By the time they made it within the 1km kill-zone of Haven’s defended perimeter, the backseat of the Mazda was much more crimson than gray. Grizli had succeeded in at least abating the flow of blood from the trenches blown into his face. Nosorog had borrowed Volk’s small emergency blade to pull a few other small shards of metal from his shoulder meat. Akula hadn’t even realized he’d been bleeding again until the drive was mostly complete. Only when his pant leg stuck uncomfortably to the cloth of the seat from the open flesh at his thigh did the Shark tend to his own wounds. The rage induced by the wound only fueled his already deep-burning anger at the ridiculous failure that was the whole night, and his mind raced with the many facts to put into the mission report.
Per procedure, coming so close to their forward ops base in a vehicle meant that Akula had to hold his colored identification tag to the windshield the whole time Volk kept the sedan at a pathetic crawling speed. Any faster, and the defending team would have killed them already. Any slower, and even Silverback would outrun us… the team lead groused.
A deep rumbling that rattled his bones stifled that complaint, as the sudden emergence of a rising ivory mass surprised Akula. Unmarked and otherwise conspicuously nondescript, the Ilyushian IL-76 transport jet pulled into the air as hard as it could, shaking the small car almost to pieces as it roared over them and into the morning sky.
“Zdorovo! Supplies!” Grizli half-cheered, too drained and broken to offer more. Part of Akula wondered if the Ukrainian would even be up for his standard post-operation fuck in his current shape. But the larger question dropped on the Shark’s mind by the ascending transport was the very unusual nature of such a delivery. The Il-76 was a massive target, even in peacetime, as any non-combatant would be. To risk a drop-off in broad daylight and so close to an active warfront? I didn’t think we were desperate.
The next surprise came roaring out of Haven’s main entrance, barreling straight at them before veering away and towards a freshly dug entrenchment. Akula typically welcomed the sight of the T-80UM main battle tank adorned in the sigil of the Motherland, but seeing it here and so aggressively prepared for area defense didn’t sit well with him.
“So much for a short-term contract…” Nosorog grumbled with resentment, eyes hardened and jaw clenched as he stared at the mechanized beast while they crept past it. It was a vocal confirmation of Akula’s thoughts, for now the Wildlife population had exploded far beyond their short-term agreement to just collect intelligence and dispose of influential NLD members. Such disdain also spoke to how deep such a war machine was ingrained in the Rhino’s hate of the Red Star still faintly visible in the war machine’s repainted camouflage pattern.
A few moments later, the team was signaled to halt by Haven’s security checkpoint crew, none of which Akula’s team recognized. Gone was the comradery ribbing from Pauk or the professional disdain for Sova’s men. Now a newly-arrived flock of lambs came to inspect and recover the predatory team. Each man shared looks of professional concern with each other, the Bear looking the most irritated at having no one to tease. Once the Shark’s shiver had surrendered their weapons once more, they were helped beyond the threshold of the compound. All the while, part of the checkpoint team broke away to deal with the commandeered car. Only when the team was well inside the gated entryway and seated in a processing bungalow did the shocked wail of a lithe ballerina-turned-nurse come running up to meet them, slender arms shaking as they fell upon the Bear’s ragged cheeks. “Fret not, my little liliya, now my face matches the rest!” the Ukrainian jested in a groan, earning him a tearful embrace.
“Suppose this means I’ll tend to my own stitches…again.” Nosorog bellowed, though the Bear and the flower paid no attention. Much to the Rhino’s surprise, he was quickly set upon by another field medic. Unlike Grizli, the Chechen was attended by an amazonian titan of piercing green eyes which promptly silenced any of his further protests with her iron-forged glare. The Rhino offered not even a flash of pain as the nurse-giant wrapped her arm around his upper back for support and guided the wounded soldier to care.
Once the two larger teammates were inside the medical shelter, Akula let himself sink into his seat. A rush of pain and exhaustion flooded over him like the blood threatening to pour from his leg once more. Volk did the same, setting his favorite fang on his lap and running his hands across his bald cranium. Is this the first time you’ve de-clenched in front of people, pup? the team lead let himself wonder.
“At least we made it back alive.” the Wolf remarked, staring through his boots to the center of the earth.
“Not for lack of trying otherwise.” Akula smirked briefly. With the moment to pause, his brain had remembered that Pasha would be reading all this after-the-fact. Which meant the comms truck would have to be his next stop once his gash was properly patched.
Nyet, my first stop is Silverback’s office to plant that mass of odorous fat into the ground! Akula howled internally. An instinct which gained several decibels of volume when he heard the older man’s voice approaching over the roar of heavy turbine engines outside. When the overseer saw the Shark rise in rage, he put his hands up in defense. “They didn’t tell me anything about the offensive! I only found out about the hell you were walking into thanks to Kontrol, and that was after you left!”
“And yet your men still performed magnificently! This team alone is worth the service fee.” Another voice announced as it entered the room, one that spoke the carefully schooled and neutered Russian offered by Western universities. Its owner was a diminutive man of sun-blasted skin and dark eyes in a fine suit that likely cost more than Akula’s entire team was getting paid this year. “You should spend our money more wisely, Alek.”
Silverback’s cheeks drew a deep red at the use of his true name, but the old soldier said nothing. Nor did Akula, when the man reached out his hand to greet the Shark. “Ali al-Mohannadi Rashadi.”
“I take it yours is the hand that grants us our work?” Akula asked plainly, giving their patriarch the rehearsed company handshake. To which Ali nodded. “I merely represent the interests of those concerned with the peace and stability of their homeland, which the New Libya Dawn does not codify in any way.”
“You should go tell them that directly, I bet they’d welcome the audience.” Volk sneered, which caused Silverback to turn from ruby to ghastly white. Rashadi showed no outward signs of insult or injury, simply ignoring the Wolf.
“So why visit us?” Akula asked directly, biting through his reserve stamina to not focus on the searing pain in his leg. “Are you not safer far away in some office or hotel?”
Ali waved a hand to passively dismiss the team lead’s concerns. “Were I worried in any way, this contract would be terminated already. Instead, we’ve been impressed by the effectiveness of the current contract, so it’s been extensively modified.”
“And better to bring us that news in person, so there are fewer prying eyes!” Silverback interjected, which Ali also ignored. “It was decided that I accompany our latest investment to ensure it’s proper use and security.” he responded directly to Akula.
Only now did the Russian take a good look outside of the bungalow, only to be immediately greeted by the matted red bear-and-rifle outline of Wildlife’s emblem splashed along the side of a 2K22 Tunguska short-range surface-to-air missile battery rumbling along the sands towards its prime parking position to defend their end of the runway.
Whose operation is this, now? Akula found himself wondering with growing concern before his last bit of resilience began to fail him. “Then I hope you enjoy the shit-storm you’re helping maintain.”
That finally seemed to get under Rashadi’s skin, as the benefactor muttered something venomous under his breath in his native Persian. Silverback quickly injected his impressive mass between Akula and Ali, sputtering on about other highlights of the contract thus far as the old overseer steered Rashadi’s attention to something outside.
Now left in peace, Akula motioned for Volk to follow to the medical building. Obediently, the Wolf followed without speaking, keeping his gaze on the conversation until the last moment possible, and not taking his hand off his knife.
Walking back outside into the blazing sun also blasted his nose with the smell of her exhaust, as on the far side of the runway, one of two Su-25 ground-attack aircraft were being reassembled for use. Even at a distance, Akula could see Drakon glowering at the intruders in her sky, and he could almost hear the litany of profanity streaming from her throat. Another 2K22 sat nearby, already scanning the skies for anything that dared intrude. Beyond that, another dozen new faces busied themselves unloading weaponry and parts from pallets.
“This isn’t a contract, it’s an occupation.” Volk observed.
“Da, or at least the start of one.” the Shark replied with his own grimace, repressing the rising tide of sickness in his gut at the thought of his frozen homestead growing farther and farther away. And with that ever-distant horizon, his Pasha had never felt farther away.
Part 8 of the on-going Wildlife contract to secure and defend whatever it is their contract demands. Which, as it turns out, may be a whole lot more than they ever planned on. Will the pay be good enough? Or is the end of the continuing struggle anywhere in sight?
I hope you all enjoy.