“Shishka time,” Juraj said.
Lee Qiang could not—despite the situation—help but smile.
The shaped-charge missile hit the truck on the right side, shearing the wheel clean off the axis, the molten jet of metal setting the rubber on fire, slicing through the engine block and spewing out in a shower of golden sparks on the other side. Like a great beast, the truck ground to a halt.
Of course, Lee Qiang could not have seen all this; it happened too fast for the human eye to register, but his camera caught everything.
“What the hell are they doing?” Lip growled.
Lee Qiang shook his head. “No idea.”
They had stopped because the road ahead was blocked. Someone was fighting someone else.
There was black smoking rising in a lazy column from the next valley, about three clicks to the north. Sounds of sporadic gunfire echoed to their position, the pot noise of assault rifles and the woodpecker gargle from machine guns. Now and then, something massive went off, followed by a dull thud of an artillery round hitting a target.
The bullet hit the passenger-side window, leaving a cobweb-like impression.
Lee Qiang glanced back in annoyance, knowing the starburst would sit directly in his field of vision. He was kneeling in a ditch on the side of the road, looking toward a cluster of farmhouses at the far end of a gently sloping field. It overlooked the narrow gravel track and the marshy stretch of reeds toward the river, giving the owner a good view and control of the approach.
Operation Putain started three hours into Operation Lake Placid, with the morning sky streaked in lead and filthy white but no rain. Lee Qiang was happy they didn’t need to slog through mud on the very first day of their mission.
Assembled in eight Magdalena SUVs, they crossed the border into Sector 8. Well, the term “border” was deceiving. It implied a line, a fence, maybe a formal checkpoint, whereas in between the two territories, it was fluidly marked by a stretch of rugged land about 10-15 kilometers wide. Inside this buffer zone, wearing the wrong kind of uniform did not mean you’d automatically get shot by the other side.
They all sat in the soundproof room. It was musty and hot, and the portable A/C unit did little to cool the tension. The rest of the equipment was there too, including the awful recording of some WWII French sonnet.
Three platoon lieutenants, nine sergeants, one captain, and one outsider.
Lee Qiang knew this briefing wasn’t just a preparation for a difficult mission. It was also a test.
It had taken Lee Qiang the better part of his military career to develop and hone his philosophy on warfare. He was very proud of his epiphany.
War can be best described as Antonio Vivaldi’s most famous work, Four Seasons. With one exception. It starts with the second violin concerto. Summer.
War always starts in the summer.
No, that was not the right word. Non-combatants, then. That didn’t work either.
Everyone was affected by the global war of the past nineteen years. The best description was people with no control over their lives. Fallen leaves, waiting to be swept and whirled by a sudden gust of wind. Ghosts, with brittle smiles.
One such specimen stood at the corner of the street. Smiling that empty smile of people living through hell.
Commander Lip sure didn’t waste time.
He tried to kill Lee Qiang the very next day.
They were riding an APC to the front lines for a routine inspection and familiarization. It was one of the new prewar models, a Kismet urban warrior, with an anti-tank mesh on both sides. A squeaky clean example of a dwindling inventory.
Eyes squinted against the daylight glare, Lee Qiang stepped out of the tin-can transport, together with seventeen other soldiers, all new recruits—except him. They milled quietly, rubbing shoulder against sweaty shoulder, trying to get some sense of where they were.
Hell, Lee Qiang thought.
A familiar place.