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The Amazon Remnant


KaiserMelech Mikhail
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The deep sound of a diesel engine billowed through the thick forests of Pasirung.  Revving up and revving down as the vehicle tried to navigate on what passed for a dirt road just over the border that separated the Russian Empire from the chaos that lay deep in the unexplored woods.  The noise cut out as the engine shifted into a series of low hums as the vehicle was placed in park.
 
"We're surrounded on all sides by trees," the driver said, "I'm sorry sergeant, I must have taken a wrong turn somewhere."
 
"This whole road is a wrong turn," the sergeant said back, "tell you what, just pick the smallest tree and hit the gas."  The sergeant peeked his head out the top hatch and examined the surroundings before closing it back up.  "Two o'clock," he said, "there's a tree that's smaller than the rest.  Push it over and then make a hard right.  I'll see if we can get us back on track."
 
"This won't end well," the driver said.
 
"This armor is over 5 cm thick," the sergeant exclaimed, "it is rated to resist heavy machine gun rounds and direct grenade blasts.  That is a tree, and when I tell you to run over the tree, you run over the tree."
 
"Yes sergeant," the driver said, shifting the vehicle back into drive and looking towards the tree he was supposed to run over.  "Oy," he said quietly, "this is going to scratch the paint."
 
"You're the driver, corporal Shtaynin," the sergeant said, buckling himself into the seat to brace for impact, "you'll repaint it.  Everyone!  Brace!"
 
Inside the vehicle, a third man in the turret along with four men in the crew compartment grabbed onto metal bars that had been installed lining the walls.  Meant to help regain composure if the vehicle was turned over in battle or by a roadside bomb, crews soon realized that with a bit of DIY modifications, the poles helped with forward impacts too.  The vehicle lurched forward, and then with a deafening clang to anyone inside the metal box, came to an abrupt halt.  The engine revved, and outside, the wheels struggled for grip in the forest floor that was now coated with brown leaves, but soon the sounds of splintering could be heard, and the vehicle moved forward as it overcame the tree in the path.  Taking the hard right like the sergeant ordered, the vehicle sped into a clearing in the forest.  Logged out long ago by the indigenous people, the forest never reclaimed this field.  Hitting the breaks, the vehicle slowed to a stop several meters from the edge of the forest, clearly exposed on all sides.
 
"What the hell are you doing," the sergeant yelled, "I never gave an order to stop."
 
"I just want to take a look at the damage," the driver said, "there are no trees here, we'll have plenty of light."  However, as he opened the hatch that led to the main exit, a shot rang out in the forest.  Some time passed, then a second one.  Someone was aiming at something.  Probably a hunter going after deer.  Hunting season had begun over a week ago, and woods were crawling with people looking for some cheap meat.
 
"Good," the sergeant said, "we must be back on our side of the border."  However, as soon as he finished his thought, a group of people broke from the trees into the field.  The were running towards the vehicle; no, they were running from the woods.  As they got closer, it could be seen that it was a group of five women.  The were shouting something, but they were too far away to be audible.  
 
"Hilfe!"  It was quiet at first, but they kept repeating it as they ran closer to the vehicle.  "Hilfe!  Hilfe, bitte!"  A third shot cracked from the forest, and the woman in back dropped to the ground.  "Nein!  Helga," one of the women cried out, but before she could go back for her, two men dressed in animal skins darted from the woods.  Terrified, she turned back as the two men grabbed the body and darted back to the tree line.
 
"Barbarians," the sergeant yelled, "get out there!"  As he climbed up into the turret to man the machine gun, the hatch on the side of the vehicle swung open and the four soldiers in the back came pouring out.  The treeline was dark.  Even as much of the canopy had fallen off, the shadows encroached too quickly, leaving anyone even a few meters in the forest concealed.  A fourth shot rang out, followed quickly by the signature ping of a bullet hitting metal plating.  With that, the sergeant gave the order to fire.  Taking the utmost precaution to avoid the women, the sergeant and the five soldiers laid down a constant stream of fire into the woods where they believed the shot came from.  They all knew it was highly unlikely that they would actually hit someone, but the goal was to have the barbarians keep their own heads down until the women could make it to safety.  One by one, the driver and gunner, two crew members not firing weapons, would grab the women by the arms and swing them behind the sturdy wheels of the IFV.  Four wheels, four women.  It was about time too.  One by one, the rifles stopped as they ran out of ammo.  As everything went silent, everyone was staring intently at the treeline... waiting.  Ten seconds passed, then twenty, then thirty.  There was no fourth shot, meaning that the barbarians had likely taken their prize and moved back to their own village.  
 
It was then the soldiers turned to the weeping women, curled behind the massive tires of the IFV.  
 
"Warum?  Warum?  Warum haben sie sie genommen?," one constantly cried.
 
"That's not Yiddish she's speaking," one soldier said to another.
 
"It's German," the second one said with an almost angry tone, "we picked up a group of freaking German tourists."
 
"Maidl, maidl, redst du Yiddish," the sergeant asked the woman.
 
"Nein, nein, Ich kann nicht Jiddisch sprechen," she said, breathing heavily, trying to calm herself down, "aber, Ich verstehe sie."
 
"Huh," the driver said, "I understood more of that than I thought I would."
 
"The joys of mutual intelligibility," the sergeant said back.  He bent down and grabbed the woman by the hands, and lifted her to her feet.  "Shhhhhhhh, It's okay," he said, "you are safe now.  You're safe."  As the other girls stood up, some with their knees visibly shaking, the sergeant mustered the rest of the soldiers back into the vehicle.  "Let me introduce you to the crew," he said, naming them off one by one as they entered the side doors.  "Private Schmuel Guinzburg, Private Boris Shorin, Private Alexander Geltshtayn, Private Leb Fyodorovich, our gunner, Corporal Leonid Salomon, our driver, Corporal Meyer Shtaynin, and I am the commander of this ragged group, Sergeant Iosif Saranduk, at your service."
 
"Julia."  "Maria."  "Ilsa."  "Inga."  The four women listed their names in small, solemn voices, entering the vehicle and taking a seat on empty seats on the benches that lined the inner walls.  
 
"Sergeant," Julia said softly, "what happened back there?  What did they do with Helga?"
 
Sergeant Saranduk had a conflicted look spread across his face.  He look each of his soldiers in the eye, and saw that they had the same look.  Should they be honest?  Brutally honest?  Are these poor girls ready to handle the truth?

Edited by KaiserMelech Mikhail
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  • 2 weeks later...

Judging by the setting sun, the vehicle turned east and swerved through nearly a kilometer of forest before it rejoined the dirt road that ran along the official border.  

 

"Barbarians," Saranduk said, breaking the tense silence inside the crew compartment, "you were attacked by barbarians."

 

"Barbarians," Julia asked, "why must you use such an old word for them?"
 

"It's the official government term," Geltshtayn said, "it's how we identify tribes who are not under anyone's rule, but have also refused to organize themselves into proper nations."

 

"And you ran into the worst of them," Guinzberg chimed in, "the Meksikieti, likely the Los or Wel Clans judging by the location.  They're ruthless, incredibly violent towards outsiders... and cannibals."

 

"You mean, when they took the bodies..." Inga said, before trailing off, "Oh god, I think I'm going to vomit."  One of the soldiers kicked a bucket over to her, just in case she was serious.  An enclosed metal box on bumpy roads, especially on a hot day, was enough to make anyone sick, so they were always prepared.  Inga stuck her hand out in protest, instead just leaning her head back and closing her eyes.

 

"We're almost to the camp," Saranduk said, "we'll get you guys a tent and some food.  You can rest there for a day or so, then we'll get your a ride to the airport so you can go home."

 

Camp 3 was a constant construction zone.  Concrete was being poured, bricks being laid, sheet metal buildings being fabricated.  The future name for the base hadn't been decided yet, but when completed, it would constitute one of the five frontier bases, meant to provide a concentration of force against anyone looking to infiltrate the porous northwestern border.  While one day it would host thousands of soldiers, along with armored vehicles and aircraft, the site now was populated mostly with a few hundred military engineers and civilian construction workers.  The only real solders were the frontier guards, like the seven soldiers who rescued the women, patrolling for the barbarians who were getting more and more ambitious with their attacks.  

 

Although it was only 6:30 when they returned, the sun had already set and everything outside the camp was nearly pitch black, depending on only the large moon in the sky for light.  In quickly-built wooden towers, searchlights continuously scanned the short barbed wire fence and the forests that lay just outside it.  Just inside the gates, the side door of the vehicle opened, allowing everyone to exit in an single-file line.  The privates exited first, carrying depleted water jugs, empty magazines, and uneaten rations.  The gunner left next, taking the womens' hands as they exited the vehicle, helping them down the short hop to the ground.  The sergeant left last, carrying mission logs.  Once they were out, the doors closed and the driver proceeded to an area known as The Garage.  In reality, it was nothing but an empty patch of grass illuminated by high-powered lamps, flanked by a fuel truck and carts carrying a sets of tools spewed about.

 

"Iosef," a woman's voice rang out from inside the base.

 

"Katya," the sergeant called back.  From the side, a woman in a tan dress came running towards them.  She was quickly grabbed by the sergeant, who held her in a long embrace, picking her up and giving her a passionate kiss.

 

Katya Renz was the sergeant's fiance, and was the closest thing that everyone had seen to a genuine angel.  Small and graceful, she stood barely 5 feet tall, with bright blue eyes and the lightest blond hair that flowed past her shoulders.  Dressed in a tight-fitting button-down shirt, khaki pants, and high boots to protect against ticks in the woods, she carried a large basket with a blue checkered cloth over the top.  

 

"I'm so happy you're back," she said, brushing the hair out of her face, "look, I brought food!"  She removed the blanket revealing two large loaves of bread, still steaming in the cool fall air.  Next to them was a bowl of freshly made butter and a jar of strawberry jam.  

 

"Give it to them," the sergeant said, nodding towards the four women.  The soldiers immediately had looks of disappointment.  Katya's bread was easily the best they had ever had, and fresh food was a rarity in the army.

 

"Why," Katya asked, "I baked this just for you.  I knew you were coming back today."
 

"Trust me on this," the sergeant said back, "they need it more.  They had a run in with barbarians today, and they lost someone."

 

"Oh no," Katya exclaimed, giving Julia a tight hug, "you poor girls.  Come, come, sit down.  Sit by the fire."

 

The group was led to their campsite.  It was little more than a semicircle of 4 tents surrounding a modest-sized fire pit which was already blazing.  At this point, barracks were just a stack of bricks.

 

"Sasha," the sergeant said to one of the soldiers, "get two more tents, sleeping bags too."

 

Once the tents were set up, the group congregated around the fire and began to dig into the foot.  Large pieces of the first loaf were given large amounts of butter and jam and were distributed to the four women, while the second loaf was broken into smaller pieces and distributed among the soldiers.  

 

"Do you think Meyer needs a piece," Katya asked, looking over to the driver who was digging through the pile of tools before yelling out a random string of words and throwing a wrench against a pile of scaffolding.

 

"Nah, he's fine," the sergeant said, taking a bite.  

 

"Mmmmmm, this is really good," Julia said, taking her first bite, making sure to get as much butter and jam she could.

 

"It really is," said Inga, "I haven't had anything like this in a while."

 

"As our guests, I feel like we must offer you the best we can offer," the sergeant said, before turning to his fiance, "honey, would you like to do the thing?"

 

Being met with a nod, the gunner yelled over to the driver.  "HEY MEYER!"

 

"WHAT," the driver yelled back, busy fiddling with a can of green paint.

 

"DO THE THING," the driver shouted.

 

"I DON'T WANNA!"
 

"CORPORAL," the sergeant shouted, "WE'RE DOING THE THING!"

 

Dropping the paintbrush, the driver walked over to one of the tents and took out a large black case.  "Making me do things," he muttered on his way over, "you scratched my paint you know."

 

"And you'll finish repainting when we're done here," the sergeant said back condescendingly, "now get to strumming."

 

Clearing his throat, the driver opened the case revealing a balalaika.  Propping a foot up on a chair, he rested the triangular base against his leg and did a quick strum of the strings.  Satisfied, he began quickly strumming a chord and began the opening verse to the song Tumbalalaika.  The sergeant and Katya proceeded to sing their respective verses to the song, acting out the song's story as the main boy and girl.  When the song was over, the trio was met to applause from the four women.

 

"I'm going back to painting," the driver said, before walking back to the vehicle, strumming a tune.

 

"And I think I'm off to bed.  Some of us need to be up early.  Your tents are all set up ladies, two per tent.  Good night, and we'll speak in the morning," the sergeant said, looking at his watch before entering his tent with Katya, "no interruptions."

 

"Good night sergeant Saranduk," Julia said, warming her hands by the fire.  After she had seen the tent flaps close up, she quickly stood up and looked down at the other three women.  She issued a set of silent orders, subtly moving her head in different directions.   The other three women stood up, nodded, and moved to their designated locations.

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