In 1941 Ivan Krasnov extended an offer to President Roosevelt to allow a USAF presence in the Soviet Union. This offer was accepted as it allowed the USAF to strike at the Drakan industrial infrastructure rather than nibble around the edges. However there were grave concerns that the Russian Winter would cause problems for the American airplanes. At any rate no immediate action could be taken since America had yet to ramp up production, and so they were unable to establish a heavy presence in the USSR.

By 1942 this was changing, already an experimental squadron of B-25Cs and TBD Avengers torpedo bombers were flying out of Astrakhan to help interdict Drakan shipping in the Caspian, but Astrakhan combined relative safety with a strategic location and pressure to expand the base mounted. Since the end of 1941 the 1st Astrakhan Workers Construction Bureau had been working on a large airforce base just outside Astrakhan; in April they were joined by two battalions of SeaBees.

Come August 1942 the base would be open, and operations would commence almost immediately, this is the story of the brave men and women of the Astrakhan Joint Airforce Base, and the Two Stars over Astrakhan...

ASTRAKHAN, a town of East Russia, Capital of the Astrakhan Oblast, located on islands in the delta of the Volga river, where it empties into the Caspian Sea, on 46° 21' Northern latitude and 48° 5' Eastern longitude. The greatest part of Astrakhan lies below the spring flood levels of the Volga, so to prevent flooding dams have been built in many places.

Inhabitants number roughly 1 050 000, with the four largest population groups being ethnic Russians (est 425 000), Armenians (est 225 000) Persians (est 200 000), and Jews (est 120 000). The remainder of the population is divided between Greeks, Georgians, Kalmyks, Khazars, Tatars, and assorted refugees from the former Russian Central Asian territories.

Astrakhan is an important transport nexus in the Caspian region where three great railway nets meet the Trans-Caucasian Railway, the Trans-Caspian Railway, and the Trans-Kazakhstan Railway. Additionally Astrakhan is the chief port on the Caspian Sea, and an important port for traffic on the river Volga. It continues its ancient role as a crossing point between caravan routes and water routes. It is also the headquarters and main port of the Caspian Sea Fleet.

Astrakhan is an important commercial centre in great part due to its large and heavily developed petroleum and chemical industry. However Astrakhan also exports fish, caviar, sugar, tomatoes, watermelons, metals, petroleum products, machine-tools, fine carpets, cottons and woollens, and importing grain, livestock, fruit and timber, to the aggregate value of 4 120 million Roubles with foreign countries and of 3 625 million roubles with the rest of the Soviet Union.

In terms of native industry the petroleum and chemical industry is by far the most important, but there are also several large ship wharfs, machine tool industry, and large fish refrigeration and processing plants. The city has become famous for its excellent Persian carpets made by refugees from the Drakan conquest of Persia, as well as giving its name to the fur called Astrakhan, that is the skin of the new-born Persian lamb, and its imitation a rough woollen cloth.

The city consists of the following parts (1) the Kremlin or citadel (1550), crowning a hill, on which lies also the spacious brick cathedral containing the tombs of two Georgian princes, the archbishops palace and the monastery of the trinity; (2) the Byelogoros or White Town, containing the administrative offices, the Communist Party headquarters, and the bazaars; (3) the industrial section containing the petrochemical plants, metal works, textile mills, lumberyards, and machine tool factories; (4) the foodstuffs processing section located up stream and upwind from the heavy industrial region where is found the fish processing plants and other food processing factories; (5) Persian quarter where most of the Persian and Jewish immigrants live, herein can be found many fine mosques and synagogues of recent build, and this is also where the fine carpets and Astrakhan garments are manufactured; (6) the old city the former suburbs which are currently the preferred residential area and has many examples of fine pre-Revolution architecture; (7) The New City where most of the population resides, this is a large section of mass produced housing known mainly for its Astrakhan style of mural painting. The buildings in the first two quarters, and the old City are mainly made out of stone, and the streets in these quarters are also paved with stone. In the rest of the city the preferred building material has been concrete, brick and wood, and the streets are generally asphalted.

The city is the see of a Greek Catholic archbishop and of an Armenian archbishop, it also contains a Buddhist monastery, as well as technical schools, a ichthyologic college and museum, the Ivan Krasnov museum with ethnological, archaeological and natural history collections, a botanical garden, an ecclesiastical seminary, a Communist party political school, the State Hydrological Institute. The city has many fine squares and public gardens, which showcase examples of social realist sculptors, one of them retains a statue (1884) of Alexander II the Tsar Liberator. The most famous monument is the Ivan Krasnov monument, a sixty foot tall statue of Ivan Krasnov on the spot where he conducted railway management during the Russian Civil War. The city is surrounded by extensive vineyards and large widespread fish farms which cover the riversides these are mainly involved in breeding sturgeons. The city is built on a series of islands, as a result there are more than fifty bridges in the city, and because of this Astrakhan is often known as "The Venice of Asia".

Astrakhan was originally the capital of a Tatar state, and was situated some seven miles further to the north. After this city was destroyed by the Mongol prince Timur the Great in 1395, the current city was built. Astrakhan rapidly grew into a major trade city and was the main city of the Astrakhan Khanate between 1459 and 1556. In 1554 the Tatars were expelled by Ivan IV called the Terrible of Russia, and the new fortress called high Zayachy or Dolgy hill erected in 1558 marked the birth of the modern city. In 1569 the city was besieges by the Turks, but they were defeated and slaughtered by the Russians. In 1670 the city was seized by the legendary Cossack leader Stenka Razin; early in the following century Peter the great constructed a shipbuilding yard here, and made Astrakhan the base of his hostilities against Persia, and alter in the same century Catherine II the Great accorded the city important industrial privileges. In 1702, 1718 and 1767 it suffered severely from various calamities; in 1779 it was plundered by the Persians; and in 1830 cholera swept away a large number of its people. Between 1916 and 1920 it was the main reception area for refugees from eastern Turkey as well as Persia, and after 1918 in the same period it served as the main administrative and transport centre in the struggle repel the advances of the Domination of the Draka. In the middle ages the city was also known as Jitarkhan and Ginterkhan. Population (1867) 52 839; (1900) 151 975; (1922) 740 422. Eight miles above Astrakhan, on the right bank of the Volga, are the ruins of two ancient cities superimposed one upon the other. In the upper which apparently is the city of Balanjar (also called Balansar or Belenjer), archeologists have found gold and silver coins struck by mongol rulers, as well as ornaments in the same metals. The older and scantier underlying ruins are supposed to be those of the once large and prosperous city of Itil or Atel (Etel, Idi) of the Arab geographers, also the resident of the Khan of the Khazars, destroyed by the Russians in 1669.

Camouflage, or Maskirovka, was a Soviet Russian speciality during the Great Crusade. Indeed the Soviet proficiency at camouflage was so exceptional that it managed to affect the strategic outcome of the struggle.

In my days in Astrakhan I saw many examples of this, airplanes hidden under camouflage netting, hills hollowed out and turned into hangars, or bunker hangars covered with soil and trees placed on top of them. However Maskirovka was not just about hiding from sight, it was just as much about hiding in plain sight.

- A Soldiers Life in Astrakhan by Col. (ret) Thomas A. Vincent USAF


USAAF C-54 Skymaster
Airspace over Astrakhan Joint Airforce Base


Corporal Redlow was trying to get some sleep, it wasn't easy though; the Skymaster was shaking, and the idiot next to him kept humming and occasionally singing in a low voice a couple of lines from some Glenn Miller tune.

"The hurdy-gurdies, the birdies, the cop on the beat
The candy maker, the baker..."

He shifted a bit, normally he'd tell the guy to stuff a sock in it but hey three chevrons as opposed to Redlow's two, no need to get that kind of trouble.

In the end he gave up sleep and just sat up, his shoulder ached a bit from how he'd tried to jam it up against the wall. For a moment or two he just sat there, head leaned back a bit, staring up at the roof, and then there was another jolt and he nearly bit his tongue off.

"FUCK!" he yelled and smacked his fist into the wall, then he turned a bit to look out a window, beneath him everything was green, with a few areas of yellow grain.

"Ahh, fugger," someone muttered behind him, Redlow turned and saw that one of the other guys was bleeding from the mouth, he sighed and threw himself back into the seat. After a few seconds he looked out the window again, still the same old, same old. Now his underwear was itching, army issue was really warm and woolly, and when it began to itch it really itched.

Just before he thought he was going crazy there came scratchy voice from the loud speakers "Ladies and Gentlemen," it began, Redlow rolled his eyes the damn pilot was just a bucket of laughs, "We're heading down to balmy Astrakhan, which we will be reaching in fifteen minutes so be ready to depart, in case we are intercepted by Drakan fighters I recommend that you lean forward, place your head between your legs, and..."

In ragged unison about half the people in the airplane called out "KISS YOUR ASS GOODBYE!"

"You've heard it then? Alright then."

That joke was just so old, but every now and again some joker thought he could bring it up, Redlow thought it had probably been invented by one of those chariot guys in Rome; Octavio! You know what to do if your wagon breaks down? You put your head between your legs and kiss your assius goodbye! he snickered a bit at that.

"What's so fuddy," the tongue biter behind him asked, so Redlow explained, "You're weird," was the tonguebiters verdict as he leaned back into his seat.

Cpl Redlow sighed and started looking out the window again, there was absolutely nothing else to do, and soon enough the terrain began to change a little, becoming more inhabited. He checked his watch, about fifteen minutes had passed and now he could spot a couple of runways.

"Hey there's the airport!" he said, at once everyone else on his side twisted and turned to peer out the windows.

"As some of you may have noticed the Astrakhan Joint Airforce Base is on your right side, we'll be doing an over flight and clear for landing."

"What's wrong with the runway?" someone asked, Redlow didn't know who, but he figured that the guy was probably just unused to gravel runways or something. Then he checked for himself, "This can't be good..." he felt a knot forming in his guts.

Smoke rose from a few burnt out shacks next to the runway, and in the runways themselves there were huge craters surrounded by piles of freshly churned up soil, he could see big chunks of asphalt that been broken up, and by the side of the runway lay the burned out skeletons of Soviet and American airplanes!

"We can't land there," Redlow said, he worked support and he knew that there wasn't an inspector alive that would OK landings on that strip.

"We're clear for landing, and I recommend tightening those seatbelts as it may be a tad bumpy."


"I hope you liked flying with us, and..."

The rest was lost as Redlow looked at the airfield again, yep, it was definitely shot up to hell and gone, and from the expressions on the faces of the rest of the guys, he figured they thought the same way. Then from behind him he could hear the tongue biter mumbling something...

"Ave Maria, gratia plena,
Dominus tecum,
benedicta tu in mulieribus..."

"We're not gonna die, we're not gonna die," Redlow began muttering as he watched the airplane dive down towards the shattered runway, "we're not landing, we're not landing."

That was when the sergeant next to Redlow spoke up "Shaddap, the fuckin' lot of you."

Redlow shut up, but he kept shaking his head and clutching an armrest as he watched the runway, some of those holes were at least five feet deep, if the plane landed in one of them... lower and lower the Skymaster went, shaking a bit the way an airplane often does before landing. Then with a skid from the wheels, and a jolt travelling through the body of airplane, it landed making Redlow release a shivering breath as he waited for the screech and shock of the airplane running into a hole at speed.

It never came, instead the airplane rolled straight over several of the holes, but to Redlow's surprise they seemed... well flat and one dimensional from the ground, even though they'd been oh so real seen from high up.

"Apparently we forgot to inform you of the Russian camouflage scheme, it's really effective." Redlow thought he could here the snickers as the loudspeaker clicked off again.

"Sod o' bitch," the tongue biter muttered.

"God, I know I've not talked to you a lot, but when I'm out of the Air Force and the war is over, please let me meet that guy again!" Redlow said in a pleasant, yet low voice.

"Knock that off," the Sergeant called.

Redlow was about to protest, but a little voice warned him don't, you'll just get in trouble, "Right Sarge...ant..." he even peered at the mans chest "Sanchez," not worth it, just bloody well not worth it.

"And don't you forget it either," Sergeant Sanchez warned him.

Landing Field
Astrakhan Joint Airforce Base


The big four engine C-54 Skymaster came to a halt on the runway, just outside what appeared to be a small unimportant shack. Seconds later, while the propellers were still slowing down, a small army of Soviet ground crew came out of camouflaged positions in the ground. It was really quite eerie, without hesitation, they began to push the C-54 beneath the protective camouflage netting.

Inside the airplane the passengers could feel the C-54 being rolled down a very light incline, everything was murky outside the windows, but they could see lots of Soviet ground staff and a few USAAF staff too going about their business. In the distance, welding flames would suddenly throw up light for a few moments, before everything went dark again.

When the C-54 came to a rest it was inside a tightly packed underground hangar, airplanes were literally stacked wingtip to wingtip as space was at a premium.

As the Army Airforce crewmen staggered out they noticed that the ceiling above them was covered in tarpaulin, on the ground right beneath the edges of the tarpaulin there were brownish stains on the concrete. [1] Everywhere people were doing something, there was quite a racket, and the air was cool and moist making a lot of people cough loudly.

Moments later Sergeant Sanchez, and a Corporal with a clipboard, lined them up, and ordered them to stand to attention for some officer to talk to the new arrivals. The soldiers tried not to groan, they were tired, miserable, and not in the mood for yet another officer giving them some pep speech.

Captain Michael "Mike" Berrigan called, "welcome to your new home and workplace." He shifted a bit, trying to keep the weight of his bad leg, the men were well behaved, but even in the bad light, he noticed their reactions to his burnt face.

"I make it my business to greet every single group that comes here, I won't give you a long and boring speech, but I will tell you this: This base is vital for stopping the Drakan thrust into the Caucasus and Central Asia, and you volunteered to be here. This is going to mean a lot of hard work under very difficult conditions, you can and you will handle it, I've no doubt about that."

About now half the new troops began tuning out, they had heard it all before and they were oh so tired.

"Second never, ever, do anything to endanger the camouflage, the Maskirovka, as the Russians call it, of this base. If you do you will be in a lot of trouble, and if you do it willingly for some twisted sick reason, you will be shot."

Quite a few heads rose up at that though shot? Yeah... well I guess Redlow thought, he shifted his weight a bit and tried not to attract attention.

"Finally I do keep an open door policy if you have an actual problems, I also have a suggestion box. I regard both as privileges, an act of generosity on my side, don't abuse my generosity, and don't try to go over the heads of your lieutenant or sergeant. Other than that you are welcome, and Corporal MacKenzie here will show you to your barracks," he motioned with his stick at a common looking corporal carrying a clipboard, "Dismissed."

Moments later the Corporal with the clipboard was showing them towards their barracks, he at least was being quiet. They had to walk through a long narrow underground tunnel to get to the barracks area, and it was somewhat low so anyone over 6'2" had to crouch. Behind him Redlow could hear someone coughing, the air did not feel at all healthy.

Stepping outside was an interesting experience, their eyes had just gotten used to the gloom inside the hangar area and now they found themselves looking straight at the sun. A lot of them blinked and covered their eyes, before they realised that it was quite warm, and that it was also moist.

"Isn't Russia supposed to be cold?" Some jackass complained, he was already sweating beads the size of bullets, unfortunate side effect of dressing up in woollen long johns.

"It is cold, it's only 80 degrees," the corporal announced, he seemed vaguely amused, "it gets much warmer in the day time."

"Warmer? But this is Russia!" It didn't get better from there, Redlow understood though despite the briefing he'd put on extra woollens, but he didn't really regret it since that hangar had been nasty.

USAAF Barracks
Astrakhan Joint Airforce Base


The barracks were actually quite nice, they were build from wood and had sandbags piled up on the walls, and nice slat roofs too. A lot of the windows had been replaced with plywood or cardboard, and he could spot a couple of bullet holes too, jagged nasty ones with frayed pale wood around it. The best part though was the entrance, first you opened it up and walked into a short corridor and there was another pair of doors, it was apparently very nice in the winter.

The room he was assigned to wasn't so bad either, one of the windows was replaced by a scotch-taped piece of cardboard, but the other one was intact. It was clean of course, wooden floors with a couple of simple green carpets, and four double bunk beds, two beds arranged in an L shape in either side of the room. Couple of lockers and a table too, so aside from being a bit cramped things were looking up.

There were three men in the room, one of them got up at once and called out "Hey new guy!" Redlow quickly scanned the three other guys, there was the guy that just got up, he seemed friendly; one of them was laying on his back reading a magazine; the third, the third one was clean, far too clean. All of them were corporals, except the ultra clean guy who was a Technician 5th Class, signals corp.

"Yeah hi, I'm George Redlow" Redlow said, good impression, "is it just us?"

"Just us, sure, I'm Mike Henschel, that's Robert Jackson, and that's Soap," Mike stopped at once, "eeeh, Joseph Smith."

"My nickname is not Soap!" Clean Guy, or Soap, chimed in, "Just because you..." he was waving his index finger now, "You don't eat beans do you Redlow?"

Beans? Redlow was searching desperately for a good reply, but all he got out was "huh?"

"Beans do you eat beans?"

"When they're on the menu?"

"We had a guy that ate beans, and every time..."

"He's kinda nuts about cleanliness, and smells, and ... well that kind of thing," Henschel said.

"Hey! I'm just cleanly, and I don't like people stinking out the place!" Soap said, his voice was getting louder.

"I'll try not to," Redlow said, "which is mine?" he added trying desperately to change the subject great, just my luck, why do I get the loons?

"Take that one right now we each got our own bed," Henschel said.

"Right," Redlow said as he threw his duffelbags onto the top bunk.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you," Jackson said without looking up from his magazine.

Redlow stopped and half turned towards Jackson, "Why not?"

"Because if there's an air raid we all crawl under the beds and push against the walls, I'm just saying," Jackson said and then returned to reading his magazine.

Redlow stopped, then he dropped his stuff further down, after some struggle he managed to pull out his bed sheets, pillow and covers from the duffel they were packed in; he never ceased to be amazed at just how tight those things could be packed, and how he never seemed to get the knack of doing it himself. Making a bed was something he did have a knack for, and he was thinking about that as he tightened the last sheets.

"Soooo, where's everything at?" Redlow asked, trying to break the ice a bit.

"What do you mean?" Henschel asked.

"You know, chow hall, commissary, the john, you know the usual."

"Right... directions are painted on the buildings, we used to have regular signs, but the Russkies got p... eh you're not interested?"

"No, what, the Russkies?"

"Yeah they got paranoid they thought the signs would give away the position of strategically important locations."

"If they're close enough to read the signs wouldn't..."

"That's what we said, so then the MGB stole the signs."

Redlow stopped, then he grinned, "Hehehe, oh yeah, you're having me on, having the new guy on, very funny!"

Everyone else was really serious, "Uh no," Henschel said, "we caught this MGB Lieutenant with a chowhall sign stuck under his trenchcoat, and ah... well the CO decided that damn it we ran this base so if they stole the signs we'd paint instructions on the walls..."

"Come on? Come ooooon!" Redlow gave him a long look, "I mean come oooon!"

Henschel began to smile and chuckle a bit, "no really."

"Come on! You're joking, I can tell."

"No, I, you're making me, but it's true, really, guys!"

Jackson looked up from the magazine for the first time, then utterly deadpan he said "I've no idea what you're talking about."

"Whaaaat?" Henschel said, "Wait-a-minute! Come on, Soap tell him!"

Soap looked very annoyed, "I'm telling you stop calling me that!"

"Uh-huh," Redlow said.

"Specialist Smith," Henschel said with exaggerated courtesy, "please tell him that I'm not having him on!"

"Now you're just ... ah ... humouring me yeah!" Soap said.

"Come on! Be a pal!" Henschel looked rather upset now.

"Yeah whatever, he's telling the truth, they pinched our signs," Soap finally admitted.

"For real?" Redlow asked.

"Are we going to go through that again," came Jacksons voice, "Yes for real, yes they pinched our signs, no you won't be seeing that in Stars and Stripes anytime soon, and we did catch a MGB lieutenant and ... well the CO was not happy."

"Damn, why?" Redlow said.

"Why? They're Russians! They removed road signs, which makes sense you know to stop paratroopers and invaders and stuff," Jackson began, finally he put down his magazine and swung his feet to the ground, "and then they decided that if they removed the signs inside the camp it'd fight infiltrators, and that..." Jackson shook his head a bit first, "that was on the stupid side if you ask me."

"Great... anything else?"

"Bathroom down the hall, lucky us, four thrones..."


"Four WCs, commodes, toilettes, you know the por... okay four of them, we're about eighty guys now, if the place is ever filled up there'll be two hundred of us. Toilet paper is scarce, but at least now you can flush, earlier..." Jackson said.

"STOP!" Soap suddenly yelled.

"Yeah, I forgot, Soap here's... ah..."

"I mean it! Stop it!"

"Yeah sorry," Jackson said.

"Stuff the used tp in this box by the side of the WC," Henschel chimed in now, "man that was disgusting, it was like that time I was in old Mexico and I came to this really, incredibly, gross old gas station where..." He ducked just in time to avoid a shoe being throw at him by Soap, "Hey!"

"Knock it off Henschel," Jackson said, "I was saying, yeah we got showers too, just walk out the door and go straight ahead, there's a big building with shower painted on the sides, and it has this concrete tube thing... ah..." he snapped his fingers "what, what."

"Water tower, concrete water tower, it's half buried," Soap announced, "clean thank God."

"Yeah that's it, a water tower, you can see it, and they keep it steaming hot all the time," Jackson started again, "and if you turn, wait what shift are you on?"

"A shift, Hangar 4, Russian language," Redlow said.

"You speak Russkie?"

"Yes I speak Russian," Redlow let loose a string of Russian.

"Great, so you'll be talking to the peasants, nice to know, you're in our outfit too."


"Yeah you know, Russkies, rank and file, still peasants."

"Aaaah," Redlow said.

"It's true," Henschel burst in, "You know, the only two phrases in Russian you need are 'Stop drinking the fucking hydraulic fluid you dumb fucks it won't make you drunk' and 'how much for fuckee fuckee'."

"I note your glowing respect for our allies."

"Come on, you're new, but ... the Russians they either," he began counting off his fingers, "Break it, drink it, or fuck it."

"Or burn it," Jackson said.

"Yeah! Or burn it," Henschel agreed.

"Hey I was telling him about the camp, so you got the showers and the... and then there's the chowhall, just out the door and turn left we got Mess Number 1, but sometimes they bring us food out to the hangars, there's this little mess area there but... That's only if they're working us to the bone so don't look forward to it."

"Right, got it, how's the food," Redlow asked.

"Food..." Jackson shrugged, "It's okay."

"It'd be even worse if it weren't for the stuff we get from the farm," Henschel said. Seeing that Jackson was about to continue he began speaking a bit faster "I mean that's good stuff, hard for even the cooks to screw it up, but I'll give'em this," he smiled and pumped his fist in a 'We can do it' gesture, "They sure give it their best go!"

"It's okay," Jackson repeated, "I've had worse, but... I've sure had better too if you know what I mean?"

"Yeah I do, I do," Redlow said.

"That's about it... we used to have a bakery but..." Jackson smiled a bit, "Okay Henschel come on tell the bakery story."

"The bakery story?" Henschel said.

"Yeah go on," Jackson looked at Redlow, "It's a good one."

Henschel smiled a bit, eager obviously, and then he began telling the story "Sure, we used to have this bakery you see, nice place built out of brick and everything with a bunch of chimneys in it. You should have seen it, like a little piece of home, lovely place really, and in that bakery there's this fat bastard of a baker, we call him 'Cookie' right? I mean really fat, you got no idea, I'll show him to you but... how he manages to stay in the Army Airforce nobody knows."

"Cookie's got these two assistants, kind a skinny guys you know? See them together and you start wondering if he's eating their rations or something, and we've never seen him walking about at more than a waddle, like a giant walrus or something."

"One day I'm just wandering about minding my own business."

Soap coughed, "loafing," he said under cover of the cough.

"Yeah, yeah," Henschel said, "minding my own business, happily undisturbed by officers or nasty men with three stripes on their uniforms, right? So I'm near the bakery, I'm a bit hungry, and I figure that maybe I can bum some fresh bread from them, I've managed before. Suddenly, air alarm comes! I spot this trench and I dive into it, and sure enough there comes the Drakan airplanes, and I'm hugging the dirt!"

"So there I am, hugging the dirt, but after a while I figure that maybe I'll have a little look, so I stick my head up a little and I see this Rhino come in for a dive bomb! It got this huge bomb under it, and it's going for the bakery, I mean they've got to figure it's a power station or some shit like that with the bricks and the ... the chimneys and all right?"

"Down comes this bomb," Henschel motions with his hand showing the trajectory of the bomb, while whistling "TWheeeeeeeeeeee BOOM! Lots of smoke, lots of dust, but no explosion, and I go 'huh?'"

"Next thing I know is that the two assistant bakers, the skinny guys right? Come running out the door, they're covered in flour looking like ghosts, and they are running, and screaming BOMB! BOMB! I'm clutching down and watching, and I'm thinking damn did that thing land on Cookies head? Shouldn't they help him escape?"

"Out cookie comes, he's wearing this cookie hat, you know like a stove pipe with a mushroom on top? The one they cookies got in the movies, and he's running, and he's running, and damn it he catches up with the two assistants, and he goes right past them. Damn! You should have seen it, so the assistants start running even harder, I mean they're young and skinny, and he's a fat bastard in his forties, but he's pulling away, and they're just scared shitless that he's gonna fill up the trench."

"So I'm just watching and going 'damn the fat bastard can RUN', and I realise he's coming right at me, and I'm trying to move but my legs don't seem to work properly and he's right towards me. Then he gets to the trench, and for some reason he doesn't jump into it, he jumps OVER me, I mean he leaps over me, and I just look up and I see this huge thing over my head... if he falls down, that's all she wrote! He lands on the far side, it's like King bloody Kong jumped over you, BOOM! The ground shakes, I'm telling you I could FEEL him land!"

"So he's running for some hard cover, and his assistants they dive down next to me, and I'm going 'Cookie can run!' But they're not interested they care about the bomb, so we start arguing if that bombs a dud, I think it was, but while we're arguing it goes off... and there's dust, and bread, and flour all over the place!"

"So what you do?" Redlow asks.

"Well ah, don't tell anyone, but I scoop up a couple of fresh breads, shame to let them waste, and I go back to the barracks to tell everyone."

"So things are exciting around here?"

There was silence, then everyone shook their heads, "No," Jackson said, "no excitement really, we're bored stiff and all we got is the odd trip to Astrakhan."

"I heard that was a bit like the Venice of the Caspian?"

"Yeah, if you mean smelly, cramped, and filled with people speaking a language you don't understand, sure, but... it's getting drunk or getting laid," Henschel explained.

"There are theatres, movies, and cultural events too!" Soap announced, "if you ever went outside the red light district you'd notice."

"Why would I do something like that?"

"Soap here is also determined to bring some culture to us, personally... I think the only reason he doesn't like the dives in the red district is that they're, ah, ah... what's the word?" Jackson said.

"Immoral?" Redlow suggested.


"Filthy!" Soap announced, "I mean if you want to piss barbed wire for a month, be my guest, but given how cheap everything is you might as well go to an up class place!"

"Spend a weeks wages on a night with a Russian whore? That does..." Henschel began, but before he could finish there was a loud droning sound.

"ALARM!" Jackson yelled as he threw himself on the floor and rolled under his bed.

"Shouldn't we go to the shelter," Redlow yelled as loud as he could while the other two also dove for cover.

"You'll never make it! The Russkies got jack for long range warning, under the bed!" Jackson yelled.

Redlow crawled under the bed just in time to hear the first enemy airplane fly over head, it sounded like it was really low, and then the floor began to shake. POM-POM-POM-POM it reminded him of Indian drums gone wild, and above he could hear shooting, the roaring of airplanes, and the sound of windows shaking. Bits and pieces of stucco fell from the ceiling, and he prayed silently again, old schoolboy prayers coming to him as he wondered just how much protection a roof and a couple of bunk bed mattresses could supply?

Finally it stopped, he could feel his heart beat faster in his chest, his hands were shaking, it was unpleasant. He just lay there for a moment till the all clear signal came, and then he struggled back up.

Jackson had gotten out before Redlow, and now he, Jackson, sat on his mattress, muttering under his breath while trying to light a cigarette. Seeing Redlow he pulled out the unlit cigarette, "bed time in half an hour... don't worry they only come in the day, Reveille at 04:30."

"How can you sleep after this?" Redlow asked, shit, now they'll know you're a total greenhorn.

"Lie down, close your eyes, keep still, and tomorrow... another twelve hour duty shift," he smiled, "Welcome to Astrakhan Redlow!"

[1] The construction of the hangar is dug in with supporting timbers above to keep the soil up. Because the support above is timbers water might leak through, so the tarps are there to make sure it doesn't land on the airplanes. That is why the concrete around the tarp is brown it's where water mixed with dirt has leaked down.

"Sizzle, sizzle - I sent one of the bastards to hell in flames today."


"The enemy must be surprised and attacked at a disadvantage, if possible with superior numbers so the initiative was with the patrol. ... The combat must continue until the enemy has admitted his inferiority, by being shot down or running away."

- Edward "Mick" Mannock, British Great War fighter ace


USAAF P-40G Warhawk "Seraphim"
Airspace over Astrakhan Joint Airforce Base


"Red Leader to Blue Leader, Bandits at five O'Clock low."

"Blue Leader to Red Leader, I see'em."

Lt Vincent felt his gut knot up in anticipation, he'd been right out of training, and he'd wanted to get those damn snakes right away, but... those airplanes of theirs were beasts. He gently toggled the stick preparing to attack the enemy formation, it was a typical Drakan formation; long and stretched out like a swarm of mosquitoes.

Drakan Falcon C

Tetrarch Jacob Schuyler felt almost bored as they began their final approach, the target was a small fighter airbase. The powerful Kurenwor engine sent a pleasing hum through his airplane, and the weather was good, but he was still looking out for trouble those damned feral serfs are getting too good.

"Squadron, this is Meerkat, I got something at nine o'clock over."

Schuyler glanced in that direction, and sure enough he could see about a dozen tiny gleaming stars, the sun reflecting of propellers and cockpit plexiglass.

USAAF P-40G Warhawk "Seraphim"

Lt Vincent pushed the throttle forward, at once the "Seraphim" seemed to bounce forward, he had two advantages overall speed, and a much faster roll than the Drakan fighter. Better yet the Drakan fighters were coming in low, real low, two thousand feet or so, no doubt hoping to get a surprise.

"Hawk among sparrows! Hawk among sparrows!" he said out loud, to encourage himself, but seeing the enormous stretched out formation did not really encourage him. He was close enough to see the thousand-pound bombs slung beneath the Rhino's bellies, and the lighter ones strapped to their wings.

"Have at them, high speed pass."

Have at them? Jeez still he was pushing the engine for all she got, and now he began jinking a bit to give them less of a target, but he was starting to feel like he was playing chicken with an eighteen wheeler.

Drakan Falcon C

The P-40Gs weren't much more than kites with an engine attached, but they were fast and so damn nippy, jaunting madly as they made a head on approach. For a moment Schuyler wondered if they were insane, but only two of them were hit by the clouds of 25mm ammunition sent against them; the results were delightful, scraps of metal, wood and plexiglass were thrown over the scenery, and the pathetic tinker toy that remained went down in flames.

"Burn yo' bastahs," he grinned predatorily.

His grin changed when the Warhawks rushed into the formation, guns blazing, inside the formation many of the other pilots didn't dare shoot for fear of hitting other Draka. They seemed to be everywhere! Quick, manoeuvrable, rolling and dodging like a mongoose fighting a cobra, every time you thought you had a bead on them there they went.

USAAF P-40G Warhawk "Seraphim"

Every time he saw the brilliant flare of a Falcon opening up fire he thought he was about to die, he kept squeezing the trigger but the .50 calibre bullets didn't seem to do anything to the Draka except annoy them. Behind him he could see a flare as another USAAF pilot went down in flames, but he was too busy staying alive and keeping tabs of his wingman to worry about anyone else.

Suddenly there was a boom, and one of the Rhino's went down, "Whoo..." the cheer died in his throat as he saw that it's wing was gone, and that a Warhawk was plummeting with it to it's doom collision. His musings were interrupted by the need to keep jinking to avoid crashing, or being shot down.

Drakan Falcon C

There they left the formation, but deep down Schuyler knew they'd be around for another pass, and he was very pleased when he heard the commanders call.

"Section A turn to engage enemy."

Like a single well honed machine Section A entered formation and turned to face the flimsy Warhawks. Schuyler checked the sights, adjusting them to receive an approaching enemy. Like most Drakan pilots of note he fixed his own sights, only a fool lets serfs do it.

Then the enemy came, and Schuyler pulled the trigger, the vibrations shook his entire airplane, hundreds of 25mm rounds shot forth and in the approaching dusk it was like watching streamers of light reach forth towards the approaching Warhawks.

Yeah, yeah, dance around yo' lil' feral, yo' kin squeal laik a peeg.

He could feel the vibrations in his palm as he touched first one Warhawk, and then the other, meanwhile their bullets whizzed past him, or at most punched the odd unimportant hole. He felt like a knight fighting unruly peasants, he could keep killing as long as he had ammo, and the knight for as long as he could lift his arm.

USAAF P-40G Warhawk "Seraphim"

When he got the order to turn around for a second pass a fragment of Tennison crossed into his mind...

Their's not to make reply,
Their's not to reason why,
Their's but to do and die:
Into the valley of Death
Rode the six hundred.

"Guns to the front of us, guns to the side of us, and into the valley of death..."

To his left and to his right Warhawks were reduced to matchwood, he saw wings shorn clean off by concentrated bursts of 25mm fire. He saw cockpit hoods shattered and sprays of pink erupt from them for a second. He saw desperate survivors scramble out of their shattered airplanes, only to die from Drakan bullets or from slamming into their own airplane.

Right ahead of him he saw something growing bigger and bigger, four burning muzzle flames, and an airplane that handled like a pig in a bathtub. Vincent rolled, twisted the stick and pulled out of the line of fire, gaining some height, and then rolled back down GOTCHA!

When he squeezed the trigger again the row of .50 bullets shattered the plexiglass of the Drakan cockpit and punched right into the pilot himself nailing him to his seat. Inside the Drakan cockpit the heavy bullets tore the pilot apart, only his leather clothes kept him in one piece, and his blood soaked the lining of his seat as the airplane entered a death dive.

Drakan Falcon C

Schuyler cursed loudly, somehow the damned ferals had gotten Janet Williams, he'd known her since pilot school, and now... nothing more left of her than a torn up ragdoll plummeting towards the foreign soil. The moment that the enemy fighters were past him the orders came to turn, the Falcons moved much faster than you'd expect, they could do amazing things to their airplanes the Drakan pilots.

USAAF P-40G Warhawk "Seraphim"

Hawk among sparrows, Hawk among sparrows Vincent thought as he began firing on the Drakan airplanes, once more without much apparent effect.

Yet even though he couldn't see it the barrage of .50 bullets did have an effect, they shredded wireless cables snapping them like so much sewing thread. The bullets tore into panels with a loud tap-tap-tap-tap like a giant awl pounding an oil drum. Control surfaces were shredded, the bullets ripped through the metal tearing loose bits and pieces of it that rained down like confetti.

Suddenly Vincent had to stifle a shout, for one of the Drakan Rhino's began to trail black smoke, he didn't know it but one of the oil cables had been torn and the oil was pouring onto the hot engine where it turned to foul black smoke. Another Rhino began spewing smoke, for much the same reason. Neither one of them would go down though, even though the passing Warhawks took turns firing into them, but they handled more an more sluggishly.

Elsewhere another Rhino was attacked, the control surfaces torn into pieces, and bits and parts of the wing came flying off. The airplane simply ceased to respond to commands, inside a pilot struggled to keep it level but the Rhino began to bank heavily before plummeting to its doom.

That didn't make up for the heavy losses that they were taking, everywhere he saw there were Warhawks going down on flames, and worse yet those damn Draka went out of their way to shoot at the parachutes.

Drakan Falcon C

Ammunition was being expended at a prodigious rate, more of this and he'd be out, so he didn't join in the general firing at the ferals as they passed through the formation. For some reason Schuyler was convinced that they'd be back for another pass, and Draka didn't take chances so Section A was moved into position to receive that charge, just in case.

Four of them? Just four... damn... I should have... wait, no, they're not turning about? He let out a low, low whistle, whomever you are I respect your courage, but you got damn poor judgement, he thought as they came back for a third pass.

USAAF P-40G Warhawk "Seraphim"

No, no, no, no Lt Vincent was horrified, he couldn't believe they were going back for a second pass, he didn't feel exhilarated, or even terrified, it was... The sensation was quite different, his heart was racing, he felt light headed, his arms and legs felt as if they weren't really there, and he wanted to throw up.

They can't be armoured everywhere I just got to get in close enough and give it to them... was the thought that suddenly went through his mind, and with that in mind he dipped slightly low and called out on the radio "Cover me." It was received with a string of curses that he didn't quite hear, even at that moment he wanted desperately to pull away but he kept pushing.

Right ahead of him there was a Rhino, an unharmed one, with a nice load of bombs under it. He didn't smile, he just aimed very carefully, for some reason he couldn't quite get the aim right but he took it on feel. He pushed the trigger shooting wide of the wing and then walking the burst onto the body chewing up light armour plate but without seeming to do much damage. Then he hit the engine tearing holes in it so black smoke came wallowing out, it coughed and then stopped, but the Rhino limped on with a single engine. He jinked side ways and kept shooting, popping holes in the armour where it was thin, then by some fluke he struck the propeller, four Ma Deuce's hammering away will really do wonders for your propellers.

Through the air a piece of metal came flying, not at all fast he'd think, it glittered a bit, and his eyes went wide as he realised it was about to hit him.

When he regained consciousness... he noticed two things, first that there was a big crack right down the middle of the armoured plexiglass window of the "Seraphim." Then he noticed that he felt wet, he looked down and he saw a tiny innocuous piece of metal sticking out from his leather jacket, and just beneath the jacket he could see a dark fluid come out.

His hands shook madly, "Gooh, gooh," he couldn't speak, but he didn't feel hurt, and he moved the stick sideways over and over swinging around like a drunk. What are the odds? What are the odds? Damn low... he tried to control his breathing and to keep a level flight, while blinking to stay awake.

"SIR! LT VINCENT!" the voice snapped him back into reality, not his wingman but Lt Cooper, "You're in charge! Orders please?"

I'm in charge? That can't be, the other two have sen... shit, it's just the two of us left! "Pull back," he said, then he shouted it into the microphone along with something official sounding that popped into his mind.


They dove down, throttles forward, low and fast towards an inland base too far away for the Draka to reach, that or a nearby field. Behind them the remaining Drakan airplanes continued towards their targets.

Drakan Falcon C

Tetrarch Schuyler had trouble believing what he had just seen, even though he knew he shouldn't have, the tactic of walking a burst into an enemy propeller was very effective, but seeing a feral do it... it just seemed wrong somehow.

Either you're a natural kid, or you're a damn lucky son of a bitch, he thought as he watched the two survivors vanish in the distance, he took a very deep breath and then they continued on route to the airfield.

"Yes the Draka were good, very good," the old man coughs, "they would come at dusk, flying low and fast, sun in their tails of course, and we'd have a terrible time trying to hit them. Those big Rhino attackers, they were something else, heavily armoured so proximity hits wouldn't do much harm. They were good too, in the early days, excellent pilots, they could make these things move."

"We had some tricks ourselves, we had rings of observers with binoculars who'd keep an eye out and call in, but in the early days often the ... the bureaucracy wouldn't relay it. See we in the PVO Strany, what?

Outside the screen a question is asked, "What was the PVO Strany?"

"In your language the Anti-Air Defence, but we had one chain of command, the Red Army another, the Red Navy a third, and it wasn't before in September 42 that we finally had all the observers and communications under our own control."

"Then we had radar of course, but," he chuckles, "well I don't know how much good those early radars did, the Draka would bomb them every chance you see so often we had to rely on the observers. We had sound detectors too, they told us where the enemy came from, they looked very silly like four enormous ear trumpets stuck to a carriage, but they worked, they worked."

"Where was I? Yes the attack, the attack itself, and that was where I came in when we saw the bombers or attackers come in low and fast. In the early days they did that a lot, later on they'd learned not to do that if the area was defended, but we'd gotten better then too. I operated the Predictor, and what?"

From outside the screen another question is asked, "Was this an American Predictor?"

"No, no, we got them later, I forget the name, the Americans used numbers for them and I remember the numbers, number 24 was the first one we got, and it was good. Later on we got number 28, the Americans went higher but they didn't give them to us, even if I did on occasion get a look at them. Afterwards," he chuckles again, "afterwards the MGB man would come and ask me, ah..." He makes his voice sharp and inquisitive, "'Ivan Olegovich! What did you see? What did the Americans show you? How does it work!' and I'd try to explain, most of the time, that I hadn't seen anything other than a box, but... a couple of times, I was always astounded by how lax the Americans could be with security, I would see them repairing the machine."

Another question comes from outside the screen, "Did the Americans ever tell you to leave? Or get in trouble?"

"Only once, one of the officers came screaming that they, he didn't know I spoke English 'The damn Bolshie is watching! What the,' he cursed a bit here, 'are you doing?' then he threw a blanket over the parts and basically threw me out. So that was that."

Another question comes from outside the screen, "So you never really got to see anything?"

"No, I did get to see a bit, I did figure out a little, but, when I tried to explain to the MGB man, well... I didn't have a formal education back then so I didn't know the, the, technical name for all the parts, and he of course well he didn't know anything about Predictors. At the time I didn't know that, I was just astonished that he knew so much about everything, for whenever he asked questions about the most technical things he'd nod, and act as if he knew everything. Later on I found out that he just asked the questions to look good, and then he, he just relayed the written report we made," chuckles again.

Another question comes from outside the screen, "Can you tell us a bit about the Predictor you used, the first ones?"

"Of course, of course, it was very simple, a clockwork mechanism actually, but... see that was why I became an Predictor Operator, my father was a watchmaker, and I'd been apprenticed with him and the partners in the shop, so I knew how to fix clockworks. I remember telling them about that at the recruitment office, trying to get a Specialist rating you see, and at once they ask me if I could handle a Predictor. Now I had no idea how to work one," chuckles, "but I figure if it's clockwork I can do it, and I'd study at night and read manuals, and... so I did."

"So a Predictor yes? You have a box, ours was a small one about the size of a suitcase, and there was a handle on it like so," mimics lifting a large suitcase like thing, "it was heavy, it weighed as much as a grown man, a heavy man, and this was a light one, a mobile unit made to be easily moved. Then we have the tripod, and ... of course this was a simple model, a late Babbage, so we could only get approximate values, but when the Draka came in low they, well they weren't very manoeuvrable, it was enough. Of course if you tried using that, ah, that one we had against the Japs, oh, you'd never hit a thing."

"You aim the Predictor at the enemy airplane, the boys at the gun they stay ready, you crank the gear and feed in the data, and it spits out what you need to know. You had to know how fast it was going though, you had to guess at that, if you guessed wrong... well you didn't come near it."

Another question comes from outside the screen, "So would you give instructions to the gun crew or...?"

"What? No, no, no, the Predictor was linked with these cables to engines on the gun, who would move the gun according to the instructions of the Predictor. It has this simple little electronic thing, to send messages through the cables. The gun crew keeps the gun loaded and keep firing until they hit, it's very simple, yes very simple."

- Captain (Ret) Volokov, Anti-Air Defence, on "Remembrances on the 50th Anniversary of the Great Crusade."


Observation Post for Anti-Air Defence


The post was camouflaged by not being camouflaged, it was simply a conveniently located Collective Farm where one of the farmers was always on duty to keep a look out for Drakan airplanes. To entertain himself the watchman, Mikhail Pamyatnikh, was singing old Russian folksongs in a loud voice "The mail troika is dashing // over the frozen Volga in winter," be half bellowed from his perch up on the roof.

Suddenly he stopped, he tilted his heavy head a bit, and his eyes began to move up and down. He made a face as he jammed a hand behind his ear trying to see if he was imagining it. Meanwhile he kept on humming the song, but yes he heard something, something, he stopped humming and lifted up his binoculars looking towards the sound.

"Aeroplanes... aeeeeroooplanes," he said, then he stamped his boot as hard as he could against the roof, "AEROPLANES! Hey!"

From down below a tired voice came, "are you sure? Are they ours?"

"Many aeroplanes... coming from the south west," he squinted trying to make out any identifying marks, "DRAKA! DRAKA! From the south west!"

"Are you sure?" came the reply from downstairs, sounding more agitated.

"YES! YES! Screw you! I'm sure, call it in!"

The only reply was the sound of running feet and the wewewewe sound of the old telephone being wound over and over, then came the calls "Comrade Operator! Comrade Operator!"

"They're...", Mikhail felt oddly fascinated, even if he was a dull fellow, for the Drakan airplanes flew by a little over a verst from him.

"He wants to know if they're close!" the downstairs voice called, "are they close?"

"They're close enough that I can read the text on the side of them!" Mikhail roared, he could actually see some of the detail on their damned planes "Zmei and a big number 23 painted in black!"

Command Position
Anti-Air Defence Battery


"Yes, yes, yes Comrade Captain," young Captain Kuzenkov said, he had jammed one finger in his ear to keep away the racket his unit was making, "I see... one moment." Holding a hand over the telephone he bellowed "INCOMING AIRCRAFT! BATTLE STATIONS!"

For a moment his men hesitated, but with his second shout they leapt up from wherever they were sitting and half ran towards their assigned positions. They didn't really run, but rather they walked quickly in that slightly awkward way that people do when they're afraid they'll run into something or slip.

The battery was a standard one you had various positions surrounded by thick layers of sandbags, piles of them five or six sandbags thick, many of them as tall as a mans shoulders. Some of them were shaped roughly like keyholes, with the bottom open to enter and exit, others were simple circles.

The guns themselves, 45mm AA guns, were relatively exposed though, except for some light camouflage. This had a brutal logic to it land a bomb next to a gun and you might injure it a little and kill the crew. Land a bomb next to a Predictor and you just lost a very expensive piece of machinery, and a highly trained operator.

The heavy 49-K AA guns stood silent for now, sullen Russian conscripts, unshaven and nervous, had already loaded them, now they just waited for the orders to fire. At each gun there were some guys that stood around, half hopping from leg to leg, showing that nervous anticipation of people that would rather be doing something, anything, rather than just standing there waiting. Rookies, they hadn't learned much about army life. The more experienced fellows in their mid twenties would relax and maybe smoke a cigarette before they gave the Lights Out signal at dusk.

Captain Kuzenkov had found his position, in the most protected location in the battery, and he peered out at the horizon in the rough direction of where the enemy airplanes would come.

"Comrade Captain!" the Junior Lieutenant next to him called out, "the sound detectors have spotted something!"

"Heard..." Kuzenkov said.

"Comrade Captain..."

"A ..." Kuzenkov suppressed a curse, "sound detector hears things!"

"Yes Comrade Captain."

"What... did... it... hear...?"

"Airplanes from the west."

"The west?" Kuzenkov turned from the South-West to the West, in his mind he ran through a round of wile Russian curses, "sun to their arse..." Typical, when they came in his men would have sun in their eyes, and when they left, well, they'd be leaving.

"They're coming closer!"

"Why can't we see them yet?"

"Running low, Comrade Captain."

"They'd have to be touching ..." Kuzenkov could hear a faint drone in the distance, and when he squinted he could barely make out dark shapes. They flew low, very low, part of the formation heading straight at them, "Fire at them, at the ones heading right at us!"

AA Gun & Firing Control
Anti-Air Defence Battery


The two sections of the AA system were some distance apart, carefully placed relative to one another so that they would shoot true when the Predictor aimed.

At the guns, sweaty conscripts, their cotton summer uniforms clinging to their backs, loaded the heavy clips into their guns, while the enormous turntables aimed the guns at the approaching airplanes. The conscripts would often squint and look up, wondering when it was time to fire, swallow deeply, and wipe their brows with their sleeves.

Meanwhile at the Predictor and Range Finder, Junior Lieutenant Volokov was carefully handling his Predictor "Distance!" he called out.

"Roughly five kilometres and closing fast."

shit he thought, he didn't even bother to call out more just aimed quickly and hoped to God and the Saints (who he wasn't really supposed to believe in) that he was right. Baseline aimed, hinged glass with scales lifted up, and the two sights on the glass aligned, speed, altitude, distance, and then ... click-click-click a firing solution would come. He silently counted the seconds until they'd have to fire 8... 7... 6...

The boys at the gun watched the airplanes come closer and closer, they squinted and lifted their hands to shield their eyes from the sun, as they tried to get a better look.

5... 4... 3... the countdown continued, Volokov hated this, he couldn't get a good bead on the enemy airplanes, even with squinting and holding up his leather brimmed cap. He wet his lips, his hand trembling over the little button that would order the crew to fire "YES!" he screamed as he pushed the button.

The ear shattering booms of the 45mm AA guns filled the air, and dirty black cotton swabs popped up in the air around the enemy airplanes. A split second later and the guns began ejecting blistering hot expended shell cases. Each time the next shell in the clip would slide into place with a pleasing click-CLUNK sound, so a steady rate of fire was kept up POM-POM-POM-POM emptying the entire clip into the approaching Drakan formation.

Volokovs position was one of the few that actually hit something one of the shells struck a Rhino's wing. There was an explosion and a visible tongue of flame licking from its side as the Rhino spiralled out of control and struck the ground. Even in the distance they could feel the impact, first a light shudder as the airplane itself struck, and then a quick one-two as first the bombs and then the fuel followed.

A fountain of dirt rose up, too small to be seen by the gunners, but the secondary explosions were anything but small. A blackish column rose up, easily visible to the battery, bringing with it dirt and airplane parts which rained back down in a loud patter, a light drizzle of sand like particles landed on the air-defence battery like some kind of strange dry rain.

Another Drakan Rhino had a proximity burst right in front of the cockpit, close enough to knock the pilot out, but far enough away to leave her alive. It was really quite a peculiar thing but the Rhino went into a low gentle dive, it was after all a remarkably stable aircraft.

The Rhino belly-landed, skidding across the Russian soil while tearing up a wide dark brown furrow behind it, leaving behind little bits of pieces of metal. Sparks flew up, rocks banged against the armoured sides making huge dents, and the Rhino twisted slightly sideways bending one of its wings precariously and causing the right propeller to tear clean off so that it flew through the air and buried itself some thirty feet away.

Radar Installation


For anyone familiar with modern radars the RUS-3 installation would be a disappointment, gone are the familiar parabolic disks, and the rotating radar antennas. In their place, you find something most peculiar, a collection of wires and wooden poles that look like a mixture between a stretch of high-voltage power lines and something a particularly enterprising radio amateur might throw up.

All of these wires had conspicuous wires leading into a large, comfortable looking, nearby hut surrounded by thick layers of sandbags. Despite the season, a thin stream of smoke escaped from the chimney. A shack, more non-descript, stood next to the hut and a thick cable linked the two, outside of the shack there stood a tall oil drum with rough Cyrillic lettering on it.

Drakan Falcon IC "Achilles Mercy"

Schuyler had made careful notes at the briefing, their latest high-altitude airplanes had photographed the layout of the installation in great detail. It was all where it was supposed to be, the antennas (low priority that), the barracks, the radar hut itself, a generator shack, and a dozen or so AA machineguns.

"We are go, go, go." came the order from the Commander, Schuyler watched as wave after wave of Rhino attackers descended onto the base. The pitiful firing of the AA guns, tracer rounds barely visible in the dusk, did little to deter them as they released their bomb loads at the tempting targets!

A bluster of bombs landed among the antennas, smashing thick wooden poles like they were toothpicks, and showering the area with sharp wood fragments and long undulating lengths of copper wire. One of the wires lashed towards the hut, striking the wall with a loud crack, and shattering several planks.

Idiots Schuyler thought, hit the damn radar set, not the antenna!

Before the could finish his thought he spotted five small figures running like hell from the hut which he presumed held the radar. One of the Rhino's send a burst of 25mm fire at them, the effects were quite horrific, two of them were literally torn to pieces, they exploded into a cloud of blood and scraps of meat and bone. One of them got his legs torn clean off, it's odd what happens when a large artery in your leg is ripped open, the blood shoots out in huge squirts creating a puddle beneath you, but then the squirts grow smaller and smaller... until they vanish.

Radar Installation

Nikolas Berezovsky turned around, he had felt something tap him on the shoulder, his eyes turned big and round like a dinner plate. Two splotches of red was on the ground, and drops of rain were falling on his face, salty rain that smelled like copper. There lay Mikhail Gregorich, screaming his head off with his legs both gone, Nikolas turned to ask for help but Ivan Ivanitch was still running towards the trench. "Help! Mikhail Gregorich is hurt!" Nikolas screamed, but Ivan Ivanitch didn't even slow down. Nikolas ran over, and picked up Mikhail Gregorich and began carrying him, even though the blood was soaking his new clothes.

Moments later a new low level Rhino came down, ignoring the scattered shots tearing at its armoured hide, ripping new holes near unprotected spots. A short burst of 25mm rounds shattered them both, leaving them nothing more than a few scattered scraps of uniform and some flesh smeared over the ground. They were in Gods hands now.

Ivan Ivanitch dove into the trench, his whole body trembled madly, he tried to burry himself further into the soft moist soil, to dig into it for safety as he shivered. The dirty water drained into his khaki uniform, discolouring it, turning it dark brown and black.

Then some perverse instinct made him look up, he saw the shattered bodies of the other four men, the spot where that fool Nikolas had been killed, along with that smelly oik Mikhail Gregorich. First he began to chuckle, laugh even, then it turned into tears as he pondered why did I run? Why? I shouldn't have... maybe the two of us would have made it!

Ivans hands shook as he lowered himself back into the trench, but then he heard a sound behind him, an angry voice calling "You abandoned them! Coward!" and then a well oiled click It was the Commissar!

"No! No!" Ivan protested, he tried to turn around, but suddenly the Commissar slapped him on the back, then he was slapped again. He thought it was odd before he felt a warm tingling feeling on his back, not painful, but odd. Moments later he realised he'd been shot, and in a mad burst of energy he tried to scramble up out of the trench.

"STOP! STOP!" the Commissar cried, he emptied his gun into Ivan's scurrying back, "STOP!" he yelled again as even this failed to stop the coward from trying to flee. Desperately he leapt up onto Ivans back, pressing him down and struggling with him, the Commisars own uniform trousers got discoloured with blood, but neither of them noticed. "STOP!" the Commissar yelled again as he began to pistol whip the back of Ivan's head, and tried to grab Ivan's hair to press the cowards head into the soil but none of it would work. He, the Commissar, was almost to the point of tears "STOP! DIE!"

"GOD! GOD!" Ivan screamed at the top of his voice.

"Him? HIM?" the Commissar replied, "DIE! COWARD!"



It was all so very surreal, Ivan cried out for mercy, screaming wild pleas, and the Commissar howled insults, but Ivan just wouldn't die. Meanwhile the radar centre around them was torn to pieces. Now a third figure arrived, a huge Starshina or Master Sergeant in English, dishevelled, a wild look on his face, and a huge Georgian knife dangling by his side "Comrade Commissar!" he yelled.

"HE ABANDONED HIS COMRADES!" the Commissar yelled, pointing madly at the bloody stains outside, "TWO OF THEM WERE ALIVE!"

"Yes Comrade Commissar," the Master Sergeant replied, he pulled out his knife from its leather scabbard, then he grabbed Ivans head and pulled it back resting the tip of the blade on his throat.

"Cut it! Cut his throat!" the Commissar screamed.

"Is that an order?" the Master Sergeant asked, ignoring Ivans screaming.


The job was done with a single cut of the blade, the Master Sergeant had butchered sheep back home in Georgia and he did this the same way, a nice smooth motion that went through the arteries and the trachea. The blood gushed out covering his hands, and Ivan Ivanitch went limp.

Drakan Falcon IC "Achilles Mercy"

Flying CAP above the attack Schuyler had a good view of what was going on, the generator shack had been hit, and the kerosene or whatever they were using had caught fire. The smoke was thick and black, engulfing the whole shack and threatening to spread.

He turned his attention back at the sky, casually jinking to avoiding being shot by the light AA down below, their aim was improving, but he wasn't the main target of their wrath. A couple of Rhino's pulled away, one of them was trailing black smoke, but they hadn't lost any yet.

Radar Installation

Igor Kuznetsov wished, not for the last time, that he really was related to Admiral Kuznetsov, and that he'd been in the Navy instead. He lay on the ground, pressing his back against some rocks, while the enemy attackers dove down in wave after wave, hammering away at his base with their massive autocannon, and dropping seemingly endless amounts of bombs. He could feel the heat of the fires against his skin, he was close enough to the burning fuel fire that his buttons were starting to heat up.

There was another screaming whine as a pair of Rhino's came in for an attack, the Duskha's were blasting away at them. Several of the rounds bounced of the more well armoured spots, others punched through the light armour and out the other side, while some chewed at the fragile interior of the airplanes.

Then another clutch of bombs were released, hitting the barracks style buildings and blasting them into matchwood. From nearby someone started screaming while the burning debris rained down, a few bits dropping onto Igor's back burning his hand as he brushed them away.

Drakan Rhino "Crime of Laius"

Senior Tetrarch John Smithers smiled as he commenced his attack run, the bulk of the buildings had either been hit or were unimportant. That of course meant that it was time to hit secondary targets, he spotted a small gaggle of panicked recruits and began a strafing run towards them; strictly speaking they were tertiary targets but there was nothing quite as fun as strafing panicky recruits.

Seconds later he had eradicated them, sending arms and legs flying in a spray of blood, then he heard something a loud PING like someone striking a bell with a giant awl. Flicking his eye down for a fraction of a second he saw a series of dents in the metal bathtub that protected the cockpit farking ferals he smiled as he twisted the "Crime of Laius" about pouring fire into one of the AA emplacements.

The pitiful sandbags surrounding the Duskha were actually surprisingly good at absorbing bullets, but there are limits to everything. They exploded in a small sandstorm as the bullets punched through the sandbags, through the crew of the AA station, and one of the bullets twisted the Duskha itself into a useless piece of metal.

He pulled the "Crime of Laius" back up and began to pull away, behind him the radar station looked like it would need days, if not weeks, to recover.

"Pull back, drop remaining munitions at will.!"

Radar Installation

Igor heard someone scream, deep down he wanted to ignore it, but he struggled up to his feet. For a moment he was convinced, just convinced, that he was going to fall down because his feet didn't feel like they could carry him at all. Then he began to run, he wasn't quite sure how he did it, he was sure he'd fall over and be forced to walk on all fours, but strangely his legs carried him.

Everywhere he looked there were fires, and shattered timbers, he dodged a swinging copper wire dangling from a half broken pole. Then he saw it, carnage, bodies mangled beyond belief, some of them serious burned, others just covered in blood and carved up like a carcass. Many of them were so badly wounded he didn't believe they could be alive, but they feebly moved their arms and silently moved to safety, for the Russians rarely screamed even when seriously wounded.

Without hesitation he rushed forward and began to roll over those who were on fire, even though fountains of dirt rose from the parting shots of the Drakan attackers. He grabbed one wounded and ran towards the trench, seeing that there were many people huddled there he grabbed one of them and shouted "COME WITH ME!"

Soviet Squadron (Yak-9s)


"Comrade Captain they are disappearing in the dark."

"Keep looking!"

The squadron was one of many trying to hunt down the Drakan attackers, they were spread out wide in a standard search pattern, but they had little hope of success. They had speed on the Draka, but not much, and now the sun was vanishing; already there was nothing more but a thin red knifes edge of light in the west.

Drakan Bombers

Beneath them was the calm Caspian sea, though they had often seen it alive with fury, sending forth waves of such force that you could scarcely believe you were watching an inland sea. Now however it was perfectly still, and looked black and deep beneath the stars.

Far beneath a couple of Caspian seals looked up at the strange birds overhead, they shifted uneasily in the water, splashing it around, before diving beneath the still waves.

An hour or so later they reached the bases near Baku, around Baku you could still see the odd fire rising from wrecked Soviet oilfields, now being pressed back into service. There was a sickly smoke over the city night and day, and the waters near it were black with oil slicks.

It didn't take long before they reached the airfield, it was fortunately well lit, lined with open oil drums filled with burning wood and kerosene throwing up light visible for miles around. It helped compensate for the uneven quality of the landing strip itself, which was an old Soviet gravel strip only recently pressed into service.

One by one the Drakan airplanes landing, their wheels skidding against the gravel surface of the landing strip, and then coming to a rest outside the hangars. Immediately scores of Serf Auxilliaries descended on them to push the aircraft into the hangars, to tend to them, while the pilots descended and began to walk towards the Club.

In the aftermath of an air-raid the appropriate ranking officer, official, commissar, or party cadre, is to take responsibility for carrying out the following charges:

1. Damage control: preventing the spread of fires; evacuating buildings in danger of collapse; shutting down damaged high-voltage lines; preventing the collapse of dikes and dams.
2. Locating, aiding, and recovering the wounded, with a preference given to children and pregnant women.
3. Ensure that the medical section is operational; or if it is not immediately establish one.
4. Armed detachments are to be sent to the site of any downed enemy aircraft, and to any spot where a parachute has been reported; any downed enemy pilots and aircraft are to be recovered in as much as possible.
5. If the weather is poor, food and shelter must be provided for unhoused civilians.
6. Commence repairs on damaged housing and installations.

- Excerpt from "General Instructions on Air-Raids"


Radar Installation


The flames were devouring the wooden buildings, licking higher and higher, with the odd loud crackle that sounded almost like a gunshot. Every now and again there came the sound of broken glass, as some window or other collapsed.

Curiously though the soldiers didn't seem to care much, most of them just stood around glaring into the fire, occasionally they'd hold out their hands as if to warm themselves. The flickering light of the fire reflected of the young faces, young undernourished recruits for the most part, dressed in baggy sand coloured uniforms.

By the trench the Commissar was trying to pull together, he had seen men die before, he had even shot a man before, but this was different. So much blood, blood everywhere, from the man whose throat was slit, from the men who were blown up, and from the squirting wounds of men whose arms and legs were torn apart.

Slowly he rose up and left the trench, right in front of him lay an arm, he pushed it around with the tip of his boot till he saw the markings on it, the arm that is, the "422nd Penal Company". Just like the man whose throat was slit down in the trench, Shtraf men the lot of them, unlike most of the men that were milling about now.

An officer came rushing over, looking a tad surprised by the man with the slit throat "What happened here?"

"He ran away," the Commissar said.

"Ran away, coward," the officer muttered while walking someplace else.

Elsewhere things were happening now, no one seemed particularly interested in putting out the fires, even though they lit up the entire base by now, and in the growing dusk they were visible for miles around. Small groups of soldiers, most often under the command of an officer or sergeant, were kept busy recovering the wounded.

It was a clear summer evening so a lot of the wounded were simple laid down on a wide piece of canvas that was spread across the grass, or maybe just placed on the grass altogether. There was little screaming or shouting, often the soldiers would just lie there stoically, sometimes coughing, and just die quietly. A couple of doctors went back and forth doing triage, and the most heavily wounded patients vanished beneath the ground through a trapdoor in a nearby mound.

Beneath a different mound, a large one with a couple of trees growing on it, and tall uncut grass, there was a big room. Inside of the big room there were several large boxes, some of them black bakelite, others grey metal, and quite a few of them with flickering green screens that lit up the faces of the young men and women watching the screens.

One of them leaned back in the chair he was sitting in, it was a four wheeled wooden swivel chair confiscated from an office. There was a knack for not tumbling over if you leaned back, he just jammed his feet against the desk. Then he searched his front pocket for his a battered soft cigarette pack, he pulled one out with his teeth, and lighting it with a match he rubbed against the side of the chair. For a moment the glow of the match and the cigarette outshone that of the cathode ray screens, his face was that of a young man, but his eyes were red, and there were dark rings under them.

"Do we turn off the radars Comrade Captain?" he called out to his CO, white smoke lifted up towards the primitive wooden ceiling.

"Yes Ivan Grigoritch, turn off the radar sets," Captain Berezhovsky agreed, the antennas were down anyway, and the decoy houses smashed to matchwood.

Ivan Grigoritch hit a switch, at once his screen went black, moments later everyone else followed his example, and with a soft low whine the machines came to a rest. The room was only lit by cigarette glows, and a single 25W lightbulb that hung bare from a wire in the ceiling. He looked up, and counted the spreading brownish waterstains he could see, but quit when he got to a dozen.

On the surface an officer was barking out orders, fallen poles were pulled away from the flames, and a bucket brigade was formed to prevent the fire from spreading. They worked hard in the growing night, but the fires would die down eventually by themselves, and the Draka hadn't actually injured anything that mattered. Under camouflage netting there were timbers and planks, suitably for building more decoys, and there was an ample supply of Shtraf Companies to serve as decoys.

It was one of those things that made the Draka shake their heads part in admiration, Soviet camouflage was in part great because they were willing to let people die for it. Cunning decoy buildings were made, and Shtraf soldiers forced to wait inside them, in case of an air raid, and then to act panicked when the raids came; oddly enough acting panicked seemed to be something of a knack for them, atleast the Draka were convinced.

Command Position
Anti-Air Defence Battery


Captain Kuzenkov was still studying the darkening sky with his binoculars, a few seconds later he noticed that his Junior Lieutenant, Aleksandr Temnikov, was standing next to him, "What is it Comrade Lieutenant?"

"Comrade Captain," Jr. Lt. Temnikov saluted again, "The Radar station has been hit."

"Has it now?" Captain Kuzenkov lowered his binoculars, then he asked, "Is there any news on the Draka Comrade Lieutenant?"

"None Com..." the rest of his words were drowned out by the sound of a squadron of Yak-9s flying overhead, they were heading towards the south.

"Assemble the Point Four Men at once," Kuzenkov ordered, "And hurry!"

"Yes Comrade Captain!" Jr. Lt. Temnikov said, then he saluted again and left, feeling glad to be away from the Captain; some people admired Captain Kuzenkov for the discipline and efficiency of his unit, but Temnikov felt like he was in the company of a lion with a toothache.

Crash Site


The GAZ-64 was driving across the narrow dirt roads at a dangerous speed, more than once they struck potholes that sent horrid jolts through the jeep. More than once one of the four men let out a grunt, when they nearly got throw out, or when they jammed their knee or elbow into something. The landscape around them was very nice, but like all of Russia there was a lot of empty land, they drove past several collectives where the local peasants would stop for a moment to look at the passing Jeep, and then return to their work.

It wasn't easy to see either, the sun was going down, and the front lights didn't help much on irregular roads and paths they had to drive through. They were starting to get a bit antsy for another reason too, they just couldn't find the crash site.

"Are you sure that this is where it would go down Comrade Serzhant?" Jr. Lt. Stanislav Govorov asked as he checked the map, all they could see around them was a sea of tall grass, easily as tall as a man, swaying gently in the breeze.

Serzhant Pavel Karnovich shrugged, unlike his young university educated Lieutenant he was career military, late twenties though he looked older, much older. The Serzhant knew two things, he knew people which was why he was a Serzhant, and he knew diesel engines, which was why he was a point four man. He scratched his stubble a bit, then he stood up and looked around, only light he could see was a flickering dying red light from the radar station.

"I can't see a thing Comrade Lieutenant," he said slowly and truthfully, "That means it's not burning, and it hasn't made anything else catch fire..."

Behind them in the rear seats the two Armenians exchanged a few words in their native language, both of them Efreitors or corporals, both of them clever but not Russian enough to get quick promotions.

"Lets drive on," Jr. Lt. Govorov said, "It's got to be here somewhere."

They drove on for a while, more slowly now, past a cluster of trees, the road was particularly bad here, and once they had to drive off the road to get around a big fallen branch. It was night by now, and the moon and the stars did give some light, but they were blinded by the headlights of the car. Before Jr. Lt. Govorov could suggest that they turned it off there was a commotion, a shape ran in front of the car waving his arm, and Serzhant Karnovich twisted the wheel around forcing Govorov to grab hold of the sight of the car, and almost flinging one of the Armenians out.

The other Armenian had enough balance and presence of mind to load his SVT-38, there was a nice click and Serzhant Karnovich hollered "STOP!"

The figure held his hands up and yelled something like "COMRADE! COMRADE!"

"Turn the lights off!" Govorov yelled, the moment they were of he aimed the flashlight at the figure, lighting up his face. It was a dark skinned man with a huge moustache; he was covering his face and squinting at the men in the jeep.

"Churki!" Serzhant Karnovich yelled, perhaps not the best choice of words given who was in the back of the jeep.

The man in front of them spat on the ground, "Persian!" he yelled tapping his chest, then he added something else that sounded offensive.

"Big difference," Karnovich mumbled.

"What do you want Comrade," Govorov asked.

The man pointed into the tall grass, towards a nearby copse of trees, "Draka!" he motioned his hand as an airplane going down, "Wheeeee! BOM! Draka!"

"Sit down on the hood!" Govorov called out, he motioned a couple of times what he wanted before the man got the picture, then he sat down in front, "Draka where?"

"Draka!" the man called pointing out the direction.

"Comrade Serzhant, drive us out there, you two," Govorov pointed at the two Armenians, "Get ready in case there's a Draka out there." They smiled, predatory smile, and checked their rifles, then they attached their bayonets, they gleamed like silver under the stars.

The road was a bit bumpy, and their guide had to hold on, but driving slowly across the field they easily found their way to the wreck. It was getting cool, not cold, but cool, and they buttoned up their uniforms. The wreck of the Rhino lay there, looking quite ominous, behind it there was a deep nasty furrow like a giant plough had gone through the soil; here and there small metal fragments were stuck in the soil.

"Stop here," Govorov said, he pointed a bit to the side of the furrow.

"Yes Comrade Lieutenant."

The GAZ came to a halt and the five men got out onto the ground, it was eerily silent here, just the sound of the wind through the tall grass. That and their own breathing, and the sound of their feet against the group, they stood there uneasily waiting for Govorovs' command.

"Comrade Serzhant, you and Shahen watch the GAZ," Govorov looked at Hambardsumian, he took a deep breath, then he said, "You there come with me."

The two of them walked slowly towards the wreck, it was only about a hundred feet away, and behind them they could see the other two soldiers, and their native guide, crouching behind the GAZ If that thing was fully laden, and if those bombs go off... he suppressed the urge to cross himself and moved on.

In the darkness he saw something, something that reflected the moonlight, it was a cross of some kind by the side of the furrow. Immediately mad concerns were raised, superstitious dread if you would, is this a graveyard? No do not be ridiculous! Maybe there were two airmen, and one buried the other? Is there a live Draka wandering around? He pointed at the cross, "Check it out," he whispered.

Hambardsumian nodded, and they moved up towards it, first one would crouch while the other ran a bit, then he'd crouch and the other would run, and so they leapfrogged towards it covering each other. Govorov only had a Tokarev, and he felt somewhat ineffectual while covering Hambardsumian, but it was better than nothing.

When he finally got to it Govorov worried about checking it, his heart thumped madly, but he didn't dare show it in front of the men. His hand shook a little as he reached out and pulled away the grass in front of the cross, and found... a propeller, four bladed, that had buried itself in the soil. He touched it, it felt cold, just a piece of metal like any other, each blade had two crossing vertical white stripes, but otherwise unadorned.

The airplane was nearby, Govorov ran through what he knew in his mind Big, two engine like our Pe-2s, a lot like them, and carries bombs, as they drew near he lit his flashlight, running the faint ray across the bottom of the airplane. He drew a breath of relief when he saw that the belly of the airplane was empty, the plane had twisted though so that one wing, the one facing the furrow, pressed down against the ground, and the other pointed up in the air.

It was very quiet aside from a faint plip-plop sound, drops of fuel pooling on the ground, slowly soaking into the soil. He ducked down and peered up, the weld work on the wings had cracked a little in places, and the fuel was coming out, on one side the landing gear had come out, otherwise everything seemed fine.

"Come along," he called, motioning his hand, then he ran up the wing towards the cockpit, the clang-clang-clang sound of his boots on the wing seemed so loud in the night. He crouched down and looked at the cockpit, it was closed and there was no motion, then he continued up. He stopped again, briefly, over one of the engines, even through his boots he could feel it was warm; but he couldn't see any additional leaks or any seeping steam.

Hambardsumian was running up behind him, they knelt in front of the cockpit hood, armour glass in front, the rest fine plexiglass with reinforcing metal bars. Govorov leaned forward and peered through the glass, inside he could see a figure in full pilots outfit, rubber oxygen mask, thick leather jacket, even a helmet, that was all he could see though. He ducked down and lit up the area right beneath the glass, feeling along the side till he found what he was looking for, a small lever pressed against the side of the airplane he yanked the lever once, but no response.

"Hambardsumian, pull that lever as hard as you can, up and..." where the hell? he felt a bead of sweat forming, where, where looking bad in front of the men was a nightmare but then he saw a white painted arrow still barely visible "Move counter-clockwise, got it?"

"Yes Comrade Lieutenant," Hambardsumian held his rifle gingerly for a moment, then he flung it onto his back and moved to the lever, making Govorov pull away a bit as the long bayonet came a little too close to his face. Hambardsumian began to work the lever, gritting his teeth and pulling hard, finally there was a groan and the hood of the cockpit slid back revealing the interior of the cockpit, and the pilot inside of it.

A Different Perspective

Tania Lundgren was vaguely aware that something was happening, in the back of her mind she could hear someone speaking in a odd guttural language, Russian she realized. She played possum as they wriggled her free of her seatbelts, there was more guttural speech and they began pulling out anything loose in the cockpit, including the black box holding her cyanide pill My passport! She felt her gut clench a bit, she'd heard of people who killed themselves by biting their tongues off and inhaling the blood, but deep down she wondered if she could do that.

They carried her out of the cockpit, then a shock went through her body as they dropped her onto the wing, there was some fumbling with her feet and her arms. Instinctively she did what she'd been taught, she discretely tightened her muscles as they bound her, she could hear them talking back and forth, someone shouted, and from the distance the shout was returned. Three of them at least, maybe more, stay calm, if you can get away you can stay hidden almost forever.

A half minute later someone new showed up, and she felt herself grabbed by her arms and legs and carried away like a sack of potatoes, swaying slightly. Once the one holding her arms dropped her, her head fell into the soft upturned soil, she felt her arms brush across the dirt, it was soft and moist. She opened her eyes a fraction of an inch, around her was a very flat landscape, they were walking by a long furrow From my airplane she realised at once. In the distance she spotted a small car, much smaller than an autosteamer, as they drew closer she saw that there was another man there, a fourth man, with a PPSh-39 submachine-gun Damn, four of them, this won't be easy.

They threw her down on the ground near the jeep, and then they talked for a while, when they were done one of them walked up to the Rhino, and... she became aware of another figure, swarthy, not uniformed, with a big moustache, the others seemed to ignore him entirely. However much she wracked her mind she couldn't figure out what he was doing there, but he probably didn't matter.

One of the two soldiers that remained came up to her, he sat astride her legs, and then began to "search" her. Fortunately for her, as she noted, he wasn't so much interested in finding weapons as he was in finding the contents of her knickers. She felt him pat her down quickly, and then concentrate his attention on her breasts and groin Yeah that's right, keep pawing me you son of a bitch she thought. She secretly tested the bonds around her wrists, they weren't all that good, I can get out of them fast, and then... there was the re-assuring feel of her knives a standard issue model Jamieson in her boot, and a slender Altavo dagger in a wrist sheath.

By the GAZ

Serzhant Karnovich looked at Shahan, he realised what the damn Armenian was doing, groping the prisoner, but... hell the only reason he was upset was that he wasn't doing it "HEY! Knock that off!" he called Well hell, I'll be damned if he gets to have fun before I do.

"What Comrade Serzhant?" Shahan called back innocently, as he rested his hand on the Draka's chest, he wished she was conscious, and that she'd scream like so many Armenian women had screamed.

"Don't play stupid!" Karnovich shouted back, "Make sure she's unconscious," he added.

Casually, and with much malice, Shahan punched her in the groin, she didn't stir, "She's out cold Serzhant."

From the Rhino Jr. Lt. Govorov yelled "Call in our position Comrade Serzhant, tell them we got a prisoner."

Karnovich sighed He couldn't have mentioned that a couple of minutes ago, when there were three of us to watch this Drakan witch he sighed a bit then he placed his sub-machinegun on the hood of the GAZ.

"Calling Kaluga-65 this is Little Fish Four, over."

After repeating it several times there came a response, crackly and unclear, "Little Fish Four, this is Kaluga-65, what is your status over."

"We have a downed Snake bird and a live catch, I repeat a downed Snake bird and a live catch, request reinforcement over."

"Little Fish Four, this is Kaluga-65, please confirm message, over."

He heard a sound over by the prisoner, he twisted his head and saw that Shahan was twisting a bit, "Hey what's going on!" he called out loud, the only response was a loud pleasurable moan The shameless son of a bitch!

"Little Fish Four, this is Kaluga-65, please confirm message, over." The voice called again, a bit more insistent this time.

"Damn it! Stop that at once Corporal Shahan, or I'll not only bust you..." Karnovich began, he could see the bastard had spread the womans legs.

"Little Fish Four, this is Kaluga-65, respond at once, over," the voice had grown sharp and demanding.

The Persian, whatever his name was, was walking away now, apparently he didn't like to be around an angry man with a sub-machinegun, and he seemed upset about the display he was watching.

A Different Perspective

She had killed him, it had been quite easy in fact, when he was peering down at her breasts, which he had exposed by now, she had slammed a fist over his mouth and then stabbed his trachea with her Altavo dagger. It was a lovely thing, thin and flexible, hard to spot, but able to pierce even the tough tissue of the throat. He had struggled madly for nearly a minute, his eyes grew big and wide, then bloodshot, and blood had also dripped down on her face as she held his mouth tight.

The ground under her was hard and cold, and she could feel the cold water seeping into her trousers, but now she felt a dull warmth by her groin. She looked down and saw that he had wet himself, then a foul smell reached her, he'd lost control of his bowels too, she was still woozy and now she wanted to throw up.

She moved slowly, pulling her ankles closer while spreading her legs, up close it looked very strange, like she was trying to crouch laying down. Her ankles hurt from how the tight ropes dug into them, she couldn't quite move them as she wanted due to the bonds, but she could get them closer. From where the other fellow was sitting it'd hopefully look like the Groper, as she dubbed him in her mind, was spreading her legs.

The gambit worked, apparently they thought he was raping her, and they weren't too happy about it probably pissed that he's doing it out of turn. Now she worried, would he go over there to check on her?

She waited a moment more, the voice on the radio grew harsh and insistent, please let it be someone important, please answer it first, please her prayers were answered he went back to talking into the radio.

With a single smooth motion she pushed away the man on top of her, he keeled over to one side trapping her leg partially, fortunately she was able to yank it free before the man by the radio noticed anything. It had been a moment of utter terror though, pulling herself out from under the limp warm weight, the dead were always so damn heavy.

All together now

Serzhant Karnovich heard a thud, he was talking on the radio trying to pin point their exact position, but it wasn't easy. The people on the other line flat out refuse to let them shoot up a flare, which was the easiest way for them to find him. Then in the corner of his eye he noticed something odd, he turned around and saw that the Drakan pilot was up and running!

"ALARM!" he roared, the black bakelite microphone dropped, it fell down towards the floor of the GAZ and hit it with a crack causing a small fracture line to appear in the smooth material. He moved forward expertly, one foot on the ground, he turned around to the left, reaching for the PPSh on the hood of the car.

Seeing this Lundgren knew she had only one choice, it was dark, very hard to see, but she shouted "HOI!" making him turn towards her, and then she threw the dagger at him. It was a good throw, he was about twenty to twenty five feet away, but it was dark, and her head was woozy. The dagger spun through the air, and the Serzhant jolted, instinctively diving for cover as he saw her hand move to throw.

He hit the ground with an oomph, just in time to hear a clang as the dagger struck the metal of the GAZ, and then came flying back towards Lundgren. She didn't scream but she had to leap up as the dagger flashed right at her, she felt a pang of terror as it flew right between her legs, she wasn't a man but there were things there she'd rather not have cut! They never saw that in the movies, no the dagger always hit the target or buried itself, it never came rebounding back.

She spent a fraction of a second to bend down and yank out the Jamieson from her boots, then she continued her run towards Karnovich. Every step she did seemed to hit her entire body like a sledgehammer, and the ground didn't co-operate properly either, it kept moving this way and that.

Serzhant Karnovich scrambled back up, he reached for the Papeshkha, he got a hand of the cool wooden handle and the carrying strop, then he yanked it to pull it to him at once. It fell into his hands, grab it, turn around, aim... he had just enough time to see a long knife flashing in the pale light of the moon, instinct and experience made him raise up the Papeshkha as a shield before him.

Thunk the sound of a blade striking wood, them the low plip-plop sound of a pair of fingers, Karnovich's fingers, hitting the tall grass. A gentle spray of blood from the stumps, dark, not red, in the night, everything was shades of grey in the night.

He swung the Papeshkha at her, her confidence took a big hit when he struck, it came apparently out of nowhere, so fast. Her world exploded in pain, and she felt a stream of blood flow from her nose, covering her face, and dripping down to the ground. Her mouth filled with a copper like taste too, the pain was the only thing that felt real, that and the taste of blood, everything else was cotton.

The fight was confused and so fast, she hacked at him hard, the Jamieson sliced through the flesh on left right arm scraping across the bone beneath, sending a fine spray of blood down to the ground. He still held onto the gun, he stabbed at him, the dagger point going into his torso, but not the right spot no, not there, not there. Vaguely she remembered her teachers "These are the places which will kill at once, but these are the places that will kill but still let your enemy make another strike."

For Karnovich this fight was a nightmare, the pain of his finger, the slice to his arm, and now how his gut was pierced. Despite his wounds he managed another swing of his weapon, he felt it hit something, but wasn't sure what, then another stab to his guts, another star of pain pulsing there.

In the distance Govorov and Hambardsumian were running towards the site, but the fight in front of them was over so fast, they saw motion, blows exchanged, and then suddenly Karnovich fell over his PPSh dropping to the ground.


Lundgren scrambled for the PPSh, Hambardsumian went down on one knee and opened fire, two of the shots went wide, but one of them hit her right leg just above the knee. The bullet punched straight through, it was a reasonably clean wound, but she crumbled down grabbing the PPSh, this time she couldn't help herself and she felt her mouth filled with vomit. She aimed the PPSh even as she spat it out, tears coming to her eyes, it's not FAIR, it's not FAIR something inside her said. She wasn't supposed to start throwing up just as she got her hands on a weapon.

Govorov and Hambardsumian hit the dirt the moment they heard the familiar BRRRRRRAAAAAAAAPPP of the Papeshkha the bullets whipped up dirt where they struck, and cut through the low shrubs. Govorovs palms were rubbed raw as he threw them forward to protect him, he felt a soft burning in them as the raw flesh rubbed against the soil. Through the tall grass he watched the Draka, she seemed a bit confused, as if she didn't know what to do.

Suddenly Hambardsumian began screaming "URÆÆÆÆÆÆH! URRRRÆÆÆÆÆÆÆÆH!" while squeezing off wild shots that didn't seem to go anywhere near the Draka. Govorov was about to yell at him, telling him to stop wasting ammunition, but then he saw it, he too began to shout and shoot wildly.

Lundgren was surprised at how poor shots they were, but maybe they were just trying to keep her down? At any rate she sought cover near the jeep, she coughed and a mixture of half-digested kebab and bile came out of her mouth should I kill myself? She pondered, then she squeezed off another few rounds hoping she'd get better soon.

Behind her there was a shout of "KIR KHOR!" The swarthy one she thought, she had just enough time to turn her head towards the source of the sound, just enough time to see him stand there with a wild diabolical grin, just enough time to see the stone that was rushing towards her head. She had time for all of that, but not enough to do anything about it, so strange that she seemed to be moving in molasses, while the stone gently and serenely glided through the air towards her head.

THWACK it went when it struck her head, her last thought was, Don't forget nothing! Another of the lessons she'd been taught, but then everything turned dark.

The Persian shouted with joy "Hurraaah!" he yelled at the top of his voice as he practically jumped with joy, he leapt forward and grabbed the Papeskha, then, in triumph, he pumped it up in the air several times.

"Urrah Persian!" Hambardsumian cried, he laughed as he scrambled up from his position on the ground, still clutching his SVT-38. His trousers were dirty now, and the knees wet, but he didn't care as he ran forward.

Govorov followed closely behind, it took him a moment longer than Hambardsumian to get up from prone position, but afterwards he was only a split second behind Hambardsumian.

When they got there Hambardsumian just stood there, silently, his eyes wandering from the unconscious Draka, to the fallen Serzhant, and then to his friend and countryman. When he saw Shahan his eyes narrowed, it was as if some of the joy went out of him, he let out a single breath through his nose like an ox who had been angered.

Lt. Jr. Govorov screamed in frustration, "No damn it!" he hollered, he stopped by the side of them, the Serzhant let out a couple of gasping bloody coughs. When the light of Govorov's flashlight touched Shahan it looked like the man had a second bloody mouth, some obscene orifice that wasn't fit for polite discussion.

Then he saw that the Serzhant was saying something, his lips moved softly, "Comrade ... fuck you, you..." he moved his lips but nothing came out, then with a supreme effort of will he whispered "Don't let the bitch get away."

Govorov blinked, then he realised the Serzhant was dead, he turned back to the Draka, kneeling down he found her pulse... faint, weak, but there. He could hear the voice on the radio demanding that he talk to them, louder and louder it came, "Tell them I'm firing a flare, and we need a doctor."

"A doctor for this!" Hambardsumian said, his eyes flashed with anger, "She killed Aksel! She even kill the beetlebrow! Let her die and go to hell!"

Govorov rose up, there was murder in his eyes, he made up his mind I will kill him if he doesn't obey me "Do it now, let the MGB have her, and she'll wish she..."

"Yes Comrade Lieutenant," Hambardsumian said, taken back by the Junior Lieutenant, there was something evil in the officer now, and it scared him.

"Live you evil witch," Govorov said as he knelt down next to her, he began tying her up, roughly, tightening the bonds around her wrists and ankles. Then, after a moments thought, he jammed a piece of wood between her teeth like a primitive gag, he smiled, "I'm getting a promotion of you, live!"

The name "Venice of Asia" was always part due to the famous canals, but part because it had been a trade nexus for centuries. If you wished to deal with Central Asia or the Caucasus then Astrakhan was the most convenient location, and likewise for many urban refugees Astrakhan was the most convenient spot to settle. All of this resulted in a boom city with a vibrant and cosmopolitan outlook, very different from the rest of Russia.

During the 1930s the influx of foreign investors gave Astrakhan a thriving, if somewhat unsavoury, nightlife. Places like "Madame Bouvary's," and "The Blue House," became famous among the expatriates.

In the 1940s there was an influx of highly paid American soldiers, who had often received several months of back pay or bounties, and were desperate for one last fling before going into action. This of course had the expected consequences, leading to many chaplains dubbing Astrakhan "The wickedest Place on Earth."

- "The USAAF in Soviet Russia"

"For about fifty dollars you can spend an entire day and a night, provided with whatever company you please, and be catered with whatever you choose to eat and drink. The surroundings are also most agreeable, and you'll scarcely notice the other guests in the least."

- Montgomery Haynes, Texas oilman.

USAAF Military Hospital
Astrakhan Oblast, USSR
02:30, Sunday 2 August

Everything was hazy around him, he couldn't see a thing, he was on his back somewhere hot, and warm, too warm, he squirmed and struggled. From far away, like his ears and head were filled with cotton, he could hear someone yelling "Doctor, he's coming to!" Then he drifted off again for a moment, next time he came too he realised that his eyes were closed, and he opened them.

Lt Vincent found himself in a typical army hospital, metal beds, white sheets, green separating walls everywhere, he tried to move his head but it only lolled around aimlessly. The doctor was standing over him, looking very medical with a long white coat and a green indoors uniform beneath.

"How are you feeling Lieutenant?" he asked.

"I'm fine, when do I get back into combat Doc?" Lt Vincent said, trying to smile.

The nurse took a deep breath and shook her head, yet another macho pilot who just wouldn't give in, no matter what!

"Not for a while longer I fear," the doctor answered, "I'm doctor Heston, and you'll be our guest for a little longer."

"Thirsty..." Vincent muttered, the doctor nodded and the nurse brought a glass. Vincent tried to drink but most of it spilled running down his face and onto the bed, forcing the nurse to quickly apply a towel. After a while he leaned back, "Time?"

"Half past two, AM," Dr Heston explained, he felt Vincents brow, "Try and get some sleep, you're still woozy from the anaesthetics."

Vincents protests died away as he felt his eyes quite heavy, and soon he drifted away again...


He was flying his airplane again, everything was going fine, clear sky overhead, but then everything began to look really strange. Next thing he remembered was that something had happened, and there was a piece of metal in his shoulder.

"SIR! LT VINCENT! You're in charge! Orders please?" the radio roared.

"Pull back!" he replied.

"Coward! The U-nited States ARMY AIRFORCE does not pull back!"

"We have to pull back we..." he tried to say more but his throat felt so dry, and he was starting to sweat.

There was the airfield, very well camouflaged, and he was about to land. He made his approach to it, even though everything seemed so funny, then suddenly he felt a jabbing pain in his chest. In front of him there sat a Draka, jabbing a knife into his shoulder, "Come on yank! Come on yank!" he yelled over and over.

"NOOOOOO!" he screamed, then the Draka began to shake him, screaming incoherently at him, "LET GO!"

Then he woke up, he was looking up at the Nurse, beads of sweat rolling down his brow, "Are you alright?" she asked.


"You had a nightmare, it happens sometimes when the anaesthetics wear off," the nurse explained carefully, while applying a wet cloth to his brow, "Just relax."

"Weird... it was just so weird."

"I hear it can get pretty wild, just relax, have some more water," the Nurse said, "we should get you up and walking soon."

A couple of hours went by in exceeding boredom, Vincent thought about trying to sleep, but it was uncomfortable hot, and he was worried that he'd have more bad dreams. Instead he just lay there, feeling a growing head ache form, and watched the people scurrying about the hospital. Most of the beds were empty, and the ones that were filled seemed to have a mixture of burn injuries and broken bones. He couldn't see any people from his squadron, that worried him a bit, and no one seemed to have time to talk to him about his injuries other than go "You'll be fine." Am I? Or am I really bad off and they're just bullshitting me...

About eleven o'clock he heard a bit of a commotion, in the distance a sharp female voice said "Five minutes, not a second more," and then he spotted two familiar faces. Captain Rodriguez, the Squadron leader, and Lt Cooper, both of them seemed fine, though Rodriguez had a few dark rings under his eyes.

"Sir," Vincent croaked out.

"Lt Vincent," Rodriguez began, he looked sternly at him, "Damn it I should have known it! While I'm out trying to persuade some half crazed blackarse fisherman that I'm not a Draka, and that he shouldn't smash my head in with an oar, you are laying back in a nice bed surrounded by pretty women!"

Vincent felt quite flabbergasted, "Sir I... I'll get right back in the thick of things!"

"Damn straight you will! If you think I'll let you lie around malingering while the rest of us are worked to the bone you've got another thing coming," Capt Rodriguez said, jabbing a finger for emphasis, "Do I make myself clear?"

"Yes Sir!" Vincent called out.

Lt Cooper just stood in the background, waiting for his chance to get a word in edgewise, but before he could a nurse came rushing drawn by the sound like a moth to a fire "WHAT do you think you are doing Sir?" she called out in a very firm tone.

While the Nurse and Captain Rodriguez argued Cooper whispered, "Hey if you need anything, let me know, but we've getting you out of this joint!"

"You'll have to leave right now!" the Nurse said with finality, pointing right at the exit, "And next time, come during visiting hours!"

Captain Rodriguez Office, Astrakhan Joint Airforce Base
Astrakhan Oblast, USSR
14:15, Tuesday 4 August

"Which brings me to you..." Capt Rodriguez leaned back in the wooden swivel chair, "For some reason, lord knows why, even though I require every pilot I can get, the medical officer demands that you receive a weeks leave."

"A weeks leave?" Vincent nearly shouted, "Sir, I want to be back up in air and..."

"And I want a pony," Rodriguez snapped, he held up a slip of paper, "This is your note of leave, and I don't want to see you before the week is over."

Vincent grabbed the piece of paper, it was a leave note alright signed and everything, "Yes Sir, I'll just do that."

"Good, and lieutenant."

"Yes Sir?"

"Have fun, Astrakhan is really a great place."

"I will Sir, I will," Vincent said as he walked out of the spartan office, closing the door behind him.

Astrakhan Oblast, USSR
15:00, Tuesday 4 August

The jeep drove quickly through the streets of Astrakhan, ducking and weaving through the traffic in a somewhat perilous fashion, more than once some hapless bicyclist or pedestrian had to run out of the way. Vincents' driver however didn't seem to mind, or even notice, "Now Sir, if you look over there you got the Krasnov statue, and there's the ..." Vincent tuned out as the babbling driver pointed out one landmark after the other.

It was really a very nice city, lots of tree lined roads, lots of statues and fancy murals, it didn't look like the Sodom and Gomorra that a lot of people described it as. Small quaint looking ships floated in the canals, you could drive down a street and suddenly spot a set of sails.

"Where can I get some Russian caviar?" Vincent suddenly asked, for some reason the canals got him thinking of it.

"Russkie caviar?" the driver said, a moment Vincent thought he'd have to explain himself, but then the corporal just grinned "No problem Sir." He twisted the jeep around and parked by the side of one of the canals, then he whistled and waved at one of the ships. "KAVIAR TAVARITSJ!" he yelled, while waving a couple of dollar bills up in the air, immediately one of the boats began to make its way to the shore.

"Is that common?" Vincent asked.

"Sure Sir, everybody does it, I mean sure you can buy at the official stores, but the local fishermen got better stuff and cheaper too..." he then added, "Everyone, and I mean everyone, around here's sellin' sumpthing!"

The boat pulled up now, and at once one of the two fishermen leapt ashore and began talking in a rapid fire mixture of Russian, English and German, it was too much for Lt Vincent but the Corporal seemed to understand it just fine. Both of them waved fingers in the air, while the corporal showed some greenbacks.

Moments later some kind of deal seemed to have been struck, for the man on land reached for the money, only for the corporal to yank it away "NYET! Kaviar THEN money!" The Russian gave a can't blame a guy for trying kind of shrug, while his partner began to fill a cardboard box with shiny black caviar. The exchange was quick cardboard box snapped up, and money handed over.

"So there you go then Sir," the corporal said handing it over, "First rate quality, I've traded with those two a couple of times before."

"Lucky we met them then."

"Naw, I've dealt with dozens of'em, there's a lot of'em in town but hey not that many."

They entered the jeep again, and while Vincent tasted the caviar the corporal twisted the key, "Where next Sir?"

"I'm on leave, a whole week, and I'm... ah..."

"Say no more," the corporal grinned, "I know just the place!"

The trip through the town took them past some interesting spot, a huge street seemingly dedicated entirely to stalls and street vendors of every sort, that and street entertainers too. Parts of it was like driving through some strange version of Arabian Nights, and the occasional mosque only reinforced this view.

"You got your Persians, your Turks, your Russkies, your Greeks, and they fuckin' hate each other," the corporal told him, "I mean fuckin' hell Sir, they really hate each other! Don't listen to any of that Socialist paradise shit."

"Right," Vincent said as they drove past a statue of Lenin, there were a lot of women there, some of them seemed eerily young, others were defeated looking women in tattered clothes selling all they had left. Every now and again some car, a jeep or what not, would stop and one of them would approach. He'd seen places, and scenes, like this in America, but here it was strangely bizarre, "Why doesn't anyone stop them?"

"What with the statue of Lenin you mean?"


"Well Sir, you see you know how the Soviet Union is the dictatorship of the working classes and all that stuff?"


"Well Sir, now you see them are the working girls, the prole... proletariane... proletariatesses! So what's more appropriate!" the corporal laughed, "Damn hypocrite commies, if you'll forgive me Sir."

Eventually they wound up in an elegant looking street, with lots of four or five story hotels, and smart looking Militia men walking up and down the street. IT wasn't very communist, only the odd wall mural, and scattered propaganda posters showed them which country they were in, for the buildings themselves wouldn't have looked out of place in an uptown neighbourhood in Boston.

"Hookertown!" the corporal announced as he motioned at the buildings.

Lt Vincent frowned, this place looked too elegant, too wholesome, his upbringing had always made him think of brothels and nightclubs as being seedy and somehow visibly decadent, not... well placed in a nice 19th Century neighbourhood. "Are you serious?"

"Absolutely Sir, that fancy greystone there's Madame Bouvary's, and down the street you can find the Blue House, it's big and blue, can't miss it," the corporal announced, "There's a couple of upscale hotels too, but slide some greenbacks to the concierge and he'll find you a nice woman, so long as she doesn't look like a whore I mean."

Part of Lt Vincent wanted to see the inside of Madame Bouvary's, but part of him remained a small town guy, "Ah give me a nice hotel," he finally added.

Corporal drove up outside one of the buildings, one which had a doorman in a long red coat, with huge amounts of gold braid, he looked like a mixture of Santa Clause and a megalomaniac South-American dictator. After that it was like being swept up in fairy land, suddenly he was inside a colourful and bright hotel, filled with bellhops, foreign guests, and fortunately vacant rooms.

Lt Vincent's Room, Hotel Lenin, Astrakhan
20:00, Tuesday 4 August

It was getting dark house, the thick blackout curtains had been pulled down in every window, and Vincent didn't really have all that many lights on anyway. He lay back in the big king sized bed, looking up at the white ceiling, the plaster plates had been cast in elaborate patterns, and the ceiling was lined with old fashioned cornices.

While he traced the ceiling patterns with his eyes, he remembered an incident earlier in the day. He had been at the bar, drinking a bit, when all of a sudden one of the expatriates, a big Texan with a pair of cowboy boots, and a huge cigar, had struck up a conversation.

"A pilot!" he called out, "Well I'll be."

"Do I know you Sir," Vincent had asked, a bit more apprehensively than he had intended.

"No Lt, you don't but..." the Texan had clunked his left arm onto the bar, there was something funny about the arm, and Vincent had realized it was wooden. "Lost this here arm in the Army Air Corps, volunteered, tried to join up when those son of a bitch Draka attacked but they got no need for a fifty year old with a false arm," he explained.

For some reason Vincent had warmed to him, they'd shared a few, but then the Texan had whispered "Careful Lt, the women around here, half of them are sparrows!"

"Is that like slang for whores?"

"No, who worries about some whores? I mean sparrows, Commie spies, let me tell you that I've seen a few married men get in trouble when some Commie girl takes him to bed, and some son of a bitch takes photographs," the Texan had puffed on his cigar for a while, "Just take care you hear?"

He felt a bit queasy, not sure how serious he should take it, he hadn't been accosted though by anyone, apparently that sort of thing was very much against hotel policy. He hadn't dared to approach the concierge through, instead he had piled up the pillows in his bed, drunk a bit of scotch, and now he was studying the ceiling.

"Russia is supposed to be cold!" he complained, the bed was uncomfortably warm, apparently there was something of a heat wave on right now. After a while though he fell asleep on top of the sheets, wondering what he should be doing in the morning.

Lt Vincent's Room, Hotel Lenin, Astrakhan
07:00, Wednesday 5 August

Lt Vincent woke up from the sound of someone hammering nails into his head, or as sober people call it: the alarm bell. His eyes shot open till they were the size of a tea saucer, his eyes were bloodshot, and his tongue felt like it had grown a thick level of fuzz.

He moaned softly, then after a few moments he managed to stagger up, Why the hell does my head hurt so? I didn't have that much to drink... it's got to be the heat He searched through his tote bag and finally found a bottle of aspirins, he ripped of the cork and pulled away the cotton, taking a full four of them in one gulp. Afterwards he ordered some ice tea from room service it was never a good idea to drink the tap water. After treating himself to this cure he eventually felt fit enough to head down to east breakfast, or lunch as it were by then.

The hotel was very fancy, making him wonder why everything was so cheap; outside the hotel restaurant he saw old paintings on the walls, men and women in old fashioned dress, mostly men mind, landscapes, rural scenes, and of course the interminable idealized battle scenes. He suppressed a shudder when he spotted one particular scene where a Cossack drove a lance into some Turkish soldiers shoulder.

What the hell am I doing here? Maybe I should go to some wild brothel and... he felt a bit intimidated, though secretly excited, by that idea. Then he quickly began solving algebra in his head as he felt a somewhat embarrassing response to his thoughts.

The restaurant was only half full, made up roughly half and half by Allied officers and western businessmen, but he didn't recognise any of them, which only added to his loneliness. He ordered himself a beefsteak and ate it quietly, over by a nearby table a group of businessmen were laughing uproariously, and one of the older businessmen sat next to a pretty and well dressed woman. Overall everyone seemed reasonably well behaved, which once more clashed with his idea of what Astrakhan would be like.

After he finished eating he had the cheque added to his hotel bill, and headed out, figuring that he'd get a look at the town, for some reason he was a bit distracted and the next thing he knew he bumped into someone.

"Sorry!" he called out at once.

"Hey it's... hey Thomas, don't you remember me, we were at the ..." the other one began.

"Jack Aston!" Vincent said, "Well I'll be... why are you here? I mean why haven't I seen you earlier?"

"Well, can't say where I'm stationed, you know how it is," Aston said, giving a wink, "You?"

"Can't say either, the CO would have my ass for sure."

They both chuckled at that, and almost in unison they spoke out, "Russia!"

"Lovely country," Vincent said, "Nice city too, but... I dunno."

"What? You don't like Astrakhan, it's a great place, and... what's..."

"Just a flesh wound, but the doctor insisted that I take a weeks leave, can you believe it?" Vincent said sounding exasperated.

"Sure, yeah, a weeks leave in Astrakhan, the man's a monster!"

"Hey now, I like a good leave as much as the next guy, I mean I haven't had a chance to see Astrakhan yet and..."

"Whoah Thomas, this is your first time here?" Aston sounded astounded, "Damn you got something good in store!"

"Well, so far it's been pretty dull, other than some Russian caviar and seeing the Lenin statue with the..." Vincent felt uncomfortable, "Women."

"Hey forget those," Aston whispered now, "They'll make your dick fall of, everyone of them got the clap, the crabs, and a couple of diseases you haven't heard of before." Then he pulled back, "But hey, let me show you the sights, trust me it'll be worth it!"

Madame Bouvary's, Astrakhan
18:00, Wednesday 5 August

The jazz band was playing a very jaunty and wild tune, good to dancing too though, and indeed the dance floor was as always packed. The customers, officers and rich businessmen, might be dressed oddly, but they were pretty much all white, the only dark skinned fellows were the odd Americans who had made it past the enormous surly bouncers.

Away from the dance floor, in the rear, a huge bar stretched from one end of the room to the other, with a dozen bartenders running to and fro to make sure that everyone was served. Behind the bar there was a huge long mirror, like you'd see in a western movie, the kind that was always smashed during the bar brawl when John Wayne punches the bad guy over the bar top. The mirror reflected the bottles lining the shelves right beneath it, and there were a lot of bottles of every shape and form, all of them genuine for only the best was served at Madame Bouvary's.

In front of the bar was the round tables where people sat down to rest, or have a drink, or chat up some of the pretty girls, or even the pretty waitresses walking around in rather skimpy outfits. Lt Vincent and Lt Aston sat at one of these tables, watching the throbbing throng on the dance floor, the girls were usually far better dancers if only for being sober, but that only made it a more interesting sight.

Then right in the front there was a bandstand, kind of elevated to keep a distance between the band and the dancers, every last one of the musicians was either a black man, or so swarthy as to be indistinguishable from one. There was maybe a dozen or so of them blazing away on their instruments, gyrating almost obscenely to the lively music, while the lead singer, an unusually attractive woman in a low cut red dress, sang huskily into the only microphone on stage.

"How is it possible?" Vincent asked.




"THIS PLACE IT'S..." at that moment the current song stopped, and the woman said something about the new song, "SO VERY..." that was when Vincent realised he was shouting, "It looks so nice on the outside," he said in a low self-conscious voice.

"Hey Thomas, look, this is Soviet Russia, you can get away with anything so long as there's a bigass Red Star over your door, and everything looks wholesome on the outside," Aston began, then the music started up again and all that Vincent could hear was a low mumble as Astons lips moved.

They got steadily more drunk, Aston more than Vincent, as the evening went on, the drinks were not too dear from their point of view, but for a Russian they'd be insane. As the evening progressed the volume seemed to go down, or maybe they just got more used to it and more able to filter out their conversation through the noise. A lot of pretty girls paraded past them, some dressed nicely, others dressed in very little indeed.

Every now and again some of the guests would vanish with one or more of the girls, and not be seen again for the rest of the evening, and of course Vincent was still trying to build up courage for the principle task of the day. He didn't know why it was so hard, it wasn't as if any of the girls would ever say no or anything, but, well, it was all complicated. He'd been with prostitutes before, of course, but somehow that had been different.

Finally he leaned forward, and peered at the woman on the scene, "I wonder if she's up for grabs," he felt like an idiot the moment he had said it.

"A hundred bucks," came the reply from Aston.

"A hundred dollars?"

"Per night, bit much for a piece of ass if you ask me."

In truth what really astounded Vincent was not the high price, the extravagantly high price that is, but that a goddess like that was for sale at all, indeed that any of the pretty and wholesome looking women were up for sale.

"Come on," Aston said, "Time to make our choice and head on to bed!"

In the back of Vincents head the warning from the Texan began to play out, over and over, "I don't know, I want to go on to the hotel."

Aston looked at him with disbelief, "What? What's the matter with you! There's tons of high class dames here and you want to what?"

"I don't know, this place is too much," he wiped a bead of sweat with a paper napkin, "Beside if there's an air alarm I'd rather be in the hotel."

"Oh gimme a break! Fine, bring the girl to the hotel," Aston finally said throwing his hands dramatically up.

"You can do that?"

"Haven't you figured it out yet? You can do pretty much anything so long as you got money, and you keep it discrete..."

Hotel Lenin, Astrakhan
01:00, Thursday 6 August

Vincent lay back in bed smoking a cigarette, he felt relaxed, at ease, and chiding himself for being so foolish. By the side of his bed, on the nightstand, the ashtray was nearly filled with broken cigarette butts, and beside that stood a half empty bottle of Armenian Cognac. The smell of tobacco, musk, and perfume, filled the air, the bed was crumpled and clothes were scattered around it.

After a while he put out his cigarette and sat up in the bed, resting his feet on the floor, he touched the bandage covering his shoulder, the wound ached again from the exertion. Then he lit another cigarette and listened to the shower flowing in the background, there was a momentary pause and someone called, "Ar ju shoor ju don't vant to kome and sheer?"

"Are you insatiable woman!" he called out, but there was a smile on his face, he rolled his head a bit.

"Yes, verrrrry unsayshable!" came a purring, and rather alluring, voice.

He wasn't sure if she was just trying to get more money, he had of course paid her before she'd come along with him, but he didn't care, it felt good to be wanted and appreciated by a woman after so long. He was quite relaxed, and starting to feel invigorated again when she returned.

She was actually Armenian, or so she said, one of the refugees forced to flee when the Draka came streaming north, or so he guessed she hadn't really filled him in on it. Long dark hair, dark eyes, and slightly Mediterranean features, she smiled as she walked towards him and his eyes wandered up and down her body.

Earlier that day at his room she'd noticed his wound, touching it with some concern, "I got that from a Draka," he told her, "So they send me here on leave."

"Why leave?"

"No, after I was hurt fighting they sent me here to relax and spend money."

"Killing Draka good," she smiled, "Spending money also good, get well soon kill more Draka," there was something dark and wild about her as she said that, "Kill many Draka for Irina, please?"

An air siren broke into his thoughts, instinctively he leapt up from his bed, tensing his muscles and preparing to run towards his action station, he had taken five steps towards the door before he remembered where he was. He stopped then feeling a bit silly, "Gas or bombs," he said out loud, then he looked at the girl, woman, Irina he thought her name was.

Irina had lain down on the bed, and didn't seem inclined to get up, she turned around a bit, "They use bomb, they use gas, they ..." she motioned up, "Everything, go where? Shelter..." she made a gagging sound as if choking, "Bomb is better, quicker."

Vincent shrugged, then he walked back to the bed, he sat down and lit another cigarette, "Fourth story, gas'll never get up here."

"Yes," Irina smiled and wrapped her arms around him, "Come I..."

Outside there was a sound like firecrackers, a moment he wondered if a car was backing up, then the deep booms began outside. He could hear the heavy POM-POM-POM-POM sounds outside, like some savage drum, followed by distant explosions as the anti-air shells exploded high up in the air.

He turned towards her and began exploring her body, slowly, intensely, and with her great co-operation, as the noise outside grew louder and louder. She was both soft and firm, sweet, mild, and savage, and she smelled like flowers, so clean and still slightly moist after the shower.

Suddenly everything shook, like an earthquake, a painting fell down from the wall, and the lights began to dim, first they'd dim a bit, then grow stronger, then dim again, and suddenly everything was dark. In the distance loud explosions could be heard, his hand rested on her belly, he could feel the edge of fur just above her sex, and her warm breath against him.

For some reason he got up, ignoring her surprised grunt as he did, she fumbled with the lighter and for a moment she turned it on, illuminating her face, her body, and the whole room with that flickering flame. She looked at him, "Vy ju not kom play," she said with a pout.

"Turn the lighter off," Vincent said as he walked towards the window, testing the blinds, seeing that she seemed unwilling he added "Turn it off, I want to look outside." She turned it off and he opened the blinds, at once he was bathed in light, enough to see the whole room by.

The scene outside was of pandemonium, hundreds of searchlights dashed across the sky, lighting up the clouds and the occasional Drakan airplane, and then came the explosions up in the sky, flashes of light followed by a black cotton dot that seemed to drift across the beam of the searchlights. In the distance he could see the muzzle flames of the AA guns, some of them short and distant in timing, others close together, and of course the long beads of tracer rounds rising up from hundreds of machine-gun positions like some Fourth of July celebration.

Then he looked down, a couple of nearby houses in the next street had been hit, and they were already burning, the flames licked up high sending up huge plumes of black smoke. The light of the flames played across white sheets of the bed, and across the skin of both himself and Irina. He saw groups of people rushing towards the fire, they were dressed in some kind of dark uniform but he couldn't make out any details.

As he watched occasionally another building would be hit, often they couldn't tell how much damage, if any, that the hits did since they could only see the dozens of distant fires across Astrakhan. He felt her move up behind him, pressing herself against his back, her warm body against his, her arms wrapped around his belly as they both watched the scene outside.

Then he saw it, a Drakan bomber was hit by one of the AA guns, and as it went down it trailed fire so it looked like a meteor, "They got one," he said pointing it out to her.

"I vish dey all die," she said very matter of factly, "Zhmei ar onlee evill!"

Vincent didn't object, damn snakes, I hope you burn, he sighed a bit, for a moment he simply forgot about the danger that the scene outside entailed. Then all of a sudden the whole room shook again, plaster dust drizzled down from the ceiling, and a tiny crack appeared in one of the cornices. Another boom struck and the windows rattled like mad, he could hear the glass shaking in their frames, and the two of them nearly fell over. Down the street he saw a fire, he couldn't tell which house it was, he just sighed and pulled the blinds back.

"Let us mak loov and neever stopp," she whispered into his ear, and they returned to their bed for the night.

Outside Madame Bouvary's, Astrakhan
11:00, Thursday 6 August

He had woken up earlier in the day and decided on having a walk, the streets were clogged by militia men, and rescue workers who tried to clear up the various piles of rubble that had once been houses. The Hotel Lenin had escaped serious injury, it had only sustained a few broken windows. Madame Bouvary's however...

The front had collapsed entirely, spilling stones and rubble out into the street, but parts of the rear was still intact, sort of anyway. He could see into the rear rooms, red drapes, lots of lace, the odd bed still there, a couple of beds had been dumped onto the rubble proper and now lay there with metal feet pointing up into the air. A group of rescue workers were walking in the rubble, shifting the stones away, occasionally pulling out a dead body, some of them were hideously mangled, others were still eerily alive as if they'd only gone to sleep.

Sitting on a large stone nearby was a middle-aged chubby woman in an expensive dress, she was smoking heavily, occasionally she'd daub her eyes a bit, but most of the time she just smoked and cursed fiercely at anyone who came too close to her.

"Fuck," Vincent finally said, "Fuck, fuck, fuck." Eerily appropriate he suddenly realised, given what had been going on here. Behind him he heard Irina babbling incoherently in Russian or Armenian or something, he didn't recognise the language, she seemed very shook up and began to howl each time a new girl was pulled out.

Lining the streets were dead bodies, a quick sheet thrown over them but their feet often stuck out anyway, he walked down past them, determined to return home when he saw it. A pair of American uniform trousers sticking out from beneath a sheet, he stopped cold watching those feet, is it Jack or just... look, I should look but... Finally he walked over and pulled away the sheet, and found himself starting into Jack Astons face, behind him some militia officer began to scream, probably upset that someone was interfering in his work.

He squeezed a banknote into Irina's hand, even in her dazzled state she discreetly accepted it and made it disappear. As he walked away he could hear her shout, "Kill them! Kill more Draka! Kill them all Amerikan!"