Liberators
Author: Godfrey Raphael

Chapter 19
Soundproof

Chapter Nineteen: Soundproof

 

Yerotsk Airport

October 23, 2008 2245 Yerotsk time (1845 Krakozhian time)

 

"Is there any mail for me today?"

 

"No, Comrade Captain, but I have two letters addressed to Aviation Sergeant Georgiy Arkhipovich Islenin."

 

Aviation Captain Jamal Lamitalovsky accepted the two envelopes that the soldier acting as the mailman gave him and signed for them. The first envelope was from the Office of the Army, a letter that everybody dreaded to receive. It was a letter informing a person of a loved one's death during a time of war. There was only one other person in the Islenin family that was in the Armed Forces: Georgiy's older brother Fyodor. He was in the Army, which took a real beating during the Battle of Sevenivov, and it looked like Fyodor Arkhipovich Islenin was one of the casualties of the bloodiest battle in the history of the island.

 

The second letter was from a senior lieutenant named Arigov. Probably the son of Senator Vladimir Arigov, Lamitalovsky thought. It looked like it had been hastily written, probably to catch up with mail call.

 

"Please tell me that it's not about Fyodor, Captain."

 

Captain Lamitalovsky turned around to find Georgiy Islenin standing behind him. "This is for you," he told him, handing over the letters before leaving. Georgiy tore open the first envelope and read:

 

TO: AVIATSKIY SERZHANT GEORGIY ARKHIPOVICH ISLENIN, 455TH STRATEGIC BOMBER WING

FROM: THE OFFICE OF THE ARMY OF THE REPUBLIC OF KRAKOZHIA

 

Aviation Sergeant Islenin,

 

We regret to inform you that your brother, Sergeant Fyodor Arkhipovich Islenin has been killed in action in the Rivymiyitevko Campaign. His vehicle was hit by an artillery round fired by enemy forces waiting in ambush.

 

He served with distinction throughout the campaign, successfully defending his position from a larger force, and rescuing a comrade trapped behind enemy lines. For these actions, he has been considered for the Order of Dabakin.

 

We know that no amount of condolences will be enough to replace your brother's loss, but still we offer ours to your family so as to support you in this time of grief.

 

Georgiy shook his head. You're damn right nothing could replace my brother, he thought. He had inspired him with lots of stories about Krakozhia's wars, and he was his role model. Now, Fyodor was gone, leaving behind Georgiy, their aging mother, his wife, and a three-year-old child. Blinking away salty tears, he opened the second letter. It read:

 

To Georgiy Arkhipovich Islenin,

 

By now, you've probably learned that your brother has been killed, and so I'll get right to the point.

 

A few days before, Fyodor Arkhipovich told me to tell you that if ever something bad happened to him, everything that your family needed was in his room, stuffed into his mattress. I don't know what it was that he had in there, but if he thought that it would help your family, then you should definitely go and get it.

 

Fyodor Arkhipovich was a good soldier; of that, I am sure. Once, when his position was under attack by an enemy platoon, he singlehandedly held his ground and beat the enemy back. Also, while clearing out the mines surrounding Gratavsky, he managed to haul me back to friendly lines after being captured for all of eighteen hours, so I guess I kind of owe my life to him.

 

Fyodor Arkhipovich's death was thankfully quick. All that he probably felt was a pounding on his chest before he was gone. We managed to recover his body a few hours after the Battle of [censored], and if you want to bury him in a family plot or something like that, you can write a letter to the Office of the Army. I'll put in a good word for you.

 

I heard that he's been considered to receive the Order of Dabakin. If I had my way, he would be awarded the Hero of the Republic of Krakozhia, but I don't have that kind of power. But, I'm sure that for you, he's already a hero.

 

Anyway, his dogtags are included in this letter. Whether you want to keep them, bury them with him, or throw them away, then that's your decision, and I can't help it.

 

Sincerely, and with my condolences,

Senior Lieutenant Lev Vladimirovich Arigov

117th Platoon, 50th Motor Rifle Division, Krakozhian Third Army

 

Islenin tipped the envelope, and a pair of sheet metal tags attached to a chain fell into his palm. It had his brother's basic information like his name, birthday, gender, hometown, and religion. He read the tags over and over again until he heard a voice on the public announcement system say, "All personnel of the 455th and 15th Bomber Wings prepare to generate and deploy." Before he left the ready room, he pocketed both letters and his brother's tags, and then he walked towards his bomber, a Tupolev Tu-160 "Blackjack" supersonic bomber.

 

"Good evening, Sergeant Islenin," said Major Abdullah Haruyenko as he watched the man walk towards the bomber. "We've heard about your brother, and we're sorry about your loss," he continued.

 

"I know, Comrade Major. I've heard it so many times already."

 

"Listen, Georgiy," said Haruyenko in a lower voice, "I know that you are grieving about your brother and all that, but I need you to focus on our mission tonight. As both your wing and aircraft commander, I order you to shelve your emotions for the meantime and become one of the best bombardiers of our nation."

 

Islenin took a deep breath and exhaled it. "I'm ready, sir," he said.

 

"Good, Georgiy," said Haruyenko, patting Islenin's shoulder. "Now, before we get onboard, can you help me prepare the weapons?"

 

"Yes, Major."

 

The two made their way towards the Blackjack's bomb bay, which had been opened by Captain Lamitalovsky a few minutes before so that the weapons could be loaded. Inside were two rotary launchers, each loaded with twelve Raduga Kh-15 air-to-surface missiles. With a top speed of Mach 1—the speed of sound—it had an effective range of over a hundred miles, and a daring pilot could push it up to a hundred and twenty-five. Haruyenko and Islenin pulled the red safety pins on the weapons, making them "live" or ready to launch.

 

After they had finished the task, the two boarded the bomber. Captain Lamitalovsky was in the copilot's seat, and the defensive systems officer, Aviation Sergeant Nikita Shakov, was running tests on the aircraft and its weapons. As Major Haruyenko slid into the pilot's seat, he said, "I have the aircraft."

 

"Aye, you have the aircraft," replied Lamitalovsky.

 

"Beast Control, this is Rumble Flight of four, requesting permission to take off."

 

"Roger that, Rumble Flight of four. You are cleared for the runway after the refugees."

 

Haruyenko looked at the runway, where a Tupolev Tu-144 supersonic airliner was barreling down in order to take off. After it had lifted off into the night, two Mikoyan MiG-29 fighters followed it in order to escort it safely back to Krakozhia. The Major guessed correctly that the Tu-144 was carrying a full load of refugees from Rivymiyitevko who had swum, sailed, or surrendered their way into Yerotsk, crowding the already tightly packed island. It was a wise move by Command to fly them to the Republic, where there would be better facilities to house them.

 

After waiting for the turbulence from the jets to dissipate, the Blackjack bombers formed up at the end of the runway. As the leader of the flight, Haruyenko was the first one to take off. He applied full military power to his four engines, and soon, his sleek supersonic bomber was in the air, followed by three more Blackjacks from the 455th Strategic Bomber Wing and six Tupolev Tu-95 bombers from the 15th Bomber Wing.

 

Forty minutes after clearing the island of Yerotsk, Shakov reported bogeys northeast of their position. A few minutes later, he received Krakozhian transponder signals from the bogeys, but he still assumed that they could be Rivymiyitevko Air Force planes that had somehow found out which transponder signals the Krakozhians used. He notified the commander, who received it without as much as a quiver. "Thank you, DSO," said Haruyenko, and then after placing the radio on another frequency, he said, "White swan." There were a dozen predetermined replies to the signal, ranging in meaning from "all clear" to "fall back." If an enemy was on the other end, then a reply wasn't expected.

 

"Cold feet," replied a familiar voice at the other end a few minutes later.

 

Haruyenko let out the breath that he had unconsciously held. "Ah, Iosef Viktorovich, how did an old dog like you get back in the air?" he asked playfully.

 

"I was about to ask you the same question, you old goose," replied Colonel Iosef Viktorovich Basets, commander of the 317th Fighter Wing, which was currently based in Rivymiyitevko Air Force Base. "It's like Victory Day here, Abdullah Nestorovich. The only one missing is Captain Lieutenant—I mean, President Adzhitekova." Adzhitekova had served in the 317th Wing during the Great War of the Republic.

 

"I take it that you are our escorts for tonight, right, Iosef?"

 

"It's Prutavy One, Rumble One. Maintain radio discipline from now on, da?"

 

"Roger that, Rumble One," Haruyenko chuckled. As Basets and his wingman formed up beside the Blackjack, Islenin, the bombardier, said, "Major, we're coming up on our first launch point."

 

"Are your launch coordinates up to date?" asked Captain Lamitalovsky. It was the start of their weapons release checklist.

 

"Yes, Captain."

 

"Okay," he replied. Then, to the rest of the squadron, he said, "We're approaching the first launch point. Upload the target coordinates to your missiles now."

 

Islenin, as well as the other bombardiers in their air armada, pushed a red button on his console to order the aircraft's battle computer to feed the target coordinates onto the missiles onboard. Islenin brought up a satellite image of the target area and moved a pair of crosshairs onto an aerial-like structure on the image using a trackball on his console. After placing the crosshairs on the aerial, he called up a second pair of crosshairs and placed them on the aerial too. "We are ready for missile launch," he said. "Maintain present course for successful launch.”

 

"Roger that, Georgiy," Haruyenko replied. This was the part of the mission that he hated most: sitting still while the missiles lined up their gyroscopes for the coming launch. During that time, the aircraft was very vulnerable, as nobody could employ any fancy flying at that stage.

 

"Missile one away," said Islenin. "Missile two away."

 

Haruyenko watched with undisguised curiosity as the two white streaks from his aircraft were joined by more white streaks from the other aircraft, and he kept his eye on them until that was left of them were their white vapor trails, and that dissipated fast.

 

"Missiles will hit their targets in two minutes," announced Islenin."We will reach our second launch point in two minutes also." He brought up the next set of targets for him; they were a surface-to-air missile nest and the entrance to an underground bunker.

 

"Feet dry," said Captain Lamitalovsky as they made landfall above the city of Sonolovichyrevko. After he said it, Islenin said, "Missile three away. Missile four away."

 

Suddenly, Shakov, the defensive systems officer, shouted, "Pilot, I have multiple active-search radars on my scope. I have Ku-band tracking radars, missile guidance radars—shit! Missile launch, missile launch, SA-2, two o'clock!"

 

"Apply minimum afterburner and take her to the deck!" shouted Haruyenko. "Nikita, deploy countermeasures!" He and Lamitalovsky increased power to the engines and pushed the nose down while Shakov launched chaff capsules from the aircraft's tail. The SA-2 "Guideline" missile went straight for the chaff cloud and detonated harmlessly there.

 

"Pilot, I have more bogeys on my scope," said Shakov. "They're not sending out any IFF signals."

 

"Let's hope that our escorts are taking care of those guys," muttered Haruyenko.

 

"I hope our bombers can take care of themselves," said Captain Lieutenant Pristina Leonidovna Leonova. "We're too busy avoiding missiles to do much good for them!"

 

"Ah, don't worry, Pristina," replied Lieutenant Aleksandr Aleksandrov. "We've been avoiding missiles ever since the start of this war. Besides, God is with us! Have faith!" He barely avoided a surface-to-air missile as he said that.

 

"Yeah. Right." Leonova looked at her MiG's IRSTS and saw the bogeys that Shakov had just reported to his commander. She selected her missiles, aimed for one of the bogeys, and fired a Sunbeam air-to-air missile just before an SA-7 missile passed by her aircraft. And then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a propeller-driven fighter plane dating back to the Second World War pass by her. "Govno! Did you see that? Was that a Yak-1?"

 

"I don't know, Pristina," replied Aleksandrov. "They're going too fast for me to visually confirm!"

 

Suddenly, another voice butted into their conversation and said, "Prutavy Flight, Prutavy Flight, this is Aviator One! We are under attack, we have a tail, and we can't shake him off!"

 

"Prutavy Five copies, Aviator," replied Leonova. "We're just some distance away from you, but I can't see you visually." But as she said those words, she knew that she had spoken too soon, for as they flew over the burning ruins of Sonolovichyrevko, the glow from the fires was reflected on the belly of the Tu-95, bathing it in an eerie orange glow. The tail gunner fired at something in the darkness, but Pristina couldn't see what it was, or where. She tried to use the IRSTS to find the bandit, but the heat from the bombed city cluttered up her display, so she decided to use the heat-seeking warheads of her missiles to find the bandit. She finally found him after a few minutes, and she had to visually confirm that she had not locked on to her own bomber. Taking a deep breath, she said, "Missile away!" and pressed the FIRE button on her control stick.

 

The Aphid missile dropped from its wingtip pylon before its primary rocket fired. It covered the distance from the MiG to the enemy plane in seconds, and it detonated underneath the tail boom of the Yakovlev Yak-1, splitting it in half and sending its pilot to a fiery death. "Splash one bandit," said Leonova.

 

"Rumble One, Aviator Four is hit!" said the pilot of the fourth Bear bomber. "A missile blew up near our engine four. We've shut it down, but we can't continue the mission with only three engines and the alternate hydraulic lines."

 

"How many missiles do you have left?" asked Haruyenko.

 

"Only one, Major."

 

"Jettison that missile and head for the recovery base." By that he meant the Rivymiyitevko Air Force Base, which was conveniently close enough to Sonolovichyrevko.

 

"Roger that, Rumble. Sorry, Major."

 

"Okay, Flight," said Haruyenko, "we've lost Aviator Four to engine problems. There are only nine of us left now. Can we still continue with our mission in our reduced number?"

 

"Yes, Comrade Major!" came the reply on the radio.

 

"Good. Nikita, we're about to pass over the Governor's Prospect, which we all know is the most dangerous for Krakozhian planes to fly over because of the surface-to-air missiles, anti-aircraft guns, and flak cannons over there. We'll need all of our luck and then some to fly over it safely, but, unfortunately for us, our third launch point is above that piece of airspace, so I need you to keep an eye on those search radars, tracking radars, and guidance radars."

 

"Maintain present course for successful missile launch, pilot," said Islenin.

 

"Pilot, I have multiple active-search radars on my scope," said Shakov. "Should I deploy countermeasures?"

 

"No, Nikita, not yet," replied Haruyenko. His eyes darted from the aircraft's flight computer to the altimeter to the compass, as if waiting for one of them to break down. He had ordered Shakov not to deploy the aircraft's countermeasures because it had a very slim chance of knocking the aircraft out of its flight path and wrecking their missiles' warm-up run. It was a chance that he couldn't take for the time being, but one that he would take if ever his aircraft and his crew were ever put in danger.

 

"Bomb bays opening, sir," said Islenin. "Missile five away! Missile six away!"

 

"Pilot, I have multiple tracking radars on my scope!" shouted Shakov. "They're tracking us and our missiles! And I have another set of bogeys without IFF returns!"

 

Suddenly, Haruyenko saw one of the missiles blow up—rather, something on the path of the missiles blow up. "Georgiy, are you still picking up telemetry from both of our missiles?" he asked.

 

"Yes, Major," replied Islenin. "Why?"

 

"Something just blew up in our missile's path."

 

"Did you see that missile cut through that Brewster like butter?" Aleksandrov asked Pristina excitedly. "That bunker buster went through that flying aluminum foil without missing a beat!"

 

"Yes, Sasha, I saw it," she replied, "and don't clutter our radios with that kind of traffic again!"

 

"Right. Missile away!" Aleksandrov's missile struck a Brewster Buffalo training aircraft head-on. "Splash one bandit for Prutavy Six," he added."

 

"Pilot, missile launch, missile launch, SA-4, three o'clock!" shouted the defensive systems officer of the lead Tupolev Tu-95 bomber.

 

"Take us to the deck, Anya!" shouted the pilot. "Leontiy, launch countermeasures!" Suddenly, he heard a loud bang, and then he felt his aircraft rock back and forth. "Pol'noe dermo! What happened?" he asked.

 

"I don't know," replied the bombardier, who was the only one who could see what happened to the right wing of the aircraft. "I think a flak round went through our right wing. Don't worry; it looks like it blew up above us."

 

"Pilot, I've lost primary, alternate, and backup hydraulic lines," reported the flight engineer. "We're operating on our emergency line now, and it's also running out of fluid fast."

 

"Damn," muttered the pilot. "Rumble One, this is Aviator One. We've been hit by flak. We're losing hydraulic fluid fast, and we haven't launched our last missile!"

 

"Jettison that thing and get to the recovery base before your controls freeze up," replied Haruyenko. "There's no glory in crashing a hundred-million-ruble plane onto a cheap apartment!"

 

"Roger that, Rumble One. Damn this enemy flak—" Suddenly, a Guideline surface-to-air missile struck the Bear's cockpit, turning it into a massive fireball. A few seconds later, a flak round blew up inside the bomber's bomb bay, splitting the aircraft in two.

 

"Chyort!" shouted Lamitalovsky, who had seen the whole spectacle. "We've lost Aviator One!"

 

"What?" asked Haruyenko. "Damn it!" The Krakozhian Air Force had lost its first bomber in six years. "Georgiy, load your next set of target coordinates into the missiles!" he ordered the bombardier.

 

"But, Major, we haven't reached the proper launch point yet!" Islenin protested.

 

"I don't care!" Haruyenko shouted back. "Load the next set of target coordinates into our missiles right now or else I will eject you from this aircraft right now!"

 

"Yes, Major." Georgiy Islenin had never seen Major Haruyenko that angry before. Sighing, he brought up satellite images of his next targets. It showed a collection of P-40 mobile radar units parked in a rectangular lot surrounded by residential houses. He was looking at the Rivymiyitevko 7005th Mobile Radar Regiment based in the less-than-reputable Yutsky Prospect. But even though the prospect was home to some very dangerous gangs, there were still a lot of innocent civilians living there, and he cursed the people in the Office of the Air Force who had decided that it was a legal target. Nevertheless, soldiers were supposed to follow their orders, not like them, but this particular order left a bitter taste on Islenin's mind. "Maintain present course for missile launch," he said out of training.

 

"Why did you suddenly go off on the boy like that?" Lamitalovsky asked Haruyenko.

 

"Keep her level, Jamal Aliyevich," the Major replied through gritted teeth. "You heard Georgiy."

 

"Is this about Aviator One?"

 

"I said keep her level, Captain."

 

"Pilot, missile launch, missile launch!" shouted Shakov. "SA-7, four o'clock!"

 

"Come on, fire already!" muttered Haruyenko.

 

"Missile seven away! Missile eight away—"

 

The Blackjack shook as the SA-7 "Grail" surface-to-air missile struck the right engine pod, tearing it apart. Lamitalovsky quickly shut down the engines on the affected pod and increased the power to the remaining ones, while Haruyenko said on the radio, "Rumble One has lost engines three and four. We are turning for the recovery base. Rumble Two, take the lead."

 

"Roger," replied the pilot of the second Blackjack bomber.

 

"Pilot, I have a squadron-strength flight of bandits on my scope," Shakov reported. "They look like American F-5 Freedom Fighters."

 

"What in the world?"

 

"I can't explain it too, Major—Shit! Missile launch, missile launch, Sidewinder, twelve o'clock!"

 

"Turn right! Turn right, damn it!" Haruyenko and Lamitalovsky used all of their strength to turn their now-ungainly bomber to the right, and for a second, Abdullah thought that they would actually make it.

 

But it wasn't to be. The AIM-9 Sidewinder air-to-air missile detonated just beside the left wingtip of the Tu-160, sending shrapnel into the wing and wreaking havoc with the fragile hydraulic lines inside. Soon, the Blackjack was frozen into a rightward angle.

 

"Pilot, missile launch, Sidewinder, nine o'clock!" Shakov said through a profusely bleeding nose.

 

"Secure yourselves!" shouted Haruyenko. "I'm going to eject all of us!" He reached for a yellow lever marked EJECT in English and Cyrillic between the rudder pedals and pulled. Panels above each crew member were blown off by explosive bolts, and then, a rocket mounted underneath each of their ejection seats fired up and blasted them out of their stricken aircraft, just in time to avoid the Sidewinder missile that tore the Blackjack bomber apart in half.

 

"Shit!" shouted Aleksandrov as he watched the remains of the Tu-160 fall from the sky. "They shot down one of our Blackjacks! Now I'm pissed."

 

"Watch yourself now, Sasha," Leonova reminded him. "Two bandits, twelve o'clock."

 

"I'll take the one on the left."

 

"Roger that. Missile away!"

 

They both fired their missiles at the same time. Suddenly, Pristina saw a white streak jump out of the aircraft being attacked by Aleksandrov. "Sasha, incoming missile on your twelve o'clock!" she told him.

 

"What in the world?" Aleksandrov banked his aircraft hard to the right and launched flares, but the Sidewinder stuck to him like glue. "I can't shake it off!" he said. "I'm ejecting myself!"

 

But Pristina didn't see him get out in time in the darkness, for all she could see was the missile bearing down relentlessly on her wingman's aircraft, and then it hit, creating a big fireball. Without proper night vision equipment, she couldn't see a parachute in the night sky, and then she felt a single salty tear run down her face before dripping onto her flight mask.

 

"Go with God, Sasha," was all that she could say.

 

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