strategists both in Moscow and Khankala, probably comparing that Palace with Reichstag, wanted to assault it. Maybe those grandads imagined that after that assault the war would stop? It will have no any fucking stop. The bushwalkers' movtment will be so mighty that it will be necessary to make the scortched-earth tactics. But have they really enough braveness? It can be as in Afgan - unintensive positions war. Yeah! What will be? Who knows.

And we're facing the only aim now - the square with the complex of the buildings. It is situated just over there, lying before me. All it is digged up with the projectiles' and air-bombs' craters and covered with the barbed wires, lightened with the cannons' lighting shells and with the same bombs and rockets. They are hanging under the parachutes and flooding everything with the unreal white-blue light. There are almost no shadows.

When I again saw that square and remembered as I had crept on my pounch, entrenched myself and ran after that from it, the fear, the grave coldness blew again. With the will effort, gritting my teeth grinding, I made myself be cool.

I was smoking cigarettes, one after another, feeling no any taste, and was not able to take off the glance. And even the thought flashed that as there was no new com-brig, I could come to San Sanich and ask him for letting me staying at the HQ during the combat, but at the same moment I forced it away.

We'll battle through! Certainly battle through! I awoke spite inside me. And gradually the spite forced away the fear. There was already only the spite about mystlf, about the spooks, about Moscow, about Khankala and "North", about all the peaceful life. The spite about everything. The only ones, who about I felt no any spite, were the men around myself. I woud go together with them on that "frying pan" in several hours, where at all of us, regardless of the grades and ranks, merits before Fatherland and Motherland, regardless of the family status, would be the aims for frying. I deeply sighed. All the fear had gone away, compassion to myself and others had also gone away. I was cool. I was trying to be cool. So, being in such a condition, I left for the conference by the executive officer.

Chapter 13

All the commanders and substitutes have come together. Everyone has brought a bottle -- of vodka or something else, what God could let us, the same thing about the snack, but mostly there were the tins with the stew. The tins of different calibres and sorts. And of course, "the officers lemon" - say onion, garlic and lots of odds and ends.

We have been temporarily headquartering in the basement. The table was also set there. It was made of the ammunition boxes shifted together and covered with the newspapers. We were sitting on the every possible thing. Some furniture, the fetched camp-chairs, the boxes.

We had sat at the table. San Sanych was as a master. We quickly opened the tins with the stew warmed on the heating-radiators, unseald the vodka, sliced the bread, onion, garlic and the unexpectedly appeared sausage. We spoke not much. Everything was clear. The losses -- in the men and tech -- were huge. Not ready, according to all canons of the art of war, we were not ready to take so well-fortified object as that square.

It was senseless to discuss anything with San Sanych. It was not his fault. The attack on the convoy hardly demoralized us. The fate of the missed was unknown also. Not jolly. But due to the alkocohol and the near tanks cannons' thunders, as well as also artillery units, which we had not seen already for so long time, our spirits rose. We were alive. So then we'd live yet.

We got into conversation. It was mostly about the shooting down of our column. We had in fact no any units aside. The reconnaissance team being occupied with the bridges had not checked the route. No any avant-guarde had been also sent for the check up. Such a bullshit. And we ourselves were also idiots, as we had not persuaded that new shithead with the colonel's shoulder-straps.

Having discussed enough the experienced shame, we started to examine the actions' plan for the storming of the square. Mostly San Sanych spoke about that. The meal and the drinks had been moved aside. The decision was that the tankees would work at the square and we would go storming as the next ones. As it was senseless to devide the incomplete battalions on the smaller units, the task was given to all the ones and at once.

The nearest task -- to go over the bridge and fix position on the other side of Minutka.

The following task was the barricade. If there were no any spooks, then the next would be the State bank. The tanks and APCs would defense our flanks not to let again the last situation and, also shooting above our heads, they would make the way clean. The infantry, knocking out the grenade throwers, would defense the technique.

The main task - the Palace of Dudaev.

NOT TO WAIT for any reinforcement from the other side of the square. To be supposed only to our forces. NOBODY GIVES ANY SHIT ABOUT US -- that was the sense of our conference. We would fight ourselves! We had no reserve, no fresh forces. All the technique and all the men -- on the square. It would be our final and crucial combat! Entirely as in a recent popular hit of the season (author jokes about Soviet political song "International" song - O.B.A.).

The combat of dare-devils. The combat of the Siberians, who in the year forty first had rescued Moscow (the battle of Moscow against Germans, Dec 1941 - Jan 1942, when they were won first time in the WWII - O.B.A.), and it meant - all Russia. At that moment we were facing something like that. As soon as we realized WHAT was in the future, we lost all the words. The responsibility hung over. A speaking is one thing, but to hear that there would be no any help is quite another thing. And it was unknown when your "allies" start the advance on the opposite side. And it might be as it had been last time and they would not begin it, but would observe the developing events and "give us moral support".

After that all have gone away and started to instruct the men. To explain what would be in the future. We had to take care of the men. To take care of each other. But we might not send the technique forwards, that was enough of experimenting last time, as we enterd Grozny (author means entry of the 131st Maikop brigade on December 31, 1994, - O.B.A.). It seemed the whole life had passed. So many things had passed, a man was not able to remember everything...

I went to look for Yurka and found him smoking near tank and peacfully talking to the fighters-tankees. I gave them cigarettes. The talk was about nothing. It was simple fluttering to send the urgent problems away. They told usual military cock-and-bull stories. But then the order is given the crew to be ready. The tanks turning the "merry-go-round" had become overheating of the barrels and therefore they should have been changed at that moment. The tank with all ammunitions darted from the place and having stopped before the bridge, constanlty tepping on the gas, was waiting for its turn. Yurka and I had come closer. And the standing tank, having shot the last projectile, lifted up the barrel high at the sky according to the civilian life habit and started rolling back. The next one took its position and began the furious shooting at the barricade. It was clear that there could be nobody after that. All the remains of the barricade were the heaps of the brick dust. That was good, we would have not so much work. I like it, when such a work is made by somebody for me. Don't know why but I do like it.

I looked at the watch. In twenty minutes the storm would begin. It was senseless to say anything during that din. I touched Yura's sleeve and knocked with the finger on the watchdial. He nodded and we went to the second batallion. The shooting over the square became more intensive. Our two artillery battalions had compressed the fire and shifted it to the deep square. The building of the State Bank was not seen any more. Only the smoke and the dust cloud were always hanging over it. That was also good.

Yura and I came to the remains of the second batallion, looked at the slowly rummaging men. We sat on some stone, began smoking, arranged not to lose each other from the view and cling together. We remembered about Pashka, laught that we had roused him to fury again with our dirty underware. We remembered that we had not taken yet our part of humany. That was good, if you go to attack and still have some matter to be done: the sure sign -- you will come back to make it ready.

We looked at the watches. Five-minute readiness. All emotins aside! Inhale-outhale, stop breathing. Now man must start up. Malice, fury are again boiling in the blood. Adrenalin is raging being brought with the blood through the body. And now the signal by radio. And come on, come on, come on!!! Onwards! Only onwards! To work, to work! To go over, to jump over this fucking bridge before the spooks can it see! Hurah! A-a-a-a!

I am out of breath. The bag with the launcher grenades is badly beating at the leg with the steps tact, it's a bit disturbing my running. But I'm already in the condition not to pay any attention to it. Onwards, only onwards! Nothing is behind our backs, but only Russia, who can already help us with nothing. There's no reserve, the technique followes a bit later. And it will be last technique in our brigade. And therefore you must work. To think and onwards. But adrenalin disturbs thinking. And again the aincent man wakes up in subcortex.

There is a dirty-green jackets mass ahead already stepping on the bridge. Nobody's shooting at them. And why is nobody shooting at THEM? I'm also with them and they and I are being not shot upon!!! And having yet no belief in the fortune we run as a thick crowd over this fucking bridge, on which so many ours fell last time. The recons spoke, that there were no dead bodies as they were taking the bridge. That means those parasites either sent them to feed the fishes or dragged them off somewhere. All right swines, I'm asking you now where to you have brought our men. Now, bastards! Foul slinks!!! I'm shooting. It seems somebody's moving on the barricade. The ones ahead of me are also shooting. We continue racing in the mad tempo. The following ranks having also understood that there is no shooting at us run quicker.

Now the following ranks already push the front ones. Here is the tank shooting at the spooks positions. It's not clear however where the spooks are, but it's nice. We can't see them though. They've hidden themselves, sluts! Beat'em, s.o.b.-s! Com'n, guys! Quicker!!! Tempo! Tempo!!! Run as there's no shooting!

I'm quietly running, widely opening my mouth. If I were not a smoker, I could have recovered my breath. But now my side's already aching. You can catch the spooks' burst by that way. You're, swines, aren't able to throw us off from the bridge and drown us, we're already on the square! Tempo, tempo, men. To save the forces. Only forwards. It's a nuisance that a large crater yawns directly on the way. Either running round or running directly over it. Pity that the breathing will be absolutely broken.

And now they struck us as if having heard our thoughts. The shooting was from the State bank's side. Unsure long machine-gun's burst had cut out the fontaines of dust and the sparkles from asphalt and stones before us. But the distance was large and the spook evidently felt himself still not good due to the tank's shooting, he had the wrong aiming. Muff!

Now we'll teach you, black mug, how to shoot. Onwards! I'm shooting from the shoulder. I fire allmost without aiming. All around are shooting. Somebody's hot case burns my cheek -- I'm rubbing it and looking sideways, what a swine throws me the cases away? Wow! That's Yurka! He has the same concentrated face and is running one meter aside from me shooting also. For any case I pull the grenade into the black predatory muzzle of the launcher.

The spooks have evidently recovered themselves and opened fire at us. I've dropped, rolled away. Rolling, one more rolling. 've dropped, badly hit with my shoulder. A small crater. Why haven't I noticed it at once? The crater is fresh, there's no water yet - either from the night or from the today morning's projectile. Not important. The spooks firing becomes thicker. I showed myself, bursted at the spooks and looked back. Three fighters have been carrying one wounded back to the rear. So far it's OK. No killed. Unbelievable luck. Not to speak too soon! Touch wood. We've gone, run about fifty meters over the open area and there's no one killed!

I've thrusted myself forward again and began to watch more intelligently the positions of the enemy. The breath allowed me yet not to aim correctly. The blood mixed with the hormons and still hot because of the running disturbed the effective fighting the spooks. All right, the bastards tribe, if I can not shoot aiming for a while, then I can hit you good with the grenade-launcher. I've measured the distance, made corretion for the wind and havig opened mouth pulled the trigger of the launcher. The grenade as a potato rushed to the spooks' positions. I'm attentively watching. I am seeing the explosion of my crumb-grenade and a cloud of the dust and smoke. Something turned fleetingly. Looked like an arm. Have I really hit? Exactly. Somebody is turning, moving, evidently somebody is rushing to help the wounded one. And now the sub-machine-gun will be immediately good. I am changing the aiming slat for 300 meters, making the fire-controller for the single-fire. Inhale-outhale, at the half-outhale stop the breathing and move the bead together with the rear sight aiming at the cloudy stirring spot. I smoothly, very smoothly, take off the looseness -- the free moving of the trigger. I am not breathing. The subgun and I are the one united thing. It is the fore part of me. Or I am the rear part ot it. I'm same smoothly pushing the trigger. I am concentrated. Nothing exists, but my subgun and the indistinct swarming spot. I could even not understand or feel that there was a shot. Continuing pushing the trigger I can not notice as it is at stop, and I continue to push. My eyes, no - all my being watches the place where at I have just shot. The spot died away and moved to the left. Got it! One more spook is away. I'm a sniper!

And now the mortar plastering resumes. Everything's as at the last time. But now we shall not run back. The feeling of revenge for the killed ones, whom I had left here because of you, bastards, lets me not be afraid. Damn you, gits! You can lie in this stinking crater through all the war. It will not be so.

I spring out of the crater and strive to hide behind the barricade fragments going rolling, with short rushes. When it's about ten meters distance, I run not bending down to this hill of the dust, splinters and rubbish. I killed the spook somewhere here having no control over the emotions. And I am not ashamed of my act at all. Yes, I killed. Yes it was cruel. But what should man do? No choice. Almost no choice.

I perfectly realized, that the spooks are now trying to come to this barricade using this mortar plastering and as the next step to shoot at us. Fat chance! I'm the first!

I'd no time to look around, but could see the spooks running from the State bank's side. I was able to outwit them. I changed the magazine. Though there were the rounds inside, but too little. I would not run risks and fret while reloading. We do not need it. I must carefully prepare myself to meet the enemies. Please, closer, whores, closer!!! There are so many of you, and Slava is alone. And how many men are there? I re-counted and found up to half hundred mujahideens. I am choosing the aiming, push the trigger. The subgun jerks, I move the barrel left and right! Aha, gits, you're caught! We'll organize for you now a Crystal Maze! I'm happy, I'm besotted. I've never been so happy. There is no combat's crash around. No bombs exploding behind me. There are I with my subgun and the spooks. Many spooks. The spooks, who do not like us. The spooks, who mock at the captives, who nail our guys to the crosses. Get now, choke over. It's time to change my position. Rolling, once more. A couple of meters on the knees. I changed magazine again. 've chosen the position. I am watching now. Aha, degenerates, you're hammering on my old position. There's no me any more. I'm here, bastards! 've given a burst from the knee. There are many, now very many spooks, lying without moving on asphalt. The same our kids were lying without moving on asphalt some days ago. Where to have you, pederasts, them taken? The other spooks have also lain down. Everything is the same as it was that time, but exactly on the contrary.

I'm shouting, I'm rejoicing. They've lain down. But it's OK, we'll get them also. No problem!

The subgun's burst resounds also aside. I am turning my head, the men have already come running and help hollow out the spooks. Come on, men, there's enough work for all! I'm not greedy. I need no rewards. Here is my reward! Thank you, my Lord, for the happiness given to me. The blood is raging in arteries. There's not enough place for it. I undo my jacket, have no armor vest on. I had no time to get the new one. Doesn't matter. There are so many spooks lying with the armor vests. 've a choice as in supermarkt! I change for the grenade launcher.

Although the spooks are lying with the asses upside but they can also yap. So, you schould not show yourself. Let now the launcher work. Push the trigger and watch where to the grenade flies. I make correction and push once more. Swine, where are you going! While I was reloading that scoundrel rolled away, again miss. Spite and excitement are exciting me. Yura's flopping down close by. He's breathing as an exhausted hourse.

- Is it smoking, Yurok, yes?

- Aha, let's quit smoking as we get out.

- Then I'll have no shortages. Wife can part from so positive one, - I joke back and shoot a burst at the spooks.

They have pestered me with their rollings. Here is the one, who I've hunted at all the time, he has jerked and dropping the subgun began rolling about. Yura shot him just with the first burst. I reproachfully look at him. That was my spook!

- So that he does not suffer, - Yura jokes.

- And I'm looking, but can't see you, - he continues, - I'm looking and you're already running topsy-turvy as an ape along the embankment, shouting, shooting and being happy yourself as on a holiday.

- But it is a holiday. Look, how many spooks we have knocked down. Isn't it a joyness? Beat the Chechens, rescue Russia! True only devil knows from whom! The odds are that it will be necessary to rescue her from you and me!

- We've worked top-class. They were not able to use their mortar plastering. Well done, Slavka!

- I know, - I modestly commented.

Meanwhile our tanks tried to suppress the mortar battery, but they could not succeed in it. Evidently, the battery was on a closed position and plastered us with an assistance of the aimer. It would be good to find that cattle and "pinch off his tail".

The spooks meanwhile tried to retreat, but were not successful. All the spooks who were on the square under our stormy fire stayed to lie over there. Perfect work!

But we had to force through. The technique behind us could not come up as we were lying being not able to go because of the bombs. But then some groups of our men started moving on with the short rushes. The mortar battery made nothing in the meanwhile. And therefore more fighters followed the first ones.

Come on! Come on, Slava, come on, forwards! I darted. Forth, over the remains of the barricade. The feet are getting stuck in the sand and chippings. The eyes're looking ahead, doesn't matter what's under the feet. Again my blood's beating in the head. The feet're getting stuck deeper. It's more and more difficult to pull them out of the sticky traps. I specially drop aside and roll, am fastly holding the subgun near me while rolling. Can hear the crackle of the tearing fabric. Fucking end of the new jacket! Doesn't matter. All this does not matter! Forwards - that's important, away from this barricade, away from this landmark for the moratar-aimer. I am badly hitting with head on some stone. I see the red stars. My poor head! In spite of the nonstopping ache I continue rolling on the ground. Here's asphalt at last. I am jumping on the feet and running forwards. Can't plainly see who and what are situated ahead. Only forwards. The head's breaking from pain. All that's not for long. "Also we're here not for long and so you are next in turn..." - the words from some old song rose in my head. Fuck it! Neither my turn! I do not give up so simple. Not now at least! Onwards! Only onwards.

My eyes come in norm more or less. Ours are lying down over here. That means forwards, to them. It is our brigade lying ahead and firing in turn. The spooks entrenched themselves near the half destroyed State Bank and on the higher floors of it. Meaning the fire from it, there is quite a lot of them. Pity! And it was so good, our crossing through half of the square! It would be good to fly through the next half the same well! Well, jerks, you've invited us. I'm falling between the fighters. The smoke hanging over the State Bank doesn't let you plainly see it. The spooks are covered with the smoke. And according to their thick fire there is a lot of these swines entrenched over there. I'm looking for the firing-nests. Aha! I can see as in the smoke a shooting reflection shines fleeting. Without thinknig cast the subgun up and give a short burst at there. Once more. I'm watching. Apparently, there are no more reflections. Maybe he's rolled aside, but maybe I've aimed. It's senseless to shoot with a subgun. I'm standing on the knee, taking the grenade for the launcher. And wait. The frequent shooting is resounding around me. Everybody's using all the possibilities to shoot. But where are the tanks? We've stepped forwards. What else do they need? Spite, despair are overfilling me. Were all the victims, all the guys who had stayed lying there after the first storm, really for nothing and senseless? Where are you, tankees? Swines, bastards! I am pushing the trigger and the grenade is flying to the spooks' direction. I am not watching where the explosion was, push the new one in the launcher and am shooting again. You will not do it! Such a humiliating shame, that I had felt, will not happen any more. Will not happen! I'll be here up to the end. Where are you shitty tankees?

The mortar bombing resumed. The bombs are still dropping and exploising somewhere far beheind us. But we can feel experience of the aimer. Every salvo is closer and closer. We may not stay here. May not. But is it possible to hide, to cover four hundred men in the rare and undeep craters, digged in the plate-square? Fat fucking chance! Not possible!

The nervs are about to explode. The bombs wailing, which I'd ignored at first, more and more forcefully steps with every bomb into the soul. Every new wail of this fucking bomb is vibrating as the tight string and every cell of the body, every cell of unhappy brain are also trembling, vibrating folloing that wailing. It's hard to keep myself from the deep wish to close the ears and drop on the ground. You perceive every new bomb explosion as a relief. It means, not you, not at you, it means, it's not your fate yet. And again the new wailing makes you tighten, huddle up, breake the teeth clenching the jaw with the crackle in the cheek-bones. And to suppress the fear and your powerless, to try playing against the fate, you're running from place to place, shooting at the hardly seen in the clouds of smoke enemy.

I'm constantly repeating that I'm not afraid. To refresh myself, I try to remember the view of the recent fleeing and the last look at the square, covered with the dead bodies of our former colleagues, of our friends... It helps. You realize the reality. A kind of the soul balance comes. If we may not stay here, we must go forwards. Even if it seems now to be a madness, there's no other way. There's also no way to retreat. There will be no reserves and no reinforcements. There are only two things inside the mind. There are we - "the rabid dogs" and there are the spooks. Who is winning? Everything's clear and simple. Maximal clear and simple.

It means forwards, only forwards. During an interval in the bombs wailing I make a rush forwards. With a short rush to the next undeep crater. 've dropped into the slush. I'm giving no shit about it. It dries'n'drops away. Look back. The fighters are also rushing. Leaving the former positions. Our tanks have started to shoot. Sod it! Where've you been, jerks, before. It's about hundred - hundred thirty meters up to the fucking bank.

Here, we can see the spooks better and they can see us also. But owing to the wise shooting of our tankees, the spooks have to restrain their energy. With exactly wise shooting, but not the well-aimed one, our tankees make the mujahideens to shut up a bit.

The explosions of the projectiles are spreading in a fan direction, bringing the high floors down. We know that there are the mighty basements, so there will be the problems. I sighed. OK, we'll manage the problem, we need only to reach the basements. We'll "cleanse up". Since the spooks have shut up more or less, we must go forwards. It's not only me who is of such oppinion. The fighters around are also standing up and running forwards.

There was a rumour in the brigade that they didn't succeed to evacuate money and currency from the State Bank. And that's why a man could read in the eyes of the all brigade not only the fighting fervour but also the passion of the winner. Although I didn't believe that the money had not been brought away, the light of the greed was burning my nerve cells also. It would be good to better my financial situation by this way. Almost legal way, therefore - forwards, only forwards. Fear, passion, greed together with the help of our tanks - are the great stimulating force. Everybody wanna be the first one barging into the money depository. I saw the bank basements only in the films. And what if there is a gold? I smiled about my thoughts in the meanwhile desperatly shooting at the first floor. There are no golden hills, but a wooden cock. All the golden reserves of the SU, Russia, of this petty country, Ichkeria, are situated somewhere on the Kaiman islands. And the treasure-hunter's passion eats me away and forces me to go forwards. But we had again to lie down. The spooks started to yap in spite of our firing. And now, kids, your mortar can not reach us. Now we can train ourselves in the exact shooting. I put the subgun to my cheek. Why have you, as the blind kittens, seized the State Bank? You've robbed enough, let now others do it. Have you forgotten the law of socialism and gangs - "Rob the robbed things!"? Not good! You must share! We are also trembling with the gold fever! I'm shooting with the short bursts at the spooks who rarely appear over the ruins. And frequently, they put the subgun out and shower on us hitting around the nails.

The gold-fever caught me first time, when I was yet at fifth class at school. We lived at that time in a nice city at Volga with the old name Kostroma. Before the Soviets it was a merchant city. Very many churches. Many of them have remained in the pristine form till nowadays. The first Romanov was anointed to be the Tsar exactly there (Michael Romanov, Tsar of Russia in 1613-1645 - O.B.A.). In the Ipatiev monastery. And the last one was executed in the Ipatiev house in Ekaterinburg (Nicholas II Romanov, Tsar of Russia in 1894-1917, murdered by communists in 1918 - O.B.A.). It's an interesting connection, isn't it? The beginning and the end. So, there was usual for that place dry sommer. And it was a usage that exactly in that sommer by the different excavations, for a garage or for a cellar, a man could find treasure or sometimes some interesting things. My father's friends repaired a cellar in their house and have found a bottle of vodka from the tsar time. The throat was pressed with a sealing-wax. There were the pressed eagles on the galss. The lable had decayed of course, but it was no problem for the men. They had opened it and drunk. They liked it. They said it was an amazing vodka. At that time I did not drink yet. So, it was not especially interesing for me. But when the father of my friend, digging the worms for the fishing, had run into the crystal jug from the time of Peter (Peter The Great, Tsar of Russia in 1682-1725 - O.B.A.), filled with the gold coins, and for the legel premium bought a car, then my friend and I got a fever. Got a hard gold fever. That was a heavy situation. We, kiddos, were not able to think about anything, but this. All the thoughts, intentions, deeds were aimed only to find the treasure.

Could a man hide the treasure anywhere, but in the church? Since the first class it had been drummed into our heads, that the priests are the bloodsuckers. And also that they had taken away all the savings from the simple people by stupefying and had diggen them in the thiftboxes (maybe something like this happens also nowadays). And our school was situated on the former Lazarevskoe cemetery. The cemetery, as it was the old soviet custom, was abolished, diggen again. The small chapel, that had stood on the cemetery, was completely destroyed and the school was built on the chapel's old basement. They built something extra, of course, but the school has been situating over there up to nowadays. It was a bit symbolic, everything as it was in the standstill epoch's tradition (the name of the situation in the USSR in the 1970-s - O.B.A.). A secondary school instead of the cemetery chapel where the deceased had been in the funeral service. And so we, a group of the juvenile hooligans, researched the basement of the school. We discovered suspicious niche of one square meter size. The niche bottom was covered with the bricks. What could have been there? Of course, the treasures, by all means!

We'd arranged to take it by night. The watchman was old, liked to hit some bottle. We told parents that we were going fishing, but in fact we were "hunting" the tresures. Following all the possible rules to save us, trembling with fear from any rustle we had sawn the grating of the basement's window in two and taken the frame off. We got through. Shining with the torches we began to break the bricklaying. It was difficult. And what is the teenagers' strengths? But nevertheless changing each other we could break that laying. There was nothing behind it, of course. There was only a crucifixion of stone. Evidently, the builders were not able to break the stone sculpture of Jesus and decided to make the laying over it. They did not take the sin on their souls and kept the innocence of the statue. We were upset and returned back. And in the morning, there were the militioners standing near the school and noting something, measuring, photographing. It turned out that we had "worked" under the school director's room and there was money in his safe. The wages, as I remember. Of course, we were really afraid.

Since that time the treasure-fever has never touched me, but I seemingly suffer now relapse. It's funny for me to watch my own emotions. But it's better to get attacks of such a fever than to get attacks of the fear, icing the soul and paralysing the will.

The lying and the time marking were tiring. The tanks were the same keeping the spooks in the trap, but they were not able to make larger destroyings. To make it, they had to aim lower, but they could also graze us by that way. And we could not also step forwards. The spooks let us not go.

And no cowardice any more, but the greed was yearning. Money, money. Does a man need any fucking patriotism in a war?! A man needs some money. The earliest one gets the slippers. If the soldier's labor is a slave labor, then you can take the people who will make this work more professionally, skilly, at a little blood price, with the minimal losses, but what gets rewarded gets done. And these kiddoes, who have learnt to fight three weeks before with the blood, with the experience of their killed, wounded, missed in action friends, they have only the greedy shine in the eyes. Grasping shine, based on the deep fear.

The subgun's barrel is already hot. I've changed again for the launcher, but it is not effective. We should go head-on or roll back, so that our tanks could finally destroy all this huge house. The shining eyes of my colleagues prove that we want to go onwards so much, but after the next tank's shooting there will be scarcely any coin. The tankees are also our simple Russian fellows and are following the Russian principle for all the ages - "if it's not for me, then it's for nobody". And therefore they wished to hammer that whore-hut down so that nobody would get the sweet money. Passion, passion. What can man do? The gold steers the world. Everything's as old as the world itself.

The radio brought the news and the soldiers repeated by the chain that the storm of the square from the other side was just about to begin. That's also not bad. At the last time we were also promised that the storm would be started and as a result there was a shamy fleeing. We'll see. Everybody was now brisk and listening to the happenings. And the shooting tempo was even slowed down. The waiting was too long. The spooks on the contrary took our waiting to be the unsureness and started to fire more intensively. The slush fountains began to near me. And the most nastiest sounds of the rebounds. These sounds make you instinctively draw the head in the shoulders, heart die away and drop into the feet bursting the extra adrenalin into the blood. I do feel superabundance of it always and I need no any extra stimulation.

Phewi, Phewi. Again the slushy fountains come before me. Sod it! I can't move my head because of these shooters. I can't bear it crawl back and begin to shoot. I can't see where from the fire upon me comes and am shooting at the positions of the spooks at random. There is a spook, exactly his head. Roughly, without aiming I am shooting with a short burst at the foul noddle. It has somehow too quickly dissapeared after the shooting. That's good!

The sound of aeroplane is comming from the height. They want again to plaster us? No, that was enough! The fear as a cold band creeps inside. I'm tightening. The sweat is running over my face. I am moving the legs to the stomach. Everything inside me is rolling up into the tight spring. I am ready to rush forwards, backwards, somewhere, but not under this awful air strike. Do not want to hear wailing of our airbombs, which just our pilots are casting on me. Fuck! It's better to run again, I'm ready to run on the positions of the spooks, but not to lie waiting for smashing with the direct bombing or for the fragments of the bomb tearing me on thousand shreds. Do not want. Now I'm ready to rush. Both we and the spooks are watching the sky. Neither ones nor others are feeling any special joy. What will be the aim of strike? Everybody is lying still. The plane - the transport one or maybe bomber - is lazy soaring on the unreachable height and after a little hook aside begins the sharp diving. Nobody's already shooting. The heart is beating as a small hare paw, it's hot, very hot. The sweat is streaming over all the body. The steam is flying off from the head, from the face. So, what is the aim? What is it?

Selfpreservation instinct demands that I instantly rush somewhere and far away from this terrible place. Or that I dig myseslf in. I'm trying to think about anything, but the plane. Now it is diving and again climbing: it's frightening or wants to bomb exactly. Our forward side gives some rose smokes. Maybe these pilots-killers notice our signal and the horrlible fate goes aside? I'm trying to fly mentally away.

I can remember one case when warrant officer Nikolaev during his vacation was picking up the mushrooms near the firing field. He didn't notice as he had strolled at that field. Later he told that he'd heard as the bullets were sinking in the trees trunks. At once he had not understood and when it was clear, he started to entrench himself. Of all the weaponry, he had only the small penknife. And with that knife and his hands, tearing off the finger-nails, he was able to dig a trench in a five seconds and it was enough to hide himself absolutely. He was sitting there in it and it was yet about half meter depth over his head. Plus a breastwork of earth, which he had thrown over. And he had tied his shirt to the stick, which he used to shovel the leaves away for the mushrooms-searching. He put out the stick and began to wave with it. They noticed him and stopped the shooting, ran to him and took out. And after that they wondered very much how one was able to dig the trench during so short time. If you want to survive, you can make more hard things. A historical fact: during the Great Patriotic war a torpedo was brought with the wave on the ship's deck. There was not explosion at once. A deckie, usual deckie, ran to it, grabbed with the hands and threw over board. And it exploded there. The ship was intact. When they asked the deckie how he was able to do that, he answered that he did not know himself.

And I was ready to show the outstanding results as a racer during the bombing, or even to dig myself in three meter depth in the ground during a couple of minutes.

And the plane, cholera on it, seemed to be not hurrying with the bombing, but making only some mockery. We saw the bursts flying from the earth at it, Many bullets were tracer, therefore the lighting traces were seen for sure.

Now the plane started lowering down again and before the lowest point the black dark blot parted from it and was flying down to the earth. But it did not look like a bomb. Then the parachute opened and the load was slowly falling down on the earth. Where to and for whom was it, we could not see because of the Bank's building. But judging form the spooks' happy squeal we could suppose that it dropped to them. It was also emigma for whom that container was initially assigned. It could be for the spooks. The recons told us earlier that some parcels were sent to the spooks. I didn't believe. And that time it happened that I saw it with my eyes. At war some ones' failure is health, but the others bail the wealth...

The spooks started again the fire upon us and now we heard the cannonade on the opposite side. Have ours really started the real storm? The spooks began bustling, they didn't know, jerks, where at should they shoot. And now we attacked. We attacked with an inspiration, with a fervour. That was great! The spooks were tossing as the mice in the mousetrap. A bit more, men, and this trap will slam. Kill, bash these bastards! The subgun again gets alive in my hands. There was a panik in the spooks' ranks. They were tossing, changing the positions, were shooting sometimes at our direction aand sometimes at the direction of their tail.

The message by the chain was that "makhra" and paratroopers had started storm of the bank from the opposite side. That was the radioinformation from San Snaych. That time it was our turn to yell jollily. We had stood up and ran. At first I assumed that it would be the usual shift, but in some time all our brigade spontaneously went to storm. The spooks noticed their blunder too late and therefore did not instantly reacted.

Onwards, only onwards. Storming. Hurah! I'm running. I want to run habitually, carefully, accurately with the short rushes. Fat chance! The fighters are as if half mad, inviting the troubles. Now the first ones have reached the building, there are two survived doorways. And machine-gun opened up from one of them. Three or four our soldiers fell down as if they were cut off. If it was a machine-gun and at the short distance, and so the armor vest could not help... It could not repulse the bullet of such calibre with such a speed. I also appeared almost against the doorway. I fell down running, rolled and convulsively pulled at the lock of the bag with launcher-grenades. I took the grenade. The fingers were as if of the wood, I wasn't able to bind them. Tear off and through away the gloves. They were disturbing. It seems that I'm doing all very slowly. I don't look at my subgun. My hands are doing everything. Terrible slowly. And I, as the bewitched one, am looking only at the black doorway of the State Bank. Only the light of the enemey's machine-gun can be seen there. It's seen as the bullets mow down our "makhra", as the men running with headlong flights, are rushing to this doorway but the line of the bullets chops their stomaches, shoulders, legs. And the fountains of the red, very red blood are bursting back, and the guys, as if having stumbled over, are falling on the ground. Some of them are flying headlong flights with the bodies' inertia, the others in contra are being stopped with the speed of the bullet and pushed backwards - it's seen as their heads are banging at the dirty broken asphalt. The arms are thrown about, the weapons are flying off far aside. Some of them are convulsively holding the subgans and the subguns shoot all the bullets, hitting the other ones. It is going slowly, very slowly before my eyes. And my hands are pushing the grenade into the launcher's bottomless muzzle maybe even slower. Got it! The well-known saving click enters my consciousness, explaining that the grenade is set at the correct position. The eyes are continuously watching the machine-gun's bust comming to my side. And at the spots, where it catches no victims, the fontains of slush, dust, earth, asphalt, metall rubbish, sometimes the sparkles are being cut out. Out of the all bunt weapones left over there since the first storm. It seems for me that I can see the bullets flights and they are being also slowly carried into the space. I know what they hit. I can feel the machine-gunner and his terrible weapone. I am he'n'he is me. Just now, in one and half seconds these heavy bullets hit me!

Chapter 14

The grenade is fixed! I'm jumping on one knee and shooting at the black hollow of the doorway not with the left, as the rules demand, but with the right hand. The shot. I'm not looking at the door, but at the machine-gun's line. Now it is in about 20 centimeters from me and I hear the deaden explosion, the line stays still and after that dies away. I raise my head up. The smoke is flying off from the basement. Something's burning there.

And now again the sounds' world bursts in. It's a strangeful feeling that not some seconds, but the whole eternity has passed. No discussions! I'm alive and that's OK. So then that was my fortune! Onwards! Only onwards. I've jumped and rush in the direction of "my" doorway. And although I should race about twenty meters, I have looked in direction of the second doorway. There are the fighters on our side throwing the hand grenades into the black hollow. Way to show'em, men! No mercy to anybody! Forwards! Onwards! We're bargting into the doorway. There is a charred, half broken corpse of the machine-gunner lying on the floor, with smouldering, sick-stinking clothing on. And the mangled murdering tool is also close by. My work! I jump running over it and can see all the details of my "masterpiece". I forced the grenade before his nose. Exactly in a half meter before. There was no head. Something like indefinite mash of brown-grey color. The arms, rather the remains of them, are spread out, the jacket is smouldering. It's stinking with the burnt wadding.

We're barging into the ground floor. A large room with the colomns raising up into the darkness under the ceiling. There is a mess of the dust and shooting smoke hanging in the air. We can see the remains of the camp-fires. There are some rags in the corner. Where to should we run? Because of no light and much dust, we can't plainly see anything. We're starting to check the room. There are already about fifteen men of us. And the men are constantly coming.

We quickly go through the room with chasse steps securing each other. Subgun is at the shoulder, everyody is tightened. Nobody's able tyet to recover breath after the racing. Only heavy breathing and short retorts and exclamations are heard. It is so that three standing near me fighters and I should examine what's behind the counter. We're peeping. There is something lying in the darkness. A fighter carefully comes, pointing the subgun. He touches with the boot's toe. After that binds and turns it over. It's dark. Very dark. It's difficult to breathe because of the dust, stench, smoke.

- What's there? - I can't wait any more. - But quickly. There's no time.

- Ours, - answers the fighter, returning to us.

- Who?

- Ours. Too dark. Can't see.

- Alive?

- Was murdered long ago. He's left since the first storm for certain.

- OK. Let's go. We'll take him later.

The men are coming. The shouts and wails are heard. The shooting outside and over our heads becomes more and more hard. The mixture of the Russian shouts, foul language and guttural Chechen wails. It's impossible to catch who is shouting and what exactly. Everything is mixing in the head to be the only wail. The thick walls somehow muffle the shooting. But it's already so loud, that it badly lashes the ears. The spooks understand that the way to step back is cut off and are fighting getting enraged. Correct, fucking jerks, we capture nobody alive!
Now the shooting is heard again. Nearby, completely close by. And the crowd bursts in from somewhere on the left end of the building. The shouts and tramp. Everybody's listening. The foul words. The swearing is without accent. Ours!!! That means they were also successful! We're not alone. We'll see now what's on, spooks, when we come up to you and all together as a united collective start to kill you! The jolly passion seizes us, we're going, running to meet each other. 're shouting joyfully.

- Ours!

- Men, don't shoot! Ours!

- Hello, "makhra"!

- Hurrah! Ours!

- So long time!

Nobody's listening to each other. Everybody's simple speaking. There are no officers, no soldiers. We're shaking hands, hugging and kissing one another. Ours! Our "makhra", our paratroopers. The word "ours" is rolling in the mouths! I'm ready again and again to spell it loudly and repeat in my mind. We're stepping back. More and more men are coming. Ours are running, forcing in. And the paratroopers are coming alternately with unfamiliar "makhra". The joyful-elated mood is seizing everybody:

- The spooks get fuck-up!

- Now, for sure!

- And d'you know how we were smashed here during the first storm?

- 've heard!

- They've heard. And why haven't you come to help us?

- Got no oder.

- Now we're taking this bank and part the money fifty-fifty.

- Sure, no other way.

Such talks and the others were flying in the air. Nobody was hurrying to go up. There were the fighters near the stairs and they forced the spooks to stay back in the higher floors with the shooting and bursting. All of us would go up and belabour those bastards soon. Let'em be mad of spite. All were filled up with the happy lirical mood. Many ones started to smoke, adding tabacco smell to all the smoke. Somebody wanted to find home boys. Somebody was simply discussing already made things and the forthcoming assault of the Dudajev's Palace. The storm of the bank was in the mind as if a kind of almost completed task. Many ones were joking they would part the gold and dollars hidden in the basement.

The terrible crash resounds. As if the ceiling is dropping on you. And now the men's wails. In a couple of seconds one more explosion and crashing. Absolutely nothing can be seen. The complete wall of the dust is hanging in the air. And only the shouts and the groans of the wounded ones are being heard. In the ceiling, where the left corner had been situated, there is a void yawning. What has happened? The ringing hangs in the ears. The Chechen wails are being heard louder and louder. The shooting is changing to be more hard. Somebody has caused the wall collapsing. Maybe some tankee has shot? That's scarcely. The projectile could not do such thing. That means, the spooks had sewn up mines. They wanted to make a common grave for us, waited to let more of us crowd in the room and made the explosion. Such motherfuckers, bastards, fucking sluts! They have really got to me with their perverted psychology! I've come closer to the fallen corner. Dust and smoke are blocking the lungs up. Everybody's coughing.

All the flight of steps has fallen. About ten men are under the heap. Many ones were absolutely smashed. The heads, the bellies are broken. The insides of many ones are smashed out. Many meters of the white-blue guts are being moved through the dirt, dust following their owners, who are taken form under the ruins. Some ones have lost the extremities. The smashed hands, arms, feet with the boots on are lying just near me. The alive ones are moving as the sleepy ones because of the view's impression, kickimg the torn off parts of their friends. Some fighter bent over the dead body and tries to make the fallen out insides back. No success. The insides go out as a dough. And he is tired of it and takes the knife and cuts off the extra ones. He has pressed the ends into the broken body. When he has taken the hands out, they are dirty with the blood, bile and something slimy and mushy. The fighter squeamishly wipes the hands up with the jacket of the dead body. I am hardly able to stop the vomiting urges.

The wounded ones were sitting just close by. They were being bandaged. The torn off hands' stumps of two of them were being bandaged. One wounded was smoking with the healthy hand and excitingly asking the others around him: "Will they sew my hand on? Well, men, don't be silent, really, they'll sew it on?!" The others around him bashfully turned away and kept silence.

One got his leg being bandaged and tighten. He was unconscious. The shiny white bone was sticking out from the leg and the black-red blood was continuously streaming out over it. The leg was already tighten with the rubber bands in some places but the blood was gushing.

Some ones were shouting blood-curdling, the others were dirty swearing. Some one was loudly speaking something like a prayer. Three or four men, due to dust unrecognizable, were shouting in their radio sets disturbing each other:

- We're blocked up!

- 've gotten the dead and wounded!

- Fuck you off with your "twohundredths" - "threehundredths"! I've told - dead and wounded!

- Don't know how many ours. All of'em are ours here!

- Don't know!

- The doctors!

- Immediately doctors!

- We've the serious ones! Can't bring'em with hands!

- Yes! Send the tech!

- To knock out the spooks?!

It had passed not a minute since the moment of the explosion and almost all the victims were already taken from under the ruins. There were some more ones under the ruins, but it was impossible to take them without crane. There were nobody alive under that terrible concret flag-stone.

Everybody realized that because of the spooks on the roof and on the first floor we couldn't get the tech to evacuate the wounded and dead ones. We had to beat them out. And at that moment the shouts resounded:

- Attack'em!

- Let's beat bastards!

- I'll mince hundred for this explosion!

- Hurrah! Assault!

- Onwards!

- Upwards!
There were neither commander, nor commands. All were runnung to the only stairsway leading to the first floor. There were the swears and wails heard over there. It was unclear, what the spooks were shouting. Our first ranks started to shoot with the launchers upwards. The grenades explosions' sounds were waving through the rooms, painfully whipping the ear membranes. The others, because of the narrow way, had to stand waiting for the possibility. And then the forward standing fighters and officeres made one more salvo with the launchers and stepped upwards. Step - salvo, after that two more steps and again a salvo. And then they ran shooting with the subguns ahead. All the others were also running upwards. Everybody was dashing on the first floor, remains of the second floor and a part of the roof, jostling each other, pushing the forward ones with the magazines, pushing everybody out with the hands. There were more then six hundred men crowded below, as I counted. I was afraid that the ladder would not bear such a heaviness and fall down. But it had not fallen.

I'm running in the thick crowd, badly pushing the forward one with the subgun. I'm being also pushed. After that some one kicks me into the bottom to force me forwards. There are already the explosions of the grenades and subguns' bursts heard overhead. Forwards! Onwards! Oh, god, why is this large bum in fromt of me moving so slowly?! Go forwards, you! Quicker, quicker! Aren't you, jerk, able to move your feet? I can keep myself hardly from pricking him with the dagger.
Now we've left the first stairwell. Upwards. Upwards! There's something mild under the feet. I look down - the remains of a spook. At least a hundred men have stepped over them. The feet are sliding aside in something slippery and sticky. I must not think that it was a human somewhen. Forwards! Upwards! Was it really a man? That was a spook. And that explains everything! Do not start any discussions. Forwards! This bottom has got to me so much! Go quicker! Can't you? Push the one before you. You're making it fucking badly. Force him harder! Bastards' tribe! All the spooks will have been killed before we come.

The spite, the fury are seizing my throut. I'm listening to nobody. Everybody's talking only about the quickest going upwards. The spite against the thick bum, that can not move ahead quicker, the spite about the idiot, who always pushes me into my back. Can't he see that I am not able to go fast due to some fat guy? I know I'm not slim, but if you could look at this one before me, then I would seem for you to be a thin reed.

Now we can see the roof. The tempo is accelerating. Everbody's running up the stairs overloaded with the rubbish. The feet seem almost break away so that I could fall. Sweet F. A.! I will not fall. I grit the teeth and bend the body. Forwards! I'm forcing onto the roof, running on the right. There are the fighters lying and aren't able to beat off some spooks staying on the second floor. The first floor has remained almsot all intact, but the second floor has remained as only one corner. And the roof has remained almost all. It is hanging above us on the seven-meter height as a portico. The spooks are hidden partly on the remained corner of the second floor. And partly they have climbed up on the roof. All of them are situated higher than we are and are now showering on us with bullets and grenades not sparing them at all. The killed and wounded ours are being already pulled back. A body of spook has just dropped from above. It was not touched, only kicked with the feet further as a disturbing thing.

The positions of the spooks and our ones were practically the same invulnerable for both of us. We were showering on our enemy with the lead the best of us but there was no any result. All my nature strived for retribution. I came to the fighters:

- Who has explosive?

- Don't know.

- Who has explosive?! - I shouted trying to shout down the combat's noise.

They had brought about 50 grams of plastit. Too little. I called to the radiop of our brigade:

- Connect to ours, say that they bring us about kilogram of plastit and electro-fuses. Got it?

- Got it! - The fighter nodded and happily bared his teeth.

- Don't dry the teeth, call!

- Yessir!
The spite was still inside, demanding some exit. I saw in the mind the picture with the smashed bodies. I cast up my subgun and made a burst upwards with all my heart. We had to force them a bit back, otherwise they wouldn't let us sew up the explosive. I explained the next ones my plan in a nutshell. They had understood and we started shooting at the spooks, tried to throw the grenades and to hollow them out with the launchers and "flies". It seemed to be effective. They stepped back, rolled back. Gold may be easily told!

- And our brigade miners had come. They brought the large piece of the yellow plastit and the fuses with wire. We'll have fun now!

- Men! Don't go over the top, not to ruin all the building together with us!

- Don't worry!

- There's not much here. We'll pick up the spooks now as the apples under the tree.

- Let's fry these cattles!

- It's pity we've no flame thrower!

- Once more, men, let's force the spooks backwards!

- Come on! Fire!

And everybody started shooting in the furious tempo at the sitting on the higher floor spooks. The bullets were ricochetting from the walls, going upwards. The hand grenade, thrown upwards, hit and came off back. It dropped on the square. Nobody of ours was injured.

- What are you doing, fucking block?

- It was not on a purpose!

- Fuck you, on a purpose or not. Almost wrecked me. Idiot!

- Take the grenade for the launcher, hit it on the heel and then throw.

- Won't it explode in the hand?

- Don't worry, try it!

That one tried and was able to make it. The others also began to shoot at "their" spooks using our idea and forcing them further back. Our sappers were quickly working. They tied the blocks of eplosive to the remained columns with wide black electrical tape, stuck electro fuses in, including the extra ones for any case, and ran back. And it had come. The Judgement Day had come. Pray your Allah, bastards' tribe. The miner fixed the ends of the wires in his "infernal machine" and started to wind the handle. And after that he abruptly pushed the small black button.

The deafening explosion resounded and the brick laying collapsed down. We could hear the short absolutely horrible human shouts when the explosion resounded. The spooks met their deaths under those bricks. So must it be. An eye for an eye! There were still the spooks on the remains of the roof. The miners also worked about it. And they carried their "machine" to that corner.

- Won't the roof fall?

- Don't know.

- Let's get far away.

The commands were heard and the crowd flooded back and let the corner be clear. The miners had also stepped away. And they quickly wound the handle again, pushed the button and explosion thundered. The roof slowly bent and was falling not on the first floor, but on the street. The spooks were the first ones raining from the roof down and after them the roof fell, covering them with itself. The height of the falling down was about twelwe meters and the concrete ceilings were over them also... That was good, I had even not come to the edge to look at it. But the people came.

- Can't see anything!

- Now the dust will subside.

- Don't shoot! It's too dusty.

- And what if there's somebody alive?

- Are you out of your wits? Such height...

- And about ten tons of the stones over. No, scarcely.

- Look, the same as below, when ours were covered.

- Aha, and the guts are the same rolled out. They had not to explode the ceiling over us, then they would die as the men.

- Ugh. A dog serves a dog's death. Let's go to part the money.

- Let's go!

- Let's go to share the money!

- Everybody gets the equal part!

- Keep dreaming. Equal! Heh!

- All the ones, who've taken this shitty bank, become the part.

- But nobody else!

- Fuck'em!

- Let'em go feet first! Skivers.

Downstairs! In the basement! Quickly! Everybody was hard panting when only feeling the possibility to profit. It's strangeful but the ones, who had stayed down, did not go to look and pillage the basements. Although there were at least fifty people including the wounded ones. They were standing shooting downwards. And it was dark downstairs, in the basements, as in the sinner's soul. We made of the jackets left from the dead and wounded ones something like the flares, dipped them into the diesel fuel of the come APC and started the fire.

The disfigured with the tortures dead bodies of our soldiers and officers were lying on the stairs leading into the cellar. Of the ones who being wounded or shell-shocked were captured by the spooks during the first storm. Many ones had packs of the money in the open mouths. The bellies of some ones were cut open and there was also money pressed instead of the insides. Much money. But the money was old. This model was changed in Russia in the year 93, but it was in use in the free independent Chechnya till our entry. It was clever of them, bastards. They gave the people, the population some funny papers, the money which had no any meaning anywhere, but in that shitty hole, and they got dollars for the oil, weaponry, narcotics. Fucking bastards. Although they acted according to the principle of the unforgetable kommunist party. When our "wooden" (a slang word to name the currency in USSR, RF - O.B.A.) roubles would be accepted nowhere, but in the Soviet Union. I'm not sure that they would be now somewhere accepted.

Everybody at ones got the gold fever off. The bodies were brought outside. The paratroopers and strange "makhra" went to their units. We stayed at the place, went downstairs, in the basements.

The basements of the independent Republic Ichkeria's State bank were situated under all the building. At one place, the basement was of "two floors". Lighting our way up with the selfmade flares we went down. We were going slowly. The spooks could have left any surprise for us, any meanness. They are able. We can see everywhere the traces of the hasty fleeing. The broken drawers, boxes left there in, where from the money of the year 1991 model were half spilt. The empty and the stuffed bill collectors' bags. The forward going one happily shouts and starts rummaging in a box. Everybody has come to him. The packs of the dollars, re-tied with the paper and elastic bands are sticking out from two partly torn boxes. In the dull unsure flares light, these two boxes, stuffed with the longed-for green money, seem to be something like an unbelievable fortune. Dollars, dollars! These are comfortable life, these are apartments, cars, good education for the children. Dollars, dollars!

Instantly it was crowdy near the boxes. Jostling each other, everybody came running to those boxes and started seizing on. They took one, two packs. Pulled out the banknotes, tried to watch them exactly in the poor light at the clear space, crumpled them, pressed and smelled them. Dollars! That's why a man should be at war! This is as a prize for every endured thing. What gets prized gets done. And we need neither any rewards, nor medals. Here is our reward. Everybody was excited. But then one of the fighters shouted:

- Men, but they stain!

- Coo? What a fantasy!

- Indeed, stain! My fingers are green!

- You have'em for real dirty!

- You've dirty! Spit at the banknote and rub it!

- Really stain! Phew, heh..

- Good gravy! So, I've opened my mouth too wide. I had a thought that now the fortune comes and I'll live as a man. Fuck! Ugh! Fucking Chechens could have left a couple of boxes with the real bucks!

- Jerks!

- What shall we do with it?

- I know, we'll use it to clean ass.

- It will be green.

- So, we'll scorch'em. Bugger'em!

- But maybe we can make something with'em? - some timid voice resounded in the darkness.

- Yes, you can, but for five years in prison.

- So, well, burning?

- Let's make it, homie, burning!

- Let's check up, maybe there is a couple of packs with real bucks!

- Let's check up!

And they begun to tear the boxes, to break the packs, to touch, to soil the banknotes. The only thing, that they did not make, was to lick them. If it were of some sense, then they would bite them as it was made earlier to check the coins. The checked false packs flew into the common pile. And then they set with the flare the slow fire to that pile of false dollars. Slowly, with the fumes and crackle, spreading stench of the burning papier and paints, the pile caught fire. There was no one real dollar in these boxs.

It was really strangeful, only seven-ten years before I had trained myself for the war against the country, where at the dollars are the national currency, and now Im ready to get them joyfully. So, what for do I fight here? For some dollars? For idea? For Motherland? I do not know. But its absolutely real fact that weve lost the third world war. Weve lost it without any combats. We were won with the help of exact this dollar. It is our God, our Commander-in-Chief, and owe to it this war has started. And no any tanks could help us, though our tanks can cover the area equal the territory of maybe all France. The rockets with the nuclear warheads also did not help us. Our governors try to move just this dollar abroad. And this means that Russia, great, mighty, indivisible one is of no sense for them. Having made their part of the quick "green" buck they are ready to depart. Their children are also taught abroad, and we turn up our toes in this cold, damp Chechnya with its shooting and wind everywhere! What for, my Lord! What for?

While looking at the burning down pack of the false dollars as if at our burning down hopes the fighters brought the six sacks with the fifty-thousand banknotes. And again with the hope but now already without any former zeal we have started to examine them. But unfortunately, even on the first look we could see that the paper, used to print these false notes, could bear no any control-check. I had a feeling that the spooks were not able to find any paper, but this wrapper to make this money. And again the next portion of our hopes and expectations comes into the fire. The bonfire flares up and is burning bright and shiny.

- Look, ours are burning better than the bucks!

- But they are "wooden"!

- Exactly, wooden!

- OK, lets move on.

- Lets go and see why ours have bombed down the local Ministry of finance and why the hell the State bank was bombed.

- Dont you understand why? To burn down the documents about machinations.

- Have you seen any document in this building?

- No. Only the clear blanks.

- Thats just the thing. The spooks have taken off all the documents, Im not sure if they were able to make such a trick about the Minfin, but I guess they will further long blackmail our governors. And well as hounds knock put the spooks everywhere only to find these documents.

- It seems to be so. And what should we do?

- And who lives now good (a paraphrase from the poem "Who is happy in Russia?"of Nikolay Nekrasov, 1821-1878, - O.B.A.)?

- What is this?

- Money. What did you want to find in the State bank?

- Precisely. Money. But the old money. The ones of the ninety first year emission. What shall we do with them?

- Why what! Let's pick up and use to bake the ovens. We must yet spend night in this building. So, we'll warm ourselves near the fire made of the millions! Have you ever warmed yourself near the fire made of many millions?

- No.

- And me too. So, we'll warm ourselves!

- I'd like it.

- Of course!

All the present liked that idea. We carried the sacks with the invalid money to the exit. Everybody was now no real, but sham millionaire. We could let us warm ourselves near the fire of the burning money. By the way you could dream and be distracted from reality.

And the reality was the next one: during the assault of the State bank we lost about fifty men. The killed ones, the wounded and the missed ones. Adding together the first storm of Minutka, unfortunate march and assault of the bank it gave a figure of about three hundred men. An high price. Many unclear things. Location of the new commander, who had deserted us, was unknown. Many fighters were missed and nobody tried to search for them. There were no forces, no means. The furious tiredness seized us. There were no wishes. There was one wish - to eat and fall asleep.

If the meal was brought for us, then the second question was a difficulty. The supplies battalion sent us the NATO meal rations. It is a kind of a cardboard rectangular boxy. There were the soldered tins with the meal inside, the largest one - with the meat and vegetables, the next one - with a kind of jelly, chocolate, soluble coffee, the tablets to disinfect the water, the hygienic napkins, the chewing tablets. They were of double function. On one hand, they served for the cleansing of the mouth cavity after the meal, on the other hand there was a kind of caffeine in them and when you were tired and fatigued they could refresh and reinforce.
We began to warm the tinned meat with the vegetables on the fire made of the money and furniture fragments. It turned out that it could be eaten also not warmed. The meat was not fat. The vegetables were tasty. We concluded that our wounded fighter would not be able to open the tin with stew and would die because of hunger. There were the fighters and officers of the supplies battalion turning about us.

- Where from have you got such a luxury, men?

- It was sent to Russia as a humane aid. It is from the Germans. The remains of the humany were sent to us.

- Our enemeys are fed good!

- No doubts!

- It's better not to talk about that.

- Yes. Have the rear-guys brought any spirit?

- There is a bit. About fifty gram per head.

- Really a bit. They could have forked out some more for the State bank.

- Wait a bit, tomorrow we're going on the fucking palace, and you'll drink a bit more.

- What's the news, by the way?

- Nothing new. Ours are running here and there. That's all.

- Must again assault something.

- And you'd like something other in war?

- I'm sick of it!

- You can hang yourself.

- Go to hell.

- Go to hell yourself.

In four hours after assault of the State bank the euphoria of the victory changed to be the deep tiredness. We could see from the building's roof as our troops tried to force to the Palace, but the massive fireing made them again to roll back. The troops were sent to storm again and again with the dull stubbornness of the doomed ones, but every time they rolled back from the shrouded with the smoke building leaving the killed ones on the plaza. Everybody was perfectly aware of the fact that tomorrow we would also go forwards in the same way under the mighty shooting. The aircrafts were flying somewhere high in the sky shooting sometimes with the cannons at the building. Not numerous tanks tried the best of them, but it was no any obvious result. My throat was dry because of the uselessness and futility of the storming attempts. I was seized with the wish to get deep drunken. Annoyance, indignation against the senseless butchery changed to be the deep tiredness. Everything was indifferent. And even the fact, that just near us, under the ruins, our comrads were lying, brought already no any emotions up. Everything was absolutely indifferent. Devil-may-care mind about events was prevailing. The thoughts were rolling in the head as the heavy large stones. Yura had come. His inflamed eyes and tired appearance proved that he also felt not good at all. He sat down near me. To say correct, he did not sat, he flopped down, his back leaning against the wall at end.

- How are you? - I asked him.

- I don't give a damn, - he tiredly waved with the hand.

- Have you a drink?

- A bit. Let's jolt the rearguys.

- I've no power. It would be better that they bring us a drink. No passion...

- What are men making in the cellar now?

- They're pillaging the shelvings with the old money. Would you like also some?

- What the hell for?

- And I say the same. We ourselves will find something for the kindling or playing cards.

- What are we making tomorrow? - I asked getting a light.

- I've no damned idea. I'm somehow tired in the last time.

- We're getting already old, Yurka, for these games. It's absolutely indifferent now for me. They can come and take me only with the hands. It's totally all the same for me at all.

- The same about me. Shall we sleep?

- Of course. But where?

- Let's go to the cellar, as it's cold here. It will be cold by night and the draughts will get to us.

- OK. let's go.

We slowly, lazily, rose up, dragged ourselves meanwhile smoking. When we were near the stairs leading to the cellar, we met the rear-guys and signallers carrying the sacks stuffed full with the money.

- Why do you need this rubbish, men?

- We'll use it somehow! - Someone cheerfully answered us.

- They will use everything, - I tiredly commented and started to go down into the cellar, holding my hand on the wall.

- After battle the battlefield is the competence of marauders, - Yura philosophically answered.

He was already not seen in the darkness and only the light of his cigarette showed the location. There were the torches lighting ahead.

- Let's go to the light. We'll settle over there.

- Yes, they'll have pillaged enough and slip away.

- They are under pressure. They need ten lorries to take all the money.

- I can't understand why do they carry this rubbish themselves? It would be better to organize a couple of cranes and take the men form under the ruins.

- Aha, don't be so naive. These bastards will never do that!

- There is an old military anecdote about that theme. Two ones - Ivan-fighter and Abraham-rearguy - are meeting after the war. Ivan has a lot of wounds, dragging himself on foot, but Abraham is halting on the splendid car near him. Ivan says, where from have you, Abrasha, so splendid "wheelbarrow"? And Abaraham answers - do not envy, I have been envying you during all the war that you have had your own tank.

- Yes, these ones will later talk on TV as they perfectly fought. Fucking militants. Ugh!

- You should only see, they can manage it so good. The ones are raking, the others are carrying to the exit, the third ones are bringing to the lorries. Stakhanovites (a slang word from the Soviet time meaning the very most hard workers - O.B.A.)!

- Fuck'em, yeah?

- Yes, fuck'em.

- So, let's go and find dry and silent corner and sleep.

- Let's do that. But we should inform that bastards' tribe they must wake us up when there is something to guzzle and to drink.

- Hey, marauders! We'll be sleeping here. You must wake us up when the food comes! See?

- See. OK. - The "money manpowers" answered, packing the next sack with the banknotes.

- Look, it's tough to sleep, - we were fidgetting trying to squeeze us on the concrete cellar floor. Cold, tough, uncosy.

- Let's gather the sacks and sleep on'em.

- Good idea. Let's go, - we came to the shelvings and, being silent, started to rake up the sacks stuffed with the money.

- Are you damnd crazy? - The men were nervose.

- Who has told? - Yura and I were looking at those nonentity scoundrels as two mature hungry tired wolves could look at the sheep herd, daring to bleat something.

The rats! The very real rats. The oblique set flares made the uneven shadows, and therefore the dirty face features of all were distorted. The pause was heavily hanging. The matter was that for Yura and me it was absolutely indifferent. We, namely we, were the ones who had run risks with our asses a couple of hours before knocking out the spooks. And looking at those fresh made splended guys at that moment I felt them not to be the humans, my brothers-Slavs, my regimentmates or "makhra". They were even lower than the spooks' level. Those ones fought and died for something at least. For the mythical independence, for the illusory freedom, even let it be the freedom to follow criminal lifestyle. Those ones, the bitches' tribe, staying at that moment before us, they were even not fighting, they were present at the war. I could see no any reason to let them alive. There was no any inducing motive not to shoot at them. We needed only the occasion. A tiny occasion to catch the subgun hanging barrel down on the shoulder, release the safety device and send all magazine at this pigs herd. My hands were even itching when I imagined that sweet picture. The silence was hanging in the air. Evidently realizing our superiority and the circumstance, that their subguns were standing near the wall - the subguns would, of course, disturb their resultative work - they were keeping silence. A couple of them had the holsters with the pistols. Heh, dupes! Having only pistols at the war! While he is convulsively breaking with the trembling hands the fastenings I can shoot him five times. We had taken two more sacks and slowly went in the darkness. I was going and listening whether someone says any filth in our backs. But they were quiet. Pity. I felt hurt. The rats! Ugh!

Chapter 15

In some moment I noticed about myself that comparing spooks with those nobodies - pillagers - I started to respect the spooks. I sometimes hate them and sometimes I respect them. Yeah, I can go off my head by this way!

Meanwhile we had silently come to the nice corner and began to settle down. We cast the sacks with the money. Some of them were used as mattresses, some of them - as the pillows. Having closely nestled us up we put the other sacks over us. The smell of the money was going from them. The smell of the paint, sweat, fat, oil and of something else.

- You know, Yura, I give no any shit about getting to know how much money do we have under our bums.

- The same about me. Good night! Though wait a second. I'll unlace the boots. Would you also?

- I've already done that. Don't disturb my sleeping. Good night. How do you think, will these marauders make some filth against us?

- But they're cowards. The worst thing from their side can be only a whispering in the corneres. And they can also "forget" to wake us up for the getting of the food. That's it, we can sleep.

- Beat retreat for comms-unit.

- So one more day is over, - Yura started an old military joke.

- Forget that damned day, - I finished.

And fell asleep. I somehow instantly fell asleep, without turning over, had only closed the eyes and was sleeping. There were no any dreams. No war, no combat, only darkness. I opened the eyes because somebody was shaking my shoulder. Again darkness. There was a combat going on somewhere. Being sleepy, I could not realize at once where I was, and instantly grabbed the subgun. And the voice came at once from the darkness:

- Quiet, quiet. Ours. You asked to wake you up for the dinner.

- Yura! - I unceremoniously dug Yurka in the ribs. - Let's go to eat.

- Why eat? We've just began to sleep.

- What time is it now?

- It's already one o'clock p. m. The dinner is already here.

- Hey, fighter, are you crazy? What a dinner. We've eaten lately.

- No, you've slept for 24 hours.

- Twenty four?

- Yes. I came to wake you up twice, but you did not awake. I reported. I thought that your were dead. The doctor had come and looked at you. Had told that you were sleeping.

- You're telling lies! What doctor?

- I don't know his name. Looks like Rosenbaum.

- Certainly, Ewgene.

- OK, let's go to dinner.

We followed the fighter by touch. Was it possible indeed to contrive sleeping for twenty four hours? It was somehow unbelievable but the stomach hunger cramps proved that to be the truth. An interesting cinema! But maybe it was drawn game? The bright light harshly beat at the eyes on the exit form the cellar. The combat crashing was growing. There were the soldiers and officers sitting on the ground floor of the bank and eating. They joyfully greeted us:

- Hello, sleeping kingdom!

- You're good at sleeping, men!

- You can oversleep all the war.

And at that moment we realized that we had really slept all the twenty four hours. We came to the warrant officer, who was giving out the NATO-portions, took the ones for us and went aside.

- So what do you think, Slava?

- What can I think, we have overslept, that's so. The nerves are on the border, we're exhausted. It's good that we were not forgotten at all. In that case we could have been counted as the lost ones, as the missed ones, that's it.

- That could have been really, - accepted Yura. - They are such ones.

- And where is San Snaych? - I asked the officer from the comms battalion.

- San Sanych will be here in an hour. We were sent to assist the assaulting ones but we refused sending'em to hell. We've no commander, no executive officer, and without'em we can not go storming.

- That's also correct, - I nodded my head. - And is there any news about new commander?

- He was a couple of times on contact over the air, told us that could not force through, the spooks were too active in the city. The troops were not let to the plaza direction.

- It means that we're surrounded.

- Surrounded, - the officer accepted.

- We're not surrounded, we're in ass, - Yura summarized.

- Yura, we've been hanging about in there since the beginning of the military college.

- That's truth, - Yura nodded.

- What else do they tell about the storm?

- We're going assaulting. There were no yet any attacks from our side. There were already attempts from the other three sides, but they had lost the teeth and stepped back. The recons have already checked the building, we've a gloomy situation. The spooks have set ours, the dead and the wounded ones, in the windows. Many ones are still alive, are attached to the windows' frames. The spooks use them to hide themselves behind them.

- I see. "Alive" shield. Bastards. - Yurka was changing to be very gloomy.

- That means no any "tanks merry-go-round" can be used.

- Why "merry-go-round". Only to attack. And they, swines, sooterkins, will slaughter ours.

- They will not slaughter them, they are as the guarantee for them. The last insurance.

- We'll see. When is the storm, what do they say?

- We're going as soon as San Sanych comes. Khankala has already got to us with the orders to go on the Palace. At first we had sent'em off and now we don't answer'em at all.

- Correct. We're waiting for the lord to be judged.

- And is the territory shot through?

- Everything is as on the plate. The technique can not be sent. Hundred fifty meters of the square,open area.

- Ugh! Shit.

- We'll lose our men again.

- We'll spit the blood, we'll spit.

- Are the men taken from under the flag-stone?

- No. Nobody tried.

- How many men are there under it?

- We've defined. There should be two fighters from the first battalion.

- Well, yesterday the pillagers from the comms battalion and the rear-guys carried the money. Where are these sacks with the treasures?

- They are at the rear. It was here a real quip. Meanwhile we were breaking here our navels and taking the State bank, those militants were smashing the private garages. They shot, blew up the cars. They have gathered as many spare details for their personal cars, as the monkeys picking up peanuts. And Kulebiakins, the father and the son, have made a real trick. They took a mink fur coat from one woman, so she was running following the APC through the three blocks distance. She was asking to give it back.

- Did they give it back?

- No, of course not.

- Ugh! Fucking militants. To fight women!

- At war some ones' failure is health, but the others bail the wealth.

- They also gathered the hunting guns. True not so many carabins, but about twenty guns.

- How will they register them?

- No fucking idea. They're planning something.

- The higher a monkey climbs the more you see of its behind.

- We should put them before us, when we go on the Palace, and we'll be the retreat-block detachment. And the order as in the year forty first - no any step back. We'll see how they are rushing about betweenn the devil and the deep blue sea.

- You're dreamer. They will be rather the retreat-block detachment behind our backs.

- Yes, Motherland knows real heros.

- Man, have you something to drink?

- Spirit.

- Entertain us.

- Hold, - he gave us a flask of spirit. Judging from the weight, full of it.

- Not bad. I'll look for the mugs and water.

Yura went and brought three glasses and some water. We poured the spirit in and diluted it with the water. The water was muddy. We decided to wait when the mud subsides but it was senseless. Eh, the eyes do not see, the stomach does not suffer. We clinked the galasses and drank. The sand was squeaking on the teeth. The taste was as if the rotten thing was mixed with the spirit. But nevertheless it was warm in the stomach. All right. We'd poured out the second drink. The same effect. No problem. The red eyes do not become jaundiced. The most terrible possible result of it can be only some diarrhoea. We poured some spirit in our flasks, got cartriges and filled into our half-empty magazines. We took also the grenades for the launcher and the hand ones. My "cherish" one was lying in my pocket. Such a peculiar talisman. God, let me never use it! The roaring of the engine and the clanging of the caterpillars over asphalt were heard. Somebody had come.

The boots tramp and the familiar voice resounded. San Sanych accomponied by the officers appeared. There was almost nothing of his foppish view. The undercollar was black as if it was used to brash the shoes. He was smoked through as everybody, not shaved. All the face was covered with the small cuts and scratches. It seemed to be injured by the small stones and glass fragments. The uniform was torn in many places. It was seen that he had a hard time also.

The officers of the HQ and of the brigade direction followed him. Everybody greeted each other. The brigade was still alive. There was also Sereoga Kazartsev amongst the arrived ones. He came to us. We embraced us.

- Good-oh, men!

- Hello, Sereozha, hello, dear.

- How are you there?

- Bullshit, full bullshit.

- They say, Khankala sends us to storm the Palace. And we don't hurry up.

- We've scarcely forced through from that fucking Khankala. Spooks make ambushes everywhere. Almost all the ways to the square are cut off. There are as lot of spooks, as slush in the autumn. They don't let us to the square and we don't let'em also. A flaky cake, in a word.

- What are the news about the commander?

- The new one or the old one?

- About both of'em.

- There is the only news about the old one, that he's in Moscow, in hospital by name of Burdenko, and there were two operations. Say, OK. Not to speak too soon, touch wood. And about the new one, there is the news, that he was on Khankala and after that was lost. Was on the radiocontact for a couple of times. That's it. And what's about you?

- No news. We've taken this fucking State bank. There were no money. No gold. The currency was false. But there was much money of the old emission. Paper. The rear-guys and the signalers had raked up some and brought somewhere.

- What for do they need this rubbish?

- No damned answer, Serezha, what for this rubbish was.

- The plunderers have their own psychology. The normal humans can not understand.

- Rats.

- We told the same things. Yura and I had lain yesterday to sleep. And were sleeping for twenty four hours.

- No problem, men, you had the hard work. Are the losses large?

- Fucking large. There are still two guys lying under the flag-stone. Nobody knows when we can take them off.

- Yeah, we've only the poor remains of the brigade. Without the paratroopers and "makhra" we would have stayed here for ever.

- Now we're going to help them.

- We've got the order from Khankala to go storming. And how can we go through the plaza?

- There are our fighters staying in the windows yet. Some of them alive, some of them dead. The tanks and artillery can not be used, as well as aircrafts. So it will be damned toil for us. That's not great. Absolutely not great!

- And can they assault it without us?

- They tried it. As in the First World war - racing back and forth and they retreat.

- Now it's our turn to race. What will be the remain of our brigade?

- Nobody has any fucking interest.

- Exaclty. No one has any interst, only we do.

- Have you seen our Pashka?

- I have. He's alive, parasite, is sitting by the rearguys. I told that he should drink no cognac or vodka and should not eat our portions. He did not touch the cigarettes also. To the point, I've brought the cigarttes for you. Not many but something.

- Thanks, dear. What else is spoken in Khankala?

- Moscow is pressing'em to assault the Palace as soon as possible. Dudaev is announced to be a criminal. It's allowed not to take him alive.

- They wannna cover up their tracks. The accomplices are to be dead.

- Quarreling, primitive quarreling.

- Will they help us there?

- No. No real plan. Manage locally that thing. Connect to the next units, mean the situation. Our general was almost fighting Rolin. They were able to part them at the last moment. Otherwise there could have been a battle.

- Crazy house.

- I would bet on our general. He is higher, the arms are longer, the weight is heavier.

- Look, we're invited to the conference.

- Let's go.

All the officers around were gathered together. Some ones were standing, the others were sitting on the boxes, the others settled themselves on the floor. Somebody was sitting on the sacks with the money. We, three of us, were merely standing, did not want to go in the first ranks. Everything was already absolutely clear. Now they contact the next units and we'll go forwards. The best they can make - to set the smokes. And if they don't make it, we'll have to gnaw at asphalt and lose the men. There are already not many of us.

- Well, men, - San Sanych had started, - the bank is oures, well done! It cost much our blood. We've lost many good fellows over there. We're demanded also to help in taking the Palace. House of Government. We're given no plan as usual. There's the only instruction - onwards! We've no reserves. I've ordered that the rearmen and the signallers give us the men and we're going forwards. Now we are about to connect the side units, arrange the moment of the offensive beginning and move on. If there is good wind, then we'll set the smoke veil. If there's no good wind, then God will help us. Have you any questions?
The officers started to ask the questions. Yurka, Sereoga and I had no questions. But the only one - how can we use the tanks and APCs?

- Comrade lieutenant-colonel, what about the tanks and APCs? - somebody was quicker than me.

- We may use them according to the opportunities. Everybody knows that there are our fighters, officers, chained to the windows' frames. We'd like to rescue them. At least not to be guilty of their deaths.

In a word, the decision to attack was made. To attack in spite of anything. Everything was the same, as usual. To complete the task and survive, if it's possible. The task is for the Motherland, party and government, to survive is for ourselves. My Lord, I'm so tired! But we must not relax. I wish there were anyone, who could tell, explain, convince me that the war was necessary, that I was defending my familly. Alternatively I wish there were the guarantees that on the case of my death my son, my wife would not eke out a livelihood. That the son would have guaratee to get the higher education, the wife would be engaged. And they would become good pension up to their lives ends. And now I know that they have guarantee to get the beggarly existence. Nobody will help them and they will have to go into a whirling spin. On one hand, I have to level my hatred and the wish to complete the task commensurable to the situation of the familly, that it wouldn't die in hunger, becoming the beggarly benefit on the lose of the bread-winner. And there was no illusion about the hard work facing us. The situation was complicate also, because the "tanks merry-go-round" was not possible. I was deeply depressed, was depressed and felt bad. I was not afraid, but namely was longing. I realized that I couldn't get off from that hellish work, I wished to save the men, as well as not to lose my head, in a word, to manage situations about both rock and a hard place. I wish I could be drunken up to the green snot! Maybe the same feeling had Jesus, when being notified of his fate. He was being at least awaited by the high-magisterial daddy, and we're being awaited by nobody there. Although you cannot die twice and if you have destiny to die in this swiny combat, then anyway you will get your lead portion in your mortal body. Forgive me, Lord, if I have hurt You anyhow by my reasoning! You should understand me: the fear, the spite, the offense, the longing. So, help me.

Yura, Sereoga and I went aside to smoke. We climbed up to look at the square, where we should jump as the injured baboons in an hour. Hundred fifty meters of the flat, clear, perfectly shot through space. The asphalt of the square was dug up with the bombs and shells craters. It was impossible to hide in them. They are perfectly shot through from the Palace. So that means we'll not do it. The only hope is the speed. Some ones can, of course, take attention and the others would attack, but as it was spoken, these tactics do not match this situation. The spooks are now already trained to combat. And unfortunately, they are thinking the same.

Such a distance can be secretly crossed only by five-six men. But when about four hundred men are running and tramping with shouting, only the blind one will not notice it. And you can not hide or shelter in the craters. That's not great, not great.

Some of the fighters will not run, will be afraid, and that means you should pull them out with the kicks. By the way, I've no armor vest. I should look for the one. I ask Sereoga:

- Polit-mate, have you to take care about personnel?

- What do you want, scoundrel? - Sereoga pricked up his ears.

- You know, I need an armor vest! Where can I get it?

- The fools are fortunate. There was one on the floor of the APC, by which we were going.

- I guess, it has holes?

- I've not checked. Let it be with the holes, that's not absolutely nothing.

- We'll cling together?

- We have to.

- You, Sereoga, makes always the promises that you will stick together with us, but at the last moment you're absent.

- That happens somehow.

- Aha, somehow. You skive, probably.

- I?! Skive?!

- But who then? - we started to anger Sereoga. A good fellow and in spite of the age difference we took him as our friend.

- But I... - Sergey began to rage. - can you remember the North?!

- We can remember, Sergey, of course. We're joking. Don't cockwork.

- We're joking, Sereoga, let's better look for the "armory". Or I'll attack again being "naked", I don't want that. Although it does not rescue but it warms somehow the soul and it will protect against the stray frags.

- It will protect against the frags, but hardly against the direct bullet.

- I know, we tested it so many times. Per five-seven plates the only one can repulse, the others are crashed.

And so discussing the pluses of some armor vests comparing to the others, we came to the three APCs, by which San Sanych and his team had come. Sereoga knocked with the barrel of the subgun on the armor. A head of the fighter appeared. His crumpled physiognomy proved he had been sleeping.

- You'll oversleep the God's kingdom, warrior! - greeted him Sereoga. - There was the armor vest lying in the landing force section, I put it on the armor under the bottom. Whose is it?

- Nobody's, - the fighter began to wake up.
- Give it to the captain. He doesn't want to go "naked" on the Palace.

- Just a moment, - the fighter jumped on the earth, opened the landing force section and having rummaged a bit took out the armor vest.

It was dirty, greasy, burnt through in some places, with the brown patches like the ones from the blood. But as I saw, it was intact.

- Where from is it? - I asked the soldier.

- We carried the wounded one during the storm of the "North", that was his one.

- Where at was he wounded?

- At the head. The patches are from that wound. But it's intact. Dirty, yeah, but intact. I used it myself a couple of times. I've lost my one somewhere. So I used it until I was able to find the cevlar one, - the fighter proudly showed us the cevlar armor vest. That looked to be foreign one.

- Where from?

- Trophy.

- Well done! - We were watching, admired, at the fine light thing.

- Was it hit?

- Only splinters.

- And how was it?

- OK, it repulses.

- And the bullets?

- God has still saved me.

- They say the ribs would be broken.

- I've still not experienced.

- Shall we change?

- No. The thing is trophy. I've personally got it.

- Well done. Thanks for this one, - I started to set the armor vest to my jacket, Sereoga and Yura were assisting me.

I could not order the fighter to give me his trophy. I could not also simply take it away. It was his thing. He risked with his life to get it. That's his proud. The object of the silent envy of the friends. And I would not be impudent. That was of no sense.

I put the armor vest on. It set down good. It did not protrude, did not hang down, did not hinder while going, did not inhibit the motions. We began to smoke again. It was strangeful, there was only some dilapidated building of the State bank between us and the Palace, but it seemed to be the distance of more than a thousand kilometers.

- Do you know how do they name us at Khankala? - Sergey asked.

- Whom concretly?

- All of us. The whole grouping.

- How?

- Angels-destroyers. A kind of printing stamp to make the divine halo for our devilish mission.

- We should be named best of all the dorts-kamikadzes.

- Precisely.

- That's well said.

- Do the fighters still fly by the catapults?

- They do. There are still enough idiots. They sit down in the aeroplane, pull the catapult's lever, the powder accelerators are starting. And that's it. Some one was too cunning, tried to pull the lever having not set in the chair. The arm was torn off.

- We've already heard all these stories many times, was there anything new?

- No. I've heard nothing about the new things.

- Look, they're indicating to us.

- Seemingly they want to attack. And why don't you, the HQ officers participate in the evolving of the operation plan?

- What operation, Sergey?

- That's only suicide.

- No planning. As in the Civil war. Onwards and that's it. That is all the operation. You should not graduate from an academy for such thing. As Gaidar (Arkadiy Gaidar, 1904-1941, commander of the Soviet regiment in the time of the Civil war in Russia, 1918-1922, he was very young, 16 years old, having no any education, when commanding a regiment, later he was a writer - O.B.A.). To capture as many enemies as possible. And to force them under the ice. Haven't you read the book of Soloukhin "The saulty lake" (the writer of the Perestroika time, he brought the critics against the behaviour of Arkadiy Gaidar as a brutal commander in the Civil war in his book - O.B.A.)?

- No.

- I recommend you. Read about the grandfather of our nowadays vice-prime (the grandson of Arkadii Gaidar, Yegor Gaidar, 1956-2009, was one of the main figures in the government of the RF in the 1991-93 and organized the "shocking therapy", economical reforms destroying the Soviet industrial system and bringing tens of millions of Russians into the povetry - O.B.A.) forced his enemies under the ice. If you don't get crazy, then that's OK. That would mean that you have already become crazy.

- I guess that after such hell-fire, if we can get out, then I can not be amazed at all and not frightened at all.

- You're probably right. Let's go and listen to.

- Let's go.

- Look, somebody has fixed the red flag on the State bank's roof, - I wondered, there was a red width flapping above.

- But haven't you seen?

- No. We explained you that we'd slept all the twenty four hours.

- You're strong, men.

- Sure! The flag is just as the one on the Reichstag.

- Yes.

- I wonder why didn't they take the Russian flag?

- In the first place, we've no one. Secondly, the nowadays Russian flag in the eyes, in the mind of the fighters is still not blown with the great war victories, thirdly, the boyos, brought up in the childhood on the heroism of The Great Ptriotic war, want to be connected with the victories of their grandfathers. They fought however under the red banner.

- You're right. The communist ideas are no any reasons for that.

- OK, let's go and listen to what we are facing.

- No good thing, have no gram of any doubts about that.

- You're right as always. Let's go.
We'd entered the building again. There were the officers around San Sanych, he was explaining them something. The sense of the attack was the same. The side units, having already been hardly beaten, offered us to act as the first ones to take attention on us. And after that they would join the battle. San Sanych sent them away. He offered them the next idea:

- The sense is that in an hour we start the attack. Everybody, no exclusions, are going. All the ones who are able to hold a weaponry. All the rearmen, sappers, signallers, repaires, the tank crews. I'll go. If we stay there... - San Sanych kept silence a bit, - then no any signallers, no any rearmen will be necessary. Just as in the song of communists: "That's our final and crucial combat..." Have you any questions?

- How shall we go - in billow, one torrent?

- Yes, to break the forces is of no sense. We've too little forces.

- Maybe by night?

- Then they set off the lighting rockets and it will be worse for us, as they will be in the darkness.

- And the smokes?

- Now the wind comes in our face. If it changes, we'll try to do that. And now it's of no sense. And remember, please, that there are our guys in the windows.

- That's just the bad point. Otherwise we could ruin the spooks with their building, but now we must be careful!

- They will die anyway! - someone of the young platoons' commanders yelled. The ordinary thing - hysterics before the combat.

- And if you were in their situation, what would it be? - asked Sereoga.

- I would shoot myself.

- Aha, with the chained hands. You're hero however. Would you be able to live after that, realizing the end of the fellows was because of you?

- Well, you'll quarrel in the other place, - San Sanych stopped the discussion. - There is about one hour for the preparing and after that forwards. Everybody can have some free time.

We dispersed to the corners of the building, somebody went on the roof to look once more at the plaza, through which we would have to race in an hour. Somebody got hysterics, he had psychosis, was being nerved, the others started to write convulsively the letters to home. They sweared in love to the wives and odered the children to be good in these letters. Who knows maybe that letter would come together with the one who had written it. In complement.
Many ones rapidly discussed where and which unit would go. Nobody wanted to go himself with his men over the bombs and shells craters, those ones could not shelter from the spooks fire. Finally, we decided to lot the fate. The matches decided who goes to the real death and who gets the deferment. Chance and God steered those matches. The fate. Kysmet. Everybody got his own destiny.

Neither I, nor Yurka had any mood to discuss or write any letters. We merely wanted to concentrate the thoughts and abate. To rest morally. Might be to drink about fifty grams but when we had remembered the disgusting taste of the watered spirit, the wish disappeared. And reaction could have let down as well as the stomach also. Yura and I went outside, lay on the stones and were silently smoking watching the clouds. Damn it, how little a man need to be happy. The normal family, the work, just this sky, the nature. A man should not race following the illusory good fortune of the bank notes. There are only problems because of them. And you sometimes should watch this eternal nature. If you comes to a prison, not to speak too soon, because of some idiot or because of money, then you'll be deprived of this beauty, of this happiness for some time. But if you're killed in some hours, minutes, meters, you will be forever deprived of this pleasure to watch the nature. You'll be a part of the nature.

The clouds were sailing in the light blue winter sky, were majesticaly carrying their splendid bodies to the North. To Russia. To Motherland. And thousand years ago they were streaming the same forwards, and in one thousand years they will be flying the same. And nobody will remember. The most interesting was that I was not feeling sorry for myself, I was feeling sorry for the circumstance that I had not made so many things. Although on the other side I had made my small sign on the earth. I had completed half of my mission. The mainist was my son. My son. My continuer of the kin, of the surname. The only thing was to bring him up as a human. But that can come true due to the will of the only God. Even if I die, my son will be not ashamed for his father: he died, but was not a coward. He did not make off. Save him, Lord, and me too as much as possible.
A fighter ran outside from the building and shouted that we should get ready. We went to the subdivisions, having already decided to go with the remains of the second battalion. If they had taken us from that hell-fire, then we would go together further. The first battalion was settled down on the right side. The executive officer, Vania Il'in waved me with the hand. I answered him back.

- Slava, come to us!

- No, Ivan, the horses are not ot be changed on the ford.

- As you like it. Good luck!

- Thanks. Good luck to you also!

The nearer the square is, the quicker the blood flows, it's already hot. I've taken off the gloves, put them under the armor vest. Check the subgun. Release the safty device, send the cartridge into the cartridge-chamber. Check whether the "cherish" grenade is on the place. 've crossed myself looking in the sky. The clouds are on the place and are the same continuing their unhasty voyage. It's hot. I move the black underhelmet onto the nape. The blood is raging in my body. The blood smack comes in the mouth. Adrenalin again starts its game. Now the main thing is that our fathers-commanders would not overcook us here, otherwise, if there is no fighting, adrenalin will burn all the energy and we would be as the has-beens. We know that, we've already experienced that. And now the command "555" comes to the radio set.

Storm. Storm. Storm. Tally-ho, rabid dogs, tally-ho! And ran we. We rush out from the State bank's shelter. Here are they - hundred fifty meters of the plaza. Everything is as if on the plate. A man can not find a shelter, can not hide. Only forwards. The spooks opened fire almost at once. The first seconds it was slack, but in some moments became thick, got the might and power. Having run not yet even fifteen meters, we had to start somersaulting, rolling and moving on with the short rushes. Many ones were being disturbing each other by these movings. We clashed, dropped on the earth, sweared at each other.
Due to the irony of the fate namely the second battalion had to run over the center of the square, just over the plot where the most of the grooves and craters were and which was being shot through.

We can see almost nothing, the sweat flows over the eyes corroding them. Rolling, one more rolling. Step far aside from the fountains raising the dust near the head. The face hits on stones and slush. Not a problem at all. I instinctively want to get into the crater. It is not allowed. The holes from the bullets say that they have already aimed them good. The bag with the launcher grenades disturbs. It is dangaling. While rolling it hits on earth, asphalt and stones. Hopefully the grenades will not explode tearing me apart. It would not be only about me, but some more men could accompony me by that case. I'll be more accurate.
Apparently I have rolled enough far away. Panting, I started to choose the aims for shooting.

I did not notice from the State bank, but having run and rolled about seventy meters, I was able to see clearly, that there were ours standing, hanging, being tied, nailed to the frames in the windows of the Palace. Ours. Russians. Slavs. The dead ones were disdressed and their yellow bodies were hanging. The arms were upwards, the knees were bent. Some ones were situated on the window-sills so that there was impression, that they were sitting and making the mute prayer on the knees, holding the arms upwards to the sky. The others were hanging as if in the air, the third ones had their legs hanging from the window-sill inside or outside. The hands were being nailed or tied and did not let the bodies to fall down.
Many ones were being still alive crying and weeping. Some ones were crying that they should be killed to stop their torments. The others, on the contrary, were entreating to rescue them. The spooks, sheltering behind the bodies of the alive and of the dead ones, were shooting at us. The rare ones had no shelter made of the Russian soldiers' or officers' bodies. I suddenly realized feeling horror that I was not able to shoot. I was not sure that I would hit no one of ours. Dead or alive one. WAS NOT ABLE!

The snipers were shielded behind the bodies of our brothers. They almost did not hide themselves. Their optical sights were blinking in the sun. It was impossible to smash these dregs in peaces with the laucher. Nothing could have been done! Nothing!

Only onwards, onwards under the stormy shooting, and there, close by, to knock out the scoundrels. The Germans, the fascists during the storm of Berlin were not able to imagine taking of the captives from the concentration camps and setting them as alive shields in front of themselves. But these ones...
They were alive, worn out, beaten up, with the cracked on the wind and frost, dirty, swollen up faces - they were crying. Some ones were simple mooing. The other ones opened the mouths with a mute shouting. All this provoked the bouquet of the contradictory feelings. The lump rolled up in my throat. I wished I could sob as in the childhood, loudly, without shame for the tears. To weep because of the pity to the ones who were innocently suffering at that time and because of realizing that I could not plainly help them. What for, Lord, what for? What for do they get such sufferings? All of them were pupils just some months ago. One-two years ago they sat at the school table, wrote the notes for the girls, secretly smoked in some corners. They are not guilty!

Lord, why don't you chastises the ones who had sent them to die? Why? Answer me! What is their fault? Is it only the fact that they were unfortunately born in Russia?

Instead of the racing forwards, when there was no shooting at me, I let my subgun down on my arm and started to watch, straining the eyes, the faces and bodies of the ones who were being alive shields for the spooks.

Many ones seemed for me to be acquainted. Some ones were acquainted by all means, but I didn't know their names and origin, I had merely seen them in the subdivisions of the brigade. Because of the straining or because of the other reason tears were dropping from my eyes, it was difficult to breathe. The lump was blocking in my throat, it was stuffy, I tore off my skullcap. There was a fighter on the second floor of the Palace, who had lain near me under the bullets during the first storm. He was disdressed over the waist, dead, the legs were hanging out and the hands were nailed to the frames. As if somebody had thrown him out from the window, but he was able to grasp at the window's block with the last effort. There was something balck aside of him, on the right. That was a face of the spook.

Chapter 16

(c) Copyright 1996-1999 Vyacheslav Mironov ( maxra@mail.ru )


I have taken the subgun, change it for the single shooting and start to aim. I spend very long time on it, aiming the hateful face of my enemy. He is shooting at the square, is all in passion, in the combat's feverish haste. He needs no any armor vest. The dead body of my friend is the best shelter for him. Shielding himself with the body, he is shooting with the bursts knocking the new victims down into the winter slush for ever. The victims, the other my friends. The subgun is trembling in my hands. The raging blood disturbs my concentration. The sweat covers the eyes, disturbs the aiming. Inhale, stop, slow outhale. I am slowly moving the subgun, catch the hateful spot with the cut in the rear sight and bead on the subgun barrel's end, on the half outhaling am stopping the breath and taking off the looseness of the trigger. The finger is at the last point and continues the slow smooth pushing. I can not even hear the moment of the shot at all, as I am absorbed with the only task - TO KILL. I am able to feel only push back into the shoulder after the shot. The case drops near me having rung at the stone. The eyes are the same strained watching the aimed object. I can't notice if the spook falls down, because of the straining or some other reason. But he does not appear any more. I am sure that he is not alive any more. It is not allowed to hide behind the dead bodies and murder the alive ones. Not allowed!

And only after that I returned into the real world. Many ones were already further ahead. They had no more then ten meters up to the Palace walls. In a few moments they will be in the "dead zone". This is a plot, where at the enemy is not able to shoot at ours. Some spooks thrusted themselves out of the windows and were shooting at us. We were shooting in turn at the spooks at the same moment. Some of them, being wounded, fell down. Some ones did it swearing the foul language, the others silently dropped out from the windows. Some of them fell inwards the building. Then the spooks started to throw the grenades.

Some of our fellows were able to run to the Palace walls and hide near them, some of them stayed lying. The others felt unsure and fled back. They were fleeing by us lying on the ground and their eyes were as if swung open. The feeling was that the blind men were running. The mouths were being gaped, they could not recover their breaths. Panic. The spooks were shooting in their backs and the fire was slowly shifted on us. The shouts, the groans of the wounded ones, the wails about help. All that was too harsh for the ears, was beating into the ear membranes. The fear was creeping inside, into the soul as the cold stream. I made a huge effort to keep myself on the ground. I was not a hero but I could merely remember that panic horror, catching every cell of the brain, of the body, and you had got the only wish - to flee. To flee paying no any attention to the way, just anywhere. Only that feeling - to hide, to flee, to shelter.

Having gritted my teeth with the crunch I started digging of the frozen earth with the burnt metal fragment. I plunge it as deep as possible and throw the earth in front of me. Again plunge and throw. No, you'll not make the former trick, you'll not make it. With the teeth, with the finger-nails - we must clutch at this plaza and take it. And you will answer for the guys hanging in your windows. We'll demand the personal answer for every one of them.

This decision comes spontaneously, just itself. I have no any thought that there is probably only me, as a mole amusing the spooks, rummaging in this frozen earth on the square. This is my war and I have my special score. The score to the war, and to the ones who had unleashed it, and to the ones who are murdering our soldiers and officers.

I rose my head up and looked whether there were the spooks, if they were going to attack. They were not going to attack, they were shouting something, shaking the dead bodies of our soldiers in the windows. These ones - frozen, petrified - were being banged at the walls with the dim rythmical clattering. Some of the spooks shot without aiming in our direction. They shouted something insulting in Russian and in their guttural language. They contorted the faces. They cut the skin, stuck the knives into the bodies of some few alive captives hanging on the windows. Some ones shouted, the others tried to grit their teeth and be silent. But there were not many such ones.

And you, my reader, were you able to bear two, three days in the frost being hung and when someone is cutting you with the knife? When you are used to be alive shield during the attack of just your friends? Some ones lost the consciousness, it saved them for a short time from the senseless tortures. And you're hanging and clearly realizing that you have no chance to survive and are watching as your rescuers are dying, are running, being captured only because they are afraid to shoot. Are afraid to hit you. And you have almost no choice. Either you are dying or you are murdered or you go mad in some time. The death in this case is a saving, healing. But there is a mad thought flickering in your subconscious, what if you're lucky and you'll survive. What if you will be rescued?!
So think, my reader, are you personnaly guilty in the deaths of those guys who had died with such a horrible agonizing death? I htink that you're guilty. Guilty very much! Because of your apathetic indifferent position, of your attitude towards the events.

I do not wish you, my reader, such thing, but imagine yourself, that some new war can break out in some years. And you, your son, brother, brother-in-law, nephew will have to go to this new absurd senseless war. What would you say? Correct. You'll say nothing. You'll whisper-rustle togehter, discuss the last news, letters, gossips. And not more. As the system during the seventy years (author means the Soviet power in Russia, 1917-1991 - O.B.A.) made you to be the mute creature, who is able to cry only alone, when is being cut, but to assist a neighbor, to protect somebody - is not able. So, you will spend your life standing on the knees and die in the same position. Help somebody, then you will become an assistance. Everything in the real life is the same as in the real war. If you help, then you will not be sold, will not be betrayed. You are in the ranks of your team annihilating the other team and "eating" them. And the best thing is to manage the uniting, closing the ranks. But that's already an Utopia.

The Russian man has got lately a tendency to selfabolishing, selfdestroying, annihilating of the neighboring. Anarchy, mutiny, these are the elements hidden in the soul of the Russians. But the Russians were not even able to start a mutiny defending their children dying in Chechnya.

The Russian people has become petty. His magisty dollar has enslaved everything including the souls. The soul, which can not be understood (author paraphrases the words the Russian poet Fyodor Tyutchev, 1803-1873, - O.B.A.), can be simply bought. Or stopped up, as the easy way. And the bought or mute soul will never say any quiet word objecting. So, that means, nobody can nourish any illusions about our enigmaticy. We're bought and sold the same as all the other ones. With the only difference - all in the wholesale and for the very low price. Lower than the prime cost.

And now the empty intelligentsia, who was the first one to argue for the dollar to be accepted in the times of "perestroika", is still weeping about the Russian soul. And they named the inveterate plunderers in Russia nothing, but "my heart", "genial" etc. There were already the first fires of the nations' conflicts, but they pretended that it was not their matter. When the Russians were murdered there in Chechnya, then they got into the habit appearing on all kinds of the presentations, in simple words, looking for a "freebie", speaking the flattering toasts for the criminal authorities. And now they are, of course, hanging about on some banquet on the honour of some new international enterprise founding and babbling about revival of the former might of Russia.

You know, they did not lead demonstrations protesting against the war. They did not lead the committees to collect the humane aid. And there was not the year sixty eighth (the author makes a hint at the situation in the Soviet Union in 1968, when the forces of the USSR entered Czechoslovakia to stop the reforms and almost nobody in the USSR had any interest to protest against that - O.B.A.), but the year ninty fourth.

That's it, gentelmen, the last station. We've arrived. The best result will be, when our country is parted by the all "civilized world". It peacefully parts, devides us and takes off as the wedding cake into the peaces. Everything is according to the instructions. The most tasty peace of the cake is for the strongest one, for the reach guest. The smaller ones are for the others. And everything will be under the laws. The UNO and some routine presentations. Evey one becomes what the one serves. Every one, but the Russian people. Everybody will be sold, betrayed. In our case for the debts.

The second variant - we'll be a "bananas' republic". Extremly cheap manpower and the gain of thousand percentages. Export consists of the only raw materials. Nothing is to be locally produced. Everything is imported from the countries-owners. Including the glass beads as for the polinasiers.

And the most terrible variant - the next revolution. With all outcoming consequences. By every variant you, my reader, is "to fly far aside of the box-office". The difference is the only one, that the guys that are lying now around me will cut open your stomcah and make you see the tortures of your wife, daughters, sisters and girl-friends. Not because of some selfishness or blood-thirstiness, but because of the elementary vengeance. Because you were silent, having put your tongue... between the teeth when the spooks made us watch how our friends were agonizing. That is so, mister Reader. Think.

The soldiers and officers around me were also digging in the frozen earth, gnawing at the frozen asphalt. Some ones were using the craters to do that. They were digging the "fox holes" there in them. The spooks could swiftly understand that we were not going to retreat as it had been after the former attacks. That's why they opened fire at us again. And the fountains were again raising up the dust, the slush and the melting snow around me. That stimulated the new portion of adrenalin secretion, having put the subgun aside I started to work quicker.

Speed, speed. The fingers are bloody injured, the finger-nails are broken almost up to the meat. I am feeling no any pain, to dig myself down, to bury myself, and after that we'll make you, bastards. There was no panic when we were lying under the mortars bombing. There was spite against the spooks. The spite was great as the Universe. The sweat is already streaming as a brook over the face, the steam is flying up from the jacket. I feel that the underwear and the "afganka" are absolutely sweat throughout. I have no any wish to die from the coldness! The speed! Now my head is already sheltered in the undeep pitty. If I can't see the enemy, then it doesn't mean that he can't see me. Therefore deeper, deeper. That's good that we're fighting not in our Siberia! The earth over there is frozen deep.

I remember as during the sevice in Moldavia I was always asked if it was a truth that in Siberia they don't bury in winter? Why that? The earth is frozen deep, that's why you aren't able to dig a grave. So, I had to explain these cranks the technological process of digging of the graves in the cold seasons.

And the spooks meanwhile dragged up the mortars and started bombing. The bombs were dropping not aimed yet, producing large fountains of the slush, snow and sand. There was a deep wish to survive. The self-perservation instinct woked up, instinct of the love to life. Quicker, quicker, deeper, deeper. I am losing my breath, I am already panting, the sweat is disturbing me, I do not brush it off, let it stream, but am striving only downwards, only in the earth. The fear and adrenalin help me work quicker. Speed, speed. The heap of sand and earth in front of me is growing quicker and quicker. I take off the dirty with the earth and wet with the sweat underhelmet, which somewhen was a black one. The collar of the jacket is wet with sweat and the stuffed under it earth is falling inside. At first that provoked some discomfort, erritation but slowly that feeling went past. The wish to survive made me pay no any attention to those trifles.

The spite and the wish to survive dulled all the other feelings. There was no hunger, no coldness, no thirst. Only one aim - to dig in and survive. The spite, the fear. I am losing my breath. There is not enough air. Damned armor vest is chaining the motions, is hanging on me as a hoop. Without it, I would have already been a long time digged deep in the earth up to the eyeballs. To take it off, I should have half-rise, but there was no such force to make me just half-rise under the bombing. I am hating this squealing wailing of the bombs. I do not like it. This wailing will be haunting me up to the end of my days. The same as the wailing of the air-bombs. And every cell of my brain, of my body will squeeze filled full with the wild horror, when I only remember about it. And also this wailing will awake not only fear, but also the spite.

It's hot. I have released the locks of the armor vest side straps, and now it is actually hanging only on the shoulders' belts. Heh, there is a great temptation to take it off. To take off the fourteen kilograms of the damned iron, to throw the jacket off and to lie a bit simply in the only "afganka" on the damp cool earth.
The trench is almost ready. I have only to hide the feet. But there is almost no power. The fragment of some menacing techique, which I used for digging, was rubbed out, worn down, curved and took some strangeful form.

Now I take the subgun close to me. While digging I had half-strown it with the earth, the earth is falling into my sleeves. But I pay no any attention to this annoying hindrance. That's unimportant now, unimportant. I'm alive, have digged myself in the earth up to eyeballs and now only the direct hitting of the bomb can graze me.

I am carefully, very carefully raising the head over the breastwork. I have not many hairs on it, the underhelmet is lying on the earth, the steam is flying from my head. A good aim for a sniper. I am trying not to think about that, don't want to put on the cappy-underhelmet. Apparently, I attract no attention.

The spooks are hammering on the plaza with the mortars, launchers, machine-guns and subguns. Are trying to throw the hand grenades to the very base of the building. There is a small group of ours settled itself, of the ones who were able to force through to the walls of the Palace. Being situated in the "dead zone" they were entrenching themselves. The spooks tried to hit them with the grenades but the ones were exploding safe aside. Neither the spooks were able to cause ours any serious damages, nor ours could do spooks that. Only when it is dark, the spooks can attempt to annihilate ours. If we don't help Slavs before the darkness, they will replenish the "horror museum" in the windows of the Palace.
The choice is: to take the Palace or to take our fighters situated near its walls. No any third way. I'm looking backwards. Many ones are digging their trenches, for someones these trenches will be the graves. Some of them have already finished that work and now, the same as me, like the turtles, are carefully rising their heads from the armor-trenchs. The heads are the same as mine uncovered and the damp is flying form them. It seems that the snipers of Dudaev have a dinner pause. Let them do that, wish them to choke, fucking whores. The spooks, having understood that it would be problematically to hit us on the square, shifted the mortars bombing on the State bank.

Every bomb came closer and closer to the half-destroyed building. If there is a massive bombing of the mortars at this shed, then in a few hours, it will not bear and crash down. And the men who are trying to hide behind its walls will die also. So, it's unclear who has more cosy positoin. Have it I lying on the square with my bottom upside, in the frost, or have it the ones who hide themselves behind the concrete walls? The walls can turn into mausoleum.

Now the first bombs are already exploding on the State bank's territory, raising up the clouds of the smoke, dust and chippings. In turn there was a salvo, also with the mortars. But because of the fighters in the windows the bombs did not reach the Palace and exploded before it, a long distance before. The spooks changned to be atrocious after our action and resumed plastering tf he bank. To distract somehow their attention, we, the ones on the square, had to open fire. Although our firing was sparse and was not able to cause the spooks any serious harm, they had nevertheless to take us into account.

- Hold out, men, hold out! - wispered my own AKS and I repeated it also.

- Beat the bastards!

- Jerks! - the shouting came from the other trenches.

Nobody organized men, their firing. Everybody simply tried to draw off the spooks fire on themselves. Only firing and only at the enemy. The main thing was not to hit the ones who were hanging in the windows. No one of us had any wish to follow that fate, such hanging - alive or dead - in the window, and we did not want to hit ours.

There were no ours seen in the windows on the higher floors, but the spooks were fussing there. One-two months ago, we would slowly count the heights' difference, corrections about the wind before the shooting, but now we were able to shoot easily. And now one dark figurine is falling down. The spook was scilently dropping down, that meant he was dead, if he were wounded, then the fallng down from the thirty-meter height would make him unhealthy at all.

And now the spooks become brutal. They shift the bombing on the square. And again the wailing of the bombs, the deafening explosions near me. I fall on the bottom of my selfborn trenchy. So native, cosy one. I gape the mouth extremely wide and strain the ear membranes. The jaw-muscles are numb. It's very difficult to bear the new air waves of the bombs and grenades explosions. The tight air waves are lashing the unhappy ear membranes tougher and tougher. It seems that something is running, streaming from my ears. I carefully touch them with hand and look. No. Nothing. It only seemed me. It's uncomfortable to fight having the open mouth. Every new exposion throws into my mouth the new handful of earth. It seems already to be no any mouth but an excavator's scoop filled with the earth full. I am spitting out. And at this moment the new explosion comes and the air wave forces into the ears. The poor ears have not been yet restored after the last shell-shock and now the new "whip" is lashing.

I am shaking my head as if trying to force out water from the ears after some swimming. It does not help. And again the soft deafness surrounds me. I'll be already no any musician, that's a fact! I'm tired, raise my head up and shoot, paying no any attention to the explosions. The new explosions lash my ears, but are already born not so dramatic. There are like the stoppers of the cotton wool in the ears. I can see first the explosion and after that the sound comes to me. Spite seizes me. Sod it! Am I invalid now? The arms and legs are safe but what should I do now? I'v stopped shooting and touched "the happy grenade" with the left hand. Is it time or it's not yet? Here is it, lying in my dirty palm. The fingers are all cut, with scratches filled with the earth. The blood became parched with the thin half-round edging around the finger-nails. I'm falling deeper in the trenchy, turn myself on the stomach and begin to smoke, after that, take again the grenade with my hands and am watching this thing, screwing up my eyes because of the caustic smoke stinging my eyes.

It's of green color, the thin bulging rim is in the middle. That is now. Only two motions and the end. There are no deafness any more, no hunger, coldness or pain suffering, and no any pangs of conscience. And I must not seek guilty organizers of this war. I am guilty of my life. I've chosen this way myself, nobody has pulled me into this way. Therefore I must not blame anybody, but myself for my own disasters. And nobody would blame me to be a coward, deserter. Nobody will investigate what was the exact reason of the captain Mironov's death. Was it some bomb or was it his own grenade? Because of the well-aimed and fortunate spooks or because of the own stupidness. The matt surface of the grenade is attracting look and paralysing intellect. Only two motions. The first one is to release the fastening, the second one is to pull swiftly the ring off and simultaneously unclasp the fingers, letting the lever free by this motion. After that it will be only about four seconds to throw the grenade far away from myself. That's the deadline of the decelerator. Such a chance for a suicider, if the one changes his mind. After that no one "ambulance" can help you in spite of any calls.
Although on the other hand I can see that I'm sound. The eyes are able to see and the hands hold the subgun fast. Nobody drives me away from the front. You can combat, if you wish. Quiet, Slava, no any psychosis. To pull the ring off and to release the lever - it's what you can make always. Take with yuorself possible many spooks. It will be a shame to look in the eyes of the men who are now rattling with their bones in the windows of the fucking Palace. Quiet. Keep cool. Inhale - outhale. I'm slowly, very slowly unscrewing the fuse from the grenade. The fuse of alluminium reluctantly goes out from the insides of the grenade, shining dull in the daylight. This thing can be made sometime later. I'm putting both the grenade and the fuse into the left pocket of the jacket. I keep in this pocket nothing more. Only the grenade and nothing more. On the urge moment it can be so, that there's no time to take off the "happy" grenade, if you have to rummage in some rubbish. The fuse and grenade are dropping with a clink on the fabric bottom. These things can stay lying, we've some time.

I was ready to tear myself one second ago because of those spooks. It was too early. I deeply inhale smoking, so that I feel the breast aching and giddiness. The cigarette's light is already burning my lips. I'm watching it with regret. So, my life is the same - will burn to the end and I'll not note it. I am throwing the cigarette's butt away, taking the other cigarette and lighting it up, turn over the belly, hold up the subgun. And now we'll fight you, bastards.

And now because of my deafness I can rely only on the eyesight and intuition. And also on the fortune, fate, if my reader lets me think so. The despair has gone away, the fervour has come. The jolly, mischievous fervour. Now we'll see, mujahideens, who will win.

The deafness has its advantages. The time when the mortar bomb is flying makes ours drop in the trenches and the spooks meanwhile peep out from the windows having the sport passion. Where to will it hit? I can hear almost no any bombs wailing due to my trauma. Only quiet whistling. There is a hooting in my head, I am a bit sick. That was a routine shell-shock. It betters no health.
I change the subgun for the single shooting, notice the window, where from the most inquisitive spook appears, and aim. There is the next whistling. I catch with the look sideways as the heads of neighbors in the next trenches dive deep, and at the same time the curious spook appears. He was looking from the window where at there was no "alive" shield. That's for you, slut! I'm simultaniously pushing the trigger. I'm watching without break as the body of the spook is being hurled back inside the building simultaniously with my shot. This jerk is cooked!
We'll combat yet. Half-deaf, I'll shoot as long as they don't send me to the rear. My smile is widely straining the mouth - from one ear up to the other one. I'm feeling no any regretness or repentance. Nothing like that. The feeling of the hunting fervour is exciting me. I can hardly keep the exciting inside. The main thing is not to lose selfcontrol. I am trying to be distracted from the "hunting". I specially pay no attention to the next bomb, am pulling on the wet, now already cool underhelmet. I wince, getting in a trice the goose-flesh on the back of my head, when the cold wet cap touches my head. The thoughts are aside. You must not be carried away by passoin too much. Fervour can bring you to the death.
Although I have let the bomb pass, there is one more curious one and I've seen him. "The curiousity brings a cat into a trap!" - I say to myself. I'm waiting for the bomb. The others are shooting at the Palace, accurately aiming, there is shooting at them in turn. I'm waiting. Having raised my head, am watching those "kitty", who is not able to restrain the hunting passion and who is thrusting out his stupid noddle.

Hey, kitten, this is no theater here and you have not the best place in stalls. Your own fault! Inhale - outhale, inhale, half outhale, the heads have doven, whistling, the head of the aim has appeared in the window. Shot! Gottcha! The hands are upwars, the head is backwards. The figurine has disappeared in the window hollow. One more is cooked. That's not a bad result meaning a long distance and halfdeafness disability. My ears will cost you, jerks, much blood.
The spooks have again started bombing at the building of the State bank and now the bombs are dropping with good aiming. The bursts are arising on the roof of the building. And the spooks pay now no any attention to our desperate shooting. They're concentrated only on one aim - annihilating of our little main forces. If ours do not go forwards now, then the death notices can be made for us, the ones who are on the square, and for those ones who are under the walls of the Palace.

Ours have evidently went down in the basement's rooms, but they can not stay there for a long time. The mighty concrete walls will collapse and bury the remains of the brigade alive. Come on, guys, onwards!

As if having heard my calls and incantations, ours jumped out form the State bank, stepped back and started to shoot from that position at the Palace without aiming. The subguns and machine-guns shooting was reinforced with the sounds of the APCs and later of the tanks also. They were shooting at the roof of the Government's house. There were no our captives. The projectiles were more often exploding on the roof and higher floors, bringing down the pieces of the wall. I don't know if there were any commands to coordinate the actions, but from the fussing of the sooks and their shooting at the other directions, I made a suggestion about attacking on the enemy from the other sides.

The fire in our direction was already not so hard and ours had started attack. Because of the deafness I could orient myself only by going of ours forwards. The sounds of the shooting and explosions were heard not good, as if through the wadding. The infantry was going in the first rank, the tanks and APCs were standing behind and firing. When the first ones had reached us lying on the square we started rising up to go attacking.

And the spooks had again forced us back with the barrage. Someones stayed to lie on the square without motions, some ones were able to hide in the trenches, the others turned and ran back. I stayed at the former place. If there were no cold getting to me little by little, then I could be in the comfortable situation. And the clothing, being absolutely sweat through, was cooling little by little and my own sweat started to take the warmth from me. The twilight will come in about one hour or a bit earlier. You may not set some fire. I go down deeper in my trench and begin smoking. Hiding the cigarette in the fist, I warm my palms. The smoke is warming the throat and the nose tip. The doctors say that during smoking temperature of the body decreases. I wish them to lie having the wet jacket in the frosty weather without any smoking and after that they can give a comment about reactions in their organisms provoked by the smoking. I guess that many ones would change their point of view about reality.

I can't get any warm meal, I've no vodka with me. That's not jollily.

Later there were also the desperate attempts of the next storm, but they made absolutely nothing positive, only the losses. All attempts to crawl out from our trenches were instantly stopped. The snipers of spooks, equipped with the high-quality optics for the night, stopped our pretensions. One fighter was killed, three ones were wounded. We crawled to them and rendered the first aid having carried them behind some concrete stone. We were not able to carry them out. The sniper was watching us and if some one only tried to go form behind the stone, the foutains from the bullets started to burst around us. There were three of us. Two saviours and the wounded one. The fighter was wounded in the leg. The bullet went clean through out.

He was a brave guy, joking, trying to keep his spirits up. Tried to be distracted. In my opinion, he would lose his leg. The other fighter and I were able to stanch the wound. The extremity swelt up to be of the monstrous size. We covered the leg with the cold stones. Not to let him die because of the pain shock and to reduce his suffering, we injected in all the three ampoulas of promedol during some hours. Every fighter or officer has in his individual medicine chest the only so ampoula. The only one. We had given him our ampoulas. For the longer and more effective effect we had injected them directly into the vein. It was the first time in my life that I made the intravenous injection, and moreover, in the absolute darkness. It was successful. It was cold, the wounded one needed warmth. His body started to shake. The temperature rose up. We put him between us, took off out armor vests and covered us with them. So, in that manner, we were warming him and were being warmed ourselves. The night was cold, starry. All the warmth collected by the earth and us during the day was speeding away into the cosmic abyss. It was cold, very cold. The icy earth was taking warmth from us. It seemed for us that the life was leaking out from our bodies following the warmth.

- Comrade captain, have you a cigarette?

- What? Say louder!

The fighter showed with gesture that he wanted smoking.

- I have. Take it.

We began to smoke. I had not many cigarettes. We were smoking the only one letting it into the circle, giving it from hand to hand. We accurately hid it from both wind and enemy. The enemy could have killed us and the wind, blowing the light up, could quickly burn the precious tabacco. It turns out, that just one cigarette can reason so many things. In spite of smoking and little warmth from each other, it was getting colder and colder.

The fighter tried to show with the gestures that we could try to crawl out and carry the wounded one out. I nodded. The sniper let us out for a couple of meters and after that tried again to kill. He didn't like us due to some reason. We were somehow able to crawl back. The wounded one fell sometimes in half-conscious state and sometimes regained consciousness. We realized that the situation was crucial. The fighter was in need of no our vain attemts, but the warmth and qualified medical assistence. Maybe narcotic was effective, but according to his almost feverish shaking there was the only suggestion, that he would not survive till the morning.

About two houres had passed. We were lying making no any life signs. The armor vest was put under the wounded one, the other jackets were put over. Shaking because of the cold, we tried to warm him. The fighter tried to run the distance between us and building of the State bank but in seven-eight meters he stumbled over and fell down on his face stretching the arms, the legs were thrown up highly with the inertia. The body was lying without motions, without convultions or cramps. The lump crept up in my throat. From my deafness I had not got his name, but rescuing the wounded one we were able to feel each other. Both of us had recently smoked the only one cigarette. And now there is no this fellow any more. He does not exist any more. He died. He tried to bring the assistence, but was not able.

You, sniper-slut, you have seen that the fellow was running from you. Maybe he was a deserter, why do you know? Why do you shoot in back? He made no any threat.

It was going colder. I found a tube with the red tablets of tetracycline in my first-aid kit, made the mouth of the wounded one open and poured about five tablets in him. I am not a doctor, but I guess that I had made everything corect. I realized that if he died, nobody would blame me in his death, in rendering no first aid. I did not want him die, did not want his death. There is a proverb - "War forgives everything". But I simply could not leave him.

Why? I do not know. He was a part of me, a part of my world. He was not much younger than me, but I felt completely father's feeling to him. I was not able to make anything for him. The fellow regained consciousness, moved his lips a bit. From my deafness and his weak voice, I was not able to recognize exactly what was he speaking. I felt scared that my deafness would not go past and I would have to be such one for all my life. Watching that wounded boyo, I got a horrible thought that I would be able to see the son, but would not be able to hear him, would not be able to communicate to him.

The lump rolled up in the throat again. Would I really be able nowhen speak to the son? He would ask me something, and I would not be able to speak to him. I'll have only to smile stupidly and throw up my hands. The brisk imagination of that picture appeared, that my son would come from the school and begin telling me about his matters in the school and I could not hear him. No! That would not be a life, I would not be able to become a father of full value. The left hand went into the jacket pocket and touched the cold surface of the grenade with the flat boarding in the side and the pivot of the fuse. There was a great seduction to stop the sufferings of two invalids lying under the cold starry sky of the hostile Motherland. We were the grains of sand in the space and two invalids on the boundless spaciousnesses of the hating us Motherland - Russia.

Having hardly stopped the seduction to solve all the problems, which had been, were and would be, which would come, if I staid alive, I took off my hand from the pocket. I watched into the eyes of the fellow, he was watching at me and slowly moving the lips. I guiltily smiled and clapped on my ear, thew up my hands and told also, to be sure, that I could not hear because of the shell-shock. He showed in an answer a weak comforting smile. I took out a cigarette and showed him, he took it with the weak hands. We began smoking. Shaking together because of the cold, watching in the night sky, we were nestling up to each other. The lighting bombs and rockets were hanging over our heads. The sky was cut with the lines of the tracing bursts. The shaking in the fighter's body was getting worse and I nestled closer up to him, half-embraced him. I looked in his eyes and during the light of the next hanging rocket I was able to see as the cigartette fell down form his mouth, it was smoldering on his jacket producing stench of the smoldering wadding. His frozen in the stare eyes were looking in the sky, the body was bent out as an arc, the extremities were shaking with convulsions, and there was a wreath of the bloody foam around his mouth. And the blood was also being forced out from the mouth with the pushes following the convulsions tact. The blood was running over the chin and was being absorbed by the jacket collar of the artificial fur. All the body badly, without convulsions, was bent in an arc, in a moment it became soft and dropped on the ground. Not realizing my actions at all, I took his dropped head, hardly hearing myself yelled in his face, shaked him, violently slapped his cheeks, tried to make the artificial respiration, stained myself with his blood - the blood extinguished the cigarette-end, smoldering on his breast. I seized the cigarette's stub and thew it aside. Maybe if I had not given him that cigarette, he would have stayed alive? I began to cry silently, sobbing, raised the soft dead body a bit and pressed it to myself. I was wincing with the sobbing and the body of the Russian soldier was shaking in tact of my wincing. I lost at that time very much, maybe the closest and the dearest man. At that moment I realized that I would not be able to stay the former one. I had changed. Forgive me, brother, that I was not able to help You. Maybe if I had tried to run for the assistence, you would have stayed alive? That means that I'm a coward? I was afraid to be killed and did not go having a hope that you would survive up to the morning or up to the next attack of ours. I am guilty before you. Forgive! Forgive! Forgive!

In that way, embracing the dead body of the soldier, I met the next dawn of my useless life. I was not able to rescue a good fellow from the death. What for, Lord, what for? The fog fell down. It was a small chance to get out. I don't give damn about this square! I don't give any damn about this fucking Palace! I don't give a damn about everything! Because of sombody's entertainment, because of the senile madness such Fellow had died! So many Fellows died!!! To HELL with it!!! I don't want to be a ram. Let the air-force and artillery make mincemeat of this Chechnya. It's a place damned by God. No one country costs life of the one, whose body I was carrying with my hands. No power, but I carried it just with my hands. I was slowly stepping, the subgun was dangling on my back and was rythmically beating at my back following the tact of my steps. The hands, the back, the neck went numb. I was going. Watching straight ahead. The armor vest was left on the place of our last night spending.

I reached the fighter's body who had tried to run for the assistence and looked at his bloody back. The sniper turned out to be a master of his skill. The bullet had come exactly into the spine and broke it. Forgive me, brother, that you were there. It was me, a half-deaf invalid, who should have lain instead of you. Forgive me, if you are able to. I am older than you were and have already seen a lot of things. I have left the sign about me on the earth - my son. And you? You had finished the school and for your unpaid education you had given your life. Unfair payment. My son can meet the end of his days in the same way. Because of someone's mad hallucinations in the next war. I'll not let him in the army. I had sighed and continued my way to the State bank's building. I was going slowly. Was waiting for a shot of the sniper in my back. That shot would be a kind of atonement, redemption for everything. There was nothing. There was a challenge in the fog, better to say that maybe it was a challenge, because I did not hear. I was only able to see about five men rushing to me. They carefully took the body of the soldier from me. Goodbye, friend! Forgive me!

Chapter 17

I looked in the face turned to be blue, stained with the blood at the last time. His bent fingers. I had closed his eyelids earlier, at night, but it seemed for me that I saw his glassy stare. Farewell!

I went to the building staggering and rubbing the cramped arms. A soldier caught up with me and began to speak something. I didn't hear him. I gloomily and attentively looked at him, saying no word turned round and went to the building. The soldier had caught up with me again, pulled me with the sleeve and pointed at the direction of the stretcher, where at the doctors were bustling. Obviously, there was a first aid post. I pulled back the arm and severely told him:

- Go to hell. I'm all right. And if someone tries to disturb me, I'll smash the snout. You may report this everybody.

The soldier was looking at me, he was confused and looking at my stained with the blood jacket, at my dirty face.

- This is not my blood. Get out.

The fighter tried to speak something more, but I already went further, paying no any attention. The entrance at the building was ruined. Therefore I decided to go round. And stumbled on the first battalion's executive officer Vanya Il'in. He was gloomy but got rooted to the ground, when saw me. He had shouted something and ran up to me. Embracing. He was speaking something. I nodded my head and told that I was a bit deaf. He took me pulling to the doctors. I broke free. I stopped and uttered something like what I had told the fighter a couple of minutes before.

- Vanya, go to hell. If you bring me, then I'll smash the mug. I have got a little shell-shock, the hearing will restore in a couple of days. Have you something to drink?

He nodded his head, holding my elbow, tried to pull me to the fighters.

- Ivan, don't try now to inform the commanders. They'll lock me in hospital, nothing more.

He was nodding his head and speaking something, gesticulating.

- Don't try, I can hear no damned thing. If you yell me something at the ear, then I'll hear something, otherwise - no.

We came to the APC. The engine was running. Ivan pulled the lever of the landing force section and opened the door. He pushed me to the black hollow.

We entered the section together. It was not the high room, therefore we had to bend us low down. Ivan switched on the inside lighting. I sat on the bank extending alongside all the board and took off the jacket. It was dry and warm inside. Ivan took out the food meanwhile. As usual there were the stew, concentrted milk, onion, garlic, bottle of spirit and NATO portion. He spread a newspaper directly on the floor, took out a wonder-bottle of the mineral water, poured the spirit into the glasses. There is one immutable principle in the army - the spirit would be diluted by every one so as the one likes. And when he gave me water and the spirit in the glass, I limply waved with my hand. He diluted it for me fifty-fifty. All right. We silently clinked the glasses, drank, drank the mineral water directly from the bottle. I had never drunk spirit diluted with the mineral water anywhen before. We started to bite. I ate everything without sorting. And I instantly started to tell Ivan about everything what I had to go through. At first, I tried to speak loudly but he showed me with the gesture that I'd better speak quietly. I told him. I told him everything without any secrets and the lump blocked my breathing again. I hardly pressed the next portion of spirit inside myself. When I was drinking and eating the tears were running over the cheeks. Beause of the experienced things and also because of the warmth, meal and alcohol my eyes were closing down. I got the horrible wish to sleep. Ivan took off the remains of the meal and spread the soiled carpet on the floor, threw a couple of the jackets under the head and one more carpet to cover with. He helped me to take off the wet boots and socks, put them near the hole where form the warm air was comming out to dry them, turned out the light and went out. I fell down into the heavy anxious sleep. There was a dream that I was again in the combat with that soldier, who died on my hands. We were alive, healthy and fought the spooks. But after that the soldier died. I woke up, again fell asleep, tried to make everything possible to rescue him from the inevitable death, but everything was useless. Sometimes he was blown up on the mine, sometimes a bullet pierced his body. And he died always in the same way, as it was in reality. You feel yourself to be deceived and are beating yourself because of the feebleness and are swearing everybody including God. Spite was exciting in the blood, adrenalin again started raging. I woke up from time to time but was able to hear nothing, only the floor of the APC with the working engine was rythmically trembling. And I fell asleep again, it seemed that I woke up at least hundred times. After the next waking up I decided that I would never get rid of that nightmare. I found the switch by touch in the darkness and turned on the light, dressed myself up, put on the dry but dirty socks; the boots were not absolutely dry, but as they had not met any shoe cream for already so long time, the boots toes had turned up. Having pounded with the shoes at the armor of the car I beat off the large lumps of mud and put on the shoes. Not doing up the jacket I took the subgun and went outside.

Judging from the sun the dinner was already finished. My hand watch had stopped. I had forgotten to start it up. The hearing was restoring step by step. That was good. I was able to hear clearly the near shooting. I perceived the men voices, but was not able to sort out the words. In one-two days I'll become a normal man. But only the ringing in the ears was continuing. Everything will go past and this will also go past...

There were the fighters and officers walking around. Nobody bent down being sheltered behind the State bank's walls. Everybody behaved himself calm as if he was in the deep rear. I saw Yurka. He was muddy as everybody, having the burnt through, torn up jacket. His hands were covered with the thick layer of the dirt. The subgun, soild with the mud also, was dangling on the shoulder. The thin face was worn out, he was drinking from the somebody's flask. The sharp outstanding Adam's apple was quickly moving up and down.

I quietly waddled up to Yurka and decided to wait up to the moment when he would stop drinking.Yura was drinking as if he had run form a desert. I was standing and waiting. Then he broke the neck of the flask away to recover the breath and saw me with the look sideways. He had given some fighter standing near by the flask. And we embraced us having made a step to each other. Being silent, we firmly, simply embraced us without any words and excalmations. Alive! We are alive!

We tore ourselves away. Yura asked me something. I was able to hear the voice but was still not able to understand the words. I'd smiled, shaked my head, touched the ear:

- Yura, I've got a shell-shock and can't hear still, speak louder.

- Again a shell-shock? - Yura stepped nearer and yelled at my ear with all power of his lungs.

I recoiled from such a roar.

- Are you crazy? You'll deafen me, idiot!

- You have asked to speak louder.

- But that means louder and not to tear the ears membranes. Dupe.

- Well, don't take offense. I thought you kicked the bucket. Over there. On the square.

- Nothing of the sort! It's not so easy to get rid of me.

- You should visit a doctor. How many shell-shocks have you already got? Three? Five?

- And have I counted them? To come to these monsters is the same as to come to the spooks. But the latters will send you to the underworld and these ones will send you home. Everything will go past. Now I have slept a bit and I feel myself much better. It will be almost everything in norm in one-two days. The main thing now is to get no any more concussions. And you're shouting at my ear, swine. Where were you when I was lying on the square with my bum upside and with trousers full of shit with fear?

- I was also there.

- I've not seen you.

- I've not seen you also. Now there is about half of the brigade entrenched on the square, they are preparing the base for storm. We go by night.

- Are they fucking mad idiots? What about alive shield?

- The dead shield, Slava, There are now no alive ones in the windows. The doctors had to be watching the Palace, the every man, during all the morning hours. They had reported.

- Yeah, reported, reported, - I grumbled. - Can they really see form the distance: is the fighter dead or alive? Without any check up, without puls check? And what will the others do?

- The next units?

- Of course.

- They tried to entrench themselves on the square the same as we had done, but they could do no any damned thing. They are kids.

- Or they did not want to, - I grumbled again.

- That can be really so. Who knows these topmost elite commandos!

- Yeah, they are able to march good, they can well-aimed shoot at their own parliament (author makes hint at the constitutional crisis of 1993 - O.B.A.), but you can't see any result from all other things.

- In a word, all the hope is on the Siberian "makhra"?

- Yes. On our command everybody goes to storm and the main attacking direction is from our side.

- That's not difficult to surmise, as we had digged in on the plaza. As the fishes on the frying-pan. What's news yet?

- No any damned answer. When have you come form the square?

- In the morning, in the fog, I carried out a fighter.

- Was he alive?

- He died in my hands. A horrible death.

- Every death is horrible.

- You're right. Have you a cigarette? I've had no any since morning and so my ears are swollen.

If I do not smoke during the next couple of hours, I'll go to storm without any weapon. I'll get the breaking. If I do not smoke a long time, I become angry and irritable. And want to break my hatred out against anybody.

- We'll find now.

Yurka stopped one fighter walking near by and got a cigarette form him.

- Slava, but it is only "Mountains beggar". Is that OK?

- All right. A cabbage ball, gone through a horse?

- Have you seen something better anywhere?

- Have not at all. Get a light.

We sat on some concrete blocks and began to smoke one cigarette, giving it each other. Hiding the cigarette in the fist by the habit, deeply inhaling, we kept the smoke in the lungs for a second to let the body absorb the nicotine the best and the most of all, and only after that were slowly letting the smoke outside, restraining us. Because of the long smoking pause I was dizzy feeling pleasure. It would go past in a couple of seconds. We were silently smoking, burning in one inhaling so much tabacco, that in the usual situation it would be enough for the three ones. The last inhaling burnt already the lips and the fingers. And its taste was disgusting bitter. The tip of the cigarette was yellow from the nicotine. Yura got the last one. He inhaled, looked at the cigarette-end with regretness and threw it away. That hasty smoking brought us no any relief or any pleasure. There was a kind of lump in the lungs. But the feeling of the nicotine hunger was satisfied for some time.

- How do you feel yourself, Slava?

- Alive. Have you already had a dinner?

- I don't know. I disengaged not long time ago. Had a terrible thirst. Now I'm feeling better. We must only guzzle and have some rest up to the evening. Will you go to the square? Maybe it's still better to visit a doc?

- Damn it. I'll go to the plaza, I've a special account to the spooks. They must pay it all.

- Have you flipped lid?

- No, worse. My lid has broken and flown away. And my brains are really off since ages.

- And what about Moscow and all things, about which you had spoken a couple of days ago?

- We'll, maybe, reach Moscow yet, and now I must be quit with the spooks for that boyo, who had died in my hands. They are here. We should only overcome the square, - I motioned to the direction of the Palace, - and there will be enough work for everybody.

- Fail getting carried away, - Yura warned me. - I see your brains are really not in order after the shell-shock.

- Yura, I tried to rescue that boyo. And when I gave him the last cigarette, he died. In my hands died.

- Is it his blood on your jacket?

- His.

- I see, you've got the guilt complex before the died one. You certainly think that he had died because of your last cigarette?

- Damn you. I've learnt psychoogy also. The matter is not about the guilt complex. You see, all the state system has decomposed so much that it should be changed. That is not a democracy, when because of somebody's rotten ambitions the lads die on our territoty. I don't know how can I plainly explain you this matter.

- So you should start a political career after the war. You're good speaker.

- Are you meaning me to be a jackal?

- I can't understand you.

- I can't understand myself, but start to hate my country.

- Make a retiring report and go away. It will be quickly accepted.

- I can't, but am feeling that it's my matter, remains of patriotism maybe. Don't know.

- Damn you. With a hungry stomach, after a shell-shock, and in my case after the insomnial night, and you build such speeches... Let's go to eat or I'll bring you to psychiatrist.

- You see, I guess that ninty five per cent of all the humans' problems come form the humans.

- How do you see it?

- Five per cent are the illnesses, epidemics, rainfalls, natural disasters and so on. And the rest ninty five per cent are the things made by the humans damaging each other. For example, they untie such a war, worship the dollar, exploit each other.

- So, your mind is that we need communism?

- Communism means an Utopia, blood, shit and wars. It was enough. I've stuffed my mug with that shit. Really. I could get unpaid higher education at least. And what's about my son? I've no money to pay for his educatioiin. That means an alternative for him - the army. I don't want that.

- So, what should we do, Slava?

- I don't know. I'm sorry for Russia. Actually there's already no Russia. It's a start of meltdown resulting in separate principalities. Economy now will fall to pieces as a cards house. Moscow will squeeze all the powers'n'money out of the regions-satellites and will build itself, grow fat and then the people will demand that they should part from Moscow. To say preciser, such a situation will be designed, they will demand on behalf of the people to secede form Russia, to part from Moscow. Pity.

- Why are you thinking about Russia? In couple of hours all will be absolutely ununderstandable, all, but the only thing - how you can rescue your bottom. And we'll be as the hares dodging to escape from the snipers and well-aimed mortar-bombers. And you're speeching about Russia. Think of yourself. Let's find something to guzzle. Stomach sticks to spine. It's easier for you. You're thick but I'm thin.

- OK, let's guzzle. And concerning to Russia... She takes no care about us, so we should not take any damned care of her at all. They all must go to hell!

- That's all right! And I'm ashamed to say my thought was you went off your head. And forget about the fighter. I know you well, you did everything possible. God builds our ways. He got such fate. Think of no global ideas, but of yourself. Spit on it. Let's go and look for some meal.

And we went on. Many ones greeted us. I was still not in norm because of the shell-shock and therefore was smiling stupid as a monkey and waved with the hands. Yura initiated some talks and asked for some meal. We were as some refugees. We lived by begging and asked for the Christ's name. We were striving for our HQ trucks, that would allow us to get enough meal, to sleep enough in our truck and we would never refuse the fighter or officer in need to stay at the truck, to get a piece of the tinned meat, a gulp of vodka or a cigarette. And so, the same matter was at that time about our situation: somebody loaded us with the tinned goods, cigarettes, some one thrusted us a half flask of spirit. Many of the guys knew us personnaly and approvingly patted us on the shoulders. Yura explained everybody that I had been shell-shocked and was a bit deaf. And I was hardly able to hear his words and played up to him - made a suffering mug. The people was not able to bear our onslaught. If we were able to store and keep the food-stuffs, then we could get meal for some days. And in such way we got the meal for the missed lunch and for the dinner and for the breakfast, for future use. True we did not want to stuff our mugs before the combat. My armor vest stayed on the square. I was "naked" again.

We settled near the same APC where I had slept. The surrounding us fighters told us that Vania Il'in together with the subdivisions have entrenched themselves on the square. They're preparing the base for us. I would damn this base.

We started our meal, found also a small store of the mineral water in the landing force section. I didn't know where had Ivan "privatized" it, but we withdrew a couplle of the bottles, poured spirit out, diluted it with the water and drank, washed it down with mineral water. Our hands and mugs were dirty. There was no any water and there was no wish to go some tens meters to Sunzha over the open area only because of hygiena. Therefore we were chewing the brought food-stuffs sitting near the caterpillars of already almost homie APC. Yura gave me with the elbow a poke in the ribs and motioned:

- Look.

There was the com-brig in person pompously stepping, as a goose, through the temporary disposition of the brigade. He was telling something stopping sometimes near the fighters. The officers frankly ignored his presence and expressed him their contempt in every possible way. They didn't pay attention when he was passing by, did not stand up when he appealed to them. According to the expressions of the smoked faces they told him something offensive, impudent, boorish. In turn, com-brig got excited, tried to educate them. It was pity that I was deaf. The show seemed to be going on in the top class way. Yura was attentively listening having pricked up his ears.

- Yura, what's there? What are they talking about?

- They're sending the commander to hell.

- I'm the deaf one, but could read that from their faces. And concretely?

- They're remembering how many men and tchnique were lost during the storm and during the march.

- And what does this schnook tell'em?

- He tried to justify himself at first and now says that there was an ambush.

- It's as plain as can be, that the spooks were overhearing us, that's why they were able to make an ambush. What else?

- He says the actions of the commander are not to be discussed.

- The criminal actions.

- They're saying him the same thing. And then simply send him to hell and offer him to go ahead of the brigade by nght.

- And he?

- Demands not to point out.

Brigade's executive officer and polit-mate followed Butalov. Judging from their satisfied mugs, we could say they didn't support commander and were absolutely on the side of the personnel. At least, they, as well as everybody, had a hell of time with that shithead cast in our lot.

Then Butalov accompanied by San Sanych and Kazartsev came up to us. We pretended to be eating and not seeing them. Butalov stopped near us and watched attentively and strictly. Probably, he guessed that his look had to inspre the subordinates with fear and respect. It was a bullshit for us. All his looks and calls were totally indifferent for us. I was deaf at all, so let that savage shout. I would not be able to hear him. Or would pretend that I did not hear. All the same there are some agvantages in the deafness. Damn him.

- Who are you? - Butalov asked watching us point-black.

I continued pretnending not to hear him.

- Major Ryzhov and captain Mironov, - San Sanych reported him.

- There are no so sloppy officers in my brigade, - com-brig squeamishely uttered.

- If there were no San Sanych, you would have no any brigade, - Yura defiantly told him.

- How dare you, younger one and of lower rank... - Butalov beagn raging. Evidently, he decided to compensate all his humiliation on our account. You're failing, grey dog!

- I do dare, - Yura interrupted him, - dare by the rights of the officer, the battle officer, who has already been able to fight, and who bent many times facing every bullet, and who already dug in the earth. By the rights of the one, who was not hiding and was not rolling about somewhere, when all the brigade was battling losing all the bones. And he has come and wants to make a show of himself to be tough. The brigade and the men were bullshit for you. We're all witnesses of that debilism. We all had seen as because of your untalentness the column was shot down and dispeled. And the witnesses of shame are better be not alive, and that's why the more of us stay on that stinking plaza for ever, the better is for you. Is it so, isn't it? It would be better for you to get absolutely new complement of the brigade. That would be a devilish comfort thing for you. You would lose half of the brigade again. But approve your personal ambitions and complexes of tough warrior, militant. I'm sick of speaking to you. This captain had carried out the wounded fighter with his own hands, he got all saturated with his blood, can't hear form a shell-shock almost at all, but does not go to the rear. He can't wash himself, as you took no any cares about the basical things. And now you're walking around and making the pretentions. Go to hell, colonel!

After those words all the ones near us were absolutely shocked. Severely. Very serverely. To curse about thing or about nothing, only to let out the steam, is one matter. And to damn so, as a man does it, is absolutely another matter. Butalov turned to be green from the spite and turned to Bilich and Kazartsev asking whether they had heard something. But those ones answered expressing all serenity that they had been discussing the forthcoming storm and did not listen to the conversation at all. There was only me yet. But I made a cold mug and performed one of my heviest glances. Butalov was going mad, full of the spite, he was ready to explode as a grenade. It would have been a damned amusing sight, I even imagined for a second as he would have been blown up and screwed up my eyes with pleasure.

- You, major, will answer for this insult. Such an insult by the officers are to be washed off with the blood.

- But that's so by the officers, - Yura poked fun at him.

- Am I not officer in your oppinion? - Butalov burst.

- No, - Yura firmly answered looking directly into his eyes. They began to speak quietly and therefore I had to strain all my remaining hearing not to lose any word.

- Comrad lieutenant-colonel! - Butalov appealed to San Sanych. - Let these two officers go with the head detachements during the night assault.

- They work very well also without this mention, they do not hide in the rear. The reports about orders rewarding were sent for both of them, - San Sanych answered (what a news, I did not know). - Especially as that they're the senior officers of the HQ and should be used according to their direct aims...

- That was the order, comrad lieutenant-colonel! - Butalov squealed. - Have you also problems about hearing? Why haven't you understood?!

- You're nerving men with your acts, and they've had no any pauses in the combats for many days. The nervs are on the borders, they've no basical convenieces. And with such orders you're making the situation red-hot. It's better not to make that, - Sereoga Kazartsev tried to interfere and to remind him delicately.

- Do not interfere! Make your matters, comrad lieutenant-colonel. So, you will be occupied with the basical convenieces. I assign you to be responsible for providing with that!

- There is a rear service responsible for that matter.

- While they are wandering somewhere you, you personnally, polit-mate, are responsible for this work! That is order. Have you understood everything?

- I have understood everything, - Sereoga answered trying to restrain the spite.

Butalov turned around on the heels and went off.

- You know, Yura, I will absolutely not be amazed for some reason, when I get to know that our new battale commander will be killed in the nearest time with some stray bullet.

- Exactly. You see, this fool will make men to commit this action. And there will be no any investigation.

- War forgives everything. One more, one less. The new one will be sent. Who cares! Pour.

We drank once more and felt better. A load had been taken off my mind. I tried to think only about the storm. But there was constantly the image of the died in my hands fighter appearing in my head. I could not take him back. If I was guilty in his death, then let me be punished. But I would not allow to make me crazy in such way. I don't like the obsessive ideas. No sense to dream it if you were not able to do that. I shaked my head trying to send away the ghost.

- What shall we make, Slava? - Yura asked me lightig the next cigarette up.

- There is no sense for me to hang about campsite. They can drag me to medics and that would be as good as lost. Therefore I'll hide myself in this APC and when it will be exactly known when we go to storm, call for me.

- OK, I am wandering now to see what has the new commander, pox on his soul, planned. He'll drive us against the machine-guns.

- Say thanks that he does not demand to go in the psychical attack as that was in the film "Chapaev", without any shooting (author means the scene form the popular Soviet film of brothers Vassiljev, cast 1934, about the Civil war in Russia, when the officers' unit of the White Army was marching in attack against the machine-guns without any shooting only to oppress psychically the enemy - O.B.A.).

- If he is given a free rein, he would drive. What idiot has sent him on our cost?

- Some monkey climbing higher.

- OK, I'm off. Maybe I could ask Ewgene Ivanov to visit you for check up? Quiet check up, without any stirring sensations. All the brigade consists of such ones as you, the tough tin soldiers.

- OK, but it should be no rumoured visit. You know what are the docs. And he should check me up only here. I'll not go to the med-company.

- I know that without extra explanation. Sit in the vehicle or hang about. I'll send him as soon as I meet.

Yura went along the disposition of the brigade remains. I went on the State bank's roof hiding behind the ruins of the concrete walls. There were already about six men, fighters and officers. All of them were observing or mapping positions of ours and of the spooks. At first, I attentively looked at the square and Palace. There was nothing good.

The spooks continued hiding behind the bodies, already dead ones, of our soldiers and officers and did not let make any step forwards. The fighters who were able to force through to the walls of the Palace retreated and left the dead ones over there. The ones of ours, who succeeded to entrench themselves on the plaza, were also the vulnerable aims for the spooks' snipers. Our luck was that the spooks had not many mortars and no heavy mortars. Otherwise everybody would have stayed over there.

Our future was to race onwards being covered with the darkness, stumbling over the numerous stones, concrete pieces, every moment drop into the craters, trenches and holes. The spooks will hang the lighting bombs and bombs-chandeliers in the sky. And we'll lose all our success based on the suddenness. We'll be able to race imperceptiblly about fifty meters and after that we'll be plastered. They'll entertain us asking no name.

If everything will go as I assume, then many of the lads like that one who had died in my hands, will stay forever only in the memories. I did not want to hang with my questions about the officers and clear the situation because of my deafness. I did not want to explain everybody that I was half deaf and therefore would like to ask them to speak louder. And to see in turn the sympathizing with me smiles, suffering faces. That does not bring me any sense. I hate to be regreted. I'm not an invalid yet! We'll see what will be in the morning, but now I can manage my problems.

I outlined approximate way of my racing at the night. It will be not a direct line but the meandering one. But it will provide me a small hope to survive. Avidly taking a puff, I was all eyes watching the square, remembering the forthcoming way. I repeated landmarks as an incantation, following wich I was going to run the prospective way in the darkness, in the unsure, breaking light to rescue my life. I wanted to believe in it. I wanted so much! And I did believe.

I was looking with my eyes for Vania Il'in, but was able to see only the muddy-grey and green jackets. Some ones of the lying on the square tried to shoot at the spooks, some ones smoked. The others made their temporary shelters deeper. Save them, God! In some hours you, men, should open the stormy fire. So that the spooks would not be able to put their heads out meanwhile we would be racing through the square. There was only that plan.

Only the Siberian "makhra" is able to dig itself in on the square and keep the defense. In the year forty first owing to the Siberian "makhra" it was possible to throw the fritses (a slang word in Russian to name the Germans as the enemies in the time of the WWI, WWII - O.B.A.) back form the Kremlin walls. Can you, my reader, remember the twenty eight panfilovests (author mentions of the Soviet army heroical detachment from the unit of general Ivan Panfilov, 1893-1941, that was able to fight effectively agaist the German tanks in the year 41st, a lot of them died, but did not let the tanks force through the positions - O.B.A.)? So they were the Siberian "makhra". And there was all the front of such ones. That is the point. When the next bullshit comes, they call to the Siberians, but when the victory comes, when there are the rewards, apartments and other benefits, then there are the warriors of the Arbat military district (author pokes fun at the privileged units of Moscow, Arbat is the name of one central street in Moscow - O.B.A.). We got already accustomed to this thing. And now when the prestige of the country is staggered in the view of the world community, the Siberiens, sheltering with themselves this fucking prestige of the state, are dashing onwards. Using no artillery, as it is forbidden, they're digging themselves in up to the eyeballs on the open area. We'll obey everything what Motherland represented by the old, ill, served in army no any day Commander-in-Chief orders us. Everything is as in the cheap vaudeville: "What will be the order? What is the wish of the Master?" But you are already tired of all this so much, when you are plunged into shit with your head for your true service. And the patience is already on the zero degree.

I had smoked all the cigarette continuing to watch the imminent way. I threw out the cigarette before my foot, ground it with foot and went down.
Military doctor Ewgene Ivanov was standing near the APC, by which Yura had left me. I looked after him for awhile. He was quietly smoking. He had in the hands the tarpaulin bag with sewn on it red cross in the white circle. I came to him not hurrying.

- Good-oh, man. 've you been waiting for a long time?

- Slava! - Ewgene gave my hand a firm squeeze and then pulled me closer. We embraced us. - How are you?

- A shell-shock.

- The next in turn?

- Yeah, - I vacillated, - the next in turn. The hearing at first was lost almost at all. Now it is gradually restoring back. Look, what's there. But I'll not evacuate.

- I know that, yeah, - Zhenia sighed. - We've a lot of such morons. Let's look, what's your problem.

He took off and fixed on his head the round mirror, some other shining things. If you see them in the tortures camera, then they would be accepted as the running tools. Ewgene unceremoniously seized my ear, and something cracked inside.

Chapter 18

- Hey, sadist, take it easy! It crackles in there!

- Crackling is a good news.

- Bastard, you'll tear it off!

- I'll tear it off, I'll sew it down back.

He thrusted a metal pipe into one my ear and then into another one. Then made that procedure once more. Then he got for some damned reason into my mouth and nose.

- What's new, papa-doctor?

- The eardrums are safe, but inflamed after the air wave's blow.

- Once more in Russian and louder.

- You'll live through...

- What's about hearing?

- You will hear, later. I'm giving you some eardrops. Catch no cold. In a word, take care of yourself.

- Have you lots of work?

- Mucky much! It's slowed down now, but all the night long and in the morning we were getting real stream, seemed we wouldn't manage anything. A lot of frag wounds, broken extremities, cavity wounds. Many died right in the hands of medics, some ones on their way. Thirty men were in the med-company during the night and did not survive.

- Fucking disaster!

- That's just it.

- D'you have enough drugs?

- Well, we got enough so far. But we met my colleagues from the other units . They've dark desaster. The MChS (Ministry of Emergencies) has some, but they say their stocks are not for the Defense ministry or militia. They say they are for the local civilians.

- Bastards! They leave their own people dying!

- Sorry, Slava, but I've lots of work to do. Drop in, if you have any problems.

- No, better you drop in.

- I've no time, and if I get a break, I drop asleep. No time even to capsize a hundred grams of vodka inside. I hold out only due to cigarettes. The spooks will give us some work tonight, so I must get ready for that. What about you? Would you spend a couple of days off in the med-company?

- Forget it, Zhenya. D'you remember our talk?

- About life and death? D'you mean that one?

- Yes. Help me in that case...

- You're fool, Slavka.

- I'm just now - I hope temporarily - deaf and that's why I feel to be a real freak, wouldn't wish an enemy that. But I guess this situation is temporary, and I'll restore sound health and find my feet. But if some day I get a chance to be on your operation's table being passed out... Will you please try the best not dragging me from my unconsciousness back. OK?

- No. And I do not even debate that, - Zhenya rubbed his eyes red from fatigue and constant lack of sleep. - I'm going. I really have too much work. Take some rest. You won't take that shithouse tonight anyway. Get enough sleep. Good luck! My throat is also tired of speaking to you. I have always to bawl. Take this thing.

Zhenya took a plastic bottle with some tablets from his pocket and held it out to me.

- What's that?

- It takes off fatigue and stimulates your cardiovascular system. In word, doping. They used to give this to the marathon racers. This will keep you awake and you'll keep your head in any critical situations. I take it myself sometimes. But don't misuse it. Here are some vitamins too. Ascorbic acid, take it.

- Thanks, Zhenya.

- Good luck!

- Good luck to you too. Good fortune.

When Ewgene had left, I felt how I was overloaded with fatigue. The hard and dead fatigue. We made a part of hard, dangerous job. But there was too much to be done yet, and the end was not seen at all. It is shown only in the movies as everyone is vigour and cheerful, in the short pause between the combats they sing the songs and take every possible chance to start dancing.

Maybe that's what it used to be in former times, but now, during all the time I am fighting, it looks somehow differently. Every one steps very staidly being exhausted. You get tired when you keep fighting non-stop for too long. Morally, physically and emotionally. Your emotions, senses, even instincts are silenced. And that is bad. When your instincts become numb, you are dead. You will stick your head out at some wrong moment, or become negligent with your weapons. Reaction, reflexes are slowed. So, forget your feelings. On one hand, there is a positive thing about your numbed emotions - they won't let you go crazy. And you must take care of your reaction, reflexes, instincts. For that you must periodically make some relaxation and rest. Vodka can relax you, and sleep is the best possible rest. It is also useful for relaxation to kill a couple of spooks, it helps dramatic to relieve the nerves tension and stress. Those who have grenades or other explosives at hand, but no spooks around, can relax in some other way. A loud explosion or destroying of something is also good for the recovery. I used to do that too, it helps. But a couple of spooks are much better. The helicopter pilots, as I've been told, have cast some spooks down over the enemy's positions. It made an awesome psychological effect. The spooks got their will paralyzed, and the helicoptper pilots got some stress relief in turn. I won't bet that information was for true, but I like the idea. I heard that fairy story even during entering Grozny, two-three spooks were taken up into the skies in a "spinner". One of them knew some important for ours stuff, but, being an idiot or just a true patriot, didn't want to release it. And for some high reason torture was out of question. They began to put some psychological pressure on him. They threw out a couple of his friends. He saw that, and then, when they took him to the exit door, they repeated their questions. That one turned to be clever, communicable and less patriotic. Here, in war, every method can be good.

That is why I felt so tired, not depressed, just tired. I looked at the tablets of Ewgene, took a couple of vitamin tablets and put the unknown ones into my pocket. It was not yet time to experiment about my own body. I got the whole night ahead of me for that. We'll sort it out. I took an attentive look at myself: I was as dirty, as a pig. My jacket was covered with mud, clay, and blood, and got torn and burnt in several spots. My boots were also covered with the thickest coat of mud, the pants were also soiled and had some tears. I liked uniform. Major Zemtsov, my company's mentor in the college, inoculcated, drummed into our heads love to uniform and marching training. He was always tidy, smart and fresh himself, a model line officer for us, the green cadets. He would be surprised about my view. I sadly sighed. Any given moment might seem as the most brutal and onerous time of your life. But when you look back some years later, then you simply laugh at the things that you had taken as insuperable earlier. It would actually be fun to recall your high school problems when you are a student in a college or institute. And you would smile telling your kids of your difficulties at the exams in the college. Also, you will laugh with your friends at a party at your own worrying and torments when taking over a platoon for the first time. After your skull has lost some hair really and the mug of your face got fullowed with wrinkles, you would recall trembling how shy you used to be when it came to dating girls. How excited you were when getting ready for your first and other dates. Yeah, my experience would have been of use for that young cadet Slavka Mironov. Now, when it happens to meet a girl younger than myself, there is no any romanticism feeling. The blood is not streaming in the veins so quick as it used to run. I am getting old. I grinned about my thoughts. Some dating at that moment would not be bad for sure. Hey, how about Christmas, did it already pass? What date is it today, anyway? I wanted to go and ask someone, but then changed my mind and gave up on that. Who cares! What would it change? Nothing. My birthday is coming up in January. I shall not remember of it. I must not be distracted from the main thing. All I need to do is to complete the task and survive. That's it. And I absolutely do not care about the other things. About those who remained on the Big Land. My friends and I, all our colective don't give any shit about everybody, just like everybody didn't give a shit about us, about me. But we will be back!

I attentively looked around. Everyone seemed tired and slowly moved. The faces liveless, with sharp, pointed features, the sunken eyes were red, like those of albinos. All the ones who used to be corpulence in other life, lost their weights. That was a great diet. If anyone is interested in quick growing thin, just come here, at the war. Success is guaranteed.

Previously, anticipation of the coming events would have caused some excitement, and at that moment everyone had no any emotions, but was just tired. We must fight and so we'll fight. Give no shit about anything. The nervous system must certainly have learnt the self-preservation and refraining from unnecessary waste of precious energy in vain for the imaginary motions happening before the event itself comes. But when this event comes, adrenalin will start rushing and reflexes get especially sharp. It's a clever system, the human organism.

Yurka came up. He looked rather nervous.

- What's new?

- Has doctor visited you?

- Yes, he has, but don't answer asking me a question in turn as a Jew.

- I've been to the HQ. No good news. Khankala puts a lot of pressure. Our neighbors shat full their pants, change the blaming poiner at us. In a word, a bust.

- That will be our last and decisive battle. It turns out to be so.

- Precisely. As I see you're not interested.

- It goes without saying, Yura. I give no any fuck. Let it be whatever happens.

- You have gone to pieces at all.

- I'm calm. Absolutely calm. I've not felt that soul balance for a long time. Everything is indifferent, my soul feels peace. Nothing burdens or torments my soul. No conscience, no fear, no emotions. Everything is parallel.

- You look as if you've made some decision. Haven't you got any suicidal solution, by any chance, or any idea to throw yourself on a machine-gun nest?

- No. I am just deadly tired of all this madhouse. So, let'em make any decision. I will go anywhere, excepting hospital. I shall go anywhere, but to hospital. And I stay here, the same as I have been here before. I'm not striving to be a superfighter, as well as I shall not sit in the rear. The things are going as usual, only no emotions. A routine work.

- Hey, haven't you lost your appetite, thirst for life?

- Don't worry about that. Everything's OK. When is the storm start? By night?

- No, they changed it, as usual. It's in two hours. The neighbors are to strike first, and we are to join that "concert" in 20 minutes.

- I wish it were in about 2 hours.

- I do also, but it was difficult to persuade'em to do that, they didn't want any other plan.

- I see. Unlike the elite troops, Siberian "makhra" never complains, but keeps on fighting hard. Everything is normal as usual.

- But you're harping on the same string, parrot-fashion. Everything's OK, dear marquiese. No hysteria, please. You'd better help me.

- What about?

- I need a first aid kit. A body armory also, if you can find any. If not, I give no damn.

- I'll try. Don't become limp!

- I don't become limp. I simply repeat for you, booby, once more again: I am just cool. That's it.

Yura left and came back in about 20 minutes. He was carrying absolutely new armor vest.

- Who has presented you that?

- They got some in the third battalion, presented this one. Zhen'ka Ivanov sent you the eardrops. He said he had been searching for them for a long time. That's his last flask, he told it helped. Take it. And here is the first aid kit too.

- Thanks, Yura. What am I going to do without you?

- Nothing. You would just jump at the night with no body armory. That's all the matter.

- Precisely. Help me adjusting it, please. Careful, careful, my ears hurt.

- You are deaf anyway, however.

- It's just painful.

- Patience, I'm loosening the belts.

- This shit is so heavy. I've spent a half day without it, and I felt like a young guy flying with the wings.

- You're getting down now. San Sanytch wants you stay at the HQ during the attack.

- Are you kidding me?

- But he knows already about your ears.

- Have you blabed out?

- No. Many ones in brigade already know about your feats. About you having brought a dead fighter back. The similar thing happened in the first battalion, but their platoon commander had gone mad. That's why San Sanytch and Sereoga Kazartsev are worried about your mental health. You'd better stay, Slava. You just can't go into night fighting in such mood like yours.

- Back off. I'm fine. I'm cool. I feel good. 've never felt so good before. Maybe that's my reaction to the last night. But I wanna go and I am going into this night fighting. And I give no shit about any orders. I would understand it, if my knowleges and experience were necessary to take decision, but in the circumstances it is only a pity. So, kids, I do respect you and love you so much, but you can go to ass, - and even saying that, I was calm as a boa. No any emotion. Just one and only sober intellect.

We spent the rest of the time drinking a couple of protions of alcohol. We tried to bite very little snacks. Yura was tired of straining the throat speaking to me. And I had no wish to do a one-actor performance. Did not want to speak monologues. I was calm and had no wish to break the fragile peace of my soul by endless talking.

So, the time passed in absolute silence. I was neither reasoning, nor dreaming, nor recollecting, I just kept my eye on what was going on around. I restocked my ammo, filled my flask with water, in a word - ready.

At that time Yura and I went along with the remains of the first battalion. Sereoga Kazartsev was going next to us. The neighbors attacked first and engaged the enemy, but the spooks were not fools and therefore they were waiting for us. Ten minutes after the fighting started we had received Butalov's order to storm. The men on the square opened fire at the Palace. By that manner they made the spooks step back, pressed them down, and we used that thing and rushed onwards. I had reported Yurka in good time the whole picture and the route of the attack. But the fate let no our plans come true.

The spooks opened stormy fire. Some of the second battalion fighters could not hold out and returned back, sheltering under the State Bank walls. There was a second, even a moment, when it seemed the whole brigade was going to go back. But something stopped folks at the positions. There was a hesitation, but we did not turn back, did not flee, did not show the enemy our backs once more.

Running made me sweat a bit, but I stayed calm. There was balance in the soul. I tried to run aside of dead bodies and to avoid the point where I had stayed the night before. My armor vest remained lying over that place. The soldier, who had tried to run for the assistance and had been killed, was still lying over the same place, in the same pose. I just caught all that picture looking sideways, but I had no wish to dive again into those sorrows that had already passed through the consciousness. I could not resurrect him, but I have to remember him until I die.

The brigade charged onwards like crazy. The spooks were under attack from all sides. Only onwards. We were charging onwards, only onwards. Less than in an hour Yurka and I were under the walls of the Palace. The spooks were shooting at us from above, they had blown up the entrance into the Palace, so that it was not easy to burst into. Our tanks, hiding behind the State Bank's walls, began firing at them annihilating their nests. The adversary returned the fire shooting back at the State Bank. A piece of the wall collapsed. At that moment, brigade polit-officer Sergei Nikolaievich Kazartsev made a thing that later would be discussed for a long while. The soldiers who were not able to get their fear under control in the first minutes of the combat and had returned back, were located near the fallen wall. They were squatting down, being paralyzed with a terror. They were shooting chaotically at the Palace, and that attracted the spooks attention more and more. Kazartsev rushed towards them. Having run up he managed to arouse them up with kicks and curses and lead them towards the Palace. It was thorough madness according to the methods of waging combat. Via an open area, he ran alone and after that he lead the fighters with himself, just under the Palace's walls.

Both we and the spooks were just stunned by the indeed heroic act. We tried to cover him with fire so far as it was possible. But for the spooks that was just like a hunting at the hares. Sports. They grew heated and were shooting at Sereoga alone first, then at all his group when he was leading the fighters forwards. My heart stopped beating when I looked back at that mad racing. I had not realized before, what that meant - the heart stopped beating. It proved to be so that you are watching, but not breathing. All my feelings and thoughts were situated over there, with our guys. Even not watching them, their running, I was able to sense with my nape where they were being situated and what they were doing at the moment. And we were shooting up at the spooks. I was trying to attract the enemy's attention to me. And only when I changed the mag I glanced sidelong backwards at the running figures. They seemed so close by, but had still to cover so lomg distance! I could not throw up a grenade with a launcher to the spooks. It was too steep trajectory. We kept shooting with the long bursts at them, trying evrything to distract their attention, their fire onto us or to force them away from the windows. With every second ours are approaching closer and closer. And the spooks are becoming satanic angry. They begin also shooting fan out, widely, with the long bursts at the square. Quicker, go on, men! You are able to make that! Come on, Sereoga!

God must have been on our side and the guys had safely made it through the wall of bullets and successfully joined us. Everybody could not just believe that he had survived and was madly looking around himself. They happily shouted something. We received them, patted them on their shoulders, cheered them up. And Sereoga, of course, was the real hero. From that moment on, with his deed, he, of low height and thin built, made every one of us look at him in a new way.

Without any order, at the risk of his own life he was able to lead the people and rescue them. Till that moment I was very sceptical about the numerous crowd of the polit-officers, but there are the real men among them also. Well done, Sergei! He was steaming ewith sweat, and he drank the whole flask of water that somebody had held out to him. Every one nearby was trying to greet him. Earlier, in the Soviet times, he would get a Star of a Hero (the highest reward in the USSR and RF - O.B.A.) for that. At the new time he would get nothing, but the thanks of the soldiers mothers, whose sons he had rescued. But he would never hear them, though. So, pray, mothers, for a man with a greate soul - Sergei Nickolaeivich Kazartsev. God, give him good health.

The spooks got malicious and started putting pressure on us from above. The hand grenades did not cause us still any damage. We managed to shoot down a few of the spooks. One fell down with a scream. Others, being already dead, scilently fell down. The fighters did not bother to check the pockets of the corpses. Step by step, we moved on, shooting upwards. The arms were tired, almost falling down, the neck, the back and the shoulders became numb. The gun smoke was dazzling, eatting away the eyes. The lungs were blocked up with the powder burning. There was a wish to stop, and bending down to choke with the cleaning coughing spitting that filth out. So, I had to restrain the breathing, to breathe slowly through my nose. And we had reached those walls.

The first group climbed the Palace's walls and penetrated the building. Hurah! We're shouting. With a wail to overcome my fear, I climbed the wall with a jump. A window nearby was half-blocked up with sand-bags. There was a hole above. The bags were made of thick glossy paper and were densely packed with sand and soil. My fingers slid on that paper, unable to break it. My armor vest and subgun were pulling me down. Almost no chance - I'm slowly falling down. The shooting and shouts are heard behind these bags. The intensive shooting and the curses proved the real grave fight happening there inside. And I stuck to those sandbags, like spittle on a mirror. The anger about my own clumsiness gave me some extra strength and sweating hard I rushed to climb up. Forwards. As a beetle on the glass I crawled upwards. Here is the hole. There are dirt and some traces of recent shooting. That must have been a good machine gun nest over here.

When I fixed my position, I shifted my subgun forward to my chest and peered around. It was a lucky entrance, directly behind a small group of the spooks. Four militants were hiding behind the sand-bags, columns, building's projections defending against the onslaught of ours.

Restraining the breaking heart, almost without aiming, I gave a long burst at their backs. Two of them fell down, howling, the other two ran away from the battle field. Ours occupied the room with the winners shouts. I attracted their attention with the wails. They dragged me inside and we ran. No thanking words were said between us. We were under pressure.

The room at the ground floor was typical entrance hall of a large administrative building. The ceiling was high, numerous columns, projections - the enemy could hide himself everywhere, as well as set up an ambush for us or sew up mines-traps. Insufficient light was a difficulty for the control rounds and checking. The light came only through the rare holes in the windows. The air was dense with smoke and dust. I had a tickle in my nose, in the throat, and the smoke that accumulated in my bronchs was urging to get outside.

Surprisingly, I was still calm, despite the blood boiling over in the veins and adrenalin raging in it. My brain worked like a calculator. It was calmly estimating the situation and giving out the correct solutions.

The spooks fought for every centimeter of the entrance hall. We kept forcing our way through. We kept shooting with the subguns at random, aiming at the lights, noises, just intuitively. Some furious gunfire erupted to my left, and then an explosion, that deafened us. Just as it was by the previous shell-shock, my hearing had improved after one more air wave stroke. The world of the sounds broke in again. That was great. I felt rage and a rabid desire to live. My tranquility and apathy were gone. Charge onwards, only onwards. Kill bastards!

Our neighbors streamed in the breach opened in the wall by the blast. "Makhra", same as we are, judging from their uniforms. The men joined in our activity. The spooks, who succeeded to go to the upper floors, tried to throw down the hand grenades, but we were able to cut off the most of the enemy and to corner them into the very end of the hall. The mudjahedeens were fighting to the death. But the forces were overtly not equal - we made the salvos again and again with our grenade launchers, and the small fragments mowed down every living being in the closed rooms.

More and more troops came in. It was already not clear who was who. All got mixed up: Siberian "makhra", Volga area "makhra", paratroopers, some Interior Ministry troops appeared from somewhere. Naturally, there was no one in command, no co-ordination and no common plan. However we had the plan - to annihilate the enemy. To break, to smash, to throw these jackals down from the Palace's roof. Tally-ho! Onwards!

I am out of breath again. Nobody's listening to any one. Shouting, shooting at the spooks, everyone is shouting something of their own. Someone shouts the names of the killed friends, pressing the trigger after every name, sparing no ammos. We're right in the enemy's den! We've been waiting long, have lost a lot of people on the damned square. We were weeping looking at our comrades hanging in the windows of this building. The very turn of the century, everybody calls upon humanity and absolute forgiveness. There will be no mercy to you, spooks! Death! Only death. Everybody of you being situated in this buildig deserves as minimum be hung. For the guys who were used as cover, as the human shields. Bastards' tribe, jerks, parasites on the body of Russia! Death to you! The Day of Judgment has come! You're allowed to hang yourselves!

I am thrilled by the battle again. A burst, once more. A shadow flew in the darkness of the hall entrance. A long burst to there for a certain result! Being excited I am shouting something and can't hear anything. The main thing is that we've reached our Reichstag! We have done it! Burst, once more! I'm happy! I'll certainly remember this Day when dying.

Somebody pats me on the shoulder. Look sideways. Wow, Yura! He's also very excited, his eyes shining with jollity and the combat's rapture.

We happily smile to each other. Alive! If we're alive now, we will live a long life! I'm yelling him, that I've got my hearing back, he's yelling something in turn, but it's completely ununderstandable, the din of the shooting is unimaginable. We move on side by side.

Part of our united forces went down into the basement. There is no shooting heard down there, so there are no spooks there inside. All the mudjahedeens in our corner are forced upwards, on the first floor. There is no any wish to climb up the first floor. The twilight impetuously falling down, darkness and the gunsmoke result in their effect. Almost nothing can be seen on the ground floor. The fighters take some bloody rags form every corner and throw them out through the windows. Those are the remains of the ground floor defenders. We have to spend all the night there inside and have no any wish to spend the time having besides the remains of our enemy.

The noise, exclamations, shouts are heard. The flames of the torches are lighting in the basement entrance. All of us come to there. We saw ours carrying the dead bodies of our soldiers with the hands or on the self-made stretchers. Some of them had the jackets on, the others were naked. Many bodies had the signs of the terrible tortures. Many ones had their throats cut - the typical execution by the militants. Some ones had eyes gouged or knocked out. The fingers crashed into the bloody mess. Two bodies had their feet sawn off. Anger, rage, roar, snarling, shout of horror flew through all the floor almost simultaniously. No mercy to the spooks. Only death.

There were world-known demagogue Korolev (author makes a hint at so-called human rights defender and dissisent Sergei Adamovich Kovalev, born 1930, with only a bit changed name, that one and the group of the RF politicians were really accompanying Dudaev in the Palace during the storm - O.B.A.) with all his retinue sitting in that basement. And our soldiers were being tortured, tormented to death. They were the same citizens as he was, they were his kin. So, what right does he have to talk about our excesses?! He is the same kind of pervert as everyone who are being situated on the higher floors of that building now! He is a repulsive person!

We kept watching. The roaring altered to be the deep silence. Those who had their helmets, hats or skullcaps on, took them off, and were quietly and in great sorrow bidding farewell to their friends in the last way. The way to home. We were too late, we failed to rescue you. Forgive us.

They kept carrying the bodies out. No one counted how many ones were there. But certainly not less than fifty. When the sad line went outside, the fire came from above. The spooks were shooting at the ones who were carrying their murdered comrades. Someone screamed. Such screaming could come only from the wounded one or from the ones who were near him.

I wished blood, the blood of the enemy. The thirst for revenge seized us. Forwards, upwards!

Nobody gave any command, but all ran towards the two stairways leading to the first floor. The spooks tried to stop us with a barrage, but the spite, as well as the mutual understanding were so strong, that everybody made the salvos with the grenade launchers. There were already no victorious shouts or rapture over the combat. The only word was streaming through the gritted teeth - revenge. We gave no shit about anything. Those ones must not live.

Step by step, we slowly climb up the first storey. The corpses of the dead militants are lying straight on the steps. We step right on them. These are no human beings any more, but just some things. All attention is concentrated on the facing target. I step on the militant's corpse having forgotten to watch my steps. My foot sinks in something soft and disgusting. Without looking down, I squeamishly kick the corpse aside. Almost nothing is seen, only wind blows through the shattered windows of the ground and first floors. Adversary is not seen. It's dark. Now the game named "Who's going to lose his nerves first" begins. The spooks can not see us also. Whoever makes the first shot will reveal his position and die. Therefore none of ours smoked or talked, we made careful steps. One of the fighters picked up an empty tin can and threw it ahead. At once, the bursts erupted from the three corners. We fixed these three stars flashing bright in the semi-darkness and fired back. Those of our men who were going upwards on the other ladder opened fire too. The new stars instantly flash in front of us, we were just piercing the first floor space with the long bursts of fire. Bullets ricocheted from the columns with the disgusting squealing. It was too dangerous to stay at one place, so we dispersed.

Head over heels, over the shoulder, position on a knee, a burst, once more. Rolling over, while lying - a burst. Not straightaning up, in full height making the short rushes - forwards. The broken breathing is being constantly interrupted. I am sweating again from the straining and physical actions. My feet slip on spent cases, the broken glass crackles under the boots and my body during the manoeuvering. But keep moving on, only onwards. To stop means death. I hear the boots tramp behind my back - our fighters are going upstairs. It was easier to take the ground floor. There was the open, easily shot through space. There is plenty of offices here. The corridor has the corners. Meter by meter, fighting the rabid resistance of the spooks, cutting the ways to the exits, stairs and elevators shafts, we keep moving inside. Having reached the offices we began as usual cleansing them up. Most of the doors were gone, so we did not have to kick the doors down. One-two grenades, burst, the next office. Someone screamed on the left from me and loudly cursed in clear Russian. Ours. As I understood, the guy was wounded by the fragments of his own hand grenade. I could hear as he was taken downstairs. The spooks also threw the grenades and shot with the launchers almost point-blank. More and more often the fallen soldiers were carried away. Some of them would become "Cargo 300", and some would become "Cargo 200".

But I was not thinking about that at that moment. Onwards, charge onwards! I had the salty flavour of blood in my mouth again, again adrenalin was raging in my veins. Fear and excitement are the only feelings that motivate men during a battle. These two feelings together form an explosive mixture that can blast letting outside a tremendous amount of energy.

Forwards. Another office. Being half bent we come to the doorframe, in a couple of steps from the entrance pull out the rings and two hand grenades are thrown in. And we try to throw them over the corner, so that the frags woud not hurt us. We jump away and nestle up to the wall. Two explosions thunder. The explosions echo in the other end of the corridor. We jump into the doorframe and fire space inside of the room. Fire on the belly level with the long bursts with all our hearts. One, two bursts, through the whole office. It seems no one's inside. We turn our backs to leave and at once a burst of fire comes in the backs. Somebody is inside. The bastrad has hurt nobody. The grenades fly inside again, shooting with the launchers, about six bombs are sent inside. It's quiet. We barge into the office again and shoot the inside space from the belly level again. Step by step, we move inside. We're shooting sparing no rounds and regularly changing the subguns magazines. Stumble on the half-broken with the grenades corpse of a militant. It's too dark to inspect the body, to check the pockets. We're leaving entering back the corridor. Ours have gone far ahead. Nothing can be seen in the room already. Only the muzzles flashes and grenade explosions, so deafening in the closed room, light up the lofty corridor. Slowly, everything quiets down. The first floor is ours!

It's strangeful, but with every new combat or exchange of fire the pity on the militants vanishes. Initially I was being lacerated with some doubts, that we had come to there as conquerors, and I was tortured by the thought of being an occupant to some extent, maybe even a murderer. Now, I couldn't care less. Revenge and nothing else. Not more than that. Everything is clear as black and white. We are the good, they are the bad. Gradually, the passion of the battle is fading away, and the tiredness falls on me. I'm sleepy. The soldiers around me were actively discussing the last day. Everybody was telling the most memorized moments interrupting each other. Two soldiers came from the ground floor. Judging from their conversation one of them had a shoulder wound. The medics were in the basement operating badly wounded ones just in there.

The fighters pulled some cotton out from their torn jackets to make improvised torches and kindled them. A curious crowd gathered around at once. One of the soldiers took off his clothes. We saw in the flickering light his shoulder was bleeding. Someone gave him a flask with vodka, or maybe spirit. They let the wounded one take a good gulp from it, then they began cleaning off the dirt and coagulated blood from his wound. The body of the soldier shivered with every touch of the wet wadding from the personal first-aid kit. The wounded took into the mouth a leather belt and got his teeth into it not to shout from the pain with every touch. Saliva was streaming down from his mouth ends, he brushed it away with the back of his hand. The sweat was streaming down from his forehead covering the eyes. The surrounding ones kept supporting and cheering up trying to distract him from the pain.

His friend was working with his bayonet and a trophy stiletto, widening the wound, looking for the fragment. He tried not to make pain, but the wounded one writhed. Someone offered him an injection of painkiller, but he sent eveytbody to hell stopping the wails of pain and gritting his teeth harder.

Finally the "surgeon" was able to find the frag. We already knew that the fragment must be pulled out quickly, or the patient could lose his conciousness, or even worse, could die from pain shock. The war had turned us into fairly good medics. No train is in vain.

The "doctor" built the improvised scissors using the things under his hand. The assistents held the patient tight now. He stiffened, being waiting for the pain tearing his body and his brain into the peaces and bit the belt with his teeth harder. Having even that poor light we were able to see that the skin on his cheek-bones turned to be pale with the straining. He screwed up his eyes. The large drops of the sweat were running down more frequently than earlier.

His friend carefully dipped his improvised forceps inside the torn shoulder, reached the fragment and then abruptly pulled it out. The wounded soldier groaned, harshly jerked backwards, then same harshly forwards. The blood streamed from the shoulder. The soldiers nearby were convulsively breaking the packs of the personal bandages, the thick paper burst cracking, the pins, hidden in every pack, flew down on the floor. They jerkily unwounded the bandages. But they were carefull not to touch the inside of the packs.

They knackily dried the blood and tried to apply the bandage, but the blood quickly soaked all bandages and streamed down over his naked back. Either the large blood vessels were cut, or the guy has problems about coagulation of blood. We were realizing he could eventually die from bleeding. Someone took off the mag from his subgun and quickly took out several catridges. There was no other way to staunch the wound, but to use that barbaric remedy. We had no wish, but there was no choice. On the rule in the army you dust the small scratches with the cigarette ashes, and more serious wounds would be treated with gunpowder.

A soldier came from the darkness forwards into the dim light circle having two opened cartriges in his hand. The bandages and tampons were removed at once and he poured in one motion the gunpowder onto the wound. One of the guys touched it with his torch. The powder burned with a flash that blinded us for a second. The wounded soldier jumped up, but we all saw the bleeding stopped. Everybody approvingly talked cheering him up, the shoulder was quickly and accurately bandaged. The fragment was washed with vodka and given to the wounded as a souvenir. Then he was made to drink the remains of vodka. That was all, the operation was over. We were facing a long, cold night. A routine winter night in Chechnya.

The one, who had poured the gunpowder on the wound, turned to be Yura. He came up to me and silently held out a cigarette to me. He was alive, devil! We were smoking. We were unbelievable happy to see each other again. We smiled to each other while quiet smoking.

My yokemate took something out of his pocket and showed it to me. The lighting was good-for-nothing. I bent down, deeply inhaled my cigarette. In the dim red light of my cigarette I saw that was a hand grenade. The fuse, being screwed out, was lying on his palm. Yura also was keeping the "cherished" grenade in his jacket's pocket! That meant our time had not come yet.

- You've not used it? - I asked.

- Not yet. Where've you been? I wanted to cling together, but I lost you somewhere.

- Hell knows where, Yura! I just ran with the pack. I was hoping they ran on some beer, but instead they led me just here.

- There would've been a queue to get beer, but of course the spooks are here. How're you?

- Fine. Ears can hear. Just fine.

- Well, just fine? - His voice sounded skeptical.

- Aren't we both alive? Yes! Sound? More or less so! We're sitting on the spooks Reichstag's first floor. What else d'we need?

- Guzzle'n'drink!

- So, go upstairs and ask.

- Yeah, right, they'll pour out! How are we going to spend the night?

- I've no fuck idea, Yura. Somehow. We can't go down into the basement, cause there's an improvised hospital. I give up how can they operate?

- Well, they got some torches, just like we do here.

- Shit! This is the end of the twentieth century, and there is an operating theater with torchlight. It's good to know that the wounds are not treated with dogs' fat, spells and wisperings.

- When you fight with your own people some more, you end up treating wounds with wisperings and spells. What did you expect?

- Nothing. Can we go outside?

- No way! Some ones tried to go. But the ones, who were not too far away, are just now being darned downstairs, and the ones who had been fast are now lying on the square. The spooks allowed no one to break through. Either to here or backwards. It's already stop now, I think!

- Fags!

- Who about are you, Slava?

- Not about ours! Bastards!

- Don't be boiling over. If you need some action, there are many storeys above you. They decided to wear us out. We can't stay here for long without food, water, ammo supplying and evacuation of the wounded. So, we've no choice but to move up as soon as possible.

- You'll see, they'll surprise us by blowing up a ceiling right above our heads, the same they had made that in the Sate Bank. That will be real gaiety!

- They won't blow it up.

- Why not?

- Cause there are many storeyes and the upper floors could collapse.

- Muslims can sacrifice their lives for faith, fighting infidels.

- They all want to live.

- Also correct, but there can always be a couple-three of fanatics among them. Who don't give a shit about the other lives. And they do blow up. There are enough fools everywhere.

- I like your optimism, Slava, you always make us feel no any sorrow, but sure of the morrow.

- I am realist. Let's go and find some place to spend the night.

- Let's look for firewood. Maybe the spooks have scorched not everything.

We slowly trudged along the corridor, checking all the offices. We looked for and picked up pieces of the broken furniture, doors and windows frames. Everything was carried into one of the offices, where at a pack of the writing paper was found. Over there, we made a bonfire. The small fire touched the furniture remains. The remnants of varnish were bubbling and blackening, burning not so good. Sitting side by side, our backs leant against the wall, we were silently watching the fire. It attracted our attention. Our thoughts drifted somewhere far away from reality and from everything that happened at that day.

The warmth of the fire warmed us step by step. Despite hunger, thirst and all the emotions inside, we fell asleep. One more day in my life had ended, one routine day of a routine war had ended.

It was uncomfortable dozing. The extermeties very quickly became numb, the legs got the cramps. Then we felt cold. The fire almost died down. We had to stay half awake, keeping an eye on the fire. We woke up before the dawn and threw the next stock of firewood into the half-dead fire. The fire slowly started to burn better. We warmed us up doing some exercises, squattings, arms wavings and push-ups. Owe to this activity we finally warmed us up. But without hot meal, tea and vodka we would not hold out for long. The spooks would not harmlessly let us out, and they would prevent the reinforcements from coming up. Some one should win. They have also no possibility to go out. We do not let them out. We'll tear them apart as a yesterday newspaper!

Some shooting began outside, exactly on the square. We carefully looked outside, paying attention to the circumstance, that ours would not shoot at us mistaking us to be the spooks. A large formation, the size of a regiment, judging from their uniforms, a mix of marines and internal troops, was trying to break through to us.

The spooks were desperately shooting from the upper floors. At that moment Yura and I had clearly realized the unbelievable difficulty of the task that we had managed to complete breaking across the square earlier. Everything was perfectly seen from above, even meaning the poor visibility in the morning. And the fighters down there, trying to force through to help us, who were trying to shelter behind the broken tech and in ditches, trenches at that moment, were seen as the perfect aims in shooting gallery.

Some explosions and shooting resounded in the corridor. We rushed out of the room. On the second stairs the fighters were slowly retreating under the onslaught of the spooks. So, the jerks are trying to break out! Forget it.

While running I'm pushing the grenade into the launcher. I'm shooting without aiming. The grenade disappears in the flight of steps. In one second an explosion bang resounds. The sound of the falling thing. The shooting stops for a couple of seconds and then everything continues again. They will not force through. More and more ours woke up and ran to the place.

There was then also shooting on the first stairway. The spooks were desperately wishing to break out from the cul-de-sac. Yura was next to me shooting with the launcher. I knew from the former experience that he was better launcher gunner than I was. He could properly hammer with it. I had just a lack of the space imagination to predict where to and how would fly the grenade following the hanging trajectory, and he could perfectly make that. And on many occasions I was amazed by his ability "to throw" a grenade with an unbelievable trajectory from some unthinkable position. And he always resultatively hit the aim with the very first shot. So, at that moment he excitingly kept shooting at the spooks with grenades, having just imperturbable face. But I knew that an excited and passionate fighter is under the mask of the imperturbability.

The enemy also switched over to the launchers and throwing the hand grenades. Therefore both sides kept respectful distance apart from each other. "Grenade" duel was going on.

For a second, I thought it would be great if all ours were evacuated from the building and it would be blown up to hell with everything inside! And all the spooks are done in at a blow. Such a tempting perspective. But it would not be allowed. The brass need victorious press releases, with snapshots of the captured building on the cover of some fresh hot magazines. With a banner on the top, the way it was on the Reichstag building. They will drive more troops to reinforce. About one third would kick buckets by such tempo on the square. They would press not less than a division inside the building, and most of them would die in it.

Chapter 19

I've an idea what is the wish of our fathers-commanders from Moscow! There can be no any good thing! Some dirty tricks, for sure, as many as possible! No any plain thing!

There is an exchange of fire heard outside changing to be intensive. I pity the guys. We must force more intensive to distract the spooks attention on us. We odered the fire on our positions already so many times! I'd like to see a couple of the aged pot-bellied generals form the Arbat military district over here, I'd like to see them ordering the fire on their own positions saving the lives of the soldiers fighting on the plaza just now and hurrying to rescue us.

I'm taking aim with my subgun again. There are only two grenades for the launcher and I have to change to the shooting with rounds. Can't clearly see, but am shooting. Because of the soldiers come from the ground floor and from the basement, it turns to be too crowded. Nobody wants to stay aside. Everybody has a wish to bring his fists into play annihilating this wasps' nest. It would be merely remarkable, if the war were stopped after that! But as far as I've got to know this nationality, it will fight for every house, wage the guirella war up to the last citizen of its motherland. And what for and why do we wage war here? We avenge for our friends and the Russians - I do hate the word "Russian-speaking" (author means the word from the political life of the postsoviet republics, some politicians used it to emphasize the national and language differences between the Russian and non-Russian population, in fact to heat the nations coflicts - O.B.A.) - who had suffered too much pain and humiliation before our entry.

Suddenly I feel with my left cheek something burning. I'm instantly touching it. Nothing terrible, it was just a shower of the hot shot cases from somebody. I rub the cheek once more and, trying not to pay attention to the pain, continue shooting. I have only a half of mag in the subgun and a "short" mag is situated in the jacket's pocket. And there are about twenty rounds lying in my pockets. I'll have soon to disengage temporarily. Yura, who is shooting also next to me has not more rounds than me. Heh, my mother told me however: "Lern English, sonny!" In spite of my attemts to spare the ruonds, the subgun's breech-block coldly clicked one time, in fifteen minutes it made that once more. I asked the soldiers close by for the rounds, but they answered they had no any. Judging from their heated mugs, I could suppose that they were avid about giving some ones. There was no direct threat for my life, therefore they did not give me. Misers! That was all - I ran out of ammos, I had to get out of the combat. I shouted Yura about that. He nodded and answered that he would also finish in a couple of minutes and catch up with me.

Having hardly pushed disturbing each other soldiers and officers apart, I rolled out into the empty space in corridor. I decided to wait for Yura and to go further together. And Yura was there coming. He was excited:

- We've kicked shit out of those gits, Slava, haven't we?

- We've done that wonderful.

- How're you?

- You'd better not wish me that!

- What does it mean?

- There's an antcdote, - I began to tell Yura while going to the ground floor. - An old Jew is asked: "How is your health, Abraham?" And his answer was: "You'd better not wish me that!" The same is about me. I can have any dirty mood, but I'll answer always as that old Jew.

- You're original.

- When you have spite, you get the fervour, want to fight for your belief. And if I load you with my shit, stresses and depressions, there will be no any plain result. Just imagine yourself that I begin to complain you of the war and its senselessness. You can't stop it and would think that I'm a crank and even motherfucker.

- Not bad explanation, Slava. I like it. And d'you know who is "motherfucker"?

- Motivated heroic functioning commander (the Russian slang words play is untranslatable in English, here is an analogue - O.B.A.)?

- You do know.

- I'm on the service for more than one year. We'll cackle getting colics now, if there are no any rounds downstairs. We'll break our bellies with laughing.

- Blow it out!..

- But who could carry us the ammos? Have you seen any shuttle from the Large land? - The plot in the three hundred meters from the Palace seemed for us to be the deep rear at that time.

- What shall we do?

- We'll try to take ammos from the wounded ones. They don't need it at all, but we can use it.

- Slava, because of the rounds you will finally dig in the graves also, yeah?

- And you?

- Let's go. We're not pulling any gold crowns out of mouths however. And hopefully the assistence comes soon. We'll ask them for some.

- Madhouse, Yura! To fight, we're going to take the cartridges from the wounded and dead ones! As if we crave for it! If we tell some normal civil man that, he will not believe us at all. He'll tell that we're lying!

- That's why keep silence.

- Yes, of course. Let's go.

We came down to the ground floor and went wandering through it searching for the ammos. Sometimes we stumbled over the weaponry, but when we checked it, there was the only result - the rounds had already been taken off. When we asked the rare fighters watching the manoeuvres on the square, the ones calmly answered that they were waiting for the fresh forces running up, from whom they had a hope to get some more ones. In their words there were already no any munitions in the basements. All the opportunities to take something from the wounded and dead ones had already been used. That meant that we were not the only hunters for the ammos.

Yura and I got already psychosis. It was a heavy battle above, judging from the shooting, but we were sitting there as the worst cowards. Overfilled with the feelings I was walking in the entrance hall of the ground floor, desperately kicking all the rubbish meeting the toe of my boot. Yura had a gloomy physiognomy and was watching the situation on the plaza. Judging from his reactions there was nothing good happening. The exchange of fire on the square was very intensive.

The boots tramp resounded over the stairs. I went to look. Two fighters were being brought. The "twohundredth". One had his foot and shin partly torn off, the second one seemed to be broken in the pieces.

- He covered the grenade. It was his decision, he'd shielded us. And Sashka had no luck, was standing close by. That's why his leg was ruined, - the fighters answered with trembling voices my mute question.

- Where are their rounds? - I asked in spite of all the tragic situation.

- The ones above had taken everything.

- Pity.

- Everybody has too little. We've now hopefully moved a bit forwards. Maybe we take some from the spooks.

- Sod it! Everything is as in the forty fist (author makes a hint at the unexpected invasion of Hitler in the USSR in 1941 - O.B.A.). Take the weaponry from the enemy. Ugh, sod it!

- Don't seethe so much, please, - one of the carrying the soldiers' remains was looking at me as at the crazy one. - Would you like to get my rounds?

- I would! Give me.

- Take, - the soldier took a couple of clips form the bag and held me out.

- Thatks, bros! I owe a bottle to you!

The fighters went on coming down to the basement.

I looked at the control hole in the mag. There was the cap of the round. The same was in the second mag. That meant they were full. Sixty rounds. Not rich, but that was already something. I wanted to share it with Yura. But I'd say honestly, my reader, there is such a military saying: "Toad choked". The greed of a human. I would give my life for Yurka, but I was greedy about that thing. What do sixty rouns mean? Ugh! That's enough for two minutes of the plain combat. And being shared out in two parts they would cover only half of the need. The greed and the passion are not the best of my qualities. But that is my nature.

I swiftly ran upwards. The apathy and tiredness were absolutely off. I've certainly some problems about my head. All around me were calm, balanced, tired, and I was craving for the fighting as the young fighter-snot. Am I fool maybe?! I am.

Forwards, onwards! Tempo, speed, only onwards! While Yura and I were wandering looking for the rounds, ours had assaulted the staircase and were forcing already the way to the platform of the second floor. It was a difficulty to step in the first rank. We were lying on the floor and shooting upwards. And again the concret enemy was not seen. Neither we, nor spooks were able to see each other. As soon as the moving began I edged my way in and rushed with the group forwards.

Here is it, the second floor! Having just reached the platform of the storey we scattered ourselves. I fell down and began quick rolling. The subgun was before me. Some shadow seemed to pass fleetingly. During the rolling give a short burst. The bullets are streaming fan-wide through the corridor. I'm near the wall. Some office is situated in one step. I half-rise on the knee and look into the doorway. Nobody seems be inside. Half-sitting, holding the subgun on the eyes' level, nervously turning round I enter the room. The rustling behind me. I'm turning swift somersaults over the right shoulder forwards. Having not landed yet give a short burst at the sound.

That was only a draught rustling with the scattered papers. There are two militants corpses in the office. Stopping the disgust, I come to them. Obviously, they were made off with the launcher through the window. Two subguns and some bag are lying near them. First of all, I take the subguns. So, the clips off! Not full, but with the rounds. Further. I convulsively tear the fastenings on the bag. There is a couple of grenades, and they are in my jacket's right pocket like a shot, and now - money. The roubles. Fuck a duck. I need no damned roubles. I'd like to exchage that bag for a tin of the cartridges. I take a pack. Fifty-rouble bank notes. By touch I have a feeling they are somehow too fat. I tear the paper on the pack and take one note, watch it. Correct - it's false! The paint is smearing. The paper is a bit better than a toilet paper. Why the hell do they need these papers for? Don't know. The mountains kids (author mentions here a phrase from the popular Soviet book "Twelve chairs" of Il'f and Petrov - O. B.A.). They certainly guess these are the real ones. But they just were not able to hold defense having only two mags! I'm sweeping the room. Here are they! My dear, my sweet. Six mags are lying near the window. A half-empty tin of the rounds, about forty grenades and a tin with the grenades for launcher. And six "flies"! Come to daddy, my sweety! Come here-here-here!

Well done, spooks! You've prepared well. But you'll get no defense, but a cock in mouth! The full mags are jobbed in my pockets. Bless the designers of our uniform who had cut the pockets meaning the subguns mags' size. The empty and half-empty mags are being filled with the rounds. The grenades for the launcher. I've got about five kilograms of the metal or even more. A couple of the disposable greanade dispensers are dangling on my back, one more is in my hands. The subgun with the full machine-gun tin and the grenade in the launcher, with the barrel downwards is hanging on the right shoulder. Now we can wage war.

While I was pressing all aforesaid treasures into my pockets there was exchange of fire breaking out in the corridor. I stood on one knee near the doorway's edge and carefully put my head in the corridor. The spooks had made a barricade in the corridor and were fighting ours. There was exchange of fire on the stairs also.

Hiding behind the projections I came to ours. Keep aside, guys! Everybody made way and closed the ears. I tore off the paper from the dispenser's belt - there were two wadding tampons, I made them into the ears, opened the mouth and made a shot. The thunder was tremendous. Especilally in the closed room. If there were any glasses, they would fly away by all means.

The barricade of the furniture and fragments of the brick partitions was blown up in the splinters. Class! I'm taking the next dispenser form the back. A gift for you form the "Rabit dogs"! I tear the ring with the pin off, fold the rear sight back and press the outstanding "knob". The Day of Judgement has come for you, jerks. I can hear thunder even with the wadding in my ears. Greatful! I can hardly restrain myself from the temtation to push the third "fly" at the same aim. The good thing must be little! I'm throwing the empty tube away and grasp the subgun. A burst. From wall to wall. With all my heart. Sparing no rounds. It turns to be so great to move the muzzle of the slaught-machine set on the knee in such way shooting from the wall to the wall! Sparing no rounds. Not counting how many ones you can allow yourself to spend on this office and having no doubts if you're able to leave from it for the corridor. The breech-block coldly clicks. The clip is off and sent into the pocket. It will serve yet, I have the stuffing for it. I set the second one in.

Onwards! Only onwards! It's not likely that anybody has survived after such meeting, but the devil can play any joke. Cleansing up means cleansing up. After the grenades' explosions there is the thick wall of the dust and smoke hanging in the corridor. The smell of the burnt explosive and powder gases, plastering and lime is stinging the nostrils. This is from the efforts of my "flies". They've cleared the way for us.

We move on forwards with the short rushes. Something softly sticks to the boot toe, I throw it aside. I can see with the look sideways that it is the fragment of an arm with rag on, obviously all the remain of the sleeve. There is a red spot on the burnt wall and heap of the rags before it. My work! Forwards!

Moving on in such manner we were able to count eight corpses. Some of them were broken off with the frags, and some of them met my subgun's message. That is a real war! Heigh, Slavka! Hey, jolly rascal! Well done! Topest estimation!

I was proud and almost loved myself. All the time we spent for the round check brought us no any mark about any alive spook. Seemingly, these ones had no time to climb up. It turned out that I with my trophy grenade dispensers had done in eight spooks and liberated all the storey by that way. Not only I, of course, but I was the main force. That means I'm living not senseless. I've made at least one, but good and useful thing in my life.

We also discoverd six dead bodies of our soldiers on that storey. Two of them had their penises and the testicles cut off and put into the mouths. All the bodies without exclusion had the scretches, injures and the knives' cuts. They had been tortured. What did the spooks, sitting there in almost full siege, want to get to know from the POWs? Most likely nothing, being dull malicious they avenged for our occupation. The impotent malice. A horrible thing!

I went to the fighters and shared the found trophy ammos. All were astonished with my find. And after that we hurried up to help the ones who were going upwards. Out fighters were already struggling for the fourth storey. The spooks had left a small group of their militants over there to be torn to pieces and went themselves mostly on the sixth storey. They blew up the staircases between the fifth and sixth storeys. But that thing on the second stairs was not in time or something did not function over there. There was the only way. That looked like a trap very much. With every new storey the spooks more and more desperately squealed "Allah akbar!" and they fought with the desperate brutality. They had already realized they could not leave the building, our reinforcement had reached us and we were attacking more jollily. The fresh forces let us get some rest. They carried water with. Much water. I will not forget the taste of that water up to the end of my life. That was the most tasty drink that I had ever sampled in my life. It seemed for me that I had drunken not less than three liters. The belly was like the large aquarium. And the spirit was delivered just after that. It was also no any senseless thing. I drank at once half a glass of the deluted spirit. There was no any hot meal, but we were warming the stews on the fires set with the remains of the furniture, doors and windows' frames.

The command of our brigade came to the building together with the first reinforcement group. Butalov tried at first to pose himself as an old warrior, experienced militant, but he absolutely failed. He was not perceived by his own subordinates, as well as by the others also. We had enough time to tell all the curious ones about who he actually was and what he was himself.

There was no any united command structure at all. The paratroopers, marines and the interior units arrived. Every one of the arrived commanders thought of himself to be the great general, but was slightly sent off to hell by everyone or the decisions and orders were frankly ignored at all. To the point, many decisions were absurd. For example, the order about every unit to line on the determined storey. They tried to collect the commanders of the subdivisions for the conference, but actually many companies' commanders, not to mention the ones of the smaller subdivisions, were knocked out. Some smart asses tried to devide the wounded ones and forbade their medics to treat the servicemen from the other subdivisions. Bullshit! Thank God, the military doctors had enough wise and boldness to ignore that absurd command.

The HQs of the came commanders were settled in the huge basement. But they were sitting there being dead from the boredom. There were no troops to be lead or managed. There was no possibility to make decisions and to embody them into the life. At first all of them went up and took the immediate part in the fighting actions. And after some time it was boring for them and they came downwards and drank together with the other fresh come officers. But some of them remained upstairs with their and "strange" troops and fought. San Sanych made that and Sereoga Kazartsev made the same. They did not leave the heat of the fighting actions, although both of them had the whole moral and commanders right to leave it. They struggled as the usual fighters in our ranks. If they made something incorrect, they heard the same foul words. The same frendly patting on shoulder and greetings on the successful shooting, on the well thrown grenade. And maybe just that thing is the main difference of the real fathers-commanders from the careerists shuffling over the office parquets. That was not an easy fraternizing, but namely respect to the man, who worked the same as you did and was not afraid of the dirty work. He did not steer clear of the shit in which you bathed according to the will of Moscow. You realize that he is not a conductor of the moscow gaga, but the commander fighting for Russia and is upset and feels bad about every died, every wounded one. They, San Sanych and Kazartsev, are merely men, plaughmen of this war. Those were not they who made the daily victorious reports to Khankala about the shining feats or who declared that we were on the point of taking of the building. No! That was sparkling work of Butalov. And he didn't forget to emphasize his role in that liberating operation.

He was naturally not alone, all commanders, settling in the basement of the building wrote the similar daily summaries. At first every one made that personally, but the figures differed one form another very much, therefore having got the next reprimand form Khankala commanders gathered all, painstakingly discussed all the details of their reports and wrote the papers. As it is the custom in any war, those reports showed that the half of the population of Grozny was sitting in the Palace defending and we had already annihilated it mostly. And what will be when we go further?

The medics were situated in the same basement. At first they steered clear, kept a bit aside of each other, but later they didn't give a damn about all the formalities and united to be the one whole organism. Praiseworthy intellect!

In spite of the come reinforcement it was difficult to take the other storeys. The spooks fought for every cantimeter of the storey, of the staircase. Two militants had hung the grenades around themselves and rushed to the fighters. About fourteen men were killed. Counting not the enemy. That case provoked spite in everybody. Then the spooks began to sew up the mines-traps, set the mines near the doors, in the rooms, in the left tins with the rounds and drawers with grenades, in the grenade dispensers. All that blew up as soon as you had only touched those "spoils". The grenades and mines were used as the fuses, detonators and provoked explosion of the other ammunitions. There was no any body to be buried after that. There was only the formless bloody mess that could have been put into one large tin from the herring.

The new troops came again and again, they were craving for the battles. They were stopped by nobody. If some one wanted to fight, he was welcome! They fought following the principle of Suvorov (here, Alexander Suvorov, 1729-1800, the most successful Russian general of the XVIII century - O.B.A.): every soldier was aware of his manoeuvre. The new commanders came also. Many ones tried to take the leading themselves, but those attempts failed too. They quickly became cool and began drinking and writing of the praising poems about their military craft. Everything is as old as the world. Everything is repeating. Some moscow generals with the correspondents made visits for a couple of times. They showed themselves off having the Palace as the background, gave the interviews in the building. They asked the wounded fighters some questions. Some one tried to come to me, but I turned round showing my back and sent them to hell over my shoulder. I'd not like at all that my parents would see me on the TV-screen. All that mischief was not necessary.

The days and the nights were stuck together. There constantly was somebody fighting. I followed the same schedule - attack or buffing of the counter attack. One time the spooks were able to throw us back for a couple of storeys downwards, approximately from the nineth to the seventh storey. We had to shake them properly. We fought our territory back sustaining losses. So that was. You were half a day fighting and then, when you had no ammos, you went downstairs a couple of the floors lower. There were made the fires, hot meal and stew were cooked. Somebody was constantly on keeping of the fire on, on cooking of the meal, on pouring out of half a glass of the deluted spirit, on dragging of the cartridges, ammunitions, cigarettes up. If they were the rearguys, then I must thank them for that work. Nobody asked you who you were, form what unit you were, officer or soldier, all merely came, sat, ate, smoked and went aside, letting the other ones to get a place. Some hours of slumber, then you woke up because of the cold, a light lunch again - and upwards, you pushed somebody aside and fought. Every small thing was perfectly organized. The brain did not already work from the tiredness and form the abundance of the impressions, the consciousness was switched off. I already stopped at some moment counting of the floors which had been taken and what storey was that at which we were fighting. There was a moment when we took one stairs and fought through on the next floor at once. It seemed that half a life had passed, and we were still pottering about that damned building.

The higher we climbed up, the more troops were collected in the Palace. There was a feeling that all the groupping had come to storm the new reichstag. There were many fresh faces. There were the special forces of all the types and ranks: GRU, FSK, MVD, SOBR, OMON (here, the abbriviations of the secret services as they sound in Russian, GRU - the Main Reconnaissance Direction, FSK - at that time Federal Service of Counterreconnaissance, formerly in the USSR it was KGB, MVD - Ministry of the Internal Affairs, SOBR - Special Detachment of the quick reacting, OMON - Detachment of militoin for the special tasks - O.B.A.). And the other troops - uncountable. There were shitty many generals. Where were you, jerks, when we were entrenching ourselves over there on the square? Ugh! Foul vultures! Marauders! There were many journalists of all kinds and ranks. The usual "makhra" was not let to them. But the new come ones, who had still the pioneer (the ideological communist organisation for the teenagers in the Soviet Union - O.B.A.) fires burning with the shiny flames in their bums, they were sent in front, to the television cameras to be showed on the blue screens. These ones, my reader, pressed the lies into your ears and eyes during the press campaigns. Having got thick meal with some beer. In short. I will not make you tired. We had taken that reichstag. And someone hoisted the red banner of victory on it. True in a couple of days it was changed and the Russian flag was hoisted. But that was already not in principle. Maybe that was of vital important meaning for the moscow generals and their spongers from Khankala, but not for the Siberian "makhra".

Butalov was running through the storeys to collect us together. When there were only couple-three of the floors to be taken, they decided to take the "Negros", to say us, backwards. And attacking of dessert should have been given to the moscow elite. Due to some reason we decided to send Butalov fuck off and continued the storm. And we sent all the ones wearing the beautiful painted American and Turkish camouflage to the metropolis. And singed we on the New Reichstag. There were many kind words about our died friends, about the wounded ones. There were many abuses. Everybody - both the Commander-in-Chief and his former subordinate Dudaev - got enough. Defense minister got also a bit of our attention. There was special greeting in written form for Butalov.

There were neither Dudaev, nor his close comrades-in-arms in that building. They had certainly left earlier. No any militants, who had defended that citadel, were able to survive. As far as I could witness that. There were no any captives also. Our soldiers had no any mood to capture captives even about those ones who had a wish to surrender. Some ones jumped down from the many-meter height, some ones having the numerous wounds from the firearms and daggers were hanging on the pieces of the electric cable. We had too fresh memories about those our friends, who were used by the spooks as alive shield.

When we had left from the Palace, the counting of our brigade's casualities was made. It was difficult to report plainly where were the men of the detachments and how many complement was there. Absolute mess. But gradually the datas were collected. Fifteen men died and seventeen more were wounded immediately in the building. Three ones, who were sent to the "North" to be evacuated, ran away and were hiding in the subdivisions mixing all the datas up. The doctors examined them and sent them with the foul words and kicks into the nearest transport to be brought to the airport. One of them had got a peritoneum, the others - the suppurations of the wounds.

Peritoneum is a damned unpleasant thing, that is when some cavity (a stomach, a gall-bladder) is torn and the intestines are poured with the own acidity or when the firearm's wound into the belly starts to suppurate. A man is being decayed when being still alive. There are very little chances to survive. And such fighter is striving for fighting from despair or from the thirsting for vengeance. The other two were not better at all. Every one on the front changes to be medic a bit. There is a threat of amputation of the extremeties but they are striving for fighting. Their extremeties wound be amputated in any case - the bones are crashed. But they are going to fight as if they were healthy. You must build memorials for such ones when they are still being alive. I have no idea about where are they and what happened to them later.

Everybody was elated, it seemed for everybody that we had only to press a bit ahead and the enemy will flee. But they started some ununderstandable negotiations with the eldest leaders (the specialitty of the Chechen social system is a very strong clans structure, when all the relatives or the other participants of some clan follow the decisions of the nonformal eldest leaders - O.B.A.). What about had we to talk to those spooks? But the direction of the HQ and the moscow bigwigs were whispering together, the troops were staying and chewing the snoty shit. The spooks meanwhile were regroupping the forces, moving the fresh forces up, treating the wounds, restoring themselves from the first shock of the defeat, their mullas were washing up with propaganda the brains of their tribal kin, and there was again "the sacred war" - dshihad - breaking out with the new intensity. And we were staying in the city meantime. We got no fresh forces, nobody moved up the new weaponry and the new tech for us. And whome does Moscow assist in this case? Don't you know, my reader? I do not know also, and it was understandable for anybody in our brigade. It turned out that Moscow was waging false war, winning the time for the spooks by the senseless negotiations.

If there were no real death notices and if there were no uncared dead bodies in the streets, that would be very funny. That would be very funny, if that were not so scary. Were all the ones managing from Moscow the actions in Chechnya really bought with the bribes? The course and order of the events proved that to be so. I wish so much I were mistaken about that thing! But I got the questions in my head every minute, and was not able to find any answers. Both officers and soldiers asked me the same questions, I made jokes in reply and sent everybody to hell. It was a bad feeling in my soul. Yura and I thought about that theme up to the headache. No answer. There were grey weather, destroyed buildings, huge casualities and uncared dead bodies in the streets, the war itself was unpromissing, when it was a Pyrrhic victory, and the own commanders from capital made a defeat from that victory, all that made the mood very bad, undermined the unsteady beliefe in the Commander-in-Chief and his encirclement. We had a feeling that we all had been betrayed over there, sold for bribes, the victims were in vain. Everything had absolutely no any sense.

While all of us were sorting out our feelings, they made the order to occupy the tins and the cognac factories.

The first and the tank battalions took the cogniac plant, the second battalion - the tins one. In a day the internal troops curried favour with us. We were not greedy, everybody was welcome!

The replacement form the Siberian military district was gradually commimg. The vacancies of the battalions' commanders were filled as the first step. The free vacancies. The wounded com-batts were sent home according to the orders. All the brigade bade them farewell. The new ones, who came on their posts, quickly experienced the posts. Nobody of the new come ones made any petty tyranny or arbitrariness.

It was very interesting to watch the commanders of the units coming to the HQ for the conference. The first com-batt and the main tankee were losing health before our eyes and were becoming thiner. Their faces' color gradually changed from the former bright-red one to the blue-yellow. And the second comm-batt was on the contrary daily blossoming out. He already drank no any mere water, but only the juices. The powers balance was restoring.

Yura and I had visited the both objects. We had got about five liters of the Chechen cognac, about fifteen liters of different juices, as well as some muck used to prepare the tinned fruits and juices. It smelt as the plum liqueur, but tasted as the burnt cork with the acetone. The belly was aching after that drink, but it really made the head "high". From the tongue-in-cheek saying of Vasia Tsapalov that slop was named liqueur "a'la Chechnya".

After taking of those "key" objects in the enemy defense our brigade turned to be very popular and welcomed in all the units. All commanders made visits to us, the fighters visited the fighters. Everybody brought back with himself some gifts - a flask-two of cognac, a couple of boxes with juices. We were invited to be the guests. We made exchange of the cognac for the uniform, weaponry, ammunition, spare details for the tech. The third battalion had become the trophy APC for the two twohundred liters barrels of cognac. Who tells that the oil is the blood of the war? Nonesense! Alcohol is the blood of war. It seemed to us that we could get Dudaev for the trophy cognac, if there were any partners for that haggling.

That idyll unfortunately continued not for a long time. Only for ten days. Up to the order from Khankala to annihilate all the trophy store of cognac.

That terrible news flew through all the grouping in one instance due to the buzzers. And the transports started moving in our direction. The thirsty ones were carrying with them all the possible tares. The most popular one was canister. They brought uniforms, scarce spare details and a lot of the spoils with them. Including the Chechen subguns, daggers, flags, the green bandages (identifying sign of the militants - O.B.A.), the maps of the actions, signed by Dudaev and Maskhadov (Aslan Maskhadov, 1951-2005, one of the mainest ring-leaders of militants, the former colonel of the Soviet Army, after the death of Dudaev was a formal leader - 1996-2000 - of Ichkeria, was killed in the year 2005 - O.B.A.). True when we compared the signartures they were differed on every map. Some ones were without sigantures at all. But the ones, who had brought them, assured swearing that they had taken them from captured or dead militant, who had struggled as a tiger in cage, and had tried to guzzle, to burn or to tear the map before the death. All that depended on the personal fantasy.

Some guys brought three chairs-catapults. Every owner of the one sweared that he had personnally taken that one from the plane of Dudaev. There was a lot of the humorous cases. There was a feeling that if we asked for the warhead of the rocket, then we could get that for a couple of barrels with cognac. That was good to be a monopolist!

But then some motherfucker from Khankala came and began shouting that we had to stop making drunkards of all the grouping. You should have personally seen what happened there. The ones who were waiting in the queue were desperately swearing at the young lieutenant-colonel. Some ones tried to distract his attention with smooth talking meanwhile the other ones tried to pick with the armor-piercing bullets as many holes at the large cistern-tank as possible. Cognac was showering from all those holes, the jars, cans, cups, bowls were given to get that. The despair and the greed make the miracles!

In fifteen minutes lieutenant-colonel, who had no any fellow-countrymen as he had been born in Moscow and had been there on the service for all his life, was able to force through out and on behalf of the commander he ordered to shoot the steel colomn down. Commander of the tank battalion personnally aimed the cannon at it and shot with the amour-piercing projectile. The colomn bent down accompanied by the common shout of horror and despair, then fell down - the thickest spurt of cognac streamed from the broken side. Cognac. An ocean of cognac streamed on the earth, flooding all the adjoining environs.

Everybody rushed to bail cognac from the puddles. The thick, making the head tipsy, provoking the sneezing and watering, active salivation, being tangible by touch smell of cognac was reigning over all that ruffling mess. The jolly heat changed to be vague annoying and the righteous rage fits, when cognac had been absorbed by the earth.

Being smeared with the soil, having the jackets and trousers saturated with cognac, the officers, grumbling the foul words, were watching the moscow fop. That one was not able to bear the heavy pause and had to retreat quickly away. He had made that in time as the officers began to express their opinion about the happenings:

- Stinking goat!

- Fucking jerk!

- Soldier's louse! They have everything served in Khankala! Food and vodka are delivered from Moscow!

- He could ask for some, we'd give this jerk.

- He needs no that cognac by all means!

- Vodka form crystal plant is delivered to him, he will not guzzle that Chechen slop! He gives no shit!

- He, git, could come a bit later! Cattle!

- One more hour and we'd get properly enough.

- We should taste it! Pour out!

And the usual officers' heavy drinking started. Representatives of all troops dislocated in Chechnya drank. Snack was taken from APCs, armored trucks, tanks. Stew, condensed milk were predominant, haven't you, my reader, tried to drink vodka after condesed milk? No?! Take a stab at it, you'll feel unforgetable! There were delicacies also as the bite. Sausage, cheese. Somebody had carried even mayonnaise. The taste was splendid! After the third shot, glass, dixie's cover - every one had his own tare and his own norm, nobody made any recomenndations, - we had forgotten about that fucking lie-colonel and began to remember the passed happenings. We remembered the combats for the Palace.

Somebody was desperately boasting with his feats, the other ones were telling how their subordinates, friends had died. There were tears, swears to take a vengeance for the died ones. All accepted the unanimous opinion that the motherfuckers from Kremlin (the residence of the higher state bodies of Russian Federation in Moscow - O.B.A.) and from the Main Headquarters were guilty. We drank after the absolutely military toast "To death to fools!"

It was becoming dark. The officers form the other units were moving up to us. The news about the annihilating of the strategical alcohol resourses of the grouping according to the order form Khankala flew over everybody during one instance. And we recieved lots of visitors having a hope that maybe something was saved. We received them into the warm company and pumped them up with the remains of cognac.

And then our familiar lieutenant-colonel from Khankala came again. At that time that motherfuckery arrived not alone, but brought the reconnaisance company with him. He wanted to scare with naked ass a hedgehog! The challenge of the sentry resounded in the darkness:

- Halt! Password three!

- Representative of the HQ lieutenant-colonel Sergeev.

- Halt!

- I've told I'm representative of the HQ! Call to the guard's chief!

- Halt! I'll shoot!

- I do halt! Call for the guard's officer!

The steps sounds and the voice of the guard's chief were heard in the darkness:

- Representative to me, the others stay at the place!

- Are you commanding me "To me"?! - The indignant voice of the motherfucker-lie-colonel resounded in the darkness.

- Yes, you. If you do not start motion in a second - I'm opening fire to hit, without warning.

- I'm going. I'll sort out relations to you yet!

- Without talks to me. You don't know the password and are trying to pose yourself. To pose yourself as a bigwig by night. There are too many of such ones floating in Sunzha belly up.

- Where is commander? I've come to see personlly how do you obey the order about annihilating of the alcohol.

He came into the circle of the light, where at there were about forty officers. The accompanying recons followed him being silent, as the shadows. And although at the first view the numerical advantage was on their side, we should not forget that there were two more battalions standing in the darkness yet. Let them be of not full number, but hardened in the fights, knowing that the officers would not let them down, would not hide themselves behind their backs and lives. But would the recons from Khankala be able to say the same about that parquet lieutenant-colonel? Scarcely. And judging from the strained faces of the recons they felt no rapture about the perspective to fight the own army's soldiers because of the moscower's whim. On one hand, there was an order, on the other hand, there were the friendly soldiers, "makhra".

Lieutenant-colonel strutted into the circle of the light. His uniform was new, the mug was fat, clean, shaved very good, the white small hands, the finger-nails were not broken, there were lustre, craving for live and commanding in the eyes. Napoleon in miniature. Naturally. Just that monkey climbing high. The undercollar is shining with the white strip in the half darkness. The officer from the paint or from the fucking bad hurah-patriotic film. A'la commander of a regiment, as minimum - com-batt. Beautiful, smart, clever, but he gives only no any shit about people. He will make away both regiment and battalion also, only to bow on time, only to attract attention, to be rewarded. A horrible man. At this moment the superiority, imperiousness are to be felt in the glance. If he had competence, he would accuse us of making sabotage and execute us without investigation and judging. And he would be proud of his such deed up to the grave. And his conscience would not reason any troubles. He would like to be the block detachement's commander in the year forty first, he would realize all his talents by there. And best of all - to be the chief of the penalty batt.

He was met with the silence. Some officers calmly bore his glance, turned round and strated to discuss specially loudly the passed combats. They discussed espesially loudly the plainless orders from Khankala. The other officers turned round also and demonstratively poured out and drank with chin-chining cognac. That was too much for the moscow shuffler. He squealed as the cut piglet singing some falsetto:

- Stop drinking!

Reaction was zero. Nobody had even turned his head to him. But only tension was hanging in the air. The backs were strained. Some ones began to put the weaponry right. Some cold clicks resounded in the darkness, some ones released the subguns safety catches. Whether they were the party guests or the come recons - that was unclear. But namely those clicks whipped at the ears, and almost simultaniously with them the talks were stopped, and the officers swiftly turned to the side of the unexpected guest.

- Immediately stop drinking and leave for your subdivisions, if you are not obeying, I have the power to arrest and take you into custody! - He was admiring himself, felt an ecstasy about his own person shining form importance.

- Fuck off! - resounded from the darkness.

- Who has told that? Who dared? - "licol" jumped on the place.

- Who d'ya wanna arrest, sonny? - A colonel from the internal troops calmly took interest, making the voice not louder, approaching the moscower. - Me? Colonel? You, snotty?

Chapter 20

In the army only very respected persons are allowed to name their direct reports "sonnies". With regard to the leiutenant-colonel that was an unprecedented insult. To name "sonny" and to spit in the mug - the things were equal.

- If ya try it, my regiment will roll you with your Khankala down to the logs in half an hour. Who d'ya shout at? Almost everybody here is commander of some unit fighting in Grozny. And where d'ya, lie-colonel, combat? Who d'ya fight? Us? That means you - spook! Isn't it so? You're organizing some ununderstandable negotiations with spooks. Gossippring together behind our backs. Betrayers!

- Make, please, no any demagogic speeches! I'm ordered to stop your alcohol-bout, and the ones who are opposing are to be delivered to Khankala.

- You can run risks of your health and career.

- Are you threatening me?

- There are almost half hundred officers, all of them are large or small commanders. We'll write the reports tomorrow. Every one will give one report, where at he notes that we had come to the conference about co-ordination, and there was drunken lie-colonel, who barged into the room, insulted the sentry and the guard's officer, and after that tried to give the commanders of the units and the officers some orders. What d'ya think about that perspective? D'ya have any written order about arresting us and delivering to Khankala?

- No, - the licolonel seemed start realizing what shit had he run in.

- If no, then when there is investigation, they will prove you've overstepped your competence borders, and you would've to continue service far away from Moscow. And we would meet you there. And then, sonny, - colonel laid the special accent, emphasis on the "sonny", - we would communicate to you about the duty, the conscience, the order and the officer's honour.

- I'm ordered to stop any drinking-bouts, - lie-colonel started to aim at his idea again. But he had already no any imperative notes in his voice.

- But who does drink, sonny? - Intertroops' colonel hit his self-esteem again. - We have a conference about working out of the co-ordination. The question is tactical, operative, therefore there is no sense to invite the HQ representatives.

That very representative was standing as if being spat upon. He would have no any normal life any more. The recons and we would tell how he was set at the corner, how he got the oral slaps in the face, and he had nothing to object to. His shoulders slackened down, the eyes were looking at his feet, the spite was boiling over inside him. He was ready to tear, shoot, guzzle us. But he was totally poured with the slops by the colonel, the recons standing behind his back were also not on his side, and some more fighters were moving out of the darkness yet and they silently encircled like a thick wall evrybody, including the recons. That was on one hand and on the other hand Rolin would say he knew nothing if there were some questionable thing. The moscower turned round on the heels and went away, the recons followed him. The engines soon ran roaring in the darkness and the vehicles drove off. The tension had slackened. Everybody was loudly discussing of the happening and praising of the colonel. The latter condenscendingly received congratulations. And he told only that idiot had forced his way just at night for the sake of his personal career. He would vanish himself and bring the men to death. Idiot. Because of the personal career he could have spoilt a lot of the innocent lives. They could bump into an ambush. And that would be the end.

In about fifteen minutes the roar of engines was heard again and there was a voice of com-brig Butalov:

- What drinking-bout is here? Who has permitted? Where are the com-batts?

- That one was not able to manage himself and decided to send this feeble-minded one, - com-batt of the tank battalion severely told.

- What's happening here? - Com-brig entered the circle of the light.

- Conference is going on. And why aren't you here? - The same intertroops' colonel boomingly asked.

- I got a call form Khankala, they told me that there was drinking-bout going on at full speed, some licolonel was sent to hell with the foul words. That's why I've come, - Butalov was quickly speaking, looking at everybody around and swiftly considering how would it be better for him to behave himself further.

- There is no any drinkging-bout. We're deliberatig and decided to have a supper by the way. And that moron from Khankala had come tearing along, started to make a show about his authority, squealing about some drinking-bout. Loony. We're all together working out decision about co-operation, we were just on the point of sending some messenger to call for you, but you were quicker, - colonel genially told semi-hugging shoulders of Butalov and forcing him to the APC, where on the improvised table had been organized.

I must tell the truth about Butalov being able to run quickly in the situation, and began drinking showing no any conceit, equal like the other ones. But the mood was spoilt by the voyage of the daft licolonel. All the present ones perfectly realized that there would not be happy end, but the consequences also, though nobody had a thought about that.

- We were able to survive in that hell-fire, during the assault of the Palace, we should give no any damn about other things. We're alive and that's OK.

- That's right!

- Pour out, bors! Huh, excuse me, comarade colonel. It's dark, I mistook you.

- Why colonel? There is no colonels at the table, everybody is equal. Let's drink! To life, brothers!

- To life!

- And Siberians have well done, haven't we?!

- By all means!

- Siberian "makhra" does not let down!

That table continued till four o'clock. After that we fell into the nap. And at about ten o'clock we got a call from Khankala, that we should have come to the conference by one o'clock p. m. All the HQ officers set off. Everybody had a hope that the troops would be sent to attack the spooks. From the radio interception and from the talks with the spooks by radio we knew that they were morally broken down and depressed. Their independence, sovereignty, proudness symbol - the Palace - was taken. Over the air, they squealed from the fury sending the swears and all the devils on our heads. In an answer our radiops joifully sent them to hell.

All our brigade, including both the com-brig and the very last rearman, had a high mood, it seemed that we had only to press a bit ahead and win hands down! The enemy is fleeing and we had to hang on his shoulders, hunt him into the mountains, block there and lazily plaster him with the air forces and artillery.

Having such a joyful and elated mood, having taken a hair of the dog that had bitten us, we arrived to Khankala. Almost all the officers, with whome we had spent the night before so good, moved to there up. They reeked of light fresh alcohol. While all of us were standing and smoking near the two-storeys building, the vile licolonel showed himself twice in the doorway. We had already just forgotten about the night accident, and that type certainly wanted to win back. He can try to do that, run the risks of the health, the rear rat. At last, all of us were invited to Rolin.

When about hundred men heavily fell in the room, it instantly turned crowded and stuffy. All the ones who were not commanders of some units were sent outside. Yurka had also went outside on the quiet. Judging from the expression of Rolin and form the foul smile of the liecolonel, no any plan of some global offensive action would be offered us, but they would shake the brains for the yesterday party.

It was good in the street. It was warm, relatively quiet, there was somebody adjusting launcher in the huge sand-pit that was near the entrance to the base territory. They had a good time over there. It was almost like at the shooting training zone. Yurka and I went to watch the places of interest.

The newly brought to light HQ was the former center of DOSAAF to train the pilots. There were three two-storeys buildings, a small aerodrome, overfilled with the training planes of the Czech production. Our fighters were fussing over them, tearing something off as souvenirs. One of the fighters began to sit down in the pilot's chair, pushing by the way all the buttons and levers.

- Pull no catapulta, idiot! - Yura warned him.

- But what will be? - The fighter took an interest.

- At first skyrocketing and then slump. You'll be a sack of bones.

- Don't you lie? - The fighter was distrustfully looking at us. - Well, in film "Die hard- 2" - that one flew up and happily landed.

- You're already adult, but do believe in fairy-tails! - I openly burst out laughing. - That is cinema, do not have a thought to pull that.

The fighter distrustfully looked at us, but went nevertheless out from the plane.

- If you don't believe, let's experiment.

- How? - The fighter was wondering.

- Bring up a sack with soil and a long rope.

- And where can I take them?

- Well, over there, the windows in the HQ are shielded with them, and there are lots of them here about. Take a couple of assistents. You can take a rope out of the camouflage net.

The fighter took a couple of men with him.

- Have you, Slava, nothing to do?

- Nothing, boring. While Rolin is scaring commanders with the punishments of every kind and they are asking him about the ununderstandable negotiations we can play up a bit. We'll see at the same time how catapulta works. Have you anywhen seen how a pilot flies out from a plane?

- No. Why not? Let's try it!

We silently watched as the fighters stole a sack with soil form some trench and then were bringing it to our side. All was quiet. Just as on some trainings in the civilian time: when all the planned measures are already over and everybody is languishing from boredom, then they begin to think up all possible amusements. It was boring to drink, absolute vagueness was consuming the souls. Being inactive undermined any belief in the own power, tasks, was destroying the ideals like a rusting. They sold us just before our eyes.

KamAZ (a type of the Russian truck - O.B.A.) with a box van slowly went through the blockpost at the base entrance. Chechens scattered out from it. There was a lot of eldest old men amongst them, all wearing the tall fur caps. Some of the caps were tied up with the green ribbons. That meant the one was a very respected man. He had made a pilgrimage to Mekka. He had seen nothing but the rams during all his life, but when he got retired on pension, he turned to be a respected person. And the ones having the ribbons on their heads were very respected ones. I repeatedly saw the same ribbons on the heads of militants. They meant that the owners had stepped on the path of war and were making djihad against the infidel ones. To the point, my reader, I must say, that means also against you as you are infidel according to the concepts of the true believers. Doesn't matter that you've done nothing. They are not interested in that. Infidel, that's it. That means the ones like you are to be generally exterminated. We do differ you from those fanatics however. And you will spit in our mugs in two-three years...

Yura and I saw as the Chechens disembarked and then were standing and smoking near the truck, watching the territory of the base with curiousity. The sheltered, set in the caponiers tanks and APCs attracted their special attention.

- Slava, look, these jerks are visual scanning the information.

- Precisely. Reconnaissance.

- They need these negotiations the same, as a hare needs a stop-signal. They wanna win time and bleed us as much as possible.

- They should also use camera for efficiency. But it now also looks as a film about the spies. Heh, I wish I gave a proper burst from the waist level at those scientists.

- It's not permitted!

- I know it's not permitted. But I wish so much! From the waist level, with all my heart, a burst as long as my clip! And to move with the muzzle on the left and back on the right!

- Don't hurt my soul. You're telling with such an appetite that I feel nervous itching. It's interesting about what agreement will our commanders speak to them?

- You'll see, they will make an agreement, they're allies and we'll give them some weaponry and tech, and more biting - for the caused damadges we'll give our fighters to slavery. Ugh!

- Look, some pimple from the HQ is flying headlong to the spooks with kowtowing. He'll kiss now with these apes.

And that was for certain. Some officer was running from the HQ. Having run to them, he began to greet, hug and kiss every spook.

- Slava! Look, look, he's schmoozing to them, as if wealthy relatives have arrived from America, having brought some presents. Do you understand anything?

- Only that we are routinely betrayed and tripped up. And nothing else.

- Now these educated rams will be brought to the conference of the units' commanders and they all together will work out plan of the actions. They will rack the brains: how is it better to fight the illegal armed formations? For certain, they will offer to create selfdefense detachment and ask us to give them weaponry and tech.

- For sure. And they'll win time, stuffing our brains with absurdities like they would negotiate with the militants about voluntary refusing from armed fighting.

- I'd like to be present at the conference devoted to the negotiations with these motherfuckers very much.

- What for?

- Why what for? To look at our HQ leaders and the moscow spokesmen licking their asses.

- You'll see and hear nothing new or plain proper, but stop squandering of the nerves. What would be told there, both you and I know for sure.

- They will squeal they are an opposition, that all is OK, and they have been waiting for our coming and take us as the saviours-liberators form the hated tyranny of Dudaev and his clique. Usual muck for the ears, nothing new and plain.

- We have to go forwards and stamp them with the boots.

- I can't understand the only thing: the longer we're marking time over here, the more blood we'll spill for taking of the next objects and settlements.

- We could now take the objects and the adjoining villages practically without casualities or destroying, but if we linger a bit, the spooks will restore themselves and become stronger. And again the air strikes, artillery runs, storms. We make the routine feats paying with our lives, the press talks about that non-stop, more and more houses are destroyed, the number of the victims among the civil population is increasing. Economy of Chechnya comes to the fucking disaster, more and more "twohundredths" are being sent to Russia, more orphans appear on both sides of the border and more and more civil people come to the militants. And all that is because of the moscow knuckleheads organizing some negotiations. Money and nothing more but the money.

- The huge money.

- Naturally. They were able to raise money to start this "liberating" campaign, they were able to raise money to arm the militants. Now the bigwigs privied to the secrets have no interest to stop this slaughter-house. I would not wonder if there is recruitment of the mercenaries to fight us made totally both in Russia and over the border-mound also.

- So, bros, let's go and start up the catapult, and get drunken in the evening!

- Let's go, it's the same bullshit, nothing to do. The mood is muck. They could wait till the moment, when we leave, and carry these spooks to here, but no, they need to ram them to here just now.

- To show us who is master here that we know our place. A good spit and slap in our faces and in the memory of the died ones. Lots of them were bundled off to the other world with the machine-guns' fire in Grozny, and the authorities are now negotiating with the same spooks.

- Where were they with their negotiatioins, when we were shot upon in the North, on Minutka? Moscow jerks! I don't want my son goes to the military service. In the capacity of no anybody. Of neither soldier, nor officer. He would be the same betrayed, sold to the ones who he would fight. They're producing squealing all over the world about the high mission at first, about defending of the human rights of Russians, about rescuing of the civil population. And in couple of months they sell that idea with their own hands. Ugh! I wish they kicked the bucket and choked with their money!

- The money does not smell. No smell of blood or of the gun powder, of vomiting or of petroleum. Therefore, as they would let us in no case shoot them dead and nothing depends on us here, let's start up the catapult. Now they swiftly finish the conference for the sake of these riff-raffs, and we will have to drive back being encouraged and inspired with the new tasks. I bet that we'll hear no any new thing, but only that we must make cleansing up around and build up the relations to the local population.

- Why bet? That will be so by all means. It's as plain as can be for any crank.

We came to the plane. The fighters had put the thin sack with soil in the pilot's chair and were fastening it. The long green rope was connected to the lever of the catapult. Many curious ones have already gathered themselves around. Nobody had ever seen yet how catapult functioned.

All the preparations were made, the present ones stepped further away. The fighter pulled the rope. A loud clap instantly resounded and the chair with the sack-"pilot" skyrocketted. The plane was covered with the cloud of the smoke form the operated powder accelerators. The chair soared following the arc at the height of about twenty meters and the same following the arc began falling down. Everybody awaited to see the opening parachute, but there was no one. The chair crashed down slowly turning in the air in about hundred meters aside from us. The parachute had not opened also. I looked for the fighter who tried to sit in the pilot's chair and told him:

- Have you seen that no parachute had opened? The same thing would happen to you. A sack full of bones.

- Precisely. Thanks that you had dissuaded me. I could have been packed into the cellophane and sent to my parents. Thanks.

- Exactly, listen to the older ones. They wouldn't recommend a bad thing. Let's go to see what has happened to the sack.

We had come to the catapult's chair. The sack had burst and the soil spilt out. Everybody was quietly standing, perfectly realizing that he could have been himself on the place of that torn sack. And the broken ribs would have samely stuck out from the torn flank and the spine would have spilt into the briefs.

The guard of the base was already rushing to the thunder of the powder accelerators. When they came running, they had a thought they would see a dead body. But it was not that case. They explained that almost every week there was a kamikadze - a lover of sharp feelings. As if there were not enough such feelings in war without that joking. Some of the fighters unhooked the sack and carried the chair to himself. The next spoil. It can be exchanged for a couple of liters of alcohol, presenting the chair had been of the very Dudaev. And it can be sold the amateurs of the spoils at the motherland. There are still such cranks in our time.

The Chechens, crowding as a large group on the HQ stairs, were rapidly discussing something on their guttural language, pointing with the fingers at our direction. At that moment the commanders began to go out. The conference was over. Everybody began to move up to their collegues.

There was a congestion in the doors. The commanders were going out. And the Chechens were invited to enter. Nobody wanted to make way, of course. Yura and I were watching with interest, guessing if the thing comes to hand-to-hand fighting. After that somebody of the local staffies moved the Chechen elder heads aside and let our officers go.

There was Butalov at last. He was going with the long sweeping steps to the left APC. The other officers and fighters moved up. Then he stopped. All ours surrounded him and waited what he would say. He looked round at us:

- Nothing new. To stay at the positions. No order to go forwards yet.

- Senility!

- 're bought by the spooks!

- Shamless brutes.

- Sluts! Bastards!

- All troubles are form Moscow and moscowers!

- That's fact!

- Let's go and get drunken!

- We should do that.

- Let's go.

We started our way back. There were no any advertures. And we stayed at the same positions for almost two weeks. Not to go nuts and not to cool the complement we exhausted us with the physical works. We dug, dug and dug the trenches, put around the sacks with soil. There is nothing worse in war than such senseless sitting. The young men appeared in the city, and they were hanging about positions of the troops. The spooks were absolutely impudent. The reconnaissance reported that Dudaev's HQ moved to the village Shali at that time. The main groupings of the militants were located in the towns of Argun and Gudermes. The blockposts in Grozny were oftenly under shooting at nights, more servicemen were missed. On the way to Khankala the internal troops' armored carrier was blown up on the mine. Almost all were dead. The ones who survived were captured and brought to unknown direction. There was a shooting at the airport North. That was the price of the ununderstandable for us armistice with the adversary. There was an information from the prospectors and counter-intelligence about the concentration camp for our POWs organized in Shali. Supposedly about forty men were kept there. There was the concentration camp in the village Komsomolskoye also, but the number of the captives in there was not so large. The mass meetings to assist the militants were organized in Vedeno and Nozhai-Yurt, they wrote the lists of the volunteers. They prepared the 7-12 years old boys for the sabotage war and for making of reconnaissance. The spooks and their leaders did not lose time. In contrast to us. We samely stood on the positions and were chewing snots.

The only joyous thing was the cooking of the hot meal in the pots. We had not to eat the things sent by God under the hand. Every battalion organized a small barth-house. Everybody washed himself with all his heart, laundered. They brought the linen from Novosibirsk on the point. Both the bedclothes and underclothes. We had hair-cutting, shaved us. But the fact of idelness was tensionning the psyche. The spooks threw up the leaflets printed on xerox. In the texts, they threatened, called up to disarm and change for their side. How dared those creatures offer us frendship, when our brigade had bled almost half white?!

The new fashion was popular - to throw up the audiocassetes with the Chechens singing in the "afgan" style (author means the songs of the Soviet soldiers performed with guitar about the war in Afganistan 1979-1989 - O.B.A.) to our positions, and the themes were that the Russians had come and killed them. I got any smallest impresion neither form the texts, nor from the music, nor from the husky singing. If they had got that idea in the period when our troops entered Chechnya, then there might have been found a couple of idiots who would have believed in that, but after Minutka and the "alive" shield, there could be no any sodding sentiments. Death! Only ferocious death revenging for all ones who had died, had been missed, captured, who were invalids! And those moscow lickspittles were marking time and made neither any command to storm, nor even to merely move.

And they ordered the commander and executive officer to come to Khankala. As they had come, they were announced that the brigade had to move. The start was assigned for the next day. Everything happened at that time as all the things are usually made through the ass in the army. Though that was just not a peaceful time, when you were told to take a car and to ride for a bottle of vodka in a distance of fourty kilometers. But everybody was so tired from the waiting, that everything was swiftly prepared and by five o'clock we were already on the point to move out.

At that time we were able to lead the column without any casualities. The weather was disgusting mucky. Everything was grey, dirty. The rain was showering from the sky. It was relatively OK in the city, on the asphalt way, but outside of the city a little way aside from the road lead you directly to the impassable dirt. Evrything instantly got saturated with wet. The jacket became dump and was unliftable. The boots got the lumps of dirt stuck on. There were no boots any more but the huge dumb-bells. The tech was covered with the thick coat of the mud, and it was difficult to sit on it during bumpiness. The cushion under you always tries to jump out and to throw you down on the earth. You should try almost biting at something with your own teeth to avoid that throwing down. That's why, negligating any risks, Yura and I had decided to go by our truck. We go in the middle of the column. I am watching the city. The remains of the city. I don't know had it been good and beautiful before my entering it, but every meter of its streets, public gardens, squares was spilt with plenty of blood, our one and its defenders' blood. The most astonishing and scaring thing is that there are still uncared dead bodies. They are ugly swellt, though rarely, but you can see them. Judging from the clothings, there are mostly the Russian dead bodies. Chechens quickly bury their ones, but what about us? We have left off ours here also. We have betrayed the alive ones, and what should we say about the dead ones? I was told that a special team had been made to collect and sort such dead bodies. The military ones are to be put into foil and sent to Rostov-on-Don (a city in southern Russia, where at there was a special identifying center located during the Chechen wars - O.B.A.), and the civil ones are to be brought to the city cemetery and buried in the common grave. Forgive us, Russian people!

The reconnaissance team goes ahead. When you leave Khankala, you go the road on Argun. In about thirty kilometers you make a turn on the left and go over a bridge, going over the railways, after that you go uphill for a while and come to Petropavlovskaya. We called it Petropavlovka. By the way, we went through the village New Benoi. I don't know what is the Old one actually. But the New one is crowded with the "new" Chechens. The hugest private residences of the bricks, decorated archs, the carved gates. That is namely the place where at you should stay. But the paratroopers had already settled over there. "Elite", pox on its soul, is always lucky.

We could have reached Petropavlovka by the northern way, but our way was shorter and the road was crashed not so bad. About eighty per sent of the way was lying in the forest, overgrown with the thick bushes; an ideal position for an ambush, many turns, lots of gullies, which came almost close to the road. As it was a winter, the branches were naked, but when the first foliage grows, the "greeny" (a kind of the Russian military slang word to name a forest with the green leaves, where at it is easy to organize an ambush, in English dense foliage - O.B.A.) will begin. The green thick bushes. You can see no damned thing because of them, and they can make the sudden dagger hits and same suddenly leave. It was not so long time to wait till the "greeny" comes. That's why the sappers would have to toil over sewing up mines and sprainings all around.

What is spraining? Everything is simple. You tie a thin wire, better not a copper one shining in the sun, to the ring of grenade or mine, the other end is tied to a stick or to a bush. A man catches hold of the wire, the ring is off, the lever is away and that's "happy end".

On the way to Petropavlovka it was clear that the brakes of our truck were not in function, there were no stiff clutch, that's why we fixed a couple of the old auto tyres on the radiator with a wire and broke with the fore going APC, what provoked an unimaginable rapture in the fighters sitting on the armor. While Yura, sitting with Pashka in the cabin, periodically presented him wakeners for the defective brakes, I was hardly catching the things flying in the van box. The main problem was that the "stove-bourgeois" (a slang word in Russia to name the metall small stove stoked with firewood, paper etc. - O.B.A.) made attemts to fly from the position and fall on the beds, as well as the beds tried to lie on the stove.

There were two burnt APCs on the outskirts of the village. The corps of Rolin entered Chechnya on that road, so his recons bumped into an ambush. Five men died, three ones were wounded. That meant that was damned spooks' nest. If they don't disturb us, we'll not disturb them, otherwise we can even scorch them.

The way up to the outskirts of the stanitsa (a kind of typical in former times Russian village of Cossacks, in the Soviet time Cossacks were under repressions, almost totally annihilated, and it turned to be only a word to name the village somewhere in the southern Russia - O.B.A.) was without any special adventures. The recons met us over there, they reported us they had met no any overt signs of dissatisfaction, of the open armed resistance, ambushes, blocking piles. But the local inhabitants asked if we were coming to avenge for the burnt in December tech and the died "rolinists"? The answer of the recons was reasonable clear, that if anything happend to though one our fighter, we would unscrew the headdies to all the village. And meanwhile we offered to give out voluntarily all the militants, weaponry, currency and gold. They gave us nothing out, of course.

The headquarters of the brigade were placed on the yard of the former motor-technical station. Two art-battalions were to the north of the village, the third battalion - to the east of the village, it covered also the road, by wich we had come. The first and the second battalions were on the western outskirts. Engineer-sappering one was on the western side, immediately near the former cattle farm. Med-company, material-technical and repairing-restoring ones were settled near it. The local cemetery was situated over there. The high rectangular bright gravestones, decorated with arabesques. There were a school and a mosque in the village. That village had been almost all the Russian one before Dudaev took power, but after that they were merely pressed out, many Russian ones were murdered. There were not more than ten houses with Russians, and all of them were only old men and women.

Yura and I stopped our truck near the truck of Sereoga Kazartsev. We had to experience the surrounding us locality. The guard of the brigade's CC was made by the recons and buzzers.

Yura and I together with the recons' chief and Sereoga Kazartsev decided to see how the units had settled, as well as to see what the village actually was. There was asphalt only on the central street of Lenin, but no any on the other ones. There was a lot of the new built houses. Not the usual houses, the chicest private residences. We had even no any dreams about such luxury in Siberia. Everything had an influence of the East. Even the gates were painted in the green colorr of different tints. The local inhabitants tried not to show themselves, were hiding in houses. Riding by some shed, we saw some old woman, who was drying the tears with the left hand, crossing herself with the right one and looking at us. We were not able to ride by her aside. We'd stopped, leaped down and came to her. She was sobbing louder yet, at the top of her voice, opening her teethless mouth. The wrinkled face was absolutely wrinkled. We were not able to understand what was the matter. When we came closer, she fell on her knees, rushed to the recon and hugged his legs. We were stricken dumb. We tried to put the old woman on her feet, but she was holding the legs harder and crying:

- My dear! Have come! Thank You, Lord, that You've let me see it! My dearest! Thank you!

- Grandma! What are you doing?! Stop it! Stand up.

We were able to take somehow the old woman from the fighter, put her on her feet and began to ask:

- Grandma, where do you live?

- But here, my dearest, - she pointed at the shed, which had no any windows. - I had a house earlier, but they had driven me out of it and settled me here.

- Why driven out? - We asked being bewildered.

- They had come and said me that I clear off, otherwise they would murder me.

- Who had said?! - The blood was raging in the veins. - Where is your house?

- I need nothing, dearest, they will murder me. I can see ours before my death however.

We entered the shed, which the grandma called her home. The cattle was kept in it earlier. The old berth crushed down, overloaded with some rags, a table near it; a barrel, besmeared with the clay was instead of the stoke. It was seen that in spite of all that povetry, it was periodically swept and cleaned there inside. We seated the old woman on the bed, wanted to give her some water to soothe her. But there was no water in that lodge.

- Grandma, have you water here?

- No, sonnies, no. The Chechens-neighbors, God send them health, formerly brought me some water, but they have not come since already three days.

- And what do you have to eat?

- No, my dear, nothing.

- Now, at once, all we have in the vehicles must be brought here, - Kazartsev ordered the fighters standing close by.

They quickly ran and returned having the tinned goods. We had found a clean bucket and poured all the water out of our flasks. When the grandma had seen all that, she fell down on the floor again and tried to kiss our boots. The lump blocked my throat again, the tears watered my eyes. They had been mocking at that grandma, at all the Russians in that village since four years, many ones were merely missed without trace. The spite made my fists clench. We were able to raise the grandma again and to seat her on the bed. She cried:

- Do not go away, dearest!

- We don't, grandma, and nobody will disturb you from now.

- When you leave from the village, they will murder all of us here. Take me away anywhere, please, take!

- We'll go nowhere, stay here and say everybody that they may not disturb you.

- Precisely, grandma, we'll tear head off from everybody, who dares to look askance at you.

- Are there many Russians in the village yet?

- No. Little.

And the grandma told the addresses of the Russian families. Only the old men and women, who had no place to move to. Nobody awaited for them. Russia gave no any damn at all about their grief and sufferings which they had endured during that time. It seemed that nobody was going to evacuate them from that Chechnya at that time also. They were damned and forgotten as everybody in Russia.

Holding back the sobs breaking out from the breast, gritting the teeth with crunch in the cheek-bones, I went outside and took a pack of cigarettes. The hands were trembling. I lit up and wanted to throw a match away. But Yura came up at that moment and got a light from me keeping same silence. We were smoking for a while. And the lump gradually melted.

- How do you, Yura, find all this fucking mess?

- Fucking disaster! We'll come now back to the CC, I'll find the local head and he, dog face, must resettle all the Russians back to their houses. If he tries to bark, he'll get problems. I'll hang him on the nearest light column with my own hand, - judging from his face's expression he was not joking.

- Can you, Yura, imagine what have these people had to go through here, meanwhile the moscow bastards were repumping the oil? Let them make fucking stealing! If we have such power and such state, that the stealing is a kind of national sport. But why do they forget about their tribe kin?

- They have left twenty millions of Russians in the countries of the former Soviet Union, and here we've some old people. Who cares about them?! Assholes!

- Let's go. We've to find the local head, otherwise I choose the most splendid house and settle this grandma there in. Sod it, how dare they fight the old men and women? Damned folk! Well, we now set law and order here. They will wash themselves with the own blood.

Ours, headed by Kazartsev, went out from the shed. All silent. Some of the soldiers wiped the tears up. Everybody started smoking. When Yura and I had left from the shed, the grandma told that the militants had barged into her dwelling and raped her when there was the entry of our troops. And she was able to survive only due to the neighbors. The neighbors were Chechens. We noticed those houses. That meant there were good people living there in. We'll not disturb them. But I had the deepest doubts about other ones.

We drove out form that street and in some minutes were already on our CC. We told everybody, including com-brig and San Sanych, about fate of the old woman and other Russians. Everybody was shocked. I was itching to hang a couple-three of those conquerors on lanterns to make the other inhabitants clearly realize that it was forbidden to offend the Russians. The retribution follows, let it comes too late, but it shall come without fail. We wished to see the head.

The recons caught some local one and ordered him to find the head of that hole. The local explained that the head had run away somewhere, that he was the mainest thief, self-seeker and scoundrel. At that moment the engineer-sapper battalion connected us over the air and reported that they had just been under the sniper' fire. There was one killed and one wounded, they urgently asked for the medics. The woulded one was untransportable. It seemed the sniper was on the mosque's minaret.

Minaret, my reader, is a high cylindrical tower, sharpened on the top. It has a round platform, on which mulla or his assistent goes and shouts, when the time of namaz comes, and collects his flock to come to prayer, gathering etc. As a rule, minaret is the highest building in the village. A nice sector for shooting is open form the platform. And it is the best imaginable thing to make a visual reconaissance.

The sappers reported that they had already fired at the minaret and cattle farm with the heavy machine-gun of Kalashinkov. The sniper had not appeared any more. That meant the inhabittants had prepared a warm receiving for us. Well, we'll begin now to sort our relations with you. All were excited. The recons having taken the medics with darted to the sappers, the sentries were ordered to intensify the observation and shoot hitting on any attempt of provokation. We entrusted them to determine themselves what was considered to be a provokation. The men were experienced, had already been under fire, they could sort it out.

In fifteen minutes there was a report that the wounded soldier had been sent to the North to hospital and also that the local inhabitants were gathering near the CC. Many ones were indignant about fire at the minaret, but behaved themselves restrained. We went out to the people. The general ahead, after him Butalov, San Sanych with Kazartsev and we followed them. If the brigade's direction was without automatic weapons and demonstrated being open, then all the others were alert. The strap is on the right shoulder, the right hand is on the shooting handle of the subgun, the left one is over the foregrip. The eyes are alert catching the smallest motion in the crowd.

There was a crowd of about fifty ones, a lot of elder men. Judging from the fact that there was interpretating of the general's words they understood no Russian. But they pompously nodded their heads as if we were asking them for something. No, my dove-colored pegeons, we're asking you for nothing, we're proposing requirements. You have right to accept or not to accept our conditions. But it's just better for your safety to accept them.

My ears can not hear what general and San Sanych are speaking, Butalov is keeping silence as usual. He was not able to say anything plain amongst his collegues, and there is the aim to negotiate to the enemy, his envoys, a fat chance he has. I considere the local inhabitants to be the accomplices, the transmitting link of the militants. Namely these local inhabitants or the other ones meaning their silent consent opened fire at the Rolin's recons, pressed the Russians off, murdered them, one our soldier has just been killed, one more is struggling to save his life. And we have been being here since only some hours and have not killed anybody yet. So what do these spooks want? Do they want us to take offense? We can instantly manage that.

The general is speaking resolutely, as if he's chopping the firewood, solidly, with the good trained voice, tolerating no any arguing. A real general should speak in such manner. The sense of his speech is to immediately give out the sniper, give the houses back to the Russians, close the minaret - when any man appears on it, it will be considered to be a nest of sniper and will be destroyed with the shot from tank. And we also have to catch the militants, the checks of the houses will be periodically made with the task to examine if there are militants and weaponry. And you should generally thank your Allah and our God that we did not start the cleansing up of the village at once. What does mean cleansing up? Elucidation. A grenade is thrown into the window and after that we enter and see if there are militants, weaponry in the house. Is that clear? If any threatens, actions or provokations addressed to us or to the Russians, who live here, follow, then we'll be forced bearng the moment in mind to make the cleansing up of the village.

The crowd started indignant grumbling. I strained myself, moving the muzzle left-right.

- Slava, half a step on the right, you're situated in my firing sector, - Yura rustled me at the ear.

That meant, he was being vigilant, that was good. It's always good to feel the side of the comrade being ready to cover you and take you from under the fire.

The general demanded also to nominate some head as the former one had fled. The spooks-elders had made conference and announced that they had chosen Arsanukaev Ibragim as the head. I like their democracy. The most decrepit, having become senile ones had come together and chose someone. Instantly, a man of middle age, about forty years old, having an urban coat of the thick woolen cloth and mink fur hat on went out from the crowd and represented himself to be Arsanukaev Ibragim. As if he was in opposition against the regime in power and he lead the headquarters of the opposition during the first unsuccessful storm of Grozny (on November 1994 the Chechen opposition's forces tried to battle Dudaev's Chechen forces out from Grozny - O.B.A.). Executive officer, so to say. He had rotten inside, a man could see that already in one kilometer distance. It would be better to dig into that inside and to see what he was leading and whome he shot at. Well, dog's mug, the time would come and Yura and I would ask you.

We had taken that Ibragim with us, Yura and I christened him as "The Mian Spook". We went to the conference. Butalov was flitting about that spook as a moth and twittering him something, seemingly he was compensating his quietness during the gathering.

- Look, Slava, they will kiss each other now, - Yura spat before his feet.

The staff officers were also invited to the conference. Yura and I looked at each other and went to our truck. Pashka had already put everything in order, rubbed off the soot and ash from the box van and layed the table. The canteen did not work at that day yet, but since the next day the hot meal was promised.

We took off our boots and were walking in the box van having the slippers on, the cold numb feet were restoring, feeling pleasure. We sat at the table. There was the same ration. Vodka was the main dish and adornment of the table, stew, condesed milk, "common grave" - sprats in tomato sauce, "officers' lemon" - onion, tallow sliced up in the large peaces, bread made in spirit, juice from the tinned goods factory. The stew was warmed on the stove and that was why it gave off fragrance.

We poured out for three persons. Pashka had not altered at all during the time of our absence. He told us as the buzzers made some pillaging while we were assaulting the Palace. Those ones pulled out everything. Television sets, video recorders, wearings, chandeliers, miraculously survived in the flats, refrigirators, carpets, something from the furniture.

- You know, men, - I started after the first shot, - if at first I was gripped with the feeling of indignation about the plundering cases, then after the happened events that provokes only the squeamish feeling in me. You can not build your happiness on the grief of the others. It's interesting how they would explain their relatives, wifes, children where from they have these things. How would wife put on the worn things? Let they had been acquired by the criminal way, by the crimes against the same Russians, but to take them in your own use - I can't settle it in my head anyhow.

- You should have no troubles, Slava, if they plunder, then we must bear in mind that they do know that the wife would not throw all that rubbish away and would not convict, as well as she would not be interested whether that jumble had been taken off from the deceased. Maybe you and I are such dopey idiots, that we pass by the things which we can never buy in our life. Do you, for example, have a video recorder?

- No.

- You see, but you can carry about twenty of them with you, if you have a wish. So, what's the matter?

- Squeamish feeling, certainly.

- But the guys on the North would have no squeamish feelings, - Pashka interfired in the talk. - I saw with my eyes as they loaded a plane with the jumble. The "twohundredths" should have been sent to Rostov as well as plundered odds and ends. And all the things in the same plane.

- Yeah. The ones died for the ideals and the marauders. And everybody by the same class.

- You wonder, - Pashka continued, - but in Grozny the distribution of the humany was entrust to the oppositoin.

- Why? To spooks? - Yura was indignant.

- To spooks, - Pashka confirmed. - They are said to know well who and how much should be given. But later all that would be offered for the huge price.

- Fucking fiasco! - I whistled. - There are just the districts commandants, and namely they had formerly a competence to distribute the aid. And now we've battled the spooks out and seat the other ones on our neck. And they are even more greedy and hungry. Is that such a thing?

- The local authorities from the opposition say that the militaries offend the local population. They play short weighing, steal, give the Russians more than the aborigens. So they have let the goats into the kitchen-garden and that was made on the agreement with the commanding. And the Russians now get nothing in their pots, visit the units, complain about the distributers. And if we try to interfere, some eagles instantly fly up, both the Chechens and Russians crying about racism, nationalism. They have already changed commandants of two districts, they were about to accuse them of the heating of the nations' enmity, - taciturn Pashka did not often tell so long monologues and was finally tired. He took vodka and drank it bottom-up. Alone.

- Yeah. At war some ones' failure is health, but the others bail the wealth, - Yura sighed.

- And what did you think, when they conserved us tinned in Grozny for almost three weeks? Were any troops regroupings made? Did they brought up the new fresh forces? No, but they ventured some separate negotiations with the spooks. We should have gone out from the city and hung on the enemy shoulders, smashing him. And we? No sense to talk about that... Let's, Yura, drink.

- Let's do that, Slava!

We drank. After the stated words there was no wish to speak. It was nothing depending on our talking, we - clever, strong, patriotic-minded officers - were able to do nothing. We were able to do the only thing - to die for our Motherland. That was all.

Everything was the same as in the civilian life. Your country was being pillaged, hauled, and you were getting your coupon (a reform made by the government of Yegor Gaidar in the year 1992 - everybody got a paper exchangable for the government-issued shares, it brought tens of millions of Russians into deep povetry - O.B.A.) as a dupe, although you realized beforehand that nothing good might have come from that thing. You would be deceived. But if in the civil life that fraud was somehow concealed, then during the war the lower ranks, who had no solid moral foundations, looking at the corrupted elite, stole everything what was not controlled. Maybe that is in our blood? To compensate yourself the things which the state undergives you? Maybe that is correct? And our brigade with some little exceptions, is a small crowd of the underdeveloped senile ones, or even worse - of the ones with the developed patriotism complex. Patriotism nowadays is not in fashion or respect. Everything is logical. Whom should we defend? Motherland? And what is Motherland? It seems, my reader, I'm again going off the main track. Excuse me. But I can't understand the sense of the war, if there is no idea. If there is no idea, then they should pay well, give food enough for a man, make no separate negotiations behind our backs, carry no both the killed ones and the pillaged booty by the same plane, provide the invalids and the families of the died warriors worthy life. They should have made no any shows, concerts, presentations, should not have kissed sucking with the spokesmen of the countries, assisting the militants during this senseless bloody butchery. They should not have danced on the bones of the killed ones. Senile gaga. The year 1995. Fifty years since the Victory over the fascist Germany. The anniversary of the taking Reichstag and one year since beginning of the shameful military action to fight the own people. Did they want to show who was Master at home? They have showed. The ones, who are plundering. Who are making capital on our blood, who spit upon our graves, who spit in the faces of the widows and orphans, who throw the invalids over the life board. Fifty years ago we had taken Reichstag, wrote on it the signs, hoisted the banner of the Victory above it. We have taken now also some similarity of the Reichstag, there were certainly not many less casualities than there were when the real one was taken. But it didn't happen the Victory, which we wished to win. Yes, we organized salute after that, we celebrated it with vodka and shooting in the air with every possible arm. But that was no end. To wage war does not mean to make the half-measures, but to fight. On one hand they constantly remind that we should move forwards, that the enemies of Russia assist the spooks. That the criminal, but, true legally elected, but not today's - puppets' - government accomplished genocide against the Russian population. And on the other hand, they cry that they - militants, spooks - are no enemy, but merely some illegal armed formations. And we should not widely realize the fighting actions. It turns to be the same as in that fairy story - "a bit pregnant". And at the same time, when the spokesmen of the illegal armed formations change for the side of the opposition, as supposedly they had been mistaken, then they can not be judged. And they change because of the only simple reason. They have pillaged, namely pillaged, under the power of Dudaev, making the speculations with avisos ("Chechen avizo" - a kind of financial speculations to steal a lot of hundreds millions of roubles, typical for the Chechen criminal groupings in the beginning of the 1990-s - O.B.A.), making racket, raping, mocking at the local Russians (and in Russia herself they have sucked out much enough blood, including the urban markets and the White house (the name of the main residence of the Russian Federation government in Moscow - O.B.A.). And now they can see that there is a danger to lose all plundered and they can be even sued and accused at courts, and that's why they massively run to so named opposition. And the praised state bodies securing law and oder can make nothing. Shame! Shame to you, Russia! And no any sweet songs about your wide soul, Russia-mother, are able to obscure my brain. I need only to break free from this butchery, and not only to break free, but to execute my duty. I am Russian officer! I execute the order. I make every effort to let as little soldiers' blood be spilt in this land as possible. But there will be no forgive to the ones who are guilty of the soldiers' deaths. Nowhere - neither here in Chechnya, nor in Moscow.

It's amusing that they can judge us here according to the state of emergency laws, that means the same as the war time laws. Judging for the pillaging and other crimes. And if official stealing the military exchequer, cooking the funds spent on the war, robbling things from the soldiers, officers, warrant officers, civil population, is caught in Moscow, then he will be judged according to the laws of the civil time.

This is a way of the "lid" flipping, my reader. We'll come back from this or some other war having such complexes. Only the ones who pillage will bring the huge heap of spoils with them, will be boastful about their military feats talking to you. And the ones who went ahead of these maurauders, will beg for alms hiding the faces in the underground crossings. He has just no extremety. Don't turn away from them, my reader, don't look aside, but give a coin. You being greedy can justify yourself with idea that he would spend it on drink in any case. He will. Because his Motherland had mutilated him, its citezen, with the hands of the other its citezens (the Defense ministry and the Chechens - are they just the citezens of Russia?), and now she looks aside the same as you do. Nobody needs them. The healthy ones are not able to find the way in the life, and there are disabled ones wishing something. Don't be afraid, my reader, they will scarcely disturb you too much. If only some leader, who can join them, appears, then the bloody mess will start, but otherwise you shoud give a coin and forget. The same as President, government, everybody have forgotten. EVERYBODY HAS DAMNED AND FORGOTTEN! It is neither you to be the first one, nor you to be the last one, who passes by and gives invalid of the inglorious Chechen campaign nothing to be drunken. A man can also spit. He will bear that. He was able to bear the pain, when he had regained consciousness in the hospital and there was just no extremety. No arm or leg, and it will already never appear. But it is still paining, itching, but you're not able to scratch it, as you can see there is nothing. But it is itching. And you're nineteen years old. And the prosthesis costs exactly the same sum, that the Military-insurance company will pay you in half a year. And when it is worn out, worn down, it will be the end. You can sit at home, watch TV till the moment of the switching electricity off for the debts. Your pension is so tiny, that it's not enough for the medicines. You'll have already no health till the very death however. And you daily wanna guzzle. But have no money. What should you do? Who is guilty? To drink! Only to drink. To remember, having the tears welled up from intoxication, as you had been a dashing warrior. To see yourself from aside being absolutely healthy, but only in the dreams or during narcotic delirium. To sing, to jump, to dance, to date with a girl. And when the morning comes, you are returning to the reality and can see there is no extremety and you are realizing, that you'll be already nobody in this life; and you go to the underground crossing or to the warm shop and silently mumble about alms again shamfully looking aside. And that is all. The life is finished. The only way is to wait for the death. And you swear the faint-hearted friend who had not shot you, but carried you out on himself under the fire. Your soule got only the Large emptiness and awaiting for the Death, awaiting for the Saving. Forgive me, Brother!

We spoke little. We were depressed with the fact of the next in turn deceiving. The ones, who had sent us to there for the great Russian idea, betrayed themselves those few Russians. Bastards!

Yura and I arranged and entrusted Pashka also to take under control those Russians, who had stayed in Petropavlovka. We would aid as much as we were able to. We would start just on the next day with the housing question, and any nit, who dares squeak, will get a problem. I'll smash!

We had drunk all vodka, smoked outside, washed us and went to beds. The sentries in the outskirts opened fire sometimes as usually, combing with the bursts the thick bushes. So, one more day of my life had gone past, and to hell with it! To sleep.

We woke up early in the morning and washed us. And went to have a breakfast. A breakfast on the CC during war! A hot, good cooked meal! It was not notable for variety. A pearl kasha (in the military slang - "shot sixteen", i. e. the small hunting shot of sixteen calibre) with stew, "common grave", "officers' lemon", tea with sugar.

Everybody had perfect mood. As if no any war was in the air, it seemed we were on the trainings. We billet at some village, peaceful inhabitants gave an abandoned court for billeting. If there were no sentries on the outskirts shooting at the bushes and the nearest forest, then there could be absolute peaceful picture.

After the filling breakfast nobody was hurrying to disperse. We are calmly sitting, chatting, talking some usual military cock'n'bull stories, wellbeing and bliss, tender languor is seizing the bodies. Subgun is standing near the leg, the hand instinctively lies on the foregrip.

Sereoga Kazartsev is sitting at the next table and narrating a story about his trip to take conscriptors in the last year:

- Two captains and I have arrived to one famous city of Siberia to take the young people. We registered us, reprezented us and sit to work with papers, talk to the conscriptors. In the evening there is as usual the comrades supper together with the local officers, the same ones as I, sent on a mission. And one conscriptor went away without permission at two o'clock a.m. He bought some drugs there, injected himself and went to the collecting center. He went over the fence, and there was "barby" laid over the fence. He cut his both hands flesh-deep being intoxicated, fell down, and he looks at his hands, at the fence - everything is bloody. And that is a moment when he flips lid. He runs to milition and cries at the top of his voice: "Help! The officers on the collecting center are drunken, slaughter conscriptors, shoot, some dead bodies are hanging on the fence. Hurry up! Help!" And some other nonsense. The cops see the kido is all bloody, the hands are as if cut with a knife, the mug is scratched. In a word, they jump and speed, all the office, and barge into the collecting center at half past two a. m. All the people are driven up with the kicks. Pay no any attention to the ranks, titles or age. All must face the wall. The feet must be made wider than the shoulder. The hands must be "on the mound", the mug is at the wall. Comedy. We're all half-drunken and plainly can not get anything. Questions about some dead bodies, murders, massive executinons. Everything's as in the year thirty seven. They awoke the young people, set into the lines, counted. Apparently all are there. And the junkie-complainer's gettig breaking "low". He's shaking, the hallucinations are getting worse. The cops think the lad got a nervous shock, believe this schizofrenic. And he's continuing: "I saw as the officeres killed a conscriptor, and the dead body was put into the car". There were the personal autos of the local officers parked in the court. The cops went to shake the cars. And one of the officers had brought a meat from a village, it was lying in the boot. They open that car, are shouting: "Dismembery!", - that means the dead body of the fighter was dismembered. And there was a bad light over there also. What a show broke out! Poor officer was chained at once with handcuff. Later, in fifteen minutes expert was there, examined the flesh and corroborated that was a beef. They made no beating up and that was OK. But all the mugs were brutal. All are under the subguns' muzzels. What if there are accomplices! And I have the same no any good mind about both milition and junkies since that time.

- And what have you made with that knucklehead?

- He was sent to the madhouse. They corroborated him to be a full junkie and gave him a "white card".

- I'd for sure knock that bastard down.

- And you'd provide some work for the cops.

- Did they apologize?

- They apologized, but what did that matter? All that circus was over at six a. m.

- I don't like the cops also, - Igor Krasil'nikov, having recently come to the post of the second com-batt, gloomily interfered.

- And what's about you?

- I was on a mission in Moscow. Spent a night by my freinds. So, come to the bus-stop. It was a winter. Much snow, slippery. I'm waiting for the bus. There was one - not mine, the other one - also not mine. One more halts, the people're getting on and out. And I hear a challenge behind myself: "Halt! Halt, bastard!" I'm turning round - a militioner is pursuing a man. I've also the shoulder-straps. I waited for the man runs closer and properly smashed him at the eye, that one fell down. The militioner runs up and I'm waiting for the gratitude words and official paper from dear milition. But that one jumps over the man and leaps on to the bus. The man rises up and...

- What?

- Why what? He beates me also at the eye. I've come back from the mission having a huge plum under the eye. That was so. I do not like our milition since that time.

- Well, let's go to talk by commander.

- Let's go.

- I've no any tinest wish.

- Ane who has?

- We've to visit sappers, maybe they have brought a bath with them.

- Are you mad?! What bath?

- As in film "Kin-dza-dza" (a popular Soviet fantastic comedy film cast by Georgi Danelia in 1986 - O.B.A.). Like their flying object. There is only no any propeller on the top. But it looks the same on the whole.

- After all the talk, if there is no any rush, then we can wash us.

The headquarters of the brigade were in the office of the former motor-tech station. The low ceiling, the shielded with the sad-bags windows, a dull light from the bulb. General, com-brig, San Sanych are sitting at the table, the others are settled in the chairs of differnt calibre. Just as on the meeting in kolkhoz (a typical form of cooperation in the villages in the Soviet Union - O.B.A.). We'll now reckon up and discuss the plans about the harvest. But we've the other indexes.

I'll not report you all the conference going, I'll say only that com-brig and general together with the new head discussed by night the plan and the tactics of co-operation. In their words it turned out that he the head was a good man, appreciating the Constitution of Russia and its integrity with all his heart. And during the first storm of Grozny he was in the first ranks of the opposition. But I have not been being able to understand so far: why do all they cry that the opposition assisted us during the first storm? Why didn't Dudaev in that case hang all that opposition? If they fought, then it means that they should have been seen and namely known. During the storm of the city I did not see any oppositioner, who was fighting on our side or who met us with bread'n'solt (the Russisan saying to emphasize "Welcome!" - O.B.A.). That's why when they say that the opposition in Chechnya is strong, that provokes a broad smile on my face. And our commanding, leadership of the country tries to stake on the puppets' government. On their protegees. Absurdity. The most amusing is that according to the rumours from Khankala now the militaries must coordinate their actions to the local authorities, the elder heads' councils. We must constantly speak out on the mass meetings, explain our actions. The general told us all that. And he desperately spat during that speech from spite and offense.

Then commander was the next one speaking. He was never able to speak. But if he were though a desperate warrior, then that could be a forgivable thing, and he was really neither any commander, nor speaker, nor warrior. That's why all estimated his vain attempts to speak only with some irony. So, he liked that head-spook-oppositioner so much that he was close to the sucking kissing with him, but after the talk he disappeared. Either he was stolen or he hid himself. But commander set for us a task to find him. Some one in the crowd recommended to look for him in Sunzha, as there were lots of both oppositioners and spooks floating. When somebody is in the river, then every body has the same face. Commander was indignant, but we were jolly so much about that observation. I was curious about how com-brig offered to search for his fresh appeared spook. We can turn every house upside down in all the village. No problem. Give us, commander, only a command. He did not give, was afraid. He advised us to use the methods of asking the questions, making negotiations with the local inhabitants and fix by that way the location of the spook-head. And also Butalov communicated to us that the head had recommended us not to resettle the Russians back to their houses as that would provoke negative reaction from the side of the local population. Remembering the picture from the day before, I was not able to restrain myself and told that I gave absolutely no any damn about thoughts of the Chechen militant. I had come to there to restore the order and fairness, including the rights of the Russians. And as a Russian officer I do execute that. And the recommendations of the local spooks are no any instructions for me.

- How dare you, Mironov, say such things? - Commander stired up.

- Instead of giving us a task to search for the unknown oppositioner you could better say Khankala, that we should not chew the snots over here. We stay here and communicate to the spooks. The militants are still in the mountains. If we stay for a couple of weeks longer yet, they will come down. There are no any active fighting actions here however. So, what the hell are we squanderring the state funds over here? Everybody cries us that Il'inka is a wasps' nest. And we have stopped in five kilometers from it. We do not go farther, but are standing over here and waiting for something. The recons report that there are no militants in the stanitsa. So, let's go to there or though throw a battalion to there. Why are we sitting?

- Mironov says correct thing, - Yura supported me. - It's as if we give the spooks respite. We're marking time since almost one month. And what is the result? The dicipline is getting worse, a bit longer time yet and the fighters will languish themselves with the nonsese from the idelness. You have not let us comb the village through. It's possible that here, just around the corner, the whole band is hidden and so should we make a friednship to them? And Mironov correctly says that we should not search for the spook but cleanse up around and ask Khankala the question about moving to Gudermes as close as possible. We really can now cut the road Argun - Gudermes. The 125th art-regiment, that is scraping now over the Caucasian range, can assist to take Gudermes in pincers. And we'll stand on the prevailing heights and plaster the city. They have no exit from the city - there is Dagestan (a federal state in the RF, to the east from Chechnya - O.B.A.). There is a cover. That's why it will be as in the blocade Leningrad.

- Precisely. And this spooks' tribe will hide nowhere.

- The fighters have relaxed, we must pay extra attention to control over the possible tricks. The low ranks officers are almost franternizing with the complement.

- They will steal cattle soon. It is meat all the same.

- That will do! - Butalov rose to indignation. - That will do! We have no kolkhoz here but official conference. I've told that I need that head. You're allowed to check any houses only on my personal permission. And only if the information about concrecte crime comes.

- But the whole village is filled with the spooks. And we don't know.

- We do not fight the civil population!

- We did fight in Grozny and here we do not? Funny!

- That's that! That will do! I am commander here but no any dog's sheet!

- That is a questionable point, however, - Yura wispered at my ear.

I agreeingly nodded.

- You're allowed to feed the Russians from our stores, but not to resettle!

- But he'll get cock at all his mug! - that was already me wispering to Yura.

And Butalov was speaking something concerning about building of the relations to the locals. He nattered some nonsese about council of the elder heads. And at that moment Sereoga Kazartsev was not able to contain himself:

- Comrade colonel. If he, swine, has spent all his life herding the kolkhoz's flocks of sheep, then what the hell he is elder head. Dudaev gave every Chechen older than sixty title of the "scientific ulem" ("ulem" - an arabic word to name the old man who is entitled to be a judge, legislator - O.B.A.). Some one who has seen five thousand rams is a scientist. And some one who has seen even more is twcie scientist. And what about should we communicate to them? Their children and grandsons fight us, but we hope that they will greet us. We came up to here as occupiers and therefore you shoud not supply any illusions about this occasion. We have destroyed their capital. Let them not like Dudaev, but we have come. We have destroyed their city and the nearest villages. And therefore we should not lose our face. We have come here not to make negotiations about peace, but to fight. We have power, so let these sluts kindly respect us. Otherwise it looks so that we pompously entered, made here a rustle and invite them at the table of negotiating at once. That was namely that stanitsa, where at the tech of Rolin was scorched, his people were killed. Let Moscow make negotiations, but we have the task to fight. And we'll get demoralizing of the personnel and show the spooks with our indecision and idelness that we're weak-willed ones. And if you wish, it can be named impotence (the common loud laughter in the room). And do you really want to say that if you start love with a woman, then later during ecstasy you should cry, let us, so to say, communicate a bit? What do you say?

- Obey the order, - Butalov cut off.

If he supported us, convicted the thoughtless policy of Khankala and Moscow, then we would understood him. Or if he moved us to Il'inskaia on his risks and responsibility, then we would be also on his side. But he even did not make us - the officers of the HQ, battalins' commanders, the heads of the departments - an award to be informed about the tasks of the brigade. Because he was not able to make that. Due to the fear to spoil his own career, he did not ask Khankala any questions, did not connect to the Siberian district to lob with assistance of the district this idea to the Main HQ. There was a little choice. Either we would be brought up to full strength with men, they would send us tech, take off, record out from the list the old, destroyed one and repair it, and we would go to fight in a week after getting of the fresh forces. Or it was already not necessary for us to be there and therefore we would contract us and go to the gloried by God, sworn by devil Siberia. As you like it.

After the muddle-headed conference, Yura and I had no any special things to be done and therefore we went to the recons. During the combats for the Palace there was a substitution sent from the district - the chief of the reconnaissance, from the Novosiberian division, Yura Pakhomenko. A huge buffalo, in the rank of captain. He was a good companion to drink and bite a bit. A real lad. He fought desperately, but not slow-witted, was ready to gnaw through a throat for his recons. The former recons' chief was sent to rear. After combats in the city he got a steady form of claustrafobia developed - a fear of the closed rooms. He felt himself very unstable in the city, in the streets. He constantly looked back, was awaiting for some shot. There was nothing surprising in that thing. We all had become a bit mad in that hell-fire with the suitable name Grozny (in Russian this name means "Menacing" - O.B.A.). God, please, let me not get later any consequence of that.

Captain Sukhorukov came to replace the wounded commander of the recons-company. That one was absolutely great fellow. He came from the Novosibirsk common-troops college. He was commander of the company there. And he himself wrote the report asking to be sent to Chechnya. The college is not submitted to the district, althogh it is based on its territory. It is directly submitted to the Defense ministry. He had right not to be jerky about that. The officers from the military colleges were not taken. But he got his way, thrusted himself to that mission. And he perfectly showed himself. He together with the recons clambered through the basements, didn't feel himself shy of anything and was not afraid of anybody.

It's not an easy thing to get respect of the recons. Reconnaissance is elite of the infantry. They face specifical tasks, they are forgiven for many things. A dream of almost all soldiers is to be taken on the service to the recons detachment. They are most rarely sent to some stupid works during the civilian time, are taught to combat really, be situated on the territory of the enemy for a long time, collect the informations, send them to ours. All the guys are sportsmen trained in hand-to-hand fighting. They are constantly trained to improvise, to adapt themselves to the changing situation, to kill. They have to kill not from a long distance with a subgun, but with their own hands, quietly. If the enemy-sentry has an armor vest on, then the one has to cut the throat from ear to ear with the effect of tongue fallen out through the made slit. The recons go as the very first ones, and on the halt, when all are busy about settling, about eating full and sleeping well, they do not sit on one place. They look around, sweep everything around searching for the enemy. If the one is met in the thick bushes, then the short noiseless fight with the daggers breaks out, the only spook is let be alive and should be swiftly brought away. As far away as possible. Usually the thinnest one is chosen for that. But the first preference is commander of the group or buzzer.

If recons are caught, then they are the most "tasty" pieces. The interrogation is made very quickly. The spooks were also taught in our military colleges, and therefore they have the same, no anyhow different from our ones methods of the reconnaissance, structure of the groups, methods of interrogating. Habitul thing! And when the enemy's recon comes in our hands, then he knows well that it's better to tell quickly and voluntarily evrything that he knows. After that he gets a quick and not agonizing death. If he has a luck, then he gets a shot from a noiseless pistol point-blank. Another choice is a dagger. They've got the special daggers. DR - dagger of recon, DRS - dagger of recon special. The dagger of recon has a long unbroad blade, handle with a limitation. The dagger of recon special is the same, but has a button, with pushing of which the blade is thrown in a distance of seven-ten meters. No surprise that a man almost always dies having caught such a prize. Both the first and the other one are carried in the sheath on the shin of the right leg, but they can be fixed on the belt and on the left shoulder. Everything depends on the craft, fashion, habit, specific character of the executing task and locality.

The weaponry of recon in the "makhra" troops is the same as the one of the usual infantryman. AKS (subgun of Kalashnikov folding up), in the best case - AKSU (subgun of Kalashnikov folding up shortened), DR or DRS, underbarrel launcher GP-25, noiseless pistol. They go with the same Battle Infantry Carrier-2. They have both special weaponry and special tech in the special forces, but we have the usual ones. In a word - "makhra". But they are meritedly respected by all the complement. True they are the worst transgressors against discipline, and commanders try to make their personal security service from them during war time. But the company's commander is God and Tsar in one person. For any smallest disobedience they get the most brutal reprisal. If a guy in the usual subdivisions gets the only punch on the teeth, then the recons lose a lot of different teeth. And commander has a competence to assign a duel. He puts the gloves on himself and there is a fight without rules. All the company should witness that thing. If you're stronger, smarter, more aggressive, then you're able to win the company's chief, but there has been still no any such precendent in the brigade. Relations between the soldiers and commanders during war are even, almost fraternal ones, and by the recons relations are even closer. The recons leave for the tens kilometers without any supplying from the main forces. The officer leads the group, he is guide. If though any one in the group lets down, all will be deceased ones. And the concepts of "connection", "side by side" are not any senseless sounds for them.

And so we had come to such men as the guests. If we resettle the Russians, then by any unexpected situation two of us could not manage evrything. And the other battalions were located in some kilometers. The recons could be of great use for us. It's not a rule to make a visit having nothing in the hands. As it has been mentioned above we were the monopol possessors of the spirit, if we exclude the doctors, of course. But to ask doctors for some would be incorrect, they need spirit to operate patients and the doctors also need some of it to better their own health. There was a small store of spirit by the comms, but they did not drink themselves and did not give it to anybody - the apparatus refused to function in the field conditions without daily service with spirit. And break of the communications during a battle is a crime.

The recons were settled in one of the garages of the motor-tech station. The officers lived in box van of KamAZ (a type of the Russian truck - O.B.A.).

- Good-oh, men! - We entered the box van and saw that the recons were having the "second" breakfast. There was a bottle of "a'la Chechnya" set on the table.

- Why do you drink that slop? Have you got nothing better? - We wondered.

- Goog-oh, come in, - the recons moved aside. - Cognac is over, we've forgotten view of vodka, so we've to choke with that varnish.

- We've taken by chance a bottly of spirit. Will ya?

- Pour out! - The chief of recons held out the glass.

- And for me too! - Commander of the recons-company followed the example of his boss.

Yura and I poured out also a half glass of spirit for each of us, diluted it, solidly covered the glasses with the palms. There was a reaction storming in the glasses. The liquid turned to be white. It's important that no any air enters glass at that moment. We drank after that and bit some snack. Spirit is no vodka, and so it's hard to drink it, although there are some gourmets in the brigade who prefer better spirit than vodka. Every one should tolerate the preferences.

- What are the news from you? - Yura asked his namesakes.

- There is no any special thing on the radio interception, but I spoke to the special forces and they told us dreadful things, - the recons chief started.

- And what are the fearful stories from speciforces?

- They were in the deep searching, near Shali. There is a large concentration camp according to the agents' iformations, and about fifty men of ours are in it. They went, watched, that was correct, there was a camp. The spooks mock at ours, beat them, do not feed, force them to work, in the shackles, in short, as in the middle ages. Our chief was able to stop his dogs somehow.

- Correct, - the company's interfered, - well, they could have slaughtered the guards, and where to woud they go with ours? They could not have taken them with and would have broken completing of the task.

- Don't interrupt. Continue, Yura, please.

- They had to lie till the night. There were dirty many spooks in Shali. They climbed up in an attic, are sleeping, the other ones are the sentries, some ones press the "mass". And at some moment there's a noise and cry in the center, on the square, mullas are squealing something. And ours have position on the hillock. The optics is good, so they're watching through that optics. And there's a mass meeting starting over there, and Dudaev in person speak out. There are bodyguards around him, about fourty men. But they're down, on the level of his feet. And he's as a duck in a shooting gallery. The distance is about four hundred meters. In short, to "take him off" is easier than shaking off the last drop on the boot... And they have got no command. The chief connects to base - Khankala. So and so. I'm watchig Duda, what should I make? The answer - to wait. In half an hour connecting again and they do not let "photographing".

- Fucking fiasco! - I spat. - Pour out!

We drank. Bit a snack. Well, the recons had turned themselves on and "heated" us up. It was a correct moment to start talk about the matter.

- Men. If everybody has betrayed and sold us, should we not forget ours? I mean we ourselves, here.

- Of course, we should not.

- No. And what, Slava, should we do?

- Nothing special. Yura and I have thought a bit and got an idea about the local Russians, the ones we can not take to Russia with us, we should though resettle them back to their own houses.

- To fairness?

- To fairness. Let the spooks be afraid of us.

- No problem. And what do you think?

- A blessed thing.

- Shall we go now?

- Are you busy now?

- We've nothing urgent. When we come back, we should change a torsion in the APC. I'm free up to the evening. By the way we can shake a couple of houses as if to search for the disappeared spook-head, huh?

- Let's make it.

- And commander?

- Commander is to go to hell. This booby himself told us to find his friend.

- Exactly. We've got our agents' information that babay was hidden in there.

- Who shall we take with?

- I think a couple of vehicles are enough and there are fifteen men including the mechanics and us. Enough.

- We'll cover our mugs and put on the camouflage gowns.

- Let's go! We'll meet us in half an hour.

Yura and I took the weaponry. We had already always head-scarves on our heads, and the faces were covered with another head-scarves when we were going with APCs. Only the eyes were shining. As some gangsters from westerns.

In half an hour we had gathered together outside. As soon as Yura and I had seen the recons, we were seized with the hysterical laughing. Such thing could happen only in Our (Red, Soviet, Russian) Army. Though there was mud around, but there was no snow, it was only somewhere on the mountains' tops, the grass was beginning to grow green here and there, and our fighters had the white camouflage gowns on, the mugs were wound over with the white masks. They are warmed not to spoil the mugs in the Siberian frosts. Nine ghosts in the spring beginning. That was a comedy. A half of CC had gathered running together hearing our cackling. They also burst laughing. Even if you can not get it in the worst nightmare, then you can do it however.

- Why are you cackling? - Yura-company's took even offense.

- When you were leaving for the war, couldn't you get some normal costumes for yourselves? - I asked with the laughing and tears.

- There were no ones in the store. And Novosibirsk did not want to give the ones from emergency reserves. The war had broken out in December, who had any idea that it would prolong for so long time?!

- You should give a demand, they must send you some, otherwise we'll frighten all the spooks away from here. Well, let's go, Caspers' detachment. Sod it, kind ghosts.

- Slava, we have taken sappers also. To search for the weaponry.

- I know what weaponry you mean. Gold, currency?

- As God send to our lot. Where from should we start?

- There is a large house near the road. It overtly was built on unearned incomes. The locals have also reported, that the parents of Imsdaev live there in it.

- And who is he?

- An employee of the DGB (State safety department). He must, supposedly, entrench himself in Vedeno.

- A good boy...

- Yeah, nice boy, but has the only deficiency - he's been living for too long time.

- Maybe we can take the paternies as hostages?

- I like that idea, but that is not our method.

- They take ours as hostages and exchange later.

- We do not fight the old people, we'd like to catch the sonny - that would be an interesting conversation about him. For DGB emoloyee, if he is alive, of course, we can get back a couple-three of officers and a detachement of soldiers. Have you heard how we had exchanged a Chechen commando?

- I know no details.

- We had taken that boar in Grozny, he was wounded, unconscious, he, together with Basayev (Shamil Basayev, 1965-2006, one of the mainest Chechen terrorists, who murdered many civil people, as well as the soldiers and organized many terror attacks in Russia - O.B.A.), had made refresher course by GRU-guys in Balashikha (one of the oldest training centers of the secret services in the USSR and RF, is situated near Moscow - O.B.A.). After that he was in Abkhazia (in the years 1991-1993 Chechens participated in the Abkhasian-Georgian conflict acting agaist Georgia and were, so to say, fighting for the interests of the RF also, author makes a hint at the secret services of the RF assisting the Chechens with the military training of the militants in that time - O.B.A.), and after that he was engaged as a bodyguard of Duda. A splendid sweet. And he was caught being wounded. We had treated him and then wanted to exchange for ours.

- And how was it possible that he was alive?

- Paratroopers had taken him. They had made acquaintance in Abkhazia, so they spared him.

- Have you exchanged him?

- Of course! For five officers and nine fighters.

- That's drastic. He is a splendid staff, for certain. Where is he now?

- He's having treatment on a health-resort. All Turky, Iordania as well as our brothers-Ukrains also lose no chance to help the opressed Chechens.

- Sod it, what a life.

- You should know it is so. OK, let's go!

We climbed up the armor, the white camouflage gowns were pressed into the landing force section, then started. Almost all CC went to see us off. A trick with the white camouflage gowns made a lot of fun.

We ran up to the chicy detached house. In our city only the most "cool" ones (the "new Russians" - tough criminals and rich capitalists appeared in the RF in the 1990-s - O.B.A.) build such ones, but there it was built in a village. They had made a fat income from our pocket. We jumped down and competently cordoned off the house. Some neighbors tried to watch, but seeing our menacing faces they very quickly retreated. We barged into the house. A huge dog of the species Caucasian Mountain Dog was on the chain darting at us. A recon made a shot before the dog's snout. He did not hit, but scared. The dog ran with squealing into the box and did not show his nose outside all the time we were there.

We drag the old man and woman out from the house, as well as some girl. She deligently hides her face under the shawl. Don't hide. You're so ugly that in spite of the fact that I have seen no woman for a long time, I am not able to drink so much vodka (author makes a hint at the popular Russian saying - "there are no ugly women, there is only too little vodka" - O.B.A.). Three grunts are left on the street. In front of the house, behind it and one more is on the watch constantly controllng with the cubgun the inhabitants. It's not necessary to point at them with the subgun. We have frightened them with our view and behaviour. And one psychological effect of no little importance. When a true believing Muslim dies, he is wrapped in the white bandages and after that into a carpet and is buried in sitting position. The recons made such a masquerade with their camouflage, that they were as if the revived ones from the islamic hell.

The examining in the house is going on in full speed. We're searching for the weaponry, wounded ones. The furniture is chic. The carpets are expensive, new, of hand work, the foreign, expensive things. The video and TV sets are also same chic. I would not be able to earn so much money for all my life.

We watch the photos. Aha, here is the face looked for. There is a young man of about twenty five years presenting himself on the photo. A lot of weaponry is hanging on him, he poses with the "Nissan-Patrol" as a background. Judging from his leaning against it I guess it is his property. A boy has however all the arms produced abroad. American rifle "M-16", a "Colt" on the belt in the open holster, a couple of grenades are dangling there on the belt also, as well as the unchanged Chechen knife-knuckleduster. He looks good. Pity that you're not at home. That was not a secret, that the Chechens had a lot of weaponry, they tried even to organize producing of their original one, but the foreign produced weaponry was accessible only for the very few ones. Either for very rich ones or for the ones, envolved in the great power. I guess that slut had sucked out a lot of our blood meaning all the "toys" he wore.

There are some wails upstairs. A fighter comes down and carryes the bloody bandages and sheet, also all bloody. Judging from the brown spots, the blood should be fresh, not longer than 24 hours are past since the moment a man had spilt blood. It means that some one tried to lie there resting. And he felt bad as he had lost so much blood. But he was able to leave. I hide the photo into the breast pocket - maybe I'll need it somewhen. The fighters meantime bring the radio set, subgun, half full sack of the old emission money, a couple of tins with the rounds and a fuse for the grenade in the middle of the hall. The recons are disappointed, they had a hope that it would be possible to profit by some currency, but there was no any. They had found a pistol in the kitchen garden. An amusing thing was, that the sappers had the batteries not in power, and it was possible to discover an object in the depth of the fourty cantimeters with the standard probe. Laughing with tears. Therefore, my reader, if you have a wish to hide a machine-gun in your kitchen-garden, you should bury it deeper than half a meter. Nobody will find anything with our devices of metall-detecting.

There was a typical roar of the vehicle's engine. Yura and I looked at each other:

- Fuck a duck! - Yura broke psychosis out. - The command has come.

- Fuck them, - the recons' chief was imperturbable. - We've taken so many weapons. They should seize this elder Khottabych (a character from the popular Soviet fairy-tale for the children - O.B.A.), hang him with his rib over a hook and ask whose weaponry is this and where the son is. We have reached our target. Now we'll go to resettle the Russians back into their legally own houses with the reason to search for the weaponry.

- And I'll kick the insides out from any bitchy, who tries to squeal against, - that was commander of the recons-company. His wisckers were trembling from the righteous rage.

Chapter 21

(c) Copyright 1996-1999 Vyacheslav Mironov ( maxra@mail.ru )

The wicket-gate flew open from a kick. Butalov entered. He embodied himself a righteous rage of all the Chechen people. He had just too quickly forgotten Grozny. That matters that now the major and three captains will swiftly repair your brains, colonel.

- Ryzhov! What's happening here? Why do you commit excesses? The local inhabitants delegation has come and they say that marauders are destroying the house of the elder head!

- Marauders?

- Who? We?

- Look, comrade colonel, who is criminal here, - Yura pushed with his foot the weapons and rounds found by us to Butalov.

- Have you found these things here? - Butalov got confused as if a ball losing the air.

- And some more - a bloody bed. Some one was woulded. He was lying there, - that was Yura, the chief of recons.

- It looks not like a menstruation. Too much bleeding, - com-company didn't restrain himself poking fun.

- And his son is on the service in DGB. Slava, show photo, - I silently held out the photoes of the youngy Imsdaev.

- And why are you quiet, Mironov? - Com-brig asked.

I grinned with my tongue in cheek and gloomily looked at him. I perfectly realized that he was not able to bear it, when he was watched in such manner point-blank.

- Give me this elder head for a couple of hours, he will quickly remember where his son is, who lay there in, and how the weapones had come to him.

- It's not allowed, Mironov! Not allowed!

- And what about Grozny and about the lads who had hung like Jesuses in the Palace windows?

- Are you wild animal, Mironov?

- I'm not yet. But I quickly learn. If we, when entering, had "cooped" the village up at first and then swept it, and after that made negotioantions to the aborigins, then many ones would nor flee. And we had come, made a lot of noise, and got no any result at all. There is a couple of the spooks' buzzers in the village, who will inform about every our sigh and look. And such thretening actions are necessary both to keep the local inhabitants respecting us and make our fighters not forget what the hell for we have forced our way to here.

- Keep silence, Mironov! It is neither place here, nor time now for the conversations like this. You will visit me later! Immediately stop!

- What should we make with the owner of the house?

- I take him now, bring him to Khankala. Let them there sort out the things about him. Have you any informations about the missed head?

- Yes, we have! - The commander of the recons lied without any doubts and we nodded our heads. - We should check a couple of houses, they say he was there at.

- We have visited this house not just from no reason, - the recon-company commander interfered, - we got information that your friend was seen here, so we have come, - Yura made innocent look.

- He is not my friend! - Com-big went mad. - He is a head of the local authorities and that's why we are obliged to build normal work relations to them.

- We have understood you, - Yura Ryzhov stopped the speech of com-brig, as it was too boring. - We obeied only your instruction. It will not repeat in the future!

- Return to the CC.

- And what if the head hides at the unchecked addresses?

- OK. Check, but carefully, accurately.

Having taken the old man and the material evidences with him, Butalov got on the vehicle and went off.

- Well, men, shall we go "home" or shall we shake the spooks further?

- But we've organized all this hell to do that.

- Pound, pound and once more pound, as great Lenin had bequeathed (it is a kind of typical Russian joke to change the phrase of Lenin "Learn, learn and once more learn!" - O.B.A.).

- We've nothing to do on the CC, we'll die from the boredom, and by this matter we'll pour though a bit adrenalin in blood.

- It would be better to pour vodka in it.

- But where can you find that by the Muslims?

- It is forbidden for them to drink wine, but Allah had told nothing against vodka.

- To hell with all those true believers! These jerks will give us some poison!

- It can be so.

- We can share some spirit with you.

- Thanks, men, and where from do you take this spirit?

- We make it from petrol.

- No, seriousely?

- Strategical stores. When we were leaving, then we poured spirit instead of tosol in all the cooling radiators. Everybody had drunk, but we have spared.

- It's impossible to speak to both of you. Where from do you have spirit?!

- We would tell it, but you would not believe it.

- Where from?

- You're so persistant. You'd better work the same. Our driver - Pashka - had got the special abilities as a result of special experimental operation. Vodka, spirit are necessary during war, but where can man get them? Nowhere. To organize the producing of them locally? You need some gears, raw materials, but you are sitting in a trench. What should we do? There are the Novosibirsk sientists, from academy campus - d'you know academy campus?

- I know, don't kill time deadly.

Well. Continue. The Novosibirsk sientists organized on the order of the Defense ministry experiment to produce spirit in the battle situation. I've a feeling that all the war has broken out only for the sake of that experiment. By means of the long selection choice among the militaries of the SibVO they selected a group of the ones inclined to alcoholism and there were made the special inoculations to them.

- And what?

- We have spoken already too much. Yura and I gave signatures not to trumpet. If we tell, they will execute us. Correct, Yura?

- I swear with my life!

- OK, don't fuck the brain! Break the story out, slut!

- Pashka produces and pisses with a clearest spirit. That is where from we have it. We collect it into the bottles, make it cool and give all the brigade to drink, making the observations, but nobody has still died. We are promised to be rewarded for that with the order for each of us, and Pashka was brought in the list of the Heros, - I quickly threw out.

- Ugh, ugh, knuckleheads! How were you able to get such muck in your minds!

- You've mad fantasies. Ugh! Urine! Ugh. Idiots!

- But why are we about that? We don't drink this spirit. We've standart, industrial one, to compare.

- Idiots! Ugh!

- Well, calm down, don't you take jokes?

- I do not understand such jokes. Let's go!

The recons were in a bad temper about us, as they bought our joke like some little infants. And they strived to find some way out for their spite. One vehicle went to the old woman - God's dandelion, who we had seen a day before, and we went to her former house on the second vehicle.

Most of sudden for us the house was uninhabitted. Although the stove was warm and the beds were not made. That meant they were warned. They keep an eye on us, although we had organized that show ourselves and was it real for us to be imperceptible, especially wearing those white camouflage gowns?

We started to examine the house. Nothing criminal was found. The fighters had found a jar with paint and wrote on the green gate with white: "Is under the guard of the Russian troops". They can try to run risks barging into here! We explained the curious neighbors that we would swiftly unscrew the noddles on some provokation and if it is necessary, then we'll organize an accident for all the village, we'll not wait for eternity!

Grandma was brought. She was weeping, watching the former native walls. She touched the corners, looked at the windows and constantly put the table-clothes right. The fighters swiftly rushed for some water. Grandma constantly tried to fall aground before our feet. It seemed that she went mad, when she opened teethless mouth. From her inconsistent story, we could see that when they denyed to resettle, her husband was murdered. The new owners overtly had some reasons for racing away. That was far-sighted from their side. The execution is to be rendered! I can imagine that nonbiblical execution - our fighters could hang them, for certain. On the green gate's joist. We gave grandma some food, and commander of the company promised that he would daily send fighters to help. We checked the addresses of the Russians living in this village and in Il'inka once more. And the grandma told us that in words of the neighbors the new cooked head was brought with car to stanitsa Il'inskaia on the day before. OK, we have reason to appear in that village, show ourselves and look at that "cosy nest".

After that we started our way and resettled two more families of the Russians back to their houses. And only in one case the host dared begin some kind of shouting, but when he saw that the fighters had no mood for any talks, he swiftly gathered all his domestic company and retreated. The fairness, on our point of view, had triumphed. And if anybody was not agree, he could come for some discussion to the CC. We announced mulla that his task was to tell all the others: the Russians come back to their houses. No machinations and no hurdles should be made, otherwise we would build them. Mulla at first switched on a "fool", meaning that he could not understand Russian, and then we told him, that we would check at once the mosque on the question if any weaponry was situated there in it, and reminded him, that the fire at our sappers was made namely from his minaret. And he had instantly remembered Russian. But he tried to prattle something about some holy month. Either "ramazan" or "ramadan", that it was not allowed to fight in that time. If it was not allowed, than they should have not to fight. We gave no shit about that. It would be so as we had told, then we'll live neighboring, but if no, then we would make them do that. Yes. By the way! Give us back your head, we love him very much. If you do not give him back, you will fill regretful. That's all, bye-bye. Hies to parents! If you're close to us, mulla, by chance, make a visit to us!

After that the monotony grey humdrum existence went on. The rain was showering down from the sky, guzzling the remains of the snow, the tech sank in the mud. The mood was zero. Boredom. We lived still in the trucks on the CC, some ones did in the building, and the battalions did in the fields. All including com-batt and the simplest soldier moved from the tents to mud-huts. The cloth, saturated with the water-tight chemicals was not tight any more and started leaking. They sent the new underclothes, bedclothes and uniforms from Novosibirsk. The clothes were taken from the emergency reserves and after the very long lying the folds were hard as the wooden ones. But that was half of the problem, the fact that there was a clothes louse, was a real misfortune. And there were somewhere the holes - result of the many-years moth activity. We already had enough louses there without the native ones come from Siberia and after that the number of them increased twice. The underclothes were quickly taken off and burnt. My heart tells me that somebody in the district direction made a quit of money on those underclothes. In a couple of days, the new underclothes were delivered. Already without louses and moths. They spent a lot of clothes on the war, a plane was ridden here and there a couple of times, and for certain it was not the empty one, so, you can count how much money was spent for nothing and hauled in some private pockets. At war some ones' failure is health. But the others bail wealth.

The most paradoxal situation arose meanwhile in Chechnya. The troops were staying at the positions. There was any motion neither on the West, nor on the Southern directions. The spooks became active, the ambushes were made again on the roads, the snipers appeared again in Grozny, the block-posts were under active fire by nights, the sentries letting slip were captured or slaughtered. The mess began to spread in the heads of the militaries due to ununderstandable staying. The units of the MChS (Emergency Situations Ministry) brought lots of troubles in the common mess. It was the second half of February when the fighters of the internal troops came to us up by three armored vehicles. I met among them my groupmate from the college Oleg Bassarov. We were on study in the same company, but he was in the first platoon, and I was in the second one. We hugged us, as it was the custom. He was the same buzzer and was in the North by the Commander of the internal troops at that time. They went to reconnaissance and bumped into an ambush, one fighter was injured, they went back. On the way back, there was a hospital of MChS. They brought the fighter to the doctors, and the chief of the hospital squealed that they accepted only the local population. They had to chill him with the subgun and only when a couple of muzzles came against his belly and another couple - against his head, he was imbued with the thought that he had been not right and made command to opetrate. And I heard a lot of such stories. The MChS was not beloved by the own troops.

Oleg, Yura and I got drunken happily as it normally happens by the meetings of the groupmates. We told the stories about the mischievous years in college, about other gourpmates, where were they by that time, and in the morning he drove further.

The rains stopped sometimes and went on, again mighty. And then the bright celebration came, the one for everybody wearing the shoulder-straps. The Day of February, 23rd (the official holiday of the Soviet Army and Navy in the Soviet Union, later also, folloing the tradition, in the RF - O.B.A.). The first holiday of the Army in Chechnya! Defense minister came to Grozny by that opportunity: commanders of the units were invited, they were told he had brought many rewards and valuable gifts with. Butalov went with the convoy of three APCs. There was only one boxy of the gifts for all the grouping. About ten hand-watches "Commander". And that was all! No any rewards, no any medals. No any thing! Only the best wishes and expression of all the sureness that the troops would execute in future also any order of their Commander-in-Chief. Ugh, moscow shitmonkeys!

We compencated that result with a lot of alcohol and the feast salute. We had salute not worse than the one after taking of Grozny. They spat in our souls again as usually and we wiped it away and got drunken. Makhra can bear everything.

Chapter 22

The time was going on, the rumours about advance were constantly hanging in the air, but there was no command, and in spite of our numerous requests we were not ordered to move to Il'inka. And every day, the spooks were becoming more and further impudent. The trees were getting thin green foliage on, but the forest in the whole was not so visible through, as it had been formerly. The spooks shot at the sentries every night, tried to come closer, but having stumbled over the sprainings hung their guts on the trees. The ravens flock had after that their table over there for a week.

And later a group of the paratroopers' recons went through our area in the bushes and bumped into the ambush near us. We did not hear any noise of the combat, otherwise we would come to assist without fail, there was no alarm call by radio. The local kidos called us. I had seen very different things during war, but evry time I feel hurt again and again. The six men, our Slav guys, were murdered. The bellies were cut open, the soil was pressed there inside instead of the insides, they cut with the knives the stars on their backs, as well as lapels of the kits and the stars of the officer's "shoulder-straps", the sexual organs were cut off and put into the mouths. The eyes were gouged out. The ears were cut off. Doctors told that the mocking was made at already dead bodies. To frighten us. Well, you asked for it.

On the second March we drove for Il'inskaia having two platoons accompanied by a couple of tanks. We checked the house of the DGB employee as the first step. But a buzzer in Petropavlovka obviously had warned somebody in Il'inka. The agents informed the recons and specials that all spooks had run to the Gudermes direction as soon as our column started. In short, we had caught nobody. But on the other hand we had found a lot of interesting things in two houses. Six subguns, radio set "R-159", "Bumblebee", three posthumous tokens. After that the fighters went mad. That meant there were the spooks, who collected the tokens of our fighters killed by them! Beat! Break! Crash! What's there in the court? A foreign car! Will we take it? Sod all! We're no pillagers! Tape recorder, chairs are taken! We'd need them. But at the car, with all our heart, - a burst, once more! Good! The tyres are bursting, the car subsides! Hit it! We go aside and give at last a couple of shots with the launcher at the house, where at the spooks had lived, and one more at the car. The car is burning, it will explode in a couple of minutes. We're no marauders, we need no things from others.

Making reconnaissance and searching for the ford through Sunzha we bumped into an ambush and our tank got stuck in the river. The spooks fired with all their hearts. They wanted to assault the tank as a spoil. These swines had settled themselves on the oil-derrick. The tank was able to destroy the derrick with the third shot. And that result was achieved by the tank that had worn out all the conceivable resources of durability in Grozny yet. And they were able to see only the very top of the derrick from the tank's turret also. Experience, that had been got not on the ranges, but in the combats, means very much! Well done, tankees! We jollily roared. It was seen as a couple of spooks were falling down squealing, and they were covered with the derrick's fragments. But they came closer, using the advantage of the higher positions sheltered with the green forest, and again attacked us. We sewed up the mines at tank and took the crew off from it when the darkness fell down. The night was spent on the riverside, we constantly lit up the locality. The crews of the APCs mowed the opposite riverside with the cannons and machine-guns fire, letting the spooks not approach the water.

In the morning, the spooks tried to force through to the tank shooting with the grenade dispensers. The warheads let out from the RPG-7 (a type of the hand grenade dispenser - O.B.A.), "Flies", the "potatos" of the underbarrel launchers rustled above our heads, plunging with the deep splashing into the muddy riverside, the frags stuck in the trees, rang on the helmets, but grazed nobody. There were even no any light injured. Verily, God likes the only infantry!

Two tankees from the stuck tank dove into the icy cold water to connect the cable. It was possible to make only at the third attempt. After that, shaking from the cold, they entered into their tank and unsealed the extraordinary reserve of the spirit and the commander's one of vodka.

The cable was caught at the half-sunk tank and connected to the second tank. Pulling out. The cable got tension, the engine bellowed up, the caterpillars were digging in the earth and the soil lumps flew away, the tank jerked one time, again, then once more, but, alas, resultlessly. The spooks wailed with joy on the other riverside and intensified the firing onslaught. It seemed they had endless stores of the RPG grenades. We called by radio for reinforcement. One more tank came. We drove the spooks off with the APCs and our hand arms fire.

The soldiers dove in the icy water again and hooked the second cable, at that time they succeded to make that at the first attempt, and two tanks as some mythical horses pulled at once and dragged their stuck in the mud yokemate out. The many tons giant trembled and slowly, unwillingly began to creep on our riverside. They started up the engine and assisted to get it back. The water was pouring down from the steep flanks, the mud hanging with the lumps was falling off. We were rejoicing!

We warned the village that they should give the head from Petropavlovka back and that if the simillar trick about any ambush near their village repeated again, we would burn it. Nobody was going to do that and that would not be allowed, of course, but nevertheless the threaten had an effect. In twenty four hours the head went back, but what the hell did we need him for? However, Butalov and our general were happy. From that time he was always present on CC. As a real enemy's agent.

There was again replacement for the officers. I gave address of my wife and some money for a telegram. It was important to send congratulations on the 8th March (an official holiday in the USSR and RF, the International Women's day - O.B.A.).

The time was going on. The March eighth had come. There were no women in the brigade, but we splednidly celebrated it. We made a lot of toasts, salute for our wifes, mothers, sisters, girlfriends, beloved ones.

After the celebration there was an information, that we should be ready for advancing and moving. The order was given only to the troops, concentrated on the Western direction. The Southern direction was motionless. There was not a lot of us on the Western one. We - the Siberians, the 125th artillery regiment from St. Petersburg was creeping alongside the range, the mixed brigade from Ulyanovsk (a city in western Russia, former Simbirsk, where at Vladimir Ulyanov-Lenin was born - O.B.A.) together with the regiment of the internal troops were located near Argun, and it was spoken the fresh units were on the way to us. Maybe to substitute us?

It was already the second week of the same rainy weather, it was pouring heavily without any pause for a minute. How could you move through such slush? And so, on March, the thirteenth, we got the order. That all the Western direction should start moving to the western territories. And our brigade started the moving. We had left only the med-company, separate battalion of the material supplying and repairing battalion at Petropavlovka, all the others went forwards. And we went forwards, forwards, forwards.

We had to move the CC to stanitsa Il'inskaia, and to take all the positions to the north-west of the capital, in the direction of Gudermes. And imagine yourself, my reader, such a picture, when there is no any gravel road, and all the brigade is creeping on the clayey road, running every second the risks to come, to go down, into the deep gully closely joining to the road.

By approaching the village the mortar bombing was started against us. They had positions behind the village. The aiming was not exact, but somebody was constantly correcting it, therefore the bombs fell closer and closer with every salvo. They opened shooting with the hand arms having positions on the prevailing hills. And we were creeping as the turtles, constantly running into and hindering each other. Gloria Tibi, the spooks had till that moment no fortune.

The first and the second battalions went round the stanitsa through the fields and broke loose to the fields. The enemy was waiting for them over there. Everybody went somehow aside from the road, landed form the vehicles and started to entrench himself, we engaged the enemy. There was a radio report that a couple of women were frightened away from some bushes. Maybe they were the bombing-correctors. Everybody send some foul words to them back over the air. There was a battle going on and they should gallop through the fields hunting some women! Idiots! They have chosen a correct moment!

Have you ever tried, my reader, to entrench yourself in the clay after a two-weeks long rain? The soil is not a soil, but a butter. The spade slips, clutching at nothing. The bombs are flying above you producing a nasty wailing and fall into the sludge with squelching, in a half of second the ones explode throwing up the huge fountains of slush together with the frags. And you have to flop with your belly down after every wailing boring through the soul, fall with your mug into this hated sludge and wait for explosion. That's an abomination, I must report you.

We were able somehow to figure out the enemy's positioins and started to pound the spooks with our APCs, tanks and our own self-propelled howitzers. That was great! Such a massive fire contcat, a combat of full value had not happened since so many days. The story about the stuck tank was like not a combat but a small skirmish. Maybe somebody is not agree with me, but it is my own personal opinion.

But namely at that moment everything was the same as in Grozny. Adrenalin was raging again in the blood, I had the same smack of blood in the mouth. The fear, based on the excitement in the soul, the mad brilliance in the eyes. I was again in the action!

Forwards! Onwards! With rolling, half-sitting to the nearest shrubbery. Yura next to me, as well as Pashka in a couple of meters are adjusting themselves and showering with the subguns on the shrubbery on the steep hill. Yura comes on one knee and is shooting with the launcher, Pashka and I cover him. The other officers and soldiers are situated close by and are shooting, entrenching themselves. The first shock from the sudden attack has gone past. We have been sitting too long during all the recent time. Yeah, the real fighting is easy if you work hard at it. We have grown fat. But the muscles' memory began functioning. Rolling, rolling, a burst. There is something moving over there, a burst at it, and once more to be sure. Neither Yura, nor I has been as good alone as we were together working as a couple. He sees the direction of my shooting and sends a couple of grenades to that place. One of the explosions differes from the former ones. Simultaniously with it, a shout is heard. Some of the spooks had met his fucking fiasco.

And the spooks had trembled, backed. Press them, men! Tally-ho, halloo! Everybody felt that and amplified the onslaught. We were already able to see without any optics as the spooks were making off. The bushes were stirring, their backs fleetingly glimpsed in the clear spaces. The messages by radio were also about the same pictures by the first and the second battalions. We crush the spooks off! Victory! The first one during so many days of waiting. We can do it, men! Onwards!

And just at that moment somebody interfered by radio and made some ununderstandable command. At first nobody was able to think out plainly what that was. We had a thought that the spooks were playing up, distracting attention, confusing us. We checked the other frequency, used the other call signs, asked again. But everything was correct. To stop the moving, to get back form the fighting and to come back to the initial line. Some madhouse. Nobody was able to plainly understand anything. Everybody was bewildered. It could have been understandable if we had been crushed off, if the spooks had pressed us and we had not been able to repulse them with our own forces. And there was the other thing - we were forcing them out and there was the order to retreat!

Everybody had the first thought that was a treachery in Khankala.

- Moscow jerks!

- They've sold everything at all.

- Precisely, now it's about us!

And we started most reluctant pulling out to the initial line in Petropavlovka. It turned out that the spooks were fleeing form us and we were fleeing from the spooks. You could not dream such nightmare, but you were doing that indeed. The local inhabitants got an opinion about us be frightened and cowardly fleeing. The spooks were stronger. When we entered the stanitsa, it was seen in the eyes of local ones met on the way that they were triumphing. And we however were angry as devils in hell. On the place of our former staying the locals were already rummaging, collecting the things for which we had got no time to take with us. We frightened them away with the shots at air.

Chapter 23

The general, com-brig and executive officer, having not changed their clothes, started for Khankala at once for sorting the things out. It turned out that from the rains, as you should understand, the other units were not able to move on. Have got stuck, s.o.b.-s! The only Siberian makhra was able to drive tech out and complete the ordered task. They're elite sooterkins! The Siberians gnaw at asphalt in Grozny, go forwards, break their tendons, waste down tech, but the other shitheads are not able to go through the mud. Sod it, should we therefore combat only in July?

And so we stayed motionlessly for three more days. In one day the rain stopped, the wind started, the sun showed itself and made the earth and the roads dry. Let's move on!

As for that time, the journey was made without any excesses. The brigade's CC was settled in the school, that had not been working since already more than a year. Dudaev had no any interest in the educated people. If a man is able to read Koran, he is an academician yet. Mountains children, and nothing can be done.

The school was devided on two buildings. There were the headquarters settled in the first one, and the recons and chemists used the second one, over the road, the medics should have joined to them in some weeks. And the medics stayed in Petropavlovka at that time. There was a cattle yard behind the school, there were situated the communications hub and other services.

Yura and I parked our truck in front of the school. Sereoga Kazartsev was next one to us according to the kind tradition, the lining department, the secret service and the store of the topgraphical maps were situated close by. The lining department was headed by the come for replacing major Sereoga Atamas'. He had a nicknme - Fantomas. But he took offense at that, true, very much. And he allowed only his friends to name him so. He was much older than Yura and me and he considered us to be upstarts. However we did not strove to be his friends.

We began to build acquaintance with the locals. They assured us as always to be the loyal ones, told us the horrible fairy-tales about spooks, and as the ones mocked at them and so on and such like.

An amusing thing happened on the next day. There was a birthday of the second battalion's com-batt. A birthday in war is a special happening. And the polit-officer of that battalion made a suicidal but noble deed. By night he together with driver drove away by an armored carrier, visited during that night all the blockposts, being under the fire, but unclear from whom was the fire, for several times, and finally went from under them alive: the fools have luck. By the morning they had reached Mozdok (a town in Ingushetia, the RF federal state to the west from Chechnya, where at there was a base of the Russian troops - O.B.A.), although there were also the reinforced milition posts on the exit, as well as lots of the military forces, but nevertheless, - that was a fact. They came to the shop "Bread-Cakes", he arose the watchman to phone the director. When the frightened director had come, he was explained in popular manner, that they required as best cake as he was only able to find by himself. Of course, nobody demanded from him a Novosibirsk cake, everybody in the brigade knew that only there, in that city, they were able to bake the most tasty cakes. As far as the war had happened, the lousy one, locally produced, would be acceptable also. The direcor of the shop took that as a very bad offense. He had brought and packed with his own hands the very best large cake with the inscription "Happy Birthday!" He gave the candles in addition to decorate it. The offered money was rejected by him.

Having bought champagne and vodka for the rest of the money the polit-officer came back to his battalion by the morning. And you should imagine how com-batt was amazed and joyful, when in the morning all the lined battalion congratulated him with the cake and champagne. True that battalion had about thirty man alltogether including com-batt and his deputies, although they had to keep defense on the plot of three kilometers length. And that is not an anecdote or a soldiers' cock'n'bull story about the night expedition for the cake, but the pure thruth, there is no any gram of fantasy. That is the meaning of respect and of mutual understanding in war. And that is no any lickspittling. Everybody fights not because of any fear, but because of their conscience. If you think about any rewards, promotions, your comrades will swiftly catch these tricks and nobody will ever cover your back in combat, nobody will share with you a sip of water or vodka. Either you are in collective or you're a corpse, no any third opportunity.

They started to fire at our sentries at nights. There were no any victims. We had to sew up the mines and set the sprainings over all the territory in front of us. After somebody stepped into explosions for a couple of times by night, the fires ceased. And a very notable case also happened. A sentry can hear a rustle. He challenges: "Halt! Password five!" And there is silence in an answer. And one spraining operates, in one second one more, and the third one also. In passing the signal bombs skyrocketted. That means, when the spraining operates, about twenty light paraflares will rise in the air, not simultaniously, but in turn. Salute, illuminatin, wistling.

All the guard group and the ones who were close by had come running having a thought that the forcing through was made, wanted to repulse the attack. So, they are shooting, sending the parachute lights, but it is quiet. There is no fire in turn, but silence. And nobody is seen. They got cool, made reinforcing of the guard for any case, and it was everything calm up to the morning. And by the dawn they went to see what had happend over there. They were able to find only the scraps of the black cat's hair. Evidently, the cat broke one spraining, got afraid of the explosion after that, rushed and broke two more. The last spraining brought him to the death or it was from our shooting, I can not say.

The marching life was going on step by step. The measured, calm one. In the day we fired upon the road connecting Gudermes and Argun, it was seen for eighty per sent from the second battalion's positions, fired upon the Gudermes suburbs. The positions of militants, guarding approaches to the town, were set on the slopes of the prevailing hill. From the raconnaissance informations and from the radio communication to the spooks we got to know that there was unknown for anybody in that time yet Shamil' Basaev settled there down. The spesial forces guys who made a visit to us, willingly spoke to him, they remembered the GRU training centers near Moscow and the joint operations in Abkhazia, Osetia. They invited each other to make visits (Shamil Basayev, 1965-2006, a Chechen terrorist, organized a lot of terror attacks in Russia, author makes a hint that the secret services of the RF had trained him in the years 1991-1993 - O.B.A.).

At nights and sometimes in the day time the rocket artillery launchers worked about positions of the spooks. Sometimes we were able to discern as the vague silhouettes of the huge things were flying above our heads. We called them the "telegraph pillars" and the "humane aid to the brotherly Chechen people". When the rocket artillery worked, it was calm sleeping. The box van was rocking as a cradle of an infant. The spooks did not dare show themselves in such nights.

And then the day came, which I would not forget up to the end of my life. The March, twenty first. The day before there was a mortar bombing at us. They sent only a couple of bombs at the CC, one of which hit a civil house, after that the bombing was stopped, but the second and the third battalion got a hard pounding. The massive bombing was made till almost very morning. And evidently, the bombing was corrected as they were bombing the closed, the deep positions which were not seen for the enemy. These correctors and radiops got to us during the war very much. They killed nobody during the night. But there were three wounded, they were urgently sent to Petropavlovka to get the qualified medical aid, and from there they were sent to the North. The spooks produced bombing also from the closed positions and therefore we were not able to define the mortar battery's positions. But we somehow approximately determined them and answered with our mortar bombing and after that we aimed our own artillery. After the seventh salvo the spooks shut up.

By the morning there was a fog. Yura and I had no any special things to do. We were languishing with the loafing. And then a message from the second battalion was received, they had caught some woman who was going to Gudermes. She had already passed by the most of the second battalion outposts and blockposts as a ghost under cover of the fog, having the light footwear on, but passing by the trenches stumbled on our officers. They quickly stopped her, swiftly inspected her. Although it was a war, they did not make the deep search as it is due to the rules. They felt too shy. But they discovered the bandages, wadding in her bag and the tiny pistol of Makarov system in the lining of the blouse. She tried to pull it out as they stopped her, but she had no time.

Com-batt reported about her to the CC at once. True he hauled the pistoly for himself. When she was delivered to us by the APC, then the officers of the first battalion recognized her to be the same woman who had been seen on the thirteenth March during our unsuccessful march. And they just assumed that she was the one correcting the spooks' artillery.

Three of us made the interrogation. General, Yura and I. We sat in the small room behind the sport hall, where at the executive officer and the operative detachment were constantly situated, as well as the conferences were held in the evenings.

If there were a man, everything would be easy, but there was a woman... It was a first time when we had to interrogate a woman. And she was likeable. She had no passport. That was not surprising at all. After Dudaev had taken power and announced sovereignty, they made a stamp with arms and the corresponding recording in the passports of the local inhabitants taking the citezenship of Ichkeria. Therefore all not old population took the komsomol (an ideological political organisation for the youth in the Soviet Union - O.B.A.) identificatin card with, not to annoy our soldiers. And she had also the komsomol card. It identified her as Sagulaeva by name (maiden name - Berdidel') Hava Dadaevna, born in 1962.

We began culturally, politely, without any inhanced investigation techniques. But she continued persisting. She repeated the same version as a parrot. That she was in Grozny and at that day was going home to Gudermes. Her husband died at the first days of the war under bombing (she had, consequently, no any reasons for any warm feelings to us), her sister with little daughter had stayed in Gudermes. She was no any corrector, was not situated in Il'inka on the thirteenth March.

We invited once more the group of the officers and they identified her for certain. We connected to the blockposts: when the local inhabitants passed through them the identifying datas were taken from them. It turned out, that she did not pass through the blockposts from Grozny direction in the days before, the other roads leading to the capital of Chechnya were mined by both ours and militants.

All showed she was hiding somewhere not far away and, possiblely, was a corrector, and maybe also a "router", i. e. collected the informations about dislocation of our units and sent them to the enemy by radio. You pay the least attention to a woman during a war. But you should only not forget that you had to fight not any regular army, but all the people.

The recons having not seen any POWs since already a long time (and they had a special own account to the spies), asked us already several times to give them Hava. But she cried with horror not to give her. We played "kind-ugly" investigators. Yura was a kind investigator, I was the ugly one and the general was an independent judge. When she tried to resist, I pressed on her psyche, demanded confession, frightened with all retributions. We had to get the informations about the spooks positions in Gudermes to hammer them and enter the city already without casualities after that.

She cried she did not know. I took out a map of Gudermes and asked where her daughter with sister lived: she certainly pointed, wiping the tears up, the houses somewhere near the reailway station. Judging from her skills to use the military topographical map, she had seen it not the first time. After that we palmed off on her a map with the out-of-date situation, our battalions had already been moved (the map had to be annihilated). She showed a brisk interest to the signs, marking our disposition. All those signs are Chinese reeding for a normal citezen, having no any military education. She had scarcely any military training, but it was quite possible that she had a special one.

I lifted up the tube of the phone apparatus at once, the one which we usually used as a "lies detector", and said that the artillery shifted the run to the district where the relatives of Hava had their domicile. She got the next outbreak of hysterics. San Sanych anxiously looked in the room. Intellectual, but in that case he was too sweet heart. We would not make anything to the woman, we were not such swines. We had not learnt it, to fight the women, yet.

But San Sanych does not believe. He knows that I am able to play some trick and asks to let her go. To make the nerves calm, when she howls as a white sturgeon, we have to hit regularly a bottle of cognac from the general's stores. Although we discovered cigarettes in her bag she stubbornly refuses to smoke by our presence. She repudiates the offered cognac also, throws off the glass with water from the table. She wants to receive nothing from the hands of the enemy. A stubborn lady.

When general and I leave for WC, she offers to give herself to Yura, so that he would let her go. When I come to the door, I loudly order somebody unreal one: "Make the armored carrier ready, move closer to the building, let the guy step on gas, therefore her cries disturb everybody, and we'll grind down her teeth now!"

Yura meantime "made a command", that they would not pound the railway station district for a while. Nevertheless she told something about the spooks positions, about their fortifications. I'm getting with every minute more and more sure that she is a spy, Chechen Zoya Kosmodemynskaya (a Soviet partisan, 1923-1941, young woman, who completed sabotage tasks in the German rear during the Great Patriotic War, was caught and executed by the Germans - O.B.A.). And Yura was on the contrary sure, that she had come to us due to some mistake. I offered to send her to Khankala, there was organized a filtration center, let there the specials and the GRU-guys (GRU - abbreviation in Russian for the military secret service - O.B.A.) sort everything out.

While I was off to get some cigarette, San Sanych took Hava in armful, put into his UAZik (a name ot the Russian military jeep - O.B.A.) and brought her outside the village. And he merely let her go there. I was raging. Cursing everybody and everything. In spite of any ranks and posts, I weighed all the portions both to the executive officer for his nobility and to Yura for his not standing against his chief. I wanted to rush pursuing, but they just didn't tell me in what direction she was brought away. The foul words were gushing from me like a Niagara waterfall, having drunk the commander's cognac, I together with the recons, who were deceived in their best hopes concerning of Hava, left for the positions of the second battalion.

And I had a long conversation to the com-batt of the second battalion, during which he told in detail what were the circumstnances about her detaining. He showed in passing the map, that Hava had with. That was a usual map of the Main HQ, but it had only the scarcely discerned points - made with a needle - the detailed dislocation of our CC, self-propelled howitzers, of the first and second battalions. Com-batt payed no any attention to the tiny dots at first, he considered that the woman had taken the map somewhere, so, he took the map for himself. If she herself marked the positions on it or she was only a messanger - that was anyway unknown. But I was truimphing. I was absolutely right. San Sanych and Yura had believed the woman's tears, although nobody tortured her, nobody raped her, I would not tolerate that myself, but the fact that she had been let out, made me raging.

Having drunk with com-batt I asked him to show me the fighters who had stopped Hava, and let me talk to them. Igor' showed me two soldiers, who were situated on the end of the left flank. I went to them, and the recons' chief and com-batt began to learn the combination of the dots on the map, searching anything proving who had been the author of it.

Having gone through the trench, I came up to the soldiers, attentively watching the locality:

- Good-oh, men!

- Good afternoon.

- Good afternoon, comrade captain.

- Do you know me?

- Precisely, we were nearby when entrenching on Minutka.

- Sure-sure, I've remembered. Men, take cigarettes, - I held out the cigarettes, - and tell me how had you caught the girlfriend in the morning.

- We're standing, it's quiet, foggy, are attentively listening. Visibility is not more than a meter. A man can creep up and you will not see. But the sounds are heard well. And we hear as if some light steps.

- Exactly, light: when some one of ours stamps with the boots or shoes, then it is heard from a long distance, and here the sounds are as if rustling. And we see a ghost in the shaft of light. And it moves very swiftly, we can not do that so, and almost noiselessly. We're challenging, everything is as usual: "Halt! Password! The paws in the "mound", the mug on the ground!" Come up - a woman.

- And not ugly one, affected. She's ogling to us, says that we could let her pass by, and she would settle accounts with us at once. It was about seven o'clock a. m. She says nobody would see.

- And how was it, men?

- No, comarade captain, we didn't touch her even with a finger. But when we refused her, she began to pull the blouse somehow, and so I made just a hook with the gun-butt in her ear.

- With the butt?

- So that is a woman. Her skull would split. If it were a man - than another thing, and so, it was enough to hook only with a fist. We tore up the blouse, and, out if it, a pistoly like the one for the children, drops. I've seen such one by general.

- A pistol of Makarov system?

- Yes. There were bandages, wadding in the beg, and a map behind the lining. We look - no marks, we give it com-batt.

- And something's wrong? Should we have killed her at once? Or let her go?

- No, guys, everything was in order. You had made all correct.

- Look, the bush is moving!

And exactly, we saw the bushes moving in about hundred fifty meters from us on the side of the enemy. Having looked closely we saw that an infantry group of about twenty men was creeping in our direction. It was dangerous to let them approach closer. We opened up with the subguns at once. There was an automatical grenade dispenser AGS-17 (code name - "Flame") standing on the breast work of the fighters. I sat at it, approximately set the sector of shooting, as my eye had caught it, it plasters the areas, in the limits of the set sector, sending greandes in the chess order. As soon as we started to hammer the spooks, they undertstood they were discovered and started to fire in return. There were about three hundred meters up to ours and they were already hurrying up to assist us.

The spooks decided to assist their ones with the mortar bombing. The first bombs exploded far wawy behind our backs. And after that I can remember only the bright flash and nothing more... Fucking fiasco!!! Somebody tells, that all the life is rushing past before him during a second, but, before me, there was nothing rushing past. Merely, I was switched off as if the died one. Had felt nothing. A full fucking fiasco - end of all the dreams, expectations. Finish.

I regain consciousness on the bottom of the trench in some time, although I had sat at the grenade dispenser on the breast work before it. I'm holding my head, the right eye can't see anything, take the hands off, they are all bloody. The noddle is breaking with ache, every motion provokes a wild pain. The right leg is aching also. Overcoming the ache I look down and accurately touch the leg. It is at its place. And at this moment somebody strips off my hat from me: sod it, it hurts. That is one of the fighters who had been with me. There are as if wadding corks in the ears, I can hear almost nothing, the routine shell-shock. He is applying a bandage on me. I very carefully touch my right eye - it is on the place, but why can't I see?

While the fighter begins not very accurately bandaging me, I can hear the subguns' crackling. I push the soldier off:

- Go, I'll manage myself.

The fighter understandingly nodds his head, stands up at all his height and fires. The smoking cases are flying from his subgun into the trench. I've reeled somehow the bandage round my head, dried the right eye with the loose end. It can see, it was merely covered with the blood. I stand up on the weak legs being unsteady. When I was standing up, I could see that there was a soldier lying not far away in the trench. There was no upper part of his skull, it was cut off, as if with a sharp axe. The creamy-grey mass of his brain was splashed over the trench, the upper part of the skull chest with the remains of the scalp was lying close by. That meant I had a luck yet. We should see what the doctors would say later.

There were no any emotions, I was watching the happenings as if I were somewhere aside. It was only pity that I had made so little, being young yet, I could have made more. There was no any fear before the death - I had looked in her eyes since so long time before, that I got accustomed. Well, that meant my turn had come. But why not at once? Without any pain, torments, it would fly to me and the same, as it was about that fighter, who with I was lying under the fire on Minutka, I would have lain close by? Why? Or it was not my time yet?

The survived fighter was shooting with his subgun, I took my one from the breast work and joined in also. I had a thought it had passed a long time, but judging from the reinforcement quick approaching I could conclude that I was lying unconscious not longer than for three minutes. The bandage was constantly dropping, I was shooting, the rigtht eye was being covered with the blood again. I changed the subgun from the right to the left hand. Unhabitually. I started to shoot with the launcher. At first I watched where on the grenades hit, but it was too slowly and every starting cap-fuse of grenade caused unbearable pain. And that's why I shot in the enemy's direction without watching, mechanically putting the grenade and pulling the trigger. I'm pressing the next one inside. Somebody puts hand on my shoulder and tries to take the subgun form the hands. I jerk and raise the head up (the blood was covering the left eye also), am able to see Igor' - com-batt.

- That's it, Slava, finish. We've forced them back, - I was hardly able to hear.

- Come on, sit yourself, we'll bandage you.

- Igor'.

- Yes, Slava.

- Tell Yurka she is "spooky". She is spy. Tell by all means. Promise me.

- I promise, Slava, and I'll give the map. The recons have looked at it. There are the dislocations of my battalion and of the CC marked in very detail. You were right that she was a viper.

- Igor'! She is "spooky"! - I was happy at that moment realizing I was right.

I wished the only thing: that - if I died and did not reach them - they all would be told that they had been not right, they had let the enemy out. Somebody wanted to inject me ampoula with promedol but I refused:

- No, men. I hold the documents with me, so, when I give Yura them, then you're welcome, you may inject me even cyanides, but now bring me to the CC.

- You should be brought to the medics.

- That comes later. At first to the CC. If I do not reach it, say Yura, that she is "spooky", - that turned out to be my idea fix.

I was loaded on the armored carrier, the officer was appointed to accompany me and we drove on. The recons had left a bit earlier, before the attack begin, they had taken the map with them. While driving I vomited a couple of times, and because of the shaking I sometimes lost my consciousness. We had reached the CC. I was brought into the hall for the conferences at once.

- Where is Ryzhov? Ryzhov is to be here! - I loudly roared in the CC. - Tell him, if he isn't here, that she is "spooky"!

- Slava, calm down. We do know already, the recons have given the map. Don't worry.

With the stubbornness of some drunken idiot I continued raging and shouting, that Hava, who had been let out, was spy. San Sanych was not able to look in my eyes, he came only and quietly told:

- That, Slava, was God chastising you. Preventing.

- If you, San Sanych, had not let her off, than my noddle would have remained intact also, but you and Yura moved to pity however...

Yura had entered. Having seen him on the threshold, I shouted again:

- Yura! I was right! She is "spooky"! She is "spooky"! Recons have the map with marked dispositions of the brigade's CC, first and second battalions.

- Slava, calm down. We'll go to the medics now.

- OK, but take my notebook, there is something in it, it will be of use.

- OK, and let's drive to Petropavlovka.

I was bandaged, the face was washed, the eye began to see. Yura poured me half a glass of vodka, as well as a bit for himself also, we drank and set off.

On every hummock, crack I was rocked much and felt myself sick. Vodka was good, therefore that came because of the head. We came to the medics, they were already waiting for us. I went down and entered the study. They took the dresses off from me and put me on the cold metall table. My friend Ewgene Ivanov bent over me:

- Hello, Slava! What is with you?

- Hell knows, Ewgene, a bomb exploded close by, one fighter's head was half smashed off, and I was only stung. Ewgene, can you remember our conversation, when we swept the medicine stores?

- I can't remember anything, - Ewgene muttered.

- You do, s.o.b., remember. I do not wanna be a disabled person, ecpesially because of the head. If you have to dissect the skull, then you may do nothing, that your conscience will not torment you, just let me one chance. Before the operation I go outside in the court to smoke. Is that OK?

- We have not arranged anything, I'm about to roll into you the horse portion of tranquillizer that you do not jerk.

- Blow it out with your rolling. Do what I told you!

- Get to hell...

- Well, we'll sort it later out who and where to will get. I ask you about the only thing, if you have a possibility not to dissect the skull, then do not do it, without any special need. Don't be curious, you'll find no any brains there inside. The only bone.

Ewgene with his assistent injected me promedol, something else also, made a little cut of the skin on the forehead, took the frag off, gave it me as a present at once. But in their words there was no clear picture. And they sent me to the hospital, that was situated on the North. I was loaded on the MTLA with the red crosses on the side and on the roof, Yura sat close by. We started. From the medicines, wound, shell-shock I felt sick very much. The mechanic rode the vehicle as a master, dashingly changing the transmissions, trying not to reduce the revs; we went through the "greeny", we were not fired upon. We were driving through Grozny. Somewhere in the center, there was a burst heard, and something thundered at our armor. The vehicle stopped. Captivity was not in my plans, especially meaning my broken noddle. I had no any weaponry, but the only "fostered" grenade with me. I helplessly looked at Yura. He encouragingly nodded and opened the door, carefully looked out. The sergeant-major was exchanging remarks with somebody, then the door was opened, and I was shined on with the torch, direct on the eyes, swines! In a minute we again drove on. Yura told me:

- They reported by radio that an armored carrier forced through from the side of the spooks and had already routed two blockposts. They had a thought that we were that vehicle. It was good that the sergeant had time to launch the paraflare, otherwise they would set us into the very full fuck-up.

- That means it was not our fate! It is early yet. San Sanych told it was a warning for me about my bad behaviour. If you, sodding idiots, had not let that prostipome go, then we would not have hung about here, but would have drunk vodka on the CC and bored the holes in the uniforms for orders rewardings. Ugh!

- You're right, Slavka, that is not our fate. As for the whore, excuse. Who had any idea she was a spy. If com-batt had instantly given the map, then everything would have been clear. Don't worry, we would catch a lot of them here yet. Don't turn sorrowful, the main thing is you're alive.

- Don't send only the news to home.

- I'm not absolute idiot, Slava! All will be OK! You'll get insurance.

- I'll buy a video recorder, otherwise I had never payment large enough to do that, and now it will be enough.

- Maybe I should also make my head under a bomb and get money for video.

- Put the head outside in a couple of blocks, something will fly into it. Fuck it, Yura, such funny money. It seems we're coming?

- We go through the blockposts that are situated before the North, - Yura was watching through the triplex of the armor.

We came to the hospital that was located in the airport. Everything was familiar. It was about two o'clock a. m. I was instantly taken under attentive control of two delightful, mice, fascinating, beautiful nurses. And in spite of the late time, broken skull, giddiness I was almost in love with them. I ate them with my eyes, inhaled their smell. When some hours before I had seen Hava, also a likeable woman in some measure, before me, then I felt no such feelings as at that moment. It seemed I found myself in paradise.

While one was writing down my data and fulfilling the necessary forms, the other one made me some injections. It was clear when the underskin injection against tetanus was made, but I had never heard anything about the other ones. But I was ready to bear them. Knitting my brow from the pain I tried to be wit, laught, told some anecdotes. The girls loudly laught. Some young doctor came, listened for a while, laught and, when the nurses had finished their work, took me and lead to a dark room. They made some X-ray photos of my head and leg. After that they lead me into another room, put the head into the vice of some huge apparatus and watched something on monitor. That continued for suspiciously long while, then they brought my X-rays photos. Two young fellows were wispering together about something for a long time also. That was what I did not like little by little:

- Men! What's about me? Is there something serious ot not? Tell me truth, - I had put my grenade in the vest, having left the jacket in the reception room.

- We don't know. There can be a crack or maybe a vein is going here.

- Men, that is vein going: when it hit, then there was much blood. Don't hesitate, that's a vein.

- We don't know, must see.

- I know what means your "must see". You're not tourists at excursion. I'll give you a couple of bottles of good cognac swearing that there is a vein, but you must not see it. Arranged?

- I guess also that is a vein, it doesn't look like a crack, - and one of the doctors uttered something else in the birds Latin language.

- Well, we make you the seams, but tomorrow you must fly with the very first plane to hospital.

- To which one?

- Don't know. Depends on where from the board comes. You're light wounded, therefore most likely either to Rostov or to Novgorod. Let's go to sew the forehead.

- Thanks, men!

I stood up and followed the doctor going to the procedure room. They put me on the operations table. The doctor had washed his hands and put on the mask, a young nurse was assisting him. From the curl, coming out from under the small cap I was able to conclude that she was a blond. Her wonderful blue eyes were playfully looking at me.

Why should I at all die, when so fine eyes are watching me so naughtily. I was continuously looking in these two bottomless blue lakes. I did not see her face, but I pictured it be graceful judging from the mask contours. Eh, pity that I had already been married, as I had almost fell in love with that beauty.

Once more the bandage was taken off from my head, the blood went again, evidentely the vein had been broken for sure. They made an injection and began to cut something unnecessary off, after that to sew up.

- Are the threads self-resolving at least? - I was interested.

- No, man, such ones were over by us on the second day of war. We sew with what we have.

- And what do you have now?

- The threads black, number ten.

- The soldiers in barracks sew the buttons and so on with this thread!

- That's right. We make exchange with the sergeants getting it for spirit.

- Madhouse.

- I'm agree for hundred. Now be patient, we're about to cut a piece of damaged flesh.

- But they had already cut off in the med-company!

- We should correct something.

- Don't damage the skull!

- If your skull had caught a frag and repulsed it, then it would repulse the scalpel by all means, - and nasty crunching started again, that disgusting sound had flooded all the skull.

- Have you at least desinfected the thread in spirit, - I was interested, wincing from pain, but holding out before the charming blond.

- Yes, we have.

- That's already good. I had a thought that it could have been as everything in the Army, on the off-chance.

- Very different things have already happened, when we were operating on the front line, we had to sew up with the simple thread.

- And are they alive?

- Alive, - he soothed me.

- Well, gloria Tibi.

- Captain, would not you please breathe at me? - The doctor asked me.

- Can't see, why?

- Alcohol smell from you - enough to knock out a horse.

- Collegues have treated a bit after the wound.

- Don't speak, otherwise I fall down. Breathe with your nose.

I started wheezing.

- Breathe quietly, anyway it smells. Be patient, now I'm finishing, one more minute... That's it. Ready. Go to the chamber, you can hang about till morning. I've already written you down in the flight list, you'll fly to the motherland. Your war is over.

- Thanks. Thank you very much.

I went outside staggering to have some fresh air and have clapped on the pockets, the cigarettes were left at the jacket. 've entered the hospital again, took the jaket in the reception room, went outside again and lit up. I felt dizzy because of either medicines or non-smoking since so long time. Yura had already driven off. I slowly went, as far as the health allowed me it, in the direction of the airport. A sentry challenged for me in the darkness:

- Halt! Passwort minus one!

- Go to hell.

- I'm about to send you to hell just now.

- Shut up and call for the commandant of the airport.

- One moment.

In about twenty minutes sleepy Sashka appeared:

- Who has asked for commandant?

- I, Sasha. Mironov is my name.

- Slava, is it you?

- It's me, brother, me.

- Good-oh, old devil! What is with you, Slava?

- Nothing horrible, a frag had stung, the skull is intact.

- Let's go, I know all the doctors, they will properly examine you.

- Sasha, they have already examined me. Tell me better when is the plane for the wounded?

- Usually at about twelwe o'clock. They take and - to Rostov. To sort the ones, and they send them from there further to Russia. Is that all, have you finished war?

- Sweet F. A. Finished war. You mock at me! When does transport to Khankala go?

- I don't know. I did not plan it in the evening. And why do you need it? D'you wanna make off?

- You're weighing quick. Organize something to my brigade at about eight o'clock. And if it's not possible, then though to Khankala. Will you make that?

- Slava, you should lie a bit in bed. Go home. I'll send you with the first class.

- You'd better send me to Khankala with the first calss. I may not, Sasha, leave. You see, am not able.

- Why?

- Why? Someone knows fuck all.

- You've just not chickened out, not fled away, but were wounded and not in somewhere but in head. Slava, man must not make any jokes about noddle.

- Shut up, don't agitate me. I'm staying here and bust. If you don't help me with transport, I'll reach it by hitch-hiking. Will you give me a transport?

- I will.

- When I make off from here, and if there is a mess about that, put a stop at it. I don't like scandals. Well, I go to hospital.

- Maybe we'll sit by my place, I've a French cognac. Come on, Slava, huh?

- No, I can't. I feel sick a bit somehow. I'll better lie a bit. So, at eight I'm here, yeah?

- Yes, there will be transport.

I went to the hospital, foud free bunk, lay down having not taken off the dress, had taken off only the boots, and fell asleep. I got a slumber without dreams. I woke up in the morning at about seven o'clock, rinsed my face, rinsed the mouth and went, smoking, to the building of the airport.

There was already Sasha waiting for me and nervously smoking. Having seen me, he went ahead to me, widely spreading his hands out. We met and hugged us.

- How are you, Slava?

- Thanks, in norm. Will you bring me?

- Only to Khankala.

- All right. Let's go, I'll phone to the brigade, that they take me from it.

We went to the comms hub, I phoned to the brigade and asked them to take me from Khankala. The people were wondered very much, I answered that they called me to be a malingerer and forced me out, and offered even no any breakfast.

Chapter 24

I had driven through all the city having no any weaponry with. I got a feeling that I was driving naked through the city and everybody was looking at me, but I couldn't even cover myrself with any small fig-leaf. We drove alongside the ruins. It was no city, but the utter ruins. What for had all that been made? What for, for whom? What for had I got a hole in my head? I got not a worst problem, it could have been much worse. It could have been so that I were brought in the box of pine and wrapped in the foil, and what about my son? Sod it! Will anybody explain me what for have we destroyed that city, killed so many people, lost so many ours? To have no uneployment? I do not understand!

And I tormented myself already again with the questions about that muddle-headed war. There were people rummaging in the mountains of rubbish, they pushed the prams, trolleys with the scanty goods and chattles in front of them. There were uncared dead bodies lying near the houses. Senility! They had not cared about the dead bodies till that day! The warm weather comes and plague will follow. Sod it! They were able to find money for killing of the people, and they have no money, no wish to bury the dead ones in accordance with the humane rules. They could have given at least half per cent from all pillaged things to organize the funerals.

The most stupid, the most untalented war. The generals get the rewards, carry the goods with the full loaded planes, and I'll get an insurancy. I've counted what it is, one and half million roubles (in the year 1995 1500000 roubles was about $ 250-300, an avarage month wage of a high qualified worker, enterprises massively played with the money dalaying the payments for many months - O.B.A.). I can buy something, if they do not keep the money for a long while and do give it on time. Otherwise inflation will eat it.

The boyos were running in front of the ruins and playing at war. They were shouting something in their language and laughing. The children play only at the things that they see. And they can see nothing, but war. They will grow up in that way seeing nothing, but the war and those ruins. It's a quick thing to destroy something, but it takes years and generations to build. I've doubts that the people, that we tried to annihilate and taught to wage war, the people that had tasted the smell of the robber life and having the real enemy - us, will have any ability or wish to revive something here. They will come to Russia. They will make some activity and have fun over there. Maybe they will make the population of the Russian cities feel the same horror, that they had to suvive through. Who knows?.. Who was able to assume half a year, a year before, that such thing could have happened? I have to accompany my son to school this year. We should somehow finish all this rigmarole before the first September (in Russia the official start of the year at school is on the first September - O.B.A.), otherwise he will see the battle reports on the news instead of learning the lessons.

I haven't eaten anything for breakfast, it was sucking under the stomach and in spite of the headache there was a wish to drink. Maybe these are the signs of alcoholism? We'll see. The main thing is to reach ours, not to be stopped and sent home. Why, strictly speaking, do not I want to go home? On one hand all my intentions and wishes are aimed at the only that thing, but what is on the other hand?.. I do not like to break my matter in the middle point. I must finish it. There was no any substitution for me, it was shame before the fighters, officers, Russians, who lay in the earth over there, who got to be cripples for all the rest of their lives. And so great picture it will be - I'll come home, all decorated, having the bandaged, breaking from the ache head and say: "Hello, my dear wife!" To hell with it! I'll get a bit better and go. There is no such an order to send me home, without my wish. There are no active battle actions now, everything is relatively calm. I'll lie a bit. I've got enough medicines at the medicine stores, but if there is not enough, I'll get for the spirit exchange from the neighbors or Sashka-commandant will get something. We'll succede that! The main thing - I live.

After the wounding and the sleepless night I reestimated the spent life, got another opinion about the happenings and the own life. I began to appreciate every lived day, minute, rejoice at everything. To give no damn about troubles. I am alive, have something to eat, the wife and the son are healthy and all the other things are shit. I appreciate every breathing in, every minute, rejoice at the sun, rain, wind, have liked the nature in the new way. Nature is our mother. We have come from it and will go into it. And the moscow politicians are the cheats, who do not care about Russia and about me. I do not want to think about all the people, about Motherland. They do not think about me, about my family, what the hell should I think and be upset about their fates. Let everybody care about himself. It's better that God lets nobody disturb me or my relatives - I'll smash that one. The fighting experience can not be forgotten or drunk off; if it's necessary, I'll smash into the small pieces. If I can't do it morally, then I'm able to do it physically for certain. And I have learnt not to forgive the insults made to me. If earlier I was able to give no damn about, to wave with my hand, then now it's quite another thing. The sosiety has made me be so, it must now tolerate me as I am. I have realized myself as no any small screw of the huge mechanism, but as a person with the capital first letter. I have paid Motherland and sosiety all the debts in full. I've paid with my blood and with part of my health. We are quits now. If the sosiety and Motherland have decided since already a long time to feel free about any obligations concerning me, then I also can feel myself free from them, and all propaganda slogans touch me very little. I do not set myself higher than the sosiety or its members. No! But I'll not shoot at my people or take for the real thing the next far-fetched enemy, any idea about whom will be pressed in my mind distracting me from the every-day problems, - that trick will not be already played anywhen. The mainest my enemies, who have robbed, bled white, sent to the death me and my country, who take the future away from my son, - they are sitting not over the ocean and all this mess is no any intrigues of the CIA. There are no, - to say correct, I have had no, before I got them by myself, - any enemies in Grozny, all the disasters and troubles are made for me by my people and my country, which I love and hate for disorder and spinelessness, by the capital and by politicians of all colors and wings, who have entrenched themselves in there.

Having such thoughts in my mind, I have come to the blockpost on the entrance to Khankala. A cursory check of the identifications. We enter the base territory. Many things have changed. There is no any rubbish, everybody goes being smart, salute each other as if there is a civilian life going on. I stop some young senior lieutenant: a large badge is shining on his breast, the same as by all the local ones. And there is an inscription on it - "Khankala". The badge is a large one, something is pictured on it, something like a shield, my eyes can not see good yet, are watering.

- Where can I get such one? - I ask the brave serviceman.

- Nowhere, that is given by the Commander personnaly the ones who are on the service here. That is distinctive sign of the HQ, - the young chap proudly answers, affectionately touching the badge on the breast.

I step aside shaking my head. Alas for the times and the manners! That is for sure, they, here in Khankala, will be proud of their service and war in Chechnya. If just every fighter has got such badge here, then what should we suppose about the rewards and ranks, the ones are certainly pouring out as from cornucopia.

The men have told that our brigade's staff manager sitting in Mozdok only to write the rewarding papers and to make the other paper red tape, constantly sends the rewarding papers back. The ones were either not correctly fulfilled, or dirty, or crumpled. That monkey had been promoted from captain to the lieutenant-colonel during the three months, the whole breast was covered with the orders. When San Sanych got to know that, he prevented him from returning back to us. That was all. The one had moved to the Moscow military district already. Yeah, the higher fucking monkey climbs, the more you see of its behind.

Two APCs drive in through the gate, there are so familiar and native letters "S"! So native, so warm, the feeling is as if I haven't seen them since already about three hundred years. OURS! Siberians. I hurry up to them. They have noticed and wave with the hands, shout calling for me, having half-risen, holding with the outstanding parts of the vehicle. The joy is sincere. The throat is blocked with the lump, as if being squeezed with vice, the tears are watering in the eyes. I become somehow too hysterical or sentimental. I wish the men could notice nothing, otherwise they could have a thought that I got madness reasoned by the wound. I brush tear away. The vehicles stop, all have landed, encircled me, we are hugging us, patting on the shoulders. Yura has come also.

If I and the others have merely joyfully hugged us, made fun of each other, then Yura, great friend of mine Yura, and I silently hugged us, merely, without any words. I have felt his shoulders trembling also. When I stepped half a meter back, I noticed that he also brushed off a tear. I see, borther, I see. That means, I'm not crazy. That is simple true men frendship, that was examined in the combats and sealed with the blood.

- What are the news, Yura?

- Don't worry, please, only!

- Don't mark the time as a cat. Tell me! - Some sweat covered my forehead.

- You see, while I was bringing you to the North, - Yura began, - some idiot made a call home, in Yurga (a town in Siberia - O.B.A.), and reported that you had been killed and I had been wounded.

- Have you phoned to the distrikt to say they should stop that disinformation?

- I've called, but they had already made a death notice about you...

- Why made?!

- Well, that your wife would get the allowance as soon as possible and would prepare for the funeral.

- Sod it, fucking disaster!

- Don't worry, I have stopped all that cooking.

- Thank you, Yura! - I told that with a deep feeling and shaked his hand.

- My wife was already reported, that I had been wounded. I had to ask the comms for connection to her to soothe her, explained that all that had been falsification, expropriation and provokation. It is shorter distance between my Novosibirsk and Yurga than between your Krasnojarsk and Yurga.

- Does not my wife know for certain?

- Certainly. Keep cool.

- I would not wish that she got a death notice about alive husbend!

- That means, you will live for a long time, if you, being alive, was reported to be dead.

- God bless your mouth, brother!

We came home, to the brigade, in one hour. I realized during that night how I valued my unit. How all the soldiers and officers were dear for me. We're one large familly. We quarrel, often swear at one another, and make one large, true understandable for nobody thing.

The medics started intensive treating about me at once after my arrival. They injected me the medicines which I just myself had got in the stores in Grozny. As if my heart had felt that I would need them. And at that time I was not already able to lie on the back because of them, it was hurting me. The headache was leaving off day by day, true the large bruises grew up under my eyes, as if some one had beaten my mug. Everybody, who had humour, made fun of that. I did not take offense, made fun of myself also. The attitude towards me was friendly, I did not suspect that the men had so warm feelings towards me.

In a week the seams were taken off, even not taken off, but the thread was merely pulled out. As the threads were not the silk, but the simple ones, they started to rot and some of them were still under the skin. The threads were rotting and getting out with pus. I asked the doctors to make me a cut again and to cleanse the wound, but they refused to. And even a couple of bottles of the good cognac did not effectively motivate them. And I had to squeeze every day the pus with the threds out wincing from the pain as if there was a pimple and flood the wound with the spirit. It was unpleasant to feel that I had the purulent wound on the head, it was good that no any worms setteled themselves in it.

I vistied the second battalion to see the godfather. Igor' received me as the relative one. While I was treating myself, Igor' was able to beat Shamil' Basaev out from the positions. Thirty men had beaten out the whole band! The one, trained in Abkhazia and GRU camps, was won by makhra! We went to the postions. I found almost new field glasses over there. A trifle, but a pleasant one. The binoculars were taken as the spoil from the enemy. Our, the Soviet one - "eight". I. e. eight multiple enlarging. Yura had found binoculars "seven" and TR (tube of recon). A type of the small perisher to watch the surrounding locality not rising the head from the trench.

Meanwhile the spring took absolute and incompromise power. The peaches were blossoming. The bushes were covered with the rose flowers, there were no leaves yet, but the smell, aroma were stupefying. You wanna peace, love, woman. Some war prevents you from returning to your beloved woman!

One time we went to the cannoners. They settled on the highest mound and corrected the artillery run on Gudermes. They pounded exactly. The specials had brought information about where the spooks' stores with the ammos and tech were situated. I saw it first time as the store with the armmos exploded. Effect, I must report you, is as the one from the nuclear explosion. The huge bright-red cloud is slowly rising up and growing as a mushroom. Tremendously. The things that I had seen former in the films can not be compared with it at all. But the most amusing, beautiful and terrible was the cicumstance that there was a flock of the cranes circling in the sky above us. The large grey-brown birds had flown up from the warm lands and were circling above us not understanding at all where to their home had gone. Why there were such noise and smoke, burning, cinder. Where to would they bring their nestlings up? Everybody was looking at the birds as bewitched ones. Nobody dared move a hand either for shooting, or even for aiming at those noble, majestic creatures. Everybody was merely watching and sympathizing with them. This carousel was going on during about two hours, and after that all the flock in order flew somewhere to the North-West.

When we came to the CC, then we got to know that two representatives of "The soldiers mothers commitee" had arrived form Krasnojarsk to the brigade. What about they spoke and what they undertook, I had no any idea. I had only given a letter with them. I had to prepare my wife to see the suppurating holes on the forehead.

In the letter, the same as in the former ones, I noted that I was being situated in Mozdok, and there after a common party went out byt night, stumbled over something and hurt the skin on the forehead. I was afraid that anybody of the sweet hearts would report my wife about the true character of the wound. While I was writing the letter, Pashka was preparing the firewood for the night. Although the spring had got the power, it was still cold by nights.

- Vyacheslav Nikolaievich, and when you come home, will you revenge on the Chechens? - Pashka asked.

- What for? - I sencerely wondered.

- Why? They have wounded you, and you have fought them.

- Pasha, we and you also have not fought, but have taken part in the reinstating of the constitutional order. And we fought and struggled not against the whole people, but only against its top brass and the local army that was named "bandformations" by mistake in Moscow. The people is not guilty of that thing. The stream of the refugees is flooding now Russia. The spokesmen of those "formations" will later follow them also. And even in that case, Pasha, you are not allowed to kill them.

- Why? - Pashka was bewildered.

- That is illegal.

- And what about them?

- They have also no right to kill you, although you destroyed their houses, killed their families, raped daughter, sister.

- I have not pillaged and have raped nobody, - Pashka muttered, cutting a splinter.

- I told figuratively. We should learn to live neighboring. That's that. The peacful co-existence. There will be no war with victorious end. We and they are the citzens of the one state, and they have the same rights as you do, although it can be so disgusting for you. In our case they have even more rights than we. As they are refugees. And you, as well as I also however are the murderers of the peaceful population. Not more, not less.

- You have told a thing - "murderers". They are enemies, and generally the Muslims are disposed to be against us, orthodoxes, as against the enemies. And in the peaceful life they create different machinations against us.

- You are not right, Pasha, I have acquainted men in the militia of Krasnoyarsk. They work three of them, as one team. One is Belarussian Sasha Dubodelov, the second one is Russian Sereoga Nikanorov, the third one is Azerbaijani Natik Talibov, moreover not the one who had been born in Russia, but who had come to Siberia by distribution (in the Soviet Union the students after graduating from institute got the obligatory distribution: where at they must be taken on the job - O.B.A.) and stayed there at. So that, that Talibov gives no damn about nationality, denomination. He standes on defense of the law and fights the criminals: Azerbaijanis, Tadzhiks, Chechens, Russians without personal preferences. What would you say about that? Everything depends on the concrete person.

- It happened here a couple of days ago, ours had stopped a decorated "Volga" (a type of the Russian car, expensive one - O.B.A.), on the blockpost. The bumpers, discs, layings, antennas on the roof as if it is a hedgehog's head, the glasses are toned dark. All beautiful himself Chechen gets out. "I'm, - he says, - a representative of the opposition". Ours give no any damn about whose representative he can be, he could be representative of the very Dudaev, and the order is the order. They start to inspect the car. They have found a large suitcase in the luggage-rack, they wanted to open themselves, but the spook did not let it. So, he opens it himself, and there are lots of the buttons and some lamps. He asks who has a phone at home? One of the fighters tells his town's code and the phone number. The spook takes something like an umbrella, but it opens back to front. It turns to be the apparatus for the cosmic connection. He spent about fifteen minutes busying himself, and then held out the tube. Ours had spoken to his mother. Our guys liked that "toy" and said: give us as a present, man. And that one dug his heels in. The gizmo is expensive, no, no any chance. Ours finished him off at place, put the body in the car, the "Volga" was burnt and sent to Sunzha. It exploded near the very water. They started to bustle about the suitcase this way and that. It did not work, you can rack your brains. They shot down the appartus and sent it to the water to follow the owner.

- Greed drives thief to the brick. The fighters are the total idiots also. They had to ask the spook to give them the manual instruction before finishing him off.

- But he just did not give it, scoundrel! - Pashka was superindignant at the irrational behaviour of the spook-oppositioner.

- Why, have ours forgoten how to make a clapper ring?

- Y-eah, the guys were too hot. And it would be not bad at all to call home now! Huh, comrade captain?

- Don't touch me, sadness, please.

The letter was ready, I had found the main woman and asked her to take that letter for Krasnojarsk. Either to throw it merely into the post-box, or to send it with the acquaintances. Maybe some one has something against that committee's activity, but I am thankful to them as my letter was delivered to the address.

In a couple of days the reinforcement came to the brigade. The unemployed, homeless ones were collected all over Siberia and Zabaikalje, dressed in the uniform, given the weapons, loaded on the plane and sent to wage war. They promised them the gold hills. All the ones made the contract. That was the first experience at the battle actions of the "professionals" or "mercenaries", pox on all of them. Ugh!

One part of that "threat to Dudaev" was scarcely able to stand on the feet. They had made exchange on the way, got spirit for the dry meal portions, and pigged out. If there were no comrades by the side, they would fall down. There were also conscriptors. They had though made training on the range in Novosibirsk, were able to use the arms. Many soldiers were volunteers. The heros will never become extinct in Rus'. On the next day one more transport with "mercenaries" was expected. The sorting started. Watchig the overdrunken faces I had a thought that those warriors were about three hundred years old, I myself looked to be no any boy, recently had got full ten years older, but those stuffs... It turned out mostly all of them were younger than I was. Some idiot sang them a song that the payments for their fighting toil would be price-prime one. I. e., the basic pay itself and plus an extra prime would be paid for the every head of the killed Chechen. Naturally, they posed themselves as very tough militants, so that Rembo in comparing with them would be a pup.

The soldiers who themselves had experienced all the hell turns in Grozny were standing next to them and mockingly, calmly watching that circus. Gradually everybody was taken and brought to the subdivisions.

At six o'clock all CC was woke up by alarm. Commander of the second battalion asked to come urgently to his positions for analysing of the accident. In his words there was everybody alive, but he asked to come all who were able to move and were not busy just at the moment. Swearing and coursing, we put on the clothes and, headed by the general, came to the dislocation of the second battalion. The spectacle that we saw was the very colorful one. The battalion was lined and devided on the three groups. There were the soldiers who had participated in storm of Grozny in the first one, as well as some soldiers-conscriptors come on the day before; the second group - about twenty five-thirty people of the fresh come "folk militia". All the ones, situated in the second and third - the most numerous one - groups, were with the signs of the deepest drunkenness. In the third group, all the faces were nice. The lips and noses in the third group were smashed in blood, the black eyes were swelling, the uniform was smeared with blood, the weaponry was put before them. The first and the second groups were armed. Com-batt made a command and gave the general report in words, and then began his story:

- I woke up as usually at one o'clock a. m. and went to control the service of the sentries. There is silence in the third company. There are no any fighters in the trenches. I think: that's that! Either they were slaughtered or the company in full complement deserted to the enemy, I've got sweat even. I wake up all free officers and we go to search. Nobody, no dead bodies, no traces of any fight, no weaponry. Precisely, they should have calmly risen up and went to the spooks. And we can hear there are the noise and talks on the mound close by. We watch through the devices for the night observation. And there is all the company dead drunken, competing at slalom. They sit on the subgun, the butt comes against the earth and dashingly ride around the trees and bushes on these improvised toboggans. They bump into each other, fall, enjoy themselves. They organized a picnic on the life's verge, s.o.b.-s. We caught them all, lined somehow, took the weapons from them. It came darkness, it is seen almost no any hell, we count them, it seems all the boobies are at place. Every one of them is lead to me. I have changed the voice and ask the question: "Do you, brute, know where are you situated?" That one answers: "No!" I: "You're in captivity, Russian pig. If you shoot at the Russians, you're allowed to live!" The lad answers: "Shoot, cut me, but I'll not shoot at ours!" That is our fellow! We send him to sleep. The next is taken, the same questions, that one answers: "I will!" What have I to do - hook in ear, send to rear. The third is invited, and he answers: "As you order!" That jerk gets the same in ear, the figthers are tested and decide not to be aside, add some stamps. In short, among hundred fourty "mercenaries-militiamen" there were only thirty ones who had refused to fight against us. They were ready to meet death, and the others, comrade general, on my opinion, should be just today sent to the same military offices that had taken them to the service. Here is report.

We began to watch attentively the third group, that was ready to fight against their comrades. Everybody felt itching to stamp their faces, but judging from their faces, the fighters had already very popularly explained them their fault at that night. "The betrayers" huddled up under our intent looks. Some ones tried to explain something, that they had families, children. But all that only provoked the feeling of hatred, contempt and disgust. I had no wish to dirty the hands with such scums. Any soldier who had gone through Grozny and survived is worthy of a monument of gold and respect. I have already told and am not ashamed to repeat again that I am ready to bow personally, publicly to everybody of them down to the earth. They, the nineteen-twenty years old boyos, did not realize the grandeur, the grandeur of their spirits, of the Deed, that they had made. There are now only twenty eight ones on line from the first complement of three hundred seventy five men in the second battalion. A horrible statistics. And no one of us dared judge even with the words those lads for smashing of those mugs. For the ones who had been lost on Minutka, in the North, near the railway station, near the hotel "Caucasus", and in many-many places of the common grave - Grozny.

Close to the lunch time about fifty men of the reinforcement, mostly of the "mercenaries", were brought. Totally there were about two hundred twenty of them delivered to the North and they planned to bring more of them step by step. The riff-raffs from the second battalion were pressed as the herrings in the barrel and sent with the backflight to the homeland.

Chapter 25

San Sanych went to answer the collected questions by the request of the local inhabitants. He took Yura and me as the body guards. It was exactly a day off, although all the days connect to be the one continuous band in war. It's seldom when you can say what date or day of week it is today. But it was a solemn prayer in the local mosque in that day. We came just at the end of the prayer, the crowd of the local ones went out and half-encircled our UAZik. Yura and I did not like that terrifyingly. We toughly demanded that the locals lined in one row in the distance of five steps. That did not add any warmth in our conversation, but we could feel us calmer. There was a lot of youth younger than twenty five years old among the present ones. By the numerous signs we were able to detect unerringly the militants. The shabby fabric on the right shoulder because of the constant carrying of the subgun. The habit to hold the left hand always half bent and the shabby spot on the left sleeve's forearm are got also only in some time when the subgun's foregrip constantly rubs the sleeve. The right shoulder is lower than the left one as a rule, of course, because of the same subgun. The face can not become sunburnt during winter, but gets smoked from the constant shots and explosions. And many other small signs, which unerringly differ militant-spook from civil inhabitant. All this numerous group was hanging about the background talking nothing. The circumstance that almost all of them were dressed in the long and wide clothes and held the hands behind the folds of the coats, dressing-gowns, cloaks impressed Yura and me to be inopimistic at all. We had three subguns, the driver was not in account: while his jumping out from the car and turning around he is dead, there will be no any wet spot, but only the new coulouful memory about him on the local scenery. The elder heads are in front rank - a perfect alive shield, you can not finish them off by the only shot and can not find way to the main enemy at once, well: I am not going to risk my life for the sake of these aqsaqals (a kind of local word in the Middle Asia and Caucasus to name the elder heads of the clan - O.B.A.).

Yura and I are namely borring the crowd with our eyes looking for some suspecious motions, being ready to open the hitting fire at any moment. Yura had stood a bit on the right form San Sanych, being ready to cover him with himself bringing him down by any tiny peril, I would have just to protect them. We had one incontestable advantage - the sun was dazzling the potential enemy and was shining in our backs. The wind was blowing at the backs of the peasants, we would hear any rustle, click of the safety-catch, clinking of metall.

I did not listen to what about San Sanych spoke to them, in my opinion, it was something about sowing, all my thoughts were being aimed at the crowd. My subgun's muzzle followed my look. The young people in the far ranks were wispering together, pointing with the fingers at our direction, that got on the nerves very much. But it happened nothing unusual. In half an hour of the nerves tension, not better than on Minutka, the assembley was finished and we went to visit the local head accepting his invitation.

The host was cordial, set a couple of bottles of the pre-perestroika cognac (I told I would not drink, reasoning that with my wound) on the table. And he offered the dish, I don't know the name of it, but in the host's words it would be offered only the respected guests. The cooked skinned cows' legs. In a word - the hard bones. And something like the "lazy" vareniky (a kind of typical Russian meal - O.B.A.) made of the grey meal, the garlic sauce. The vareniky and sauce were OK, but the legs looked too unappetizing, I refrained from consuming them.

In about half an hour of such peaceful sitting and communicating some old man runs inside and is shouting something in Chechen language and pointing at us. The house host explains that two soldiers are beating up his neighbor with wife and are demanding vodka. Sod it! That is just the thing which we don't need!

We rush outside, the old man lead us to the place, it is just near us. We barge into the court. Precisely. Two of the just come "mercenaries" are beating up the old man, the old woman is crying. The local ones have gathered on the street. San Sanych runs as the first one, forces one of the bandits face to face and sends him down with a fist-blow at the jaw in some pit. While that flight Yura adds a hard kick at his ass to speed him. I seize the second one upon the breast and force him down, to the earth, he flies down. On the way his face meets my knee. San Sanych takes the first one up from the earth and punches on his face once more, but already forcing the pillager to the exit, Yura cares about the second one. I come to the old man and help him stand on the feet. The grandad is about seventy years old, all his face is spilt with the blood, he is scarcely able to stand, is staggering. I lead him to the well. Meanwhile San Sanych and Yura throw the two bastards outside and kick them into the car, the driver actively assists them. We race to the CC, there are about a hunrdred of men of the come reinforcement in the school yard, as well as the ones who are located on the CC and the battalions commanders.

San Sanych sends me to invite the commander. I am still outside, close to the door and can hear some shouts behind me. I turn round. And the hair on my head start raising, instantly the huge portion of adreanalin runs in my blood. The first bandit had taken the grenade F-1 from his pocket (the frags scattering distance is two hundred meters) and had already taken the ring and the stopping pin off. He rose the hand with the greande up and is huskily shouting something. There is a crowd of the people in the court. If it blows up, there will be minced meat, a lot of it. We are idiots, we had to search them before taking into the car. I start running. Yura and Atomas' rush aiming at the hand of the feeble-minded and squeeze it. Sereoga Kazartsev came running up from behind and kicks the scoundrel under the knees, the legs of that one bend and he falls down. Atomas' and Yura carefully take off the grenade twisting his arm. And they both try to go away holding the grenade close to them. The thrown down giant tries to run following them. I come running up and kick him in motion with all my spite. The powerful kick, multiplicated with the anger and hatred, hits his breast and something is crackling, the giant falls on the ground flying in the air and breaking his head. A nasty sound. The people come running up and everyody has an idea that it's his duty to kick the criminal.

I run following Yura, Atomas' and Kazartsev. Yura is holding the grenade with the white, trembling from the straining hands, and Atomas' and Sereoga put some rusty wire instead of the pin. They hardly manage that.

- That's that, Yura, release it! - Atomas' says with the voice breaking from the tension.

- I'm not able, men! The hands are cramped, - Yura does not joke.

- Come on, slowly.

All three of us begin to bend the Yura's fingers back. They are as if the wooden ones, do not slacken, but in some time all the fingers are released, the grenade is lying on the palm. Kazartsev and Atomas' take it and having taken the pin-wire off throw it into the deep gully, we lie on the ground. The loud explosion resounds, it is heard as the frags are jingling in the gully and stinging in the earth.

We stand up, everybody is shaking from the nervous tension, the sweat is steaming off from us, and go to our box van. When we go through the school yard, everybody greets us, those two ones are standing with bloody smashed faces and with the tied arms. The hands are on the back and the loop is on the neck. If they pull with their arms, the running-knots will close.

All four of us enter the box van. Yura throws the box with vodka open. He takes two bottles saying no any words, set them on the trestle-bed. We take the glasses. Absolute silence. Any words are of no sense, everybody is trembling with the nervous shaking. Everybody gets half a glass of vodka, we're clinking the glasses and drinking. No any snack, but again half a glass for everybody, chin-chinning, drinking. It's a bit better now. The nerves begin reacting. We are talking, interrupting each other. But now Atomas' is about to speak.

- Men! - he starts addressing to us. - I had a thought that you were usual shitheads, who posed as tough guys in war and therefore I ctreated you chilly. But now I've seen you're the real men. That's why I drink to you. You may name me your friend. To you, men!

We stand up, disturbing each other in the compact box van, clink the glasses and drink. Yura and I have yet not heard such sincere, warm words without any hint at any grovelling.

The last days in that war we were as the heros. In five days we were announced that the substitutes had come. Two majors had come. My one was from Barnaul, the one changing Yura was from Omsk. We went to Khankala, but sent the new guys inside the APC. The men were indignant, but we calmed them explaining that we had to deliver them alive and they would have quite enough time yet to ride the armors.

In the evening we offered them some vodka in the proper way and drank good also, and in the morning our general and we left for Mozdok. The general had got also a substitute - the executive officer of the corps. That one instantly started with the lendlord manners. Something about strict uniform rules, saluting, making the beds and other military gaga, but it would be good in the civil time and not during the war. Yura and I gave no any damn about that at all. We bade warm farewells to San Sanych, Sereoga Kazartsev, to all the ones with whome we had gone under the bullets and frags. It was pity to leave. We had left a large part of us, of our lives, of our souls.

At six o'clock a. m. we entered the bus, and there were fifteen of us all together and at nine o'clock we came to the air force base in Mozdok. The plane "An-12" was waiting for us over there. The huge machine consisting of two saloons. One was small, for six men, the second one was huge - cargo-passengers one. The customs official had come and began searching about us with all rudeness. We, the frontmen, were swept as the worst cheats. After boarding the plane the vessel's commander told us:

- If you're situated in the large saloon, you should bear in mind that there will be landing in Rostov for refuelling, because we're going at the lower echelon, and we should spend eight hours reaching Novosibirsk, if you're in the small saloon,