Liberators
Author: Godfrey Raphael

Chapter 14
Refugees!

Chapter Fourteen: Refugees!

 

Aboard the submarine tender Rokossovsky, disguised as the freighter Vidkun Quisling

Somewhere in the Kara Sea

October 11, 2008 0648 Rivymiyitevko time (0248 Krakozhian time)

 

"Comrade Captain, our radar has picked up a contact."

 

Captain Second Rank Yuliya Pavlovna Koneva, who was currently manning the bridge, walked over to the radarman's console. "Do you have more information on the contact?" she asked.

 

"It's on the edge of our radar's detection zone, Captain, but it's too big to be a submarine's conning tower. It's probably a gunboat."

 

"Good. I'll contact the Captain."

 

A few minutes later, Captain First Rank Pavel Akselovich Belyayev walked into the bridge and took command. "Electronic warfare officer, do you detect any emissions from the contact?"

 

"None, Captain."

 

Turning to his executive officer, he asked, "Have you seen anything on the horizon yet, Yuliya?"

 

"It's far, Captain, but something's there, all right," she replied. A few minutes later, she said, "Yes, Captain, I can see it now! It looks like a gunboat with a six-pounder gun on the bow, a single smokestack, and—I don't believe it, Captain! It looks like an armed paddle steamer! And it's full of people, too."

 

“What?” Belyayev took his own pair of binoculars and looked out to the sea. The ship—or steamer, whatever it was—was sailing on a course perpendicular to the Rokossovsky, giving him a good view of the ship’s identifying marks. “Well, I’ll be damned,” he muttered. “Old Gedevanishvili has come back to haunt us.”

 

The Gedevanishvili was an old German steamship whose crew surrendered to the Russians before the Russian Revolution. She was turned into an auxiliary training ship by the newly-established Soviet Navy until the end of the Second World War, when she was retired and mothballed in what would become the Babayev Prospect Port in Rivymiyitevko. During negotiations with the Soviet government about the island, the Krakozhian navy received the vessel although nobody technically owned her. She became the flagship of the Rivymiyitevko Defense Force, and later, the Provincial Militia, until newer warships became available, but she still held a special place in the heart of the Republic. Her namesake, Semyon Gedevanishvili, was the only member of the Soviet Politburo who openly opposed their involvement in the Krakozhian Revolution. Before his death in 1997, he was given a tour of the ship, awarded the Order of Umayev, and an honorary doctorate in Pretoska State University.

 

Unfortunately, the Gedevanishvili had been captured by Konstantin Benin’s forces during the Battle of Babayev Prospect.

 

“Do you want us to capture that ship, Captain?” asked someone on the bridge.

 

“There’s nothing on our orders that say that we can’t capture enemy vessels, is there?” asked Belyayev. “Besides, the Rokossovsky was built for that purpose. It wouldn’t hurt to see her in action, would it?”

 

“Wait a minute, Captain,” said Koneva. “The ship has struck its colors, and it’s raising a white flag. I think they’re surrendering.”

 

“Send over a launch,” Belyayev ordered. And then, speaking on the ship’s radio, he said, “All hands, man your stations. Repeat, all hands, man your stations. Gunners, man your guns.”

 

The bridge suddenly became a maelstrom of activity. Commands and curses were shouted as men and women who had been looking forward to an uneventful cruise were suddenly thrown back to a war footing. Throughout the ship, crewmembers were taking their rifles and as much ammunition as possible without leaving the others short. At the blow of the ship, the gunners loaded fifty-one caliber shells into the five-inch guns hidden inside the hull of the ship.

 

“Gun Two, set range for two hundred yards,” said Belyayev.

 

“Set range for two hundred yards, aye, Captain.” The crew of Gun Two raised the barrel of their gun just a little bit higher. “Range set, Captain,” they reported.

 

“Fire.”

 

A pillar of smoke and flame burst from the barrel of the five-inch gun, which was immediately followed by the fifty-one caliber shell. Its flight path took it above the bow of the enemy ship before landing in the water a few feet away, spraying those onboard with water and foam. The ship’s crew understood and stopped their ship.

 

“Captain, the enemy ship has stopped,” said Koneva.

 

“Good. Yuliya, take a damage control team and a security detachment and secure that ship.” Koneva immediately laid down her binoculars, took her rifle, and went out of the bridge. Soon, Belyayev watched as an armed launch made its way towards the Gedevanishvili.

 

Yuliya watched as the launch passed by some of the people who had jumped ship when the Rokossovsky fired its warning shot. As much as she wanted to haul them in, she decided to leave them to the tender’s crew. She had a mission to do, and besides, the launch was filled to capacity already. There were eight men with her, four security personnel armed with AK-47 assault rifles, and a damage control team armed with Uzi submachine guns and a Browning Automatic Rifle.

 

“Glenko, get ready to cover me,” she told the commander of the security detachment. “I’ll be making contact with them.”

 

“Yes, Comrade Captain.”

 

The steamship was barely bigger than the launch, and soon, the Krakozhians were alongside the vessel. Using a megaphone, Yuliya said, “This is Captain Yuliya Koneva of the warship Rokossovsky. Prepare to be boarded.”

 

“Don’t shoot!” replied the commander of the Gedevanishvili. “We are refugees! We wish to go to Yerotsk.”

 

“Shit,” Yuliya muttered to herself. Then, on the radio, she said, “Captain, the people onboard the vessel claims that they are refugees. What should I do?”

 

“Damn,” replied Captain Belyayev. “I’m sending over another launch. While they’re on the way, tell them that the ship’s crew are prisoners-of-war, and that only the civilians onboard could be considered refugees.”

 

“Roger, Captain.” Yuliya then told the crew of the Gedevanishvili of their predicament, and surprisingly, they complied with the instructions.

 

Somewhere above the Kara Sea

2030 Rivymiyitevko time (1630 Krakozhian time)

 

"Say again, Outpost?"

 

"Prutavy Flight, we have three unidentified bogeys five clicks northeast of your position," replied the communications officer of the Beriev A-50 AWACS. "IFF has come up negative on all three bogeys, uh, bandits. Permission to intercept granted."

 

"Roger, Outpost. Looks like we have another intercept ahead of us, Kolya," Yuri Bonk told his wingman.

 

"Again, Comrade Lieutenant?" asked Nikolai Nemenov.

 

Bonk did not reply. Instead, he applied afterburner on his fighter's engines, and Nemenov had to do the same to keep up with his leader. They made contact with the "bandits" a few minutes later. "Outpost Twenty, this is Prutavy Three. I can see the bandits now. They are two Shaanxi Y-8 cargo aircraft and a Harbin Y-12 passenger plane. They have the markings of the Rivymiyitevko Independence Movement. I am moving in to make contact." Bonk moved into position beside the Y-12, which appeared to be the leader of the little gaggle of Chinese-made aircraft, and ordered the pilot to switch to the GUARD frequency.

 

"Do not fire! Air Force!" shouted the pilot of the Y-12. "We wish to surrender!"

 

Oh, so you want to surrender, eh? "What do you have inside your aircraft?" Bonk quizzed the pilot.

 

"People, what else! People who were willing to risk their lives for a chance for freedom, just like us!"

 

To Nemenov, Bonk said, "Check the cabins for people or weapons."

 

Nemenov moved his fighter back a few feet and shone his interceptor light into the Y-12's cabin. "Oh, my gosh," he said to himself. To Bonk, he said, "Lieutenant! The plane's full of people! They're crammed in there like sardines! I can't see any seats inside, probably to maximize the space."

 

"I can't believe it," muttered Bonk once he saw the refugees inside themselves. "Kolya, keep an eye on this plane. I'm going to check the others." He moved back towards the Y-8s, and he found much of the same scene onboard. He got on the line to the Beriev and said, "Outpost Twenty, this is Prutavy Three. We've come across a problem here. The bandits are actually aircraft loaded with refugees from Rivymiyitevko."

 

"Are you sure, Three?"

 

"Of course, Outpost. I'm waving back at those people now. Uh, I'm requesting immediate fighter support. Kolya and I can't escort all of them all by ourselves."

 

"Roger that, Three." After a few minutes, the comms officer said, "Okay, Three, we've got the other interceptors from your wing wide awake and roaring down the runway towards your position. Make sure those refugees don't make any funny moves, or else I give you permission to fire at will."

 

Yerotsk

2105 Rivymiyitevko time (1705 Krakozhian time)

 

The arrival of the Gedevanishvili beside the Rokossovsky greeted the people of Yerotsk that night. Added to that was the sudden arrival of the three planes loaded with refugees that Yuri Bonk had intercepted. The island now had more refugees than it knew what to do with.

 

But for Captain Second Rank Yuliya Koneva, refugees were the last thing on her mind. Commanding the Gedevanishvili was like going back in time. That it was passing by warships decidedly more modern than her was of no concern to her. She had just returned a national symbol and treasure to its rightful owner, and for that, she was glad.

 

After docking the ship, Koneva stepped off and let the engineers do their thing on the antique steamer. She didn't look away from her even as Captain Belyayev walked up towards her and said, "She's a beautiful ship, isn't she, Yuliya?"

 

"I felt like I had gone back in time when I took command of her."

 

"Da, she can do that," replied the captain. "I remember what I felt when I took command of her for the first time. I was sailing her alongside the Gancho Bilev Battle Group, and I felt that I was in the Atlantic, stalking British merchantmen for the German U-boats."

 

"She must have been a good ship, Captain."

 

"Yes," Belyayev sighed. "Yes, she was."

 

"Captain, Admiral Domovich would like you to his office," said Belyayev's yeoman, who had approached them to deliver the admiral's message. "He wants Captain Koneva to come too, Captain," he added.

 

The office that the admiral was using as his headquarters once belonged to the vice mayor of Yerotsk, who was now doing his business in a three-storey building down the street from the island's capitol. Domovich was smoking a strong, unfiltered cigarette, and its pungent odor filled the room, making Belyayev and Koneva cough as they entered. Thankfully, the admiral put the cigarette out on a simple metal ashtray.

 

"Sit down, comrades," he said. "That was an excellent and daring thing you did back there in the Kara Sea, capturing the Gedevanisvili—"

 

"We didn't capture the Gedevanishvili, Admiral," replied Yuliya. "Her crew surrendered to us."

 

"Oh." Domovich looked surprised. "I had been told by reputable sources that the Gedevanishvili was the first ship captured in the heat of battle since the Americans took the U-505 back in the Second World War."

 

"Is that a model of the Gedevanishvili?" asked Belyayev.

 

Domovich looked at the wooden replica of the steamship on his desk and took it out of its mount like it was a newborn baby. "Yes. My sister Gavrina made it for me last year as a birthday gift. I never knew a thing about woodcrafting, but my sister is a natural at such things. It's one of the few things that I like about her, but I'm not about to tell her that," he added in a lower voice.

 

"Why did you call us again, Admiral?" asked Koneva.

 

Domovich carefully replaced the model of the Gedevanishvili on its mount and said, "As I was saying, 'capturing' the Gedevanishvili was an excellent work of seamanship, and as such, must be credited properly. Therefore, I have submitted your names to the Committee of the Order of Umayev, but sadly, they have been rejected. But I can give you two the next best thing: the Order of Kapitanets."

 

Both Belyayev and Koneva sat up a little straighter upon hearing those words. The Order of Kapitanets, named after a famous naval revolutionary hero, was the highest award for the Krakozhian Navy, second only to the Order of Umayev, and it was only given to "individuals who had done uncommon acts of valor for the betterment of the Fleet and the Republic." Very few people had received this award, and although under the circumstances Belyayev and Koneva didn't merit the award, Admiral Domovich's word was as good as the Gospel, and they were going to get the Order whether they deserved it or not.

 

"Also, I wanted you to see this." Domovich retrieved a thin square box covered in blue velvet from a drawer in his desk and placed it on top. Opening it, the two captains began to ogle at the contents. It was the biggest medal badge that they had ever seen, about as big as the rare Order of Victory. An image of the Gedevanishvili in full steam and with its guns ready occupied the center of the badge, and on top of it were written the words Geroy Sudno Krakozhii, which meant—

 

"Yes, Comrades," said Domovich. "For her heroic actions during the Arctic Revolution, and, well, because she is part of our fleet once again, it has been decided that the Gedevanishvili would be given the honor of being a Hero Vessel of Krakozhia."

 

Belyayev could hardly believe his luck. The Hero Vessel of Krakozhia was to ships as the Hero of the Republic of Krakozhia was to people. It was the highest honor that a ship could obtain, and finally, after a year of ignominious service, she was finally being recognized for what she truly was.

 

"President Adzhitekova is expected to present the award to the last known commander of the Gedevanishvili within the week," Domovich continued, "but I don't know whether it will be presented here or at home. I would suggest not deploying in the next few days until I know more, Captain Belyayev. That will be all. You may go."

 

As the two captains stood up to leave, Domovich said, "Oh, I forgot! I have one more thing to say to Captain Belyayev."

 

The elder captain nodded and returned to his seat while Koneva went on and stepped outside. A few minutes, Admiral Domovich stepped out of his office dressed in a thick greatcoat, followed by a very curious Captain Pavel Belyayev.

 

Admiral Vasily Vasilyevich Domovich preferred to drive himself instead of being chauffeured around, so he got into his personal vehicle, a Toyota Land Rover, and drove it to Yerotsk Airport. There, he stepped out and walked towards Aviation General Sergey Drulyenko. "That's an awful lot of people you have in those planes," he said, pointing at the crowd gathered around the intercepted Chinese-made aircraft.

 

"I know, Vasily Vasilyevich," replied Drulyenko. "The RIM personnel flying the planes told Captain Lieutenant Bonk—that's the name of the pilot that intercepted them—that they wanted to surrender. Of course, they're all prisoners-of-war now, but the problem of housing these refugees has been nagging me ever since they arrived. What do we do with them?"

 

"I'm just the State Minister, General," replied Domovich. "I believe you should ask the President about that. But, as the son of a friend, General, I think that we should give these refugees temporary asylum in the Republic, and then, when the war is finally over, we let them come back to their homes."

 

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