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Ian Slater



Khabarovsk, Siberia

“Rock and roll!” David Brentwood yelled, and everything opened up, from the rip of the P90’s 5.7mm bursts to the steady “bomp, bomp, bomp” of grenade launchers, joined by the long, guttural roar of M-60s pouring out a deadly stream of two hundred rpm 7.62 mm fire. The acrid stench of cordite was all about the British and American commandoes, the thumps and rattle of 5.6mm rounds hitting their targets lost beneath the crash of supporting heavy 107mm mortar fire.

Next to Brentwood, Aussie Lewis, glancing at his P90’s plastic mag, could see that he had about ten rounds left for the Belgian-made machine gun, the empties’ casings spewing down beneath the gun, catching a beam of sunlight that was penetrating the Siberian pines. It was only for a second, but a member of the red team saw it, fired, and Aussie Lewis heard the two tones of a near miss. He rolled quickly, but not fast enough to escape the high monotone or “smoke alarm,” as they called the noise from the Miles — the Multiple Integrated Laser Engagement System.

“Shit!” Aussie said as he took out the key from his rifle transmitter, disengaging the weapon, then put the key in his helmet and chest control unit, ending the tone. He saw the grader scratch him from the sheet. It meant that for Aussie, a veteran of General Freeman’s Second Army’s crack British/American Special Air Services/Delta commando team or SAS/D, as it was known by its elite members, was out of the war game and had lost a bet with his fellow commandoes: “Choir” Williams, who hailed from Wales, and his two American buddies, Captain David Brentwood and Private First Class Salvini. Aussie had bet these other three members of Brentwood’s SAS/D troop that he’d be the last to be taken out. And to rub it in, Brentwood, Choir Williams, and Salvini were already demanding their money.

“Bloody scavengers,” Aussie retorted. “That’s what you are. Suppose if we get in a real punch-up again and I got hit you bastards’d probably take my friggin’ watch.”

“Let’s see you smile, boyo,” Choir Williams instructed.


“Can’t you smile?”

Aussie flashed a quick grin as if he was at the dentist’s. “Satisfied?”

“Ah—” Williams said, feigning disappointment to Brentwood and Salvini. “Just as I figured. ‘E hasn’t got any gold fillings, lads. His watch’ll have to do.”

“What a fucking trio,” Aussie said. “You blokes oughta…”

“Shut up, Lewis!” the grader ordered. “You want to get the rest of your squad taken out?”

“No, sir,” Aussie answered, muttering under his breath, “What the hell would he know about it? That bloke hasn’t seen a shot fired in anger.”

“Let’s hope it stays that way, boyo,” Choir Williams said.

“It has to,” Lewis said.

“How’s that?” Salvini put in.

“Because I’m just getting to know Olga,” Aussie replied. “You know, the one with the big—”

“Yes,” said David Brentwood, who, although married, was always shocked by Aussie’s vivid descriptions of female anatomy. “We know. She’s a member of the Khabarovsk Polar Bear Club. Swims in the nude.”

“Yeah,” Salvini added. “Well, you can have her, buddy. Any piece that swims naked in freezing water isn’t playin’ with a full deck.”

“Well I don’t intend playing fucking cards with her, Sal.”

“Okay, you four,” the grader decreed. “You’re all out!”

“That’s all right,” Aussie Lewis said. “This racket’s frazzled my nerves anyway. After firing all these blanks I need a drink.”

Normally the grader would have had more to say, and normally the British-American SAS/D team wouldn’t have acted so cavalierly, but, as members of the U.S.-led U.N. forces under General Douglas Freeman, they were veterans of the daring raid on Pyongyang in Korea, fierce fighting on and around Ratmanov Island in the Bering Strait, and Lake Baikal in Siberia, and had earned a certain cachet.

Even the most gentlemanly among them, the twenty-five-year-old Medal of Honor winner David Brentwood, was known as one of the toughest of the tough. SAS/Delta training broke anyone else. Besides, everyone, including the graders, was in a fairly good mood these days. Spring had sprung; Aussie Lewis had found Olga, an accommodating if large blond Siberian “bird,” as he called her; and pretty soon it seemed that David Brentwood, Salvini, and Choir Williams would be on home leave, David back to his wife, Georgina, in the States, Choir Williams to his beloved Wales, and Salvini to his haunts in Brooklyn. This time, everyone was saying, the cease-fire between Siberia, China, and the U.N. force would hold. That is, everyone except General Douglas Freeman.


Further west of Khabarovsk, along the Amur River hump in the town of Poyarkovo on the Siberian side of the DMZ, an American soldier was meeting a Chinese “good-time” girl who, caught on the American-patrolled north bank of the Amur when the DMZ went into effect, was making the best of it. Neither she nor the American spoke the other’s language, but they understood each other perfectly. He was handing over dollars, and she was about to give him sex with an almond-eyed smile. She smelled of lavender and was dressed in a thigh-split qi pao of radiant Ming blue silk, embroidered with tiny golden birds, only a tantalizing glimpse of firm, tan thigh visible. She disappeared behind the fine bamboo screen. The soldier heard the soft purr of a zipper, then saw the qi pao being draped carefully over the bamboo divider. The GI closed his eyes and swallowed hard. Oh, man!

He’d been too long in the U.S.-patrolled U.N. demilitarized zone between China and the breakaway United Siberian Republic — both of which the U.S. had had to fight as part of the U.N.‘s wish to “stabilize” the area. He was bored with the routine of patrolling “the trace,” the DMZ, to see whether there had been violations by either Siberian or Chinese troops as a prelude to possible land grabs along the long-disputed Chinese-Siberian border. Marked by fertile valleys, the still-frozen Amur, or Black Dragon, as it was called by the Chinese, wound itself through mountain gorges and an endless taiga of pine, beech, and fir, separating Manchuria from the old Soviet empire.

Patrolling the border was a dangerous as well as a dreary duty, because before the present cease-fire had come into effect, China and the new Siberian republic had already made an alliance of convenience, albeit a shaky one, against the Americans. It was a cold and lonely duty, too, despite the advent of spring along the Amur, no matter how beautiful the taiga or how busty the Siberian women. In any case, the soldier preferred the Chinese girls. If some of those Siberian women sat on your face you’d be pulp. But on a soldier’s pay he would never have been able to afford Spring Flower, as she called herself. The soldier, like many others, had been given the money personally by General Freeman, even though it was known he abhorred whores as being little better than politicians.

Freeman, often referred to as “George” for his striking resemblance to the actor George C. Scott, was a legend in his own time, the greatest American general since Patton and Schwarzkopf, and he was walking down the line, doling out money, his own, to his soldiers, telling them to go to the Chinese brothels along the DMZ and not to worry about bringing back change. “You fellas have a good time now!” the general said. “And remember, boys, safe sex — so draw your rubbers from the quartermaster.”

As Churchill had believed that the armistice following die 1914-18 war with Germany was nothing more than a temporary cease-fire, that Germany sooner or later would start another war, Freeman had no faith in the present cease-fire between China and Siberia on one side and the United States on the other. And this “brothel subsidy,” as he called it, was his latest effective, if eccentric, tactic: “A preemptive strike,” as he explained to his aide, Colonel Dick Norton.

“Washington’s not going to like it, General.”

“Washington isn’t going to know about it, Dick.”

Dick Norton shook his head worriedly. “Sir, it’s only a matter of time before the press gets onto it. They love stuff like this. There’d be hell to pay. And as for the women’s lobby!” Norton rolled his eyes heavenward. “Paying dogfaces to get laid…”

“Dick, you worry too much. I know that’s your job, but I’ve told you before, by the time I get this business about ‘being recalled for consultation’ in Washington over with we could be at war again with these jokers. Chinese, Siberians, or both. I don’t trust Novosibirsk any more than I do Beijing. This is the second cease-fire we’ve had, and I tell you it’s no better than any of the seventy-five the Yugoslavs had. Goddamn it! You’d think Washington could see that. We were sent over here to keep this upstart United Siberian Republic from annexing more territory, and what happened? The Chinese made a land grab into Siberia first and we ended up with a war on two fronts. And now, just when we turn the tide on the bastards and look like we’re kicking their ass across the Black Dragon River, back into China where they belong, and the

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