He’d never liked the category of ‘standby reserve’, as it was a lie. Wildlife should call the the ‘too fucking broken’ category and be done with it! he’d thought as the battlefield medic sewed the gash closed. And with enough gauze around his now stitched-shut thigh to lasso a wandering camel, Akula was feeling frustratingly caged the moment the senior medic pulled him from mainline duty. Granted, he’d unfortunately understood the call, and he made sure the team did as well. It would take at least a few days for the Rhino’s shoulder to be fully usable again, or to make sure none of his pack had collapsed lungs after so close a blast. Grizli’s face was of less concern, no matter how much the Ukrainian would silently gripe about it through their recovery period. Nor did his little dancer seem to care, anyway!
Like with the surge in firepower, Rashadi’s pocketbook had also paid for a handful of new battlefield nurses and medics, even one actual general-practice doctor. Against Wildlife’s unwritten rule to only hire female support staff and healers, most of the new arrivals had been men. Apparently Silverback grew tired of hearing what he wasn’t getting any of…
The newly arrived healers also came with their own supply of international medicines, pharmaceutical and herbal. The former of which helped wash away the pain in his leg to such a degree that Akula didn’t even remember making it to his cot after the stitches were fastened and tied off. When he woke up almost a full day later, the bloodstained fog in his mind ran through the chaos of the previous mission from start to finish yet again. All the moments his team danced along the reaper’s edge, he made note of not as failures, but as moments to teach and drill over and over again.
Perhaps most critical of all was the sudden and unexpected arrival of mechanized armor right in downtown Sirte. Something that wasn’t covered in the pre-mission brief, nor did Pasha warn them about even off-hand. Yet as Akula dove into his down-time reading, even he was able to find several mentions or pictures of LND jihadists and over-exicted mongrels shouting in triumph on the bow of a resurrected T-62 tank as they rode into battle somewhere. He even found a UN- disseminated video of LND commanders training their gurellias on the intricacies of a Soviet-era BTR-50 armored personnel carrier, which was very much intact.
His immediate instinct was to blame Kontrol for the bad intelligence, but that would mean blaming Pasha, and that was something the Shark couldn’t do. My babchoka is as thorough as she is beautiful…she’d have told us if we were expecting a heavier fight.
Akula sighed in frustration, tossing down his e-reader and stretching as long as he could make himself. The Shark hissed in pain as the fresh flesh along his suture strained to hold, and the resistance of the thread holding the wound closed beneath the gauze cleared his mind of all but the sensation of the moment. But when that searing anguish subsided into a full, constant burn, Akula quickly grew weary of the walls around him and decided to head to the recreation bunker. At least something as simple as checkers will be something else to focus on…
Despite the welcoming name and function, the recreation bunker was nothing more than a large maintenance shed that was once gutted by fire thanks to Western cruise missiles ripping down the accompanying hanger. It was one of the dozen buildings the original three teams had rebuilt originally when they’d arrived in Libya. As such, the Shark could trace the seams in the cement walls by memory, right down to where Grizli penned an incredibly detailed phallus in the still-wet support.
Also, despite its name promising relaxation and fun, the original bunker contained little more than a small box full of card decks and a checkerboard with no pieces. It had been up to Akula, Pauk, and Sova to pool their influence and bring in far more vital resources. Now, there were many different games to challenge each other with, electronic and not. Thanks to Nosorog, there was even an arm-wrestling platform to settle ‘friendly’ wagers.
Taking out a fresh deck of cards, the Shark took a corner bench and sat along, already feeling the muscle under the sutures sting with raw exposure. This way, he could watch the fresh fish in his sea swim around in front of him, still green in the gills when it came to this brutal variant of warfare. A few of the new faces looked to him, almost working up the courage to ask him a question, but Akula’s steeled glare kept them at bay. He didn’t desire company right now, this was a time for decompression, and outside nuisances wouldn’t help with that.
His first game of solitaire ended in utter failure, which Akula took with an exasperated grunt before re-dealing. He was halfway through the second round when a familiar arachnid sat across from him.”Two more hands to test your fortune, Shark?”
Akula couldn’t help but smirk at Pauk’s challenge, scooping up this unfinished runs to shuffle and deal out the opening salvo for a game of durak. “At least the cards won’t explode in my face…unless you brought them.”
The Spider laughed jovially at that, “Nyet, Strekoza got most of these in his own dime. It’s nice having the son of a Minister on your team, you should try it.”
Akula snorted sarcastically, “Instead, I get the Checehn who’s unnervingly skilled at explosives…is there no justice?”
“Heard about that little scuffle,” Pauk probed, playing his opening move. “Glad we didn’t have to waste that Rhino yet. Even if he does hate you just as much as that fat ape running this show.”
Of course you’d know about that…FSB ublyudok… the Shark retorted mentally. He’d learned quickly that Pauk’s methods and skills were honed in the dark days of the new post-Soviet Russia, where the intelligence community had few rules and even fewer morales. The number of people that the Spider had killed with a garoutte was sickeningly impressive, though Pauk insisted he didn’t choose his codename.
“He had his chance to kill us all on this last mission, believe me….not that he needed any help.” Akula lamented, unconsciously rubbing the stitches to quell the itching.
“Heard about that, too. You got real fucked out there.” Pauk agreed. “Think your men will recover?”
“Da, the promise of money and kiska has kept them satisfied for now.” Akula started, before digging back into questions temporarily buried until they were properly fermented. “Did Kontrol give you someone from a Brotherhood, too?”
Pauk shot the Shark a stern look, but nodded slightly. “Sarancha, he’s from the Odessan sect, even did time in the U.S. before he got called for this.”
Akula nodded, appreciating how the fees of the contract were overriding loyalty to the home crime front. At least for now…will need to ask the Wolf what his cost truly is. “Did you find any trouble out east?”
Pauk gave a grim nod. “Found a stockpile of old Strelas and Stingers, complete with launcher batteries. Gave the smuggler who was holding them to Solomon so that cossak can have his fun. Another Korean, believe it or not.”
That revelation stayed the Shark’s hand over the draw pile. “Blyad, another one? How many of those are out here?”
“One less, I can tell you that!” interrupted Sova, pulling up a chair from another table and sitting so close to Pauk that they bumped elbows. Without acknowledgement or prompting, the Owl continued with a self-satisfied smile, “We blasted the podok advisers we found right back to their Dear Leader! Saved us a lot of effort dragging back yet another jackass for that pit-snake Solomon.”
“And, in so doing, you cost us I don’t even know how much information to better plan our work! Blyad, you really are a zasranets!” Pauk shot back, not so gently shoving Sova off his arm.
The Owl gave the Spider a mocking glare, deflecting how irritated he knew Pauk was with him. Then the third intruder gave Akula a nod, drawing himself a hand into the game he was not asked to join. “How’s the leg, fishbait?”
Glaring first at the deck, then at the fowl, Akula set his hand down. “Well enough to bury my boot in your ass. Shouldn’t you be training with your team? Or do I need to drop Trup on his head again to get the point across?”
Sova waved his hand dismissively at the cautionary question, “Nyet, they train best on their own. If they don’t like it, I’ll have them crawling through blood under barbed wire again, like I did in Spetznaz.”
And then you got tossed out of the special forces for failing to report to duty, lying shithead. Akula’s mind flashed.
Pauk was less tactful in his reply, barking out a laugh, “Please! I know you cried like little bitch in training. I’ve read the report!”
This time, Sova gave the irritated gare, “If you were as skilled with your rifle as you were at reading, our fish-sucker here wouldn’t be nursing a shot-up leg!”
Akula brow creased in confusion. “That was supposed to be your mission?”
Pauk gave a reluctant nod, “Da, we were working the writeup with Kontrol when you brought the first Korean in. Mixed up a lot of priorities. Sorry, moy drug…those shots were ours to take.”
Akula gave the Spider an assuring squeeze of the upper arm, “Then you’d be all shredded and our best recon team would be down. We made it out alive, unlike the target.”
“Lisus Khristos, just kiss him already!” Sova butted in again, back to his self-absorbed smile. “Besides, my team would’ve taken that sandrat down much easier!”
“Typical Belarussian, second rate in everything but arrogance.” Pauk jabbed at Sova, tossing his cards down on the table. “I’ve got reports to read. Another time, Akula. Without annoyance.” With that, the Spider left the table, smacking the Owl on the back of the head as he left.
“Der’mo…” Sova growled, before looking back at Akula, only to see the Shark had stood up as well. “Training to do, need to get my ‘fish-bait’ leg ready to carry your ass out of whatever comes next.”
Akula was sure Sova shot back some kind of snide remark in his wake, but the door to the recreation bunker slammed behind him as the sailor made a direct line for the open-air gym. As much as it had been an insult, he was well aware the time could come that he’d be called on to pull his team or his contracted coworkers out of the fire. And no one will die because I was too weak…
Part 9(!) of the ongoing Libyan campaign, and a moment of pure reprieve for the tenderized Shark and company. Even the apex of apex predators can’t shrug off some wounds, especially when things could get a lot hotter real soon.
I hope you all enjoy.