By the seventh day of being restricted to recovery exercises without so much as acknowledgement, the Shark began to feel a different kind of ice in his chest. One of self-anger and deep frustration. For the truly unbearable part of the deadtime was the lack of Pasha. Multiple times, the Shark had sat in the comms truck for hours, hoping to see her chat icon switch from grey to green. Or for a simple, one-line email response she’d snuck out during her shift just to lighten his heart. As soon as he’d been able to, Akula had sent her a simple message to reassure her that he was alive and well, no matter what the overall mission wrap-up would say. But seven days of torrurous rehabilitation and reflection had begun to plant the worst seed in his water. A flicker of doubt. Six months of ‘light escort and defense patrols’, the contract said. Six months, I promised her. Six months, I’ve lied to her?
Akula growled that guilt back down into whatever darkness it had crept from, Nyet, I have not! “You were Akula before you were a husband.” Mikhail scolded the doubt. “She knew this, accepted this. Don’t doubt she’s forgotten that meaning now.”
“No, she wouldn’t, she’s just pissed at you for getting blown up.” Drakon’s voice barged in on Akula’s turmoil, which made him smile to cover the startle.
“I imagine you’re none too thrilled either, Liliya. Can’t collect your rubles from my body if you can’t find it.” Akula smirked.
The pilot punched him in the shoulder, which hurt more than he cared to admit, before she handed him the flask often carried in the calf pocket of her flightsuit. “Wouldn’t live long enough to spend them anyway, your babochka would feed me to a woodchipper or a bukavac!”
Akula gratefully accepted the drink, which set fire to his insides more than the peroxide that the medics had used to treat his leg. “Have you heard from her?”
Drakon shook her head, spinning a nearby chair around to throw her leg over it and sit with a ‘sigh’. “Haven’t had much downtime to file reports, and that’s with all our new meat-slabs running around. Can you believe all the shit they brought in? I think all the company’s here now.”
He nodded, echoing the flyer’s sentiment. “Looks like it. Our patriarch is very generous with other people’s money.”
“Ah, so you met our golden camel-fucker too. Swear that repressed little shit stares at my ass more than Silverback!” Drakon growled, taking another long drain from her comforting beverage.
“And yet they both pale in comparison to Grizli,” Akula chuckled, before the reality of their personal devastation smacked him with remembrance. “Though you may not want him now, after that last mission. His most handsome part may be below the belt, even if he says different.”
Drakon snorted a mirthless laugh, before offering the last shot of Motherland’s fire to the Shark. “I’m glad you all made it back. That was a bad night for the whole company.”
Akula’s brow furrowed, as he forced himself to think beyond his own focus on Pasha. He’d only seen a passing glance at Pauk in the past week after their short game, and the Spider had looked more venomous than usual. Of Sova and his third-rate band of knuckle-draggers, the Shark had seen nothing at all. But he’d been more professionally concerned with keeping his own squad in light training and extra off-hours, which had isolated them all in their shanty housing blocks more than usual. “How bad?”
“Bad…Sova’s team got taken. Alive, at least from what I’ve heard. Somewhere way south of here, down near Maradah. They sent Pauk out to retrieve them, and I had to pull his ass out of an ambush.”
“That was last night, wasn’t it?” Akula asked grimly, now accounting for the increase in frantic energy he’d seen among all the fresh manning that kept him from either resting or recovering with an intense workout. Bet they were promised an easy payout and light duty under the sun, too…
She nodded. “Zhuk got shot up pretty bad, but he’s hanging on. And with you guys out of commission, that takes all the original teams out of play. The moment that ape sends these baby-faced bitches out, they’re gonna get slaughtered. Even with the extra morons in my sky!”
Akula mulled that admission in his brain, adding bits and pieces of their previous work and what he’d remembered from Pasha’s messages. The culmination of which snuffed out any remaining burn of the alcohol from his blood. “This isn’t an isolated thing. The NLD is striking out, and they’re gaining ground. Suddenly, our contract gets a fuckton more equipment and people?”
“And our doting overlord appears personally to watch us win their war.” Drakon added with a grim nod, before grimly amending “,or die in the attempt so the larger homeland gets involved like we have in Syria.”
“Blyad…” the Shark muttered, his fist clenching on his leg. The thought of dying and being buried in the searing sandy dunes, a world away from his frigid paradise and Pasha’s ever-warm arms made his anger rise. “Nosorog was right, we should’ve taken the merciless route and just cut the head off this movement before it organized like this.”
“Never tell him that, or he may just gore you out of spite.” the pilot warned him. To which Akula nodded that she was, of course, correct.
A knock on the comms compartment door derailed Akula’s next thought, as an adolescent-looking crew hand pointed to Drakon. “Checkout complete, mem. Silverback ordered me to find you for preflight.”
“O moy grebanyy bog!” Drakon swore, readying her arm to toss her flask at the young man’s head. “Where’s Pelikan?! That Kazak pondok was supposed to be on rotation today!”
The raw rage Drakon had set down upon the boy frightened him into silence, which only drove her ire even hotter. Sitting up, she gave Akula one last look, a smile of slight happiness sitting on a mountain of anger. “Keep faith, Shark. This place won’t kill us!” She then gracefully sormed toward the door and kicked it open all the way. Not expecting such power, the new arrival wailed in pain as the door tore free from his grasp and caught his forearm, knocking it painfully out of her way. Equally surprised was the outside sentry, who yelled after Drakon and received only the rudest of hand gestures in response.
It was a display that made Akula smile himself, even if it was fleeting. But it also came at the best of times, for Pasha’s online indicator was now green. The sailor’s heart jumped up his ribs in anticipation, which was quickly rewarded. “Are you all right?! God, please tell me you’re okay!”
“I’m all right, babchoka. Just a new scar to tell Andre about one day.” Akula sighed, feeling a week of grinding weight lift itself from his spine and disappear. “I’m sorry you had to wait so long.”
“Not your fault. I’m sorry I took so long, too” she began, though the next message took her a curiously long time to compose. “Had to spend a lot of time in Ryzan, talking to Sevastopol.”
His joy suddenly left his body en masse at the mention of the Black Sea Fleet’s main base. Until that sentence, it was understood that Wildlife Security was its own entity, independent and free to fight and die for whoever held the contract. However large a lie that was, it separated Akula from his sea-faring kin and progeny in the actual Russian Navy. That way, no matter what they did in the moment, no one could blame Russia as a nation or power. Only a few poorly-trained animals pruchased and used by the globally wealthy. For Kontrol to be talking to them directly, when everyone knows we’re being spied on? “And?”
Another long pause, followed by a forwarded email chain. On top of the contact chain was Kontrol’s Board of Directors as well as their sponsoring oligarch, receiving a message from the central staff of Vice Admiral Sergetov, commander of the Black Sea Fleet. It’s subject line simply read ‘Deployment Order: 526/121-44279’.
“Based on your last outings, enough people are worried about the Dawn having even the rudemantry parts of nuclear materials that higher powers are stepping in.” Pasha added on. “It’s still listed as a Wildlife contact, but no one’s going to be fooled.”
With only a look at the email’s attachment, the Shark’s heart stopped altogether. Even if there was no name given as to who was ordered to deploy, he remembered how to read the naval pennant numbers on the order. The first number didn’t bring any one vessel or crew to his mind, telling the team lad that this was likely something new coming to show off its teeth and rattle Putin’s saber in NATO’s face.
For the second, Akula hadn’t seen the name Moskva since leaving his uniformed days behind him. Before the Slava-class missile cruiser oradined ‘121’ took up its new home in the warmer waters of the Black Sea. Wonder if Grizli will know of the ship that strangled the entire Ukraininan Navy in the Crimean Annexation back in 2014…
Opening the order provided more than Akula knew he was supposed to see. Pennant number 526 was tied to the Severodvinsk, a submarine he’d never heard of before, but one that was strutting its might through the Atlantic to port call in Sevastopol. However, it was doing so with its full loadout of land-attack cruise missiles, which the Shark knew would draw fevarant Western attention even if it never surfaced between Murmans’k and Crimea.
Before that warm water stop in the Black Sea, however, the submarine would unload its teeth against targets in both Syria and Libya. Forty missiles, launched from the serene cover of the inviting sea waters, would rain down on the NLD as a show of Russian naval might. So many of my brothers come to cut their teeth in fire…over this?! “They’re really willing to risk NATO escalation over this pile of worthless sand? I don’t even think the Libyans want it, on either side! Pasha, they MUST know the Amerikanets, the English, or even the pig-headed Italians, are going to be up their ass all the way down here and back!”
“Thank your unexpected guest for that. Finding him pissed off a lot of people.” Pasha responded, careful to dance around the issue so Akula could fill in the blanks. Which the Shark did, at least in part, though too many were the gaps left unanswered. “Do we know who he is?”
“Da, Solomon has been very effective.” was all the reply she gave him for that, before she hastily added. “Have to go, they’ll be sending you out again soon. Ya tebya lyublyu!”
Her indicator dimmed back to that lonely gray and the Shark slunk back into the chair. Though his mind raced at all the new information, the first words from his lips were, “I love you too, babchoka.” After that, he simply sat in the artificially-Artic air of the cabin for a moment. His fists clenched and released without command as he thought, the individual pieces of the larger picture become more and more unpleasant with each addition.
One point stood about above all the rest; the mission that had so complicated his life and tour. And whatever was left of that package still sat below the sands, enjoying the company of Solomon and Navuk. “Just who the hell are you?” Akula whispered to himself as he looked through the metal walls of the truck and towards the interrogator’s pit.
Without realizing it initially, Akula stood from his chair and logged out, setting off straight for Solomon’s lair. Logically, he knew full well the master inquisitor wouldn’t just reveal what they’d learned about the Korean, but the Shark wondered if their prisoner was now so broken that he would say anything to anyone. Halfway to the nondescript hole in the sand, Akula’s ear caught the familiar sound of metal crashing down on bone, and a bellowing scream in a Ukrainian slant. “Blyad, you’d better thank Volk for skull-fucking you now so you can get sent home is disgrace! These heathens will be far less kind!”
Stopping to look, Akula saw the rest of his team gathered around a newly-arrived four-man team, circling the fresh blood like true apex predators. One man, presumably the fresh squad’s leader was now face-down in the sand, with Volk wiping the pommel of his fang clean. The standing trio of students looked equal parts horrified and focused as Grizli continued to berate them. Nosorog spoke with his actions, yanking the readied rifle out of a pupil’s hands and tossing it a dozen feet away. With only a glare to serve as warning, the Rhino sent his victim silently into the sand, face-first, with a brickhouse knee to the stomach.
“And now your pointman is dead! So what do you do, little suka?!” the Bear demanded of the tallest remaining soldier, who stammered out. “We…we fall back and radio for Drakon or Vorobey for air support!”
“Too late!” Grizli countered, pointing at the unconscious member of the group. “He had your only radio! And you!” the irate Ukrainian jabbed a finger into the sternum of the fourth soldier, who glowered in silence. “You didn’t think to look UP when clearing your path. You think snipers come up and shoot you in the dick from below?!”
“If they did, they’d be doing us a favor!” Akula shouted, catching a nod and smirk from Grizli. Running over to the impromptu beat-down, the Shark picked up the now-stirring squad lead by the scruff of the collar and made sure the recovering man could meet him eye-to-eye. “Know this: your work is only profitable if you make it back alive. And if you fail as a unit, Wildlife won’t be paying your widows.”
None too softly, Akula tossed the man into the arms of his comrades before putting a knife-hand in each of their faces. “You suki are too green to be anything but vulture meat, so get your asses into that training space and fight like you want to live!” With a snap of his fingers, Akula pointed to the sparring pit and sent the rattled quartet running, dragging their still-downed fourth member. Once they were out of earshot, Grizli was first to break their intimidation circle. “Der’mo, this is what the company bought? May as well send us the Komsomol, at least Stalin’s kids were trained to fight.”
Akula hesitated for a moment, stewing on the thought of whether he should tell his team now what Pasha had shared, or wait for Silverback to confirm things were actually in motion. But the moment passed quickly as the still-healing stitches along his thigh seemed to twitch as a reminder. Nyet, I won’t jeopardize this team any more with unknowns… “It may be the best the company could scrape up so quickly. We’ve got a big one coming. Possibly the one that breaks the Dawn’s push east.”
The collective ears of his team perked up at the news, the Bear’s hand going instinctively to his newly-cratered face before he squeezed it into a massive fist. “How big are we talking? We’ve got more than enough here to go bundle up what’s left of Sova…if there is anything left to find.”
Akula shook his head. “Nyet, bigger. The Navy is sending down missile boats, which are coming now, though Silverback won’t tell us that yet. Thank Pasha for this advance warning.”
There was a moment of pause as each man processed that information. What had started off as a private little war was getting hot real quick, there was no hiding it now. As it stood now, the best Wildlife could do was break the NLD’s initative and pray their allied LUA could do something, anything, with the momentrum reverse.
“So what do we blow up first?” Nosorog asked bluntly.
“Not sure yet, but double-check all appropriated gear.” Akula ordered. “My hunch says we’ll find out soon.”
Part 10 of the ongoing campagin for Akula and company. An operation that isn’t so simple anymore, as nothing in the world ever is. I’m honestly beyond thrilled I’ve been able to weave you such a long story so far (20k + words and going!)
I hope you all enjoy.