ArtOfWar. Творчество ветеранов последних войн. Сайт имени Владимира Григорьева
Andreev Pavel
The night of violence

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    Translation by Katerina Turevich (katerinaturevich@hotmail.com)


  
   The night of violence.
  
  
   There were three types of special operation ambushes: `first class hole', `empty hole' and the `ass-hole'. In general, one can say that the goal of the first-class ambush was to get the planned result, the goal of the headquarters, with all that, was to provide the group with the resources to achieve the planned result. The sergeant called it `selective access to common resources'. The goal, pointed out by arrows on a map, became an assignment only if the planned result and its time framework were clearly defined. It was then that the special operations commandoes showed up at the base camp. Coming out from air-conditioned headquarters into the field, the commandos harassed everybody else with their insistent rush, and an encouraged sense of venial noncompliance and general access. No one was ever happy with them. Even though their arrival meant bigger rations, and the group became even more tight and coordinated. Everyone back then understood that the price we all had to pay, was worth much more than all these doubtful advantages.
   The etiquette of an ambush was not to speak loudly and not to make sudden moves. We lived by our own laws, and those who differed from us not only by word but by action too, immediately got their share of aggressive reaction in return. It is quite doubtful that any of the "promotion hunters' would be able to answer the question of why we did what we did, and why we did it like that, demonstrating aggression, low pain resistance and a readiness to take risks. There were only a few of us who could explain how they did their work, but everyone would have been able to show it masterly. Those who were good did not ever know how or why.
   `Empty hole' is when the night is sad, when the entire group, embedded in the sand, has to wait for something to happen. But the ambush of the day in question was the `ass-hole'. Worn-out pathway on the bottom of a ravine, sideswipes coming down from the plateau , the terrain totaled up to a hemorrhoid. The success of its operational removal depended on immeasurable good luck, compounded from the combination of the quality of communication with the platoon, the weather conditions, operative situation in the region, prioritized preferences of the sergeant and the progression of external occurrences. Our "proctologic" group came here on foot, in the normal regime of `running- lying down". Breaking into fire points, we entrenched ourselves in a side of a hill. Easier said than done: we did not have the manpower to dig out a three-room bunker in the petrified mud. It took a whole night to dig out a tiny pit just for shooting from the ground. Covering it with a coat-tent, which we had to drag from the other side of the hill making sure our traces were covered, we spread dry mud and dust all over it.
   We had everything with us, in our old paratrooper's backpacks. My cartridge belt and spillage* contained seven hundred of double battle gear for the MG, grenades, fuses, rockets, on the bottom of the backpack - a portion of dry food with inviolable remnants of water in a bottle. My partner had the same, totally wasted in field action backpack, also with grenades, hand-rockets, two confiscated from the dead enemy aluminum flasks full with water, dry food, bullets for his Kalashnikov and three separate bugles for silent firing. For both of us to share, we had one field tent, one patched-up cargo bag, and a coat which worked as a tent too. Inside the rubber belly of the cargo bag there was some tepid water - when taken into the mouth it felt more like somebody else's saliva. Instead of a sleeping bag, we each had a big green camel cover - an honestly earned captured equipment.
   Each one of us has a lot illogical happening in his life. One does not have to verbalize it, but it is necessary to be aware of it. One has to distinguish unwise moves. It is not quite logical to experience sensations that do not correspond to reality. But what was happening there and then was quite real. All remembrances and hopes can only dim the picture. I noticed everything that happened then: sounds, body senses, fleeting thoughts. I did not try to change any of it or to stop it. Just took it as a natural order of things. And all my thoughts, all my senses quited down.. The world of the night ambush consists of pure emotion. Senses of vision and hearing get their information faster than the perception of brightness and loudness. I was just like one big blind ear.
   We didn't get the `Blick'• binoculars, and I used the night sighter. The battery was already low, so I looked through it only for short intervals. The night sighter deepened me into the green nocturnal mist, like a deep-water diver into a marsh. I tried to react only to what's there, right in front of me, not at the infrared objects. War punishes those who think that the green haze is the actual reality. Night sighter sensors fill the night air with splashing lights of spooky diamonds, stones giving-off heat they have absorbed in the day. Sometimes I saw jackals as wild green hunting phantoms. `Krona'•, ticking like a metronome was counting-off the last hour of my night watch. Having survived the rush forward, the bustle of the first night and the immobility of the day heat, I started the second circle of hell.
  
   God!, what a stink comes from the armpits of my partner. Body odor, just like an appendix, is a trace of human evolution. There in the trench it had become a personal problem for me. In reality it was just a confirmation of hyperactivity of my partner's sweat glands. As a result of it, a feeding ground for bacteria is created everywhere these sweat glands are located. It is that which gives-off such incredible smell. Our armpit fat glands were already for days non-stop mixing their secretion with sweat. It created very stinking solutions.
   There are other smells in the world, but my nose, forgetting them, kept reacting to the aroma of my partner's tired body. The most sweat normally comes through the soles of the feet. I was at this moment especially sensitive - my partner left his demobИe half boots close by my feet. These boots demonstrated a careful approach to one's own health: the heels were skillfully screwed in along the edges, the inside sole cut out from a piece of soft thick leather, synthetic laces painted with silicone, the shoe flap stitched and twice over re-sewn at the base. It is much easier to go into ambush then to come back from one. And a pair of comfortable shoes is the best tool one can get.
   My partner's bare heels painfully kicked me in the hip. His body reacted to a combination of images swimming up in his shell-shocked head, sounds and sensations, with uncontrollable muscle twitches. The seizures happened with a frightening regularity. Twitching in his sleep, he looked like a broken mechanical doll. It's too bad that the puppeteers, pulling us on the threads of the arrows drawn on their maps, did not see him. Seizures were the least of what we had to suffer, buried deep in the sand.
  
   Heated by the sun during the day and still remaining hot, the coat-tent oppressed me, like a concrete block. My mouth was dried out, the gums became sticky, saliva - gluey. Water is like an electrolyte for an accumulator, its absence induces sleep and a decreased level of activity. Everything - space, air, time - becomes irritating and little too much. At such moments one feels oneself at a complete `break'. A normal measure is seven, ten glasses per day, but it was impossible to take so much in a paratrooper's backpack. What would one take water with him for? To be able to irrigate the slopes? Or to pee in one's pants when the bullets are up?
   How long does one have till one has to spill? The platoon officer said one should be able to hold it up to eight hours. Constantly processed in the kidneys urine (a quarter of a glass per hour) goes into the bladder, where it collects till a certain moment. When there is about a glass worth of urine there, a man gets his first remainder, two glasses worth - and it's about time to spill some. But everybody has his own hydro-alarm.
   Once somebody in an ambush drank the whole amount of water from the right radiator of the AC. As punishment the entire group was gathered in one armored car, and locked up we could not drink or piss the whole way home. The basic approach to the young is always simple: `become what you can'. And the two of them couldn't hack it, the stolen water turned their bladders into water balloons. Their stretched muscles couldn't keep the contents. Out of control, they wetted their pants first by drops, then by small portions. Only back at the base could we again relieve ourselves, and everything became normal, except that among us all there was no more room for the two anymore. Their stubbornness made them martyrs.
   Pants down, on their knees the poor guys had drowned their guilt in the puddle of urine. Their own inability to obey the circumstances, their confession was rewarded with a problem: there was no more pressure in the bladder but there was urine. A thin flow of bright orange color excreted an ammiac odor of helplessness. They both scratched, with those parts of the body itching like crazy. And we all had to watch, as a remainder. One has to be the master of oneself. I was first to hit the sergeant who was having such a good time of it. He turned out to be sharp and grizzly like a bulldog. The fight was marvelous. We both ended up in the list of volunteers, and so I became his partner in the sighting group.
   Already twenty-four hours we had been lying together in one hole, which judging by its smells was dug out for the dead. If one doesn't fart on time, one's head will swell up. My partner's head doesn't swell up. He farts and goes on sleeping. His belly is a compound of assiduous muscles, whose labor effort does not ever stop. I foresaw it, when I watched how he, the whole day long, in the heat, was working with his jaws on old biscuits, drinking it down with dead water. No food? No reason to relax. Even if with unimaginable efforts he could subdue the battles in the daytime, in the night, half-sleeping, he could not hide it. Disturbed or empty belly can be a source of unpleasant smells. The successive distillations of his juices made me stick my head out of the mole hole.
   The night sky spread its vastness in front of me. Stars were already gone, but the horizon, thickly filled-in with a pencil, was almost black. I breathed deeply with the whole of my breast. Fresh cool air filled the lungs with the emptiness of the pre-dawn darkness like a blessing sent from the sky. Closing the eyes, I immersed myself in silence. Before I had never had enough time-outs, some few minutes to stand and reflect, to understand myself and mostly others, to stay still. And now I had so much of it, my ears got clogged. The desire to stand-up fully and stretch my body, pushed me out into the night.
   I took my partner's MK and went down the slope, into the ditch behind our backs, so as not to get aimed at by my own people. I was not afraid, and the light wind, the foreteller of future problems only increased the carelessness.
   At the bottom I stopped to pee. Trying not to make dripping noises I got down on my knees and involuntarily remembered the two guys who so nervously couldn't hold it any longer. Worry, discomfort and disgust overcame me, made me shiver. A tiny seizure shook my body, the gun slid off my shoulder and almost touched the stinking flow. I froze in a ridiculous pose, holding the butt of the silencer tight between the elbow and the hip. The butt of the rifle painfully hit me on the back of the head.
  
   It is getting dark. The lamps along the street are already on. One powerful lamp brightens up the front of whole house. Crossing the courtyard, he sees his own shadow, stretching all the way to the house. Touching the bench along the wall, the silhouette of a wild, inhuman big head on hunched shoulders bravely goes up almost to the roof.
   The living room houses the wake, his father. There are many old men and old women around. Everybody sits swinging on chairs without backs along the walls. Under a low ceiling a tiny light-bulb shines like a small yellow spot giving insufficient light.
   He stands by the red upholstered coffin. Mother shows the photo, already wet from tears and everybody in unison keeps on saying: `knock on the door at night, got up fell down and died - waiting for you, he wanted to see you for the last time.' He wanted to see his father too. Life had just now gotten to be good, but daily rush made him wait. Only if...,
   Grief storms through him already for two days. It enters his chest like a heated needle. He cries, he is not ashamed to cry loudly, with howls in between. Smearing the tears all over his face he suddenly understands that he is crying about the gladness of the heart, which was now gone. Humidity, sweet smoke of the candles burning next to the icon, shame for his own tears and the sin-song dirges of the old women by the coffin push him out into fresh air.
   Lighted streets with water-blue houses, one could stay here forever. Such a quite autumnal night, already less then a crust of a moon hangs in the starry sky. But a sense of something strange, suspicious makes him nervous. He looks into the darkness behind the house and sees an unfamiliar black silhouette of a mountain on the horizon. Two people drag bags along its slow slope. Slowed by the weight, they heavily ascend the mountain. Which mountain is this? Who are these people?
   He turns around and quickly goes direction home. Sharply opening the door he does not see a black hole in front of him. One step forward and loosing his balance, he falls into a gluey emptiness burning with cold temperature.
  
   Screw woke up from a seizure. It was quite. Slightly rustling, a tiny flow of sand dripped down the wall of the trench. He was alone, without a gun. The gun of the Young was in place, but the Young self was gone. The tired brain decoratively combined sensations from what was happening right then, with those of a minute before. Screw slowly re-emerged from his dream, in which he re-lived what was gone forever. Due to his clumsiness Kalashnikov together with the silencer were now gone, the Young had left. If he didn't turn-up by dawn, it would be tiresome to explain the reasons why he left. The dreamy imagination drew pictures, one more terrible than the other. Who will listen to the story of how he gave in, collapsed...
  
   Screw had stayed three days after the burial of his father. The older brother drank non-stop, finally getting stock in a marshland of intoxication. The attacks of his drunken aggression, born out of accusation of the death of their father, led to a short and fury fight. Screw never could really get the fine points in his relationship with his brother: what did one do? Say something or not, leave or stay? Arranging the hospital after the fight (broken ribs, contusion), he stayed for another three days deciding to help out his mother around the house. But the roof repair took long and when he came back to the city, he got a draft notice from the local recruitment office. In ten days, bold, in an overcrowded train he was taken to the South.
   From the first cut of the bread knife in the platoon's cantina, Screw's life was divided into neat pieces of butter: `today' and `yesterday'.
   Landing an assignment in a platoon, after a period of training, Screw wrote back home that he was serving in Mongolia - a ridiculous holy lie, for his mother's sake.
   Weapons and personal paraphernalia were considered private property, war - work, and a factor of necessity lay at the basis of executing orders. All words not backed up by actions were considered so much puff for which one had to answer. The new world had to be learned like a new language, giving new meanings to old words. A word had sense only if the meaning of it was grounded in reality. Whoever spoke unthinkingly, died without pain. One could not mistake aggression with a woman's marketplace.
  
   Four months after his arrival, an armored car with him sitting on the armature exploded on a fuse. It became much easier then to earn respect, one only had to look in the eyes and smile, even when the lungs exploded on a stifled scream.
   After the explosion Screw started having seizures with sudden, up to thirty seconds long loss of consciousness. His glance would stop, eyelids twitched, there would begin the jerking movements of the face and hands with an accompanying total absence of reaction to the outside world. His head was filled with the noise of big rolling metal balls and when he was especially nervous his `curtains' appeared in his eyes, hiding half the world away from him. At such moments he felt himself as if walking blindfolded in water with sharp stones for under foot. After a seizure he would undergo a period of weakness, sometimes a headache. The frequency of these attacks did not exceed a few times a month.
   The contusion entirely disarmed him of any co-ordinates he ever had. Screw forgot who he was even before he came to the platoon. The sun dried up his brains emptied out by the explosion, leaving instead only an indefinite shadow of instincts. Surviving another couple of scrapes like that, he turned out to be permanently stuck between fear and pain, like sand in an hour-clock. And only when the past became an area of empty indifference, and the future - a dead end, he could stay in balance - a fallen grain of sand. There were twenty-two weeks left till discharge, when new young recruits appeared in the platoon.
  
   There were eight, real `Hippopotamuses', who due to their youth all wanted to run and shoot around. In half a year time they all wanted to have a medal "For Courage", and a conferred voucher for a vacation, and in another year and a half, to be able to sit, discharged, and scratch their bodies while talking about it. `Hippopotamuses' had only half a head in working condition. As a result they were active, easily misled, ready for courage or deceit in the same measure.
   Having lived under hypnosis for all of their eighteen years of life, the young recruits were ploughing the platoon's territory on their own, and to expect that they would consciously begin cooperating, was not grounded in reality. Only apart, by themselves, could they exhibit patience and stamina, but once in a crowd their black-tanned, evil and stupid bodies would be controlled by mob panic. Therefore, just to herd this crowd, each veteran was assigned a `Young'.
   When a `Hippopotamus', getting warmed under the sun and frozen under the moon, wanted to get everything without giving something in return, it was past the time to give him personal examples. Instead he would get even rougher, believing the righteousness of his way and correctness of his tactics.
   Almost all the time thinking about their own ass, the `youth' used it as a filter for reception of orders too. Whenever platoon had to line up, it turned out that somebody would be left without a place, outside the line. Bypassing a fellow soldier like that, nobody remembered that this was a human being, and of a good opinion of himself, perhaps, too. There was nothing to do. This army was divided in two: the veterans trained the young. In other words, relevance established itself in place of ethics, and the question of good and bad fell out on principal. Not everybody was a good guy.
  
   Screw chose his partner himself. He settled on an ex-student, trying hard to change his behavior. It was a dialog with unpredictable exchanges. Most what the Young had to avoid was being indecisive. He was being shaken up -like a thermometer, which can start again immediately. Stubbornly, without changing direction Screw would return him to the begin of a bad start, demanding maximal orientation. Hesitation is an inability to finish off what's started already. The torture by action started, continued and ended only when the goal was reached. An order is not discussed, it is executed.
   When two people do not understand each other and do not get along, they do not especially copy each other physically. One is bent forward, the other leans back, one has a high voice, the other - a baritone, one gesticulates, the other doesn't. They themselves most likely do not notice these distinctions. Cooperation is a common reality, which can be built simply by doing what the other is doing. It is not abstract, it is built upon and destroyed by very concrete actions. Most used instruments for it are body language, peculiarities of speech and a choice of words.
   Gradually they became even close, ready to cooperate, having worked a language to share. But stubbornness, like a bone stuck in the throat, did not let them pick their heads up to greet each other. In itself it was not good or bad. But Screw was too unstable. The ex-student and Screw got in a fight after a `torture' session for the young hippopotamuses.
   The way Screw looked so lost after the fight, his empty eyes, estranged look, loss of attention, all indicated a coming attack. He always needed real work, without too many ideas. Best remedy for it was an ambush, and the platoon sergeant, without thinking about it too much, sent them both in one sighting group.
  
   In ambush Screw immediately acquired all the characteristics of a hunting animal: dropped down jaw, instinctively protecting the neck; glance from under the forehead; slightly raised shoulders; decisive step and widely embracing arm gestures. The "hippopotamus", on the other hand, was written off by everybody as dead even before they set out.
   Solid and heavy sand was glutinous, it sucked the foot in, enveloping it as a pillow. This kind of thin dry surface is like water, blown by the wind tiny grains get into everywhere. Ability to keep traces is another one of its qualities. On the very surface the sand is so crushed, that even a seed leaves an intricate trace.
   In the daytime the wind had been strong, blowing off every trace of anything that had passed by. But in the night, the wind subsided and smooth surface was ready for new calligraphy. Screw and the Young formed the advance point of the company, when Screw saw traces. On a dusty square there was a clear print of a foot with long, supple fingers. It was impossible that it was a print of a bird - none of the fingers was turned backwards. On the opposite, to define its relative time framework was not difficult. In still weather traces left on the sand are clear and very visible. They get messed-up with every light wind, and in a matter of a three-four hours they are no longer there. On open areas, wind destroys any sort of traces within a few minutes.
   But on this clear trace, which looked like a print of a child's hand, one could see that the animal had scaled fingers. Limbs pressed on the sand with such strength that the trace had a clear image of individual scales. It looked like `sand skies'. Only varanus holds its body so high up over the ground that even its tail doesn't leave marks on the sand. Normally in case of danger varanus escapes in inequalities of the sand. Screw went along the traces to see if the hunt was successful, and to discover the hiding place. The traces told that varanus was frightened off.
   The lizard with its characteristic large tail was more than a meter long. Slim, muscular body, covered with oval scales was lying helplessly on the back. Rows of light rings enlarged on both sides with black spots in between formed a net. Elongated, stupidly ending head crowned a thick, long neck, while on the other side, it was symmetrically repeated by no longer strong but seemingly ready long tail. Straight thin rows of scales neatly edged the hole in the belly, which was shining with its white color in the dark.
   Suddenly realizing what the scenery in front of him was, Screw gave a sign. The landscape reminded one of an old photograph showing a deserted plateau, which looked like a crimpled-up table cloth on an edge of a table, weighted down by the linings of deep and narrow ditches. The war turned them into perfect hide-away pathways for caravan movements. There is no better place for an ambush. The company fell apart on Screw's sign: fire support went up the hill, all the rest - for a quick recognizance of near-by ditches. There were three hours left till the total darkness.
   The sniper who had killed the lizard was not hiding, and was not afraid to leave traces which eventually led to a deep niche dug out in the clay side of the ditch - a type of hide-away deeply seated in the practical experience of an air-attack. It was a resting spot of a group of spooks escort, this time checking out the safety of a pathway before the caravan goes through. The spooks normally, just like rabbits, circulate a bit before settling down for a night. Sometimes it allows them to spot the enemy on time. If all goes well, they put mines all around the area leading to a hide-out .
   There were several mines leading to this place. Apart from those who had placed the mines, there was nobody else walking here for a while, and the totally fresh foot-traces pointed to the accuracy of gait in certain directions. That's what led to the discovery of the mines. We did not take them out.
   When Screw tried the ground, the knife went in with a lot of force into the clay pressed with other people's feet - this spot was used regularly. Narrow deep holes in the sand with sides dirty like a chimney, but without any smell, and the clean roof testified that the food here was cooked on dry fuel: benzene or any other burning fuel has a very specific long-staying smell.
   There was only one place here which could be used as a rubbish dispenser. In the hole dug-out on the edge of a plateau, amongst burned nut-shells and old tea leaves we found pieces of broken coffee jars - somebody kept a close watch on the food delivery to our brigade. On the opposite side of the plateau, in the depth of a niche there was another hiding place with several canisters of benzene, one powerful accumulator, a mobile car light, and an almost new light-reflecting tent cover. We left everything as we found it, so as not to scare the spooks away.
  
   All was silence: time freezes when one closes one's eyes. Gradually the body relaxed, letting everything happen by itself. Standing on my knees, I squeezed out `the last drop'. Ruthless field conditions will teach one the simple tricks of personal hygiene very quickly. To stink is one thing, to rot away alive is something else.
   I stood comfortably on my knees with closed eyes and did nothing. Suddenly I realized there was something happening right next to me. Turning my head to the right I saw a dark silhouette moving closer to me along the bottom of a ditch. I was positioned a bit higher up, on a small plateau, on a low side of a sideswipe. Carefully I slowly put myself down, and keeping my hands on the silencer, kept holding the PBS to my right hip. I slowly bent my knees, dragging them upwards. The butt-stick of the automatic rifle was lying on the ground right in front of my face, the barrel with a silencer tight against my hip and directed towards the nearing steps. In this position of an embryo I pressed into the ground, trying to solidify with the shadow of the hill. `In the shadow of your wings, save me, hide me, O Lord!'
  
   Everything that could happen, happened. All missed opportunities were missed. Already having seized to exercise any influence over my existence, somewhere in this same world and space, there continued to exist my partner, whom I left without a warning, a paratrooper's backpack full with bullets, and a forsaken MG. I The scariest part of it, was to think that everything could end very pointlessly.
   I froze, frightened of the beat of my own hart. There was a man walking past me with a gun. I heard the squeaks of sand under his shoes and the tinkling of the metallic ring on the belt of his automatic. In a minute he was already past my back and I couldn't hear his step. Still lying on my left side, I waited for what was to come, afraid to let the world know of my existence with the least movement of my body. It was difficult to assess the situation correctly - all I had to rely on was intuition. Time became a scale of circumstances, whose every measure corresponded to my concrete state. Its main quality was an awareness that if one occurrence was a conclusion of another, then independent of circumstances this occurrence will manifest itself again. But there was no time to wait. The millstones of fear slowly grounded my consciousness into waist. The one lying on the ground should not resent if others step on him.
   Somewhere close-by the sand was squeaking. It sounded as if there was another man coming. It was not possible to define precisely what was happening according to sounds only. I was plastered on the cold, wet with my own pee sand, and heard how the spook cautiously stepped down the slope. He walked towards me, not knowing what awaited him in the shadowy side of the ditch.
   If there is nothing happening, one has to do something. One has to be prepared to take imperfect decisions. People often do what would be considered entirely senseless in their real situation.
   I slowly relaxed my arms. Remembering the quality of movement, I moved the silencer towards my own fear. When the shape of the spook's head appeared over my right hip, I pressed the trigger.
   The metallic click of the trigger sounded like a thunderbolt compared to the two stifled gunshots. It was only a moment before that it seemed to me like a big heroic action to get out of this deadening ditch and into the emptiness of a night. Now I had a dead enemy body at my feet. Where there is danger, there is always a way out.
   I jumped up to my knees and saw a figure at a distance of ten-twelve meters, slowly and clumsily turning towards the noise. Not able to contain my fear any longer, I shot the falling target five or six times. The afghan missed the opportunity to be heard.
  
   The most usefulness should be extracted from what one has at the moment. With a gun across the chest, with a dangling open full body pouch, Screw ran down the slope. He saw the Young dragging the dead spook already up the slope. Taking his own automatic, Screw angrily pushed the machine-gun into his partner's hands. There was no time to ask questions, enough on hand to deal with. It is the current situation that one should pay attention to the most. Real time always has alternative interpretations, sometimes one sees them in dreams.
   The mystic flashback came as always at the moment of the most physical tension. When together they carried the bodies further up the slope, Screw suddenly understood that it was his sleep that had caused it all. Leaving everything, they buried themselves into the slope. At that moment there were already eleven people against them. It had not been a caravan but a well-armed and ready for action detachment. Queuing-up for death they like fools pushed up onto the guns, hoping to let Screw and the Young get ahead of them. Fortune did not let them get away from the fight.
   One automatic with a silencer and eighty bullets, two captured Kalashnikovs with ten clips, an MG with a cartridge belt of a hundred twenty bullets, two grenades and a Swiss knife - was the only equipment which stood in the way of the spooks during the first moments of the fight. This pause allowed the rest of our people further up to regroup the left flank and to take the attackers in a sort of a `horse-shoe' formation. Entering this unequal fight, Screw and the Young ended up in a real fire pot: their backs were being shot at by their own people and pieces of dead flesh were flying into their faces - the other spooks' bullets were tearing the barricade of two dead bodies apart. This was a real open fight: the enemy was seen and beatable, rules of the game were hard and just.
   Spreading under the squally fire, the spooks lay back, leaving five dead and some loose firearms. One of the corpses turned out to have a complete ZIP package for the mobile rocket complex PZRK -9K32, but nobody really understood what they found then, and what they missed.
   Two weeks later there was a helicopter with a watch-group in a control flight over the desert shot down by a rocket PZRK -9K32. There were less dead, than those who did come back. But for Screw who flew in that helicopter, the door into the future shot down forever - torn by the pieces of fuselage, like a leather football, he crying, whaling and grinding his teeth, burned in the smelting rags of his own flesh. For the ex-student Zenkevich, who started another duty detail, fate stopped being inevitability. Their mutual slavery came to an end.
  
   To this day I remember the happiness of movement I experienced then. I stood then in my full height, letting my shadow cover the dead spook at my feet. People say that our shadow is proportional to our future. Just before then I was the shadow of somebody else's future, and suddenly I acquired my own shadow. Shadow is the only trace that can not be destroyed.
   In Muslim beliefs about the creation of the world it is said that Allah first created a book - `kitab', and a reed stick for writing' - `kalyam , then he wrote down the fate of everybody living on earth. But there is one night in a year when it is possible to ask Allah to re-write one's page in the book. That night is called `the night of predestination'. That night is one of the most treasured Muslims holidays - `Leilat al-Kadr'. In its translation it means `a night of power'. Then in that slope, that short unequal fight immediately condensed everything into one - easing the fates of many people with the unity of our, together with Screw's, actions and thoughts. That night the last ones became the first, the rest stayed as they were. The first ones, lost but not surrendered, stayed till the end. The rest kept on dying, following insane conclusions of their sensations. But the common denominator between everyone then was the black, bottomless sky in Screw's dream. We had the same night with him. Except that Screw, having missed the spook's PZRK detachment, had also crossed the last page of his life out. I was given a chance to re-write my page. Ability to make quick decisions is in the final analysis the ability to finish up what was started before.
  
  
  
  
  
   The night of violence
  
  
   There were three types of special operation ambushes: `first class hole', `empty hole' and the `ass-hole'. In general, one can say that the goal of the first-class ambush was to get the planned result, the goal of the headquarters, with all that, was to provide the group with the resources to achieve the planned result. The sergeant called it `selective access to common resources'. The goal, pointed out by arrows on a map, became an assignment only if the planned result and its time framework were considered to be definitive. It was then only that the special operations commandoes showed up at the base camp. Coming out from air-conditioned headquarters into the field, the commandos harassed everybody else with their insistent rush, and an encouraged sense of venial noncompliance and general access. No one was ever happy with them. Even though their arrival meant bigger rations and the group became even more tight and coordinated. Everyone back then understood that the price we all had to pay was worth much more than all these doubtful advantages.
   The etiquette of an ambush was not to speak loudly and not to make sudden moves. We lived by our own laws, and those who differed from us not only by word but by action too, immediately got their share of aggressive reaction in return. It is quite doubtful that any of the "promotion hunters' would be able to answer the question of why we did what we did, and why we did it like that, demonstrating aggression, low pain resistance and a readiness to take risks. There were only a few of us who could explain how they did their work, but everyone would have been able to show it masterly. Those who were good did not ever know how or why.
   `Empty hole' is when the night is sad, when the entire group, embedded in the sand, has to wait for something to happen. But the ambush of that day was the `ass-hole'. Worn-out pathway on the bottom of a ravine, sideswipes coming down from the plateau - it all showed definitive signs of a hemorrhoid. The success of its operational removal depended on immeasurable good luck, compounded from the combination of the quality of communication with the platoon, the weather conditions, operative situation in the region, prioritized preferences of the sergeant and the progression of external occurrences. Our "proctologic" group came here on foot, in the normal regime of `running- lying down". Breaking into fire points, we entrenched ourselves in a side of a hill. Easier said than done: we did not have the manpower to dig out a three-room bunker in the petrified mud. It took a whole night to dig out a tiny enclosure just for shooting from the ground. Covering it with a coat-tent, which we had to drag from the other side of the hill, making sure our traces were covered, we spread dry mud and dust all over it.
   We had everything with us, in our old RD's. My cartridge belt and spillage contained seven hundred of double battle gear for the PK, grenades, fuses, rockets, on the bottom of the backpack - a portion of dry food with inviolable remnants of water in a bottle. My partner had the same, totally wasted in field action, RD, also with grenades, hand-rockets, two confiscated from the dead enemy aluminum flasks full with water, dry food, bullets for his Kalashnikov and three separate bugles for silent firing. For both of us to share, we had one field tent, one patched-up RDB and a coat which worked as a tent too. Inside the rubber belly of the RDB there was some tepid water - when taken into the mouth it felt more like somebody's slime. Instead of a sleeping bag we each had a big green camel cover - an honestly earned captured equipment.
   Each one of us has a lot illogical happening in his life. One does not have to talk about it to the others, but it is necessary to be aware of it. One has to distinguish unwise moves, to look for what is not grounded in reality. It is not quite logical to experience sensations that do not correspond to reality. If something feels not quite right, it means one is reacting to something which does not exist. But what was happening there and then was quite real. All remembrances and hopes can only dim the picture. I noticed everything that happened then: sounds, body senses, thoughts. I did not try to change any of it or to stop it. Just took it as a natural order of things. And all my thoughts, all my senses quited down. It is not logical to disagree with yourself. The world of the night ambush consists of pure emotion. Vision and hearing get their information faster than the corresponding growth of a sense of brightness and loudness. I was just like one big blind ear.
   We didn't get the `Blick'• binoculars, and I used the night sighter. Keeping in mind the brevity of the remaining lifetime of the already oxidized battery I looked through it only for short intervals. The night sighter deepened me into the green nocturnal mist, like a deep-water diver into a marsh. I tried to react only to what's there, right in front of me, not at the infrared objects. War punishes those who think that the green haze is the actual reality.
   Night sighter sensors fill the night air with splashing lights of spooky diamonds, stones giving-off heat they have absorbed in the day. Sometimes I saw green mirages - jackals as wild hunting phantoms. `Krona'•, ticking like a metronome was counting-off the last hour of my night watch. Having survived the rush forward, the bustle of the first night and the immobility of the day heat, I started the second circle of hell.
  
   God!, what a stink coming from the armpits of my partner. Body odor, just like an appendix, is a trace of human evolution. There in the trench it had become a personal problem for me. In reality it was just a confirmation of hyperactivity of my partner's sweat glands. As a result of it, a feeding ground for bacteria is created everywhere these sweat glands are located. It is that which gives-off such incredible smell. Our armpit fat glands were already for days non-stop mixing their secretion with sweat. It created very stinking solutions. I thought it would make a good keepsake against bad luck.
   There are other smells in the world, but my nose, forgetting them, kept reacting to the aroma of my partner's tired body. The most sweat normally comes through the soles of the feet. I was at this moment especially sensitive - my partner left his demobИe half-boots close by my feet. These boots demonstrated a careful approach to one's own health: the heels were skillfully screwed in along the edges, the inside sole cut out from a piece of soft thick leather, synthetic laces painted with hydropaint, yazichok sawn and twice over re-sawn at the base. It is much easier to go into ambush then to come back from one. And a pair of comfortable shoes is the best tool one can get.
   My partner's bare heels painfully kicked me in the hip. His body reacted to a combination of images swimming up in his shell-shocked head, sounds and sensations, with uncontrollable muscle twitches. The seizures happened with a frightening regularity. Twitching in his sleep, he looked like a broken mechanical doll. It's too bad that the puppeteers, pulling us on the threads of the arrows drawn on their maps, did not see him. Seizures were the least of what we had to suffer, buried deep in the sand.
  
   Heated by the sun during the day and still remaining hot, the coat-tent oppressed me, like a concrete block. My mouth was dry, the gums became sticky, saliva - gluey. Water is like an electrolyte for an accumulator, its absence induces sleep and a decreased level of activity. Everything - space, air, time - becomes irritating and little too much. At such moments one feels oneself at a complete `break'. A normal measure is seven, ten glasses per day, but it was impossible to take so much in an RD. What would one take water with him for? To be able to irrigate the slopes? Or to pee in one's pants when the bullets are up?
   How long does one have till one has to spill? The platoon officer said one should be able to hold it up to eight hours. Constantly processed in the kidneys urine (a quarter of a glass per hour) goes into the bladder, where it collects till a certain moment. When there is about a glass worth of urine there, a man gets his first remainder, two glasses worth - and it's about time to spill some. But everybody has his own hydro-alarm.
   Once somebody in an ambush drank the whole amount of water from the right radiator of the AC. As punishment the entire group was gathered in one armored car, and locked up we could not drink or piss the whole way home. The basic approach to the young is always simple: `become what you can'. And the two of them couldn't hack it, the stolen water turned their bladders into water balloons. Their stretched muscles couldn't keep the contents. Out of control, they wetted their pants first by drops, then by small portions. Only back at the base could we again relieve ourselves, and everything became normal, except that among us all there was no more room for the two anymore. Their stubbornness made them martyrs.
   Pants down, on their knees the poor guys had drowned their guilt in the puddle of urine. Their own inability to obey the circumstances, their confession was rewarded with a problem: there was no more pressure in the bladder but there was urine. A thin flow of bright orange color excreted an ammiac odor of helplessness. They both scratched, with those parts of the body itching like crazy. And we all had to watch, as a remainder. One has to be the master of oneself. I was first to hit the sergeant who was having such a good time of it. He turned out to be sharp and grizzly like a bulldog. The fight was marvelous. We both ended up in the list of volunteers, and so I became his partner in the sighting group.
   Already twenty-four hours we had been lying together in one hole, which judging by its smells was dug out for the dead. If one doesn't fart on time, one's head will swell up. My partner's head doesn't swell up. He farts and goes on sleeping. His belly is a compound of assiduous muscles, whose labor effort does not ever stop. I foresaw it, when I watched how he, the whole day long, in the heat, was working with his jaws on old biscuits, drinking it down with dead water. No food? No reason to relax. Even if with unimaginable efforts he could subdue the battles in the daytime, in the night, half-sleeping, he could not hide it. Disturbed or empty belly can be a source of unpleasant smells. The successive distillations of his juices made me stick my head out of the mole hole.
   The night sky spread its vastness in front of me. Stars were already gone, but the horizon, thickly filled-in with a pencil, was almost black. I breathed deeply with the whole of my breast. Fresh cool air filled the lungs with the emptiness of the pre-dawn darkness like a blessing sent from the sky. Closing the eyes, I immersed myself in silence. Before I had never had enough time-outs, some few minutes to stand and reflect, to understand myself and mostly others, to stay still. And now I had so much of it, my ears got clogged. The desire to stand-up fully and stretch my body, pushed me out into the night.
   I took my partner's MK and went down the slope, into the ditch behind our backs, so as not to get aimed at by my own people. I was not afraid, and the light wind, the foreteller of future problems only increased the carelessness.
   At the bottom I stopped to pee. Trying not to make dripping noises I got down on my knees and involuntarily remembered the two guys who so nervously couldn't hold it any longer. Worry, discomfort and disgust overcame me, made me shiver. A tiny seizure shook my body, the gun slid off my shoulder and almost touched the stinking flow. I froze in a ridiculous pose, holding the butt of the silencer tight between the elbow and the hip. The butt of the rifle painfully hit me on the back of the head.
  
   It is getting dark. The lamps along the street are already on. One powerful lamp brightens up the front of whole house. Crossing the courtyard, he sees his own shadow, stretching all the way to the house. Touching the bench along the wall, the silhouette of a wild, inhuman big head on hunched shoulders bravely goes up almost to the roof.
   The living room houses the wake, his father. There are many old men and old women around. Everybody sits swinging on chairs without backs along the walls. Under a low ceiling a tiny light-bulb shines like a small yellow spot giving insufficient light.
   He stands by the red upholstered coffin. Mother shows the photo, already wet from tears and everybody in unison keeps on saying: `knock on the door at night, got up fell down and died - waiting for you, he wanted to see you for the last time.' He wanted to see his father too. Life had just now gotten to be good, but daily rush made him wait. Only if..,
   Grief storms through him already for two days. It enters his chest like a heated needle. He cries, he is not ashamed to cry loudly, with howls in between. Smearing the tears all over his face he suddenly understands that he is crying about the gladness of the heart, which was now gone. Humidity, sweet smoke of the candles burning next to the icon, shame for his own tears and the sin-song dirges of the old women by the coffin push him out into fresh air.
   Lighted streets with water-blue houses, one could stay here forever. Such a quite autumnal night, already less then a crust of a moon hangs in the starry sky. But a sense of something strange, suspicious makes him nervous. He looks into the darkness behind the house and sees an unfamiliar black silhouette of a mountain on the horizon. Two people drag bags along its slow slope. Slowed by the weight, they heavily ascend the mountain. Which mountain is this? Who are these people?
   He turns around and quickly goes direction home. Sharply opening the door he does not see a black hole in front of him. One step forward and loosing his balance, he falls into a gluey emptiness burning with cold temperature.
  
   Screw woke up from a seizure. It was quite. Slightly rustling, a tiny flow of sand dripped down the wall of the trench. He was alone in it, without a gun. The gun of the Young was in place, but the Young self was gone. The tired brain decoratively combined sensations from what was happening right then, with those of a minute before. Screw slowly re-emerged from his dream, in which he re-lived what was gone forever. Due to his clumsiness Kalashnikov together with the silencer were now gone, the Young had left. If he didn't turn-up by dawn, it would be tiresome to explain the reasons why he left. The dreamy imagination drew pictures, one more terrible than the other. Who will listen to the story of how his `passiki' weakened, and ..................
  
   Screw had stayed three days after the burial of his father. The older brother drank non-stop, finally getting stock in a marshland of intoxication. The attacks of his drunken aggression, born out of accusation of the death of the father, led to a short and fury fight. Screw never really could get the fine points in his relationship with his brother: what did one do? Say something or not, leave or stay? Arranging the hospital after the fight (broken ribs, contusion), he stayed for another three days deciding to help out his mother around the house. But the roof repair took long and when he came back to the city, he got a draft notice from the local recruitment office. In ten days, bold, in an overcrowded train he was taken to the South.
   From the first cut of the bread knife in the platoon's cantina, Screw's life was divided into neat pieces of butter: `today' and `yesterday'.
   Landing an assignment in a platoon, after a period of training, Screw wrote back home that he was serving in Mongolia - a ridiculous holy lie, for his mother's sake.
   Weapons and personal paraphernalia were considered private property, war - work, and a factor of necessity lay at the basis of executing orders. All words not backed up by actions were considered so much puff for which one had to answer. The new world had to be learned like a new language, giving new meanings to old words. A word had sense only if the meaning of it was grounded in reality. Whoever spoke unthinkingly, died without pain. One could not mistake aggression with a woman's marketplace.
  
   Four months after his arrival, an armored car with him sitting on the armature exploded on a fuse. It became much easier then to earn respect, one only had to look in the eyes and smile, even when the lungs exploded on a stifled scream.
   After the explosion Screw started having seizures with sudden, up to thirty seconds long loss of consciousness. His glance would stop, eyelids twitched, there would begin the jerking movements of the face and hands with an accompanying total absence of reaction to the outside world. His head was filled with the noise of big rolling metal balls and when he was especially nervous his eyes were obstructed by `curtains' hiding half the world away from him. At such moments he felt himself as if walking blindfolded in water with sharp stones for under foot. After a seizure he would undergo a period of weakness, sometimes a headache. The frequency of these attacks did not exceed a few times a month.
   The contusion entirely disarmed him of any co-ordinates he ever had. Screw forgot who he was before he came to the platoon. The sun dried up his brains emptied out by the explosion, leaving instead only an indefinite shadow of instincts. Surviving another couple of scrapes like that, he turned out to be permanently stuck between fear and pain, like sand in an hour-clock. And only when the past became an area of empty indifference, and the future - a dead end, he could stay in balance - a fallen grain of sand. There were twenty-two weeks left till discharge, when new young recruits appeared in the platoon.
  
   There were eight, real `Hippopotamuses', who due to their youth all wanted to run and shoot. In half a year time they all wanted to have a medal "For Courage" and an assured vacation place, and in another year and a half to be able to lie, discharged, together with others in a sauna and scratch their bodies while talking about it. `Hippopotamuses' had only half a head in working condition. As a result they were active, easily misled, ready for courage or deceit in the same measure.
   Having lived under hypnosis for all of their eighteen years of life, the young recruits were ploughing the platoon's territory on their own, and to expect that they would gather monolithically and begin doing something consciously, was not grounded in reality. Only apart, by themselves, could they exhibit patience and stamina, but once in a crowd their black-tanned, evil and stupid bodies would be controlled by mass-instinct. They did not attract any emotion except a pure human disgust. Therefore, just to herd this crowd, each veteran was assigned a `Young'.
   When a `Hippopotamus', getting warmed under the sun and frozen under the moon, wanted to get everything without giving something in return, it was past the time to give him personal examples. Instead he would get even rougher, believing the righteousness of his way and correctness of his tactics.
   Almost all the time thinking about their own ass, the `youth' used it as a filter for reception of orders too. Whenever platoon had to line up, it turned out that somebody would be left without a place, outside the line. Bypassing a fellow soldier like that, nobody remembered that this was a human being and of a good opinion of himself, perhaps, too. There was nothing to do: this army was divided in two and the veterans trained the young. In other words, relevance established itself in place of ethics, and the question of good and bad fell out on principal. Not everybody was a good guy.
  
   Screw choose his partner himself. He settled on an ex-student, trying hard to change his behavior. It was a dialog with unpredictable exchanges. Most what the Young had to avoid was being indecisive. He was being shaken up -like a thermometer, which can start again immediately. Stubbornly, without changing direction Screw would return him to the begin of a bad start, demanding maximal decisiveness. Hesitation is an inability to finish off what's started already. The torture by action started, continued and ended only when the goal was reached. An order is not discussed, it is executed.
   When two people do not understand each other and do not get along, they do not especially copy each other physically. One is bent forward, the other leans to the back, one has a high voice, the other - a baritone, one gesticulates, the other doesn't. They themselves most likely do not notice these distinctions. Cooperation is a common reality, which can be built simply by doing what the other is doing. It is not abstract, it is built upon and destroyed by very concrete actions. Most used instruments for it are body language, peculiarities of speech and a choice of words.
   Gradually they became even close, ready to cooperate, having worked a language to share. But stubbornness, like a bone stuck in the throat, did not let them pick their heads up to greet each other. In itself it was not good or bad. But Screw was too unstable. The ex-student and Screw got in a fight after a `torture' session for the young hippopotamuses.
   The way Screw looked so lost after the fight, his empty eyes, estranged look, loss of attention, all indicated a coming attack. He always needed real work, without too many ideas. Best remedy for it was an ambush, and the platoon sergeant, without thinking about it too much, sent them both in one sighting group.
  
   In ambush Screw immediately acquired all the characteristics of a hunting animal: dropped down jaw, instinctively protecting the neck; glance from under the forehead; slightly raised shoulders; decisive step and widely embracing arm gestures. The "hippopotamus", on the other hand, was written off by everybody as dead even before they set out.
   Solid and heavy sand was glutinous, it sucked the foot in, enveloping it as a pillow. This kind of thin dry surface is like water, blown by the wind tiny grains get into everywhere. Ability to keep traces is another one of its qualities. On the very surface the sand is so crushed, that even a seed leaves an intricate trace.
   In the daytime the wind had been strong, blowing off every trace of anything that had passed by. But in the night the wind subsided and smooth surface was ready for new calligraphy. Screw and the Young formed the advance point of the company, when Screw saw traces. On a dusty square there was very clearly a visible print of a foot with long, supple fingers. It was impossible that it was a print of a bird - none of the fingers was turned backwards. On the opposite, to define its relative time framework was not difficult. In still weather traces left on the sand are clear and very visible. They get messed-up with every light wind, and in a matter of a three-four hours they are no longer there. On open areas wind destroys any sort of traces within a few minutes.
   But on this clear trace, which looked like a print of a child's hand, one could see that the animal had scaled fingers. Limbs pressed on the sand with such strength that the trace had a clear image of individual scales. It looked like `sand skies'. Only varan holds its body so high up over the ground that even its tail doesn't leave marks on the sand. Normally in case of danger varan escapes in inequalities of the sand. Screw went along the traces to see if the hunt was successful and to discover the hiding place. The traces told that varan was frightened off.
   The lizard with its characteristic large tail was more than a meter long. Slim, muscular body, covered with oval scales was lying helplessly on the back. Rows of light rings enlarged on both sides with black spots in between formed a net. Elongated, stupidly ending head crowned a thick, long neck, while on the other side it was symmetrically repeated by no longer strong but seemingly ready long tail, only so much longer. Straight thin rows of scales neatly edged the hole in the belly, which was shining with its white color in the dark.
   The landscape reminded one of an old photograph showing a deserted plateau, which looked a crimpled-up table cloth on an edge of a table weighted down by the linings of deep and narrow ditches. The war turned them into perfect hide-away pathways for caravan movements. There is no better place for an ambush. The company fell apart almost immediately: fire support went up the hill, all the rest - for a quick recognizance of near-by ditches. There were three hours left till the total darkness.
   The sniper who had killed the lizard was not hiding and was not afraid to leave traces which eventually led to a deep niche dug out in the clay side of the ditch - a type of hide-away deeply seated in the practical experience of an air-attack. It was a resting spot of a group of spooks escort, this time checking out the safety of a pathway before the caravan goes through. The spooks normally, just like rabbits, circulate a bit before settling down for a night. Sometimes it allows them to spot the enemy on time. If all goes well, they put mines all around the area leading to a hide-out .
   There were several mines leading to this place. They were put in the best way possible, but a long time ago, and that made them noticeable. Apart from those who had placed the mines, there was nobody else walking here in a while, and the totally fresh foot-traces pointed to the accuracy of a gait in certain directions. That's what led to the discovery of the mines. We did not take them out.
   The knife went with a lot of force into the clay pressed with other peoples feet - this spot was used regularly. Narrow deep holes in the sand with sides dirty like a chimney but without any smell and a clean roof testified that the food here was cooked on dry fuel: benzene or any other burning fuel has a very specific long-staying smell.
   There was no other place here which could be used as a rubbish dispenser. In the hole dug-out on the edge of a plateau, amongst burned nut-shells and old tea leaves we found pieces of broken coffee jars - somebody kept a close watch on the food delivery to our brigade. On the opposite side of the plateau, in the depth of a niche there was another hiding place with several canisters of benzene, one powerful accumulator, a mobile car light, and an almost new light-reflecting tent cover. We left everything as we found it, so as not to scare the spooks away.
  
   All was silence: time freezes when one closes one's eyes. Gradually the body relaxed, letting everything happen by itself. Standing on my knees, I squeezed out `the last drop'. Ruthless field conditions will teach one the simple tricks of personal hygiene very quickly. To stink is one thing, to rot away alive is something else.
   I stood comfortably on my knees with closed eyes and did nothing. Suddenly I realized there was something happening right next to me. Turning my head to the right I saw a dark silhouette moving closer to me along the bottom of a ditch. I was positioned a bit higher up, on a small plateau on a low side of a sideswipe. Carefully I slowly put myself down, and keeping my hands on the `pipetochka', kept holding the PBS to my right hip. I slowly bent my knees, dragging them upwards. The butt-stick of the automatic rifle was lying on the ground right in front of my face, the barrel with a silencer tight against my hip and directed towards the nearing steps. In this position of an embryo I pressed into the ground, trying to solidify with the shadow of the hill. `In the shadow of your wings, save me, hide me, O Lord!'
  
   Everything that could happen happened. All missed opportunities were missed. Already having seized to exercise any influence over my existence, somewhere in this same world and space, there continued to exist my partner whom I left without a warning, an RD full of bullets, and a forsaken PK. I The scariest part of it was to think that everything could end very pointlessly.
   I froze, frightened of the beat of my own hart. There was a man walking past me with a gun. I heard the squeaks of sand under his shoes and the tinkling of the metallic ring on the belt of his automatic. In a minute he was already past my back and I couldn't hear his step. Still lying on my left side, I waited for what was to come, afraid to let the world know of my existence with the lest movement of my body. It was difficult to assess the situation correctly - all I had to rely on was intuition. Every second of waiting meant death. Time became a scale of circumstances, whose every measure corresponded to my concrete state. Its main quality was an awareness that if one occurrence was a conclusion of another, then independent of circumstances this occurrence will manifest itself again. But there was no time to wait. The millstones of fear slowly grounded my consciousness into waist. The one lying on the ground should not resent if others step on him.
   Somewhere close-by the sand was squeaking. It sounded as if there was another man coming. It was not possible to define precisely what was happening according to sounds only. I was plastered on the cold, wet with my own pee sand and heard how the spook cautiously stepped down the slope. He walked towards me, not knowing what awaited him in the shadowy side of the ditch.
   If there is nothing happening, one has to do something. One has to be prepared to take imperfect decisions. People often do what would be considered entirely senseless in their real situation.
   I slowly relaxed my arms. Remembering the quality of movement, I moved the silencer towards my own fear. When the shape of the spook's head appeared over my right hip, I pressed the trigger.
   The metallic click of the trigger seemed a thunderbolt compared to the two stifled gunshots. It was only a moment before that it seemed to me like a big heroic action and a very desired goal to get out of this deadening ditch and into the emptiness of a night. Now I had a dead enemy body at my feet. Where there is danger, there is always a way out.
   I jumped up to my knees and saw a figure at a distance of ten-twelve meters slowly and clumsily turning towards the noise. Not able to contain my fear any longer, I shot the falling target five or six times. The afghan missed the opportunity to be heard.
  
   The most usefulness should be extracted from what one has at the moment. With a gun across the chest, with a dangling open `bra', Screw ran down the slope. He saw the Young dragging the dead spook already up the slope. Taking his own automatic, Screw angrily pushed the machine-gun into his partner's hands. There was no time to ask questions, enough on the hand to deal with. It is the current situation that one should pay attention to the most. Real time always has alternative realities, sometimes one sees them in dreams.
   The mystic flashback came as always at the moment of the most physical tension. When together they carried the bodies further up the slope, Screw suddenly understood that it was his sleep that had caused it all. Leaving everything, they buried themselves into the slope. At that moment there were already eleven people against them. It had not been a caravan but a well-armed and ready for action detachment. Queuing-up for death they like fools pushed up onto the guns, hoping to let Screw and the Young get ahead of them. Fortune did not let them get away from the fight.
   One automatic with a silencer and eighty bullets, two captured Kalashnikovs with ten rozhki, PK with a cartridge belt of a hundred twenty bullets, two grenades and a Swiss knife - was the only equipment which stood in the way of the spooks during the first moments of the fight. This pause allowed the rest of our people further up to regroup the left flank and to take the attackers in a sort of a `horse-shoe' formation. Entering this unequal fight, Screw and the Young ended up in a real fire pot: their backs were being shot at by their own people and pieces of dead flesh were flying into their faces - the other spooks' bullets were tearing the barricade of two dead bodies apart. This was a real open fight: the enemy was seen and beatable, rules of the game were hard and just.
   Spreading under the squally fire, the spooks lay back, leaving five dead and some loose firearms. One of the corpses turned out to have a complete ZIP package for the mobile rocket complex PZRK -9K32, but nobody really understood what they found then, and what they missed.
   Two weeks later there was a helicopter with a watch-group in a control flight over the desert shot down by a rocket PZRK -9K32. There were less dead, than those who did come back. But for Screw who flew in that helicopter, the door into the future shot down forever - torn by the pieces of fuselage, like a leather football, he crying, whaling and grinding his teeth, burned in the smelting rags of his own flesh. For the ex-student Zenkevich, who started another duty detail, fate stopped being inevitability. Their mutual slavery came to an end.
  
   To this day I remember the happiness of movement I experienced then. I stood then in my full height, letting my shadow cover the dead spook at my feet. People say that our shadow is proportional to our future. Just before then I was the shadow of somebody else's future, and suddenly I acquired my own shadow. Shadow is the only trace that can not be destroyed.
   In Muslim beliefs about the creation of the world it is said that Allah first created `kitab' - a book, and `kalyam -a reed stick for writing', then he wrote down everything which would happen with everybody living on earth. But there is one night in a year when it is possible to ask Allah to re-write one's page in the book. That night is called `the night of predestination'. That night is one of the most treasured Muslims holidays - `Leilat al-Kadr'. In its translation it means `a night of power'. Then in that slope, that short unequal fight immediately condensed everything into one - easing the fates of many people with the unity of our, together with Screw's, actions and thoughts. That night the last ones became the first, the rest stayed as they were. The first ones, lost but not surrendered, stayed till the end. The rest kept on dying, following insane conclusions of their sensations. But the common denominator between everyone then was the black, bottomless sky in Screw's dream. We had the same night with him. Except that Screw, having missed the spook's PZRK detachment, had also crossed the last page of his life out. I was given a chance to re-write my page. Ability to make quick decisions is in the final analysis the ability to finish up what was started before.
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
   • `Blick' binoculars, a type of military binoculars used in
   • `Krona' - a type of military big face watch
   • `Blick' binoculars, a type of military binoculars used in
   • `Krona' - a type of military big face watch
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  
  

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