My next book is tentatively titled The End of Russia’s War in Ukraine. Here’s a first look at what (I think) will be the book’s first scene. I’m going to do a couple of chapters setting the story’s background, and then just like my last three books the rest will be set in the near future:
SS-24 Mod-2 Test Site, Ukraine, USSR
July 30, 1986
Private Pofistal Arbakov gaped as he looked up at the SS-24 on the launch pad. Over twenty-three meters tall, the missile looked like it was straining to be released from the pad and into space.
And then to fall upon the Soviet Union’s enemies, no matter where in the world they might be. The USSR spanned over ten thousand kilometers from Leningrad in the west to Vladivostok in the East. The SS-24 could be launched from anywhere within those ten thousand kilometers, and its range was eleven thousand kilometers.
Yes, Pofistal thought to himself with awe, nobody could attack his beloved country without knowing a devastating response would follow.
“Hey, Kosta, who’s the new guy?” a nearby Sergeant asked.
“This is Private Arbakov. Excuse me, Sergeant Bannik, this is Private Pofistal Arbakov,” Sergeant Konstantin Estrin replied with a sly grin.
Arbakov groaned inwardly, but said nothing. He’d had to live with jokes about his name during his entire short life. Pofistal was short for “Pobeditel fashisma Iosif Stalin,” or “Josef Stalin, defeater of fascism.”
What made it much worse was that his father had named him Pofistal over a decade after Stalin’s death.
His father hadn’t just stopped with the name. Throughout Arbakov’s life until he’d enlisted in the Soviet Strategic Rocket Forces, he’d been told Party first, Country next.
It went without saying that Arbakov and every other individual Soviet citizen came dead last.
Yet, somehow, Arbakov had never been bitter. Instead, he’d accepted everything his father said, even after Mikhail Gorbachev came to power in 1985.
“Pofistal, huh?” Bannik said thoughtfully. “So, have we got a true believer on our hands?”
Estrin’s grin widened. “Well, he’s only been here a short time. But so far, all signs point to yes.”
Bannik shrugged, and looked Arbakov over. “Well, at least he has the good sense to keep his mouth shut when the sergeants are talking. That’s more than I can say for most of these new privates.”
Estrin nodded. “True enough. Oh, did I mention that Private Arbakov didn’t wait for his draft notice, and volunteered instead?”
Bannik just stared at Estrin, speechless. Finally, he said, “I can’t remember the last time that happened.”
Estrin laughed, and said, “I’m not sure it ever has, at least while I’ve been in the Service.”
“Well,” Bannik said, “I think you’ve just solved my problem. I was going to ask if you had a Private who could help me move the rest of the test warheads back to storage. I guess I’ve found him.”
Estrin looked at Arbakov and asked, “So, Private Arbakov, willing to volunteer for some extra duty with Sergeant Bannik here?”
Arbakov didn’t hesitate. “Of course, Comrade Sergeant.”
Turning to Sergeant Bannik, Arbakov said, “I will be back in a moment wearing my anti-radiation gear. Shall I bring a set for you as well, Comrade Sergeant?”
Estrin looked like he was fighting hard not to laugh, while Bannik was both frowning and puzzled.
Both Estrin and Bannik could see that none of these reactions made any sense to Arbakov.
Bannik slowly said, “Private, you were told that these were test warheads. What makes you think we need anti-radiation gear?”
Arbakov replied immediately. “Sir, one of the key aspects of a nuclear missile test must be whether the electronics that control navigation and detonation continue to function in spite of the radioactivity emitted by the nuclear payload. So, test warheads would have to be exactly as radioactive as a real payload.”
Bannik’s frown deepened. “Must be,” he repeated. “Did you learn this in your training?”
Arbakov shook his head. “No, sir. I thought it was obvious. Am I wrong, sir?”
Now Estrin had to laugh. “No, Private, you’re not wrong. You’ve just spoiled Sergeant Bannik’s little joke. You were supposed to go with him to the test warheads, and then be sent running all the way back to collect the anti-radiation gear that you were too dumb to know you needed.”
Arbakov’s reaction was the last one either Sergeant expected. He said, “Yes, sir. That would have made sure I’d never forget that test warheads are radioactive.”
Bannik snapped, “Attention!” Arbakov immediately followed the order.
Bannik then slowly walked around Arbakov, shaking his head. Tall, sandy hair, blue eyes, clean shaven. Or, maybe too young to need a shave. He looked like an absolutely typical Private.
Finally, Bannik turned to Estrin and asked, “What do you think, Kosta? Was he grown in a lab?”
Estrin laughed and replied, “I think we have to face the possibility that somehow a Private has been assigned to us with an IQ in triple digits, and at least some common sense. After all, future Sergeants have to come from somewhere.”
Bannik grunted. “So, Private, do you think you’ll be with us long enough to become a Sergeant some day?”
Staring straight ahead, Arbakov said, “Sir, I plan to be in the Service as long as I can be of use to the Soviet Union.”
Bannik nodded. “Very well, Private. Go and collect two sets of anti-radiation gear.”
Arbakov saluted and moved off at a brisk pace to carry out the order.
Once he was gone, Bannik turned to Estrin.
“Do you really think he’ll make Sergeant?” he asked Estrin.
Estrin shrugged. “Arbakov is the first Private I’ve met who I think I could end up having to salute someday.”