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The Golden Horde, Chapter 20

The Golden Horde, Chapter 20

Fucking Orenburg.

Everyone shared the sentiment, even Lee Qiang.

Crossing the no-man’s-land of empty fields, flattened neighborhoods, and glassified rubble only partially covered in dirt and weed, he had felt exposed, vulnerable, impotent, feeling half a dozen scopes trailing him, making his skin itch. But no bullets came.

They had settled in a less devastated part of the city, with some of the concrete and iron frames still standing, providing some cover from the wind and any chance patrols. Thorny, tough vegetation crept over everything, reclaiming what used to be its kingdom. It was hard to imagine what this city had looked like whole. It looked like a bad, deliberate prop from a war movie.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 19

The Golden Horde, Chapter 19

The village was not marked on any map.

Of course.

It was a collection of half-ruined buildings, rubbish, and rust-eaten cars. There was an old tractor in the field directly south of the house strip and its cracked road, but it was sunk half a meter deep into the hard ground. The water tower had more holes than tin. The barn had gaping holes in the roof, probably caused by mortar.

Lee Qiang looked at Sveta.

She just shrugged.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 18

The Golden Horde, Chapter 18

Light at the end of the tunnel.

A promise of salvation. Or a gruesome, violent death.

It was amazing how quickly the human body and mind could adjust to new situations. Going into the damp darkness of the mold-smelling bunker network had felt like exploring one’s own coffin. After four days of tense, numbing blackness, there was almost a peaceful sense to the underground passage. Lee Qiang knew it was his brain trying not to go mad.

Now, this.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 17

The Golden Horde, Chapter 17

They needed rest.

But they couldn’t rest. Not yet.

Lip had probably recited these numbers a dozen times to “rookie” teams over the years—a lack of sleep was a powerful enemy. A full day without sleep rendered you 15% less efficient. Two days, it was 70%. Three days, you had one in three chance of injuring yourself with your own weapon. The longer you went without rest the more dangerous it became. They were all hurt, exhausted, and have not drank or eaten enough. That made the math even more unfavorable.

And then there were the wounded.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 16

The Golden Horde, Chapter 16

Lee Qiang came about to see a Chinese soldier bearing down on him. He instinctively reached for that which wasn’t there; his rifle was pinned under him, the strap torn off his harness. Without thinking, Lee Qiang pulled his pistol from his thigh holster and fired a dozen rounds into the man’s legs and groin. Whatever words or screams the East Alliance man may have uttered were lost in his sophisticated helmet-mask.

There was a whole bunch of enemy soldiers pressing toward the gap between the two Magdas. Pablo wasn’t shooting at them.

Pablo wasn’t there anymore—just his machine gun, propped against the rock.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 15

The Golden Horde, Chapter 15

Over many tens of thousands of years, human motor skills and reflexes evolved as a response to biological threats, long before any technology made things faster than neural signals could move the muscle tissue. The average response time to a visual stimulus is about three-quarters of a second, or half that for people who are alert. That does not sound like a lot until you take into account other factors, like rocket motors.

A typical anti-tank missile flies at about 250 m/s. This means it will clear about one and a half football fields in the time it takes the human brain to register and respond to a visual signal. It’s a metallic object the size of a bread loaf, jumping football field lengths as fast as you can blink.

Even if you can see it coming, you have no time to react.

You can’t dodge missiles.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 14

The Golden Horde, Chapter 14

Lee Qiang remembered his grandfather’s stories. He had been an electrical engineer working in the Middle East in the 1980s, dabbling in some rather expensive projects in Libya and Iraq, and then later, in the 1990s, in Afghanistan. Grandad would proudly boast, sober or drunk, that he’d been one of the few Polaks with a passport and an unrestricted travel visa back in the day, before the collapse of the Soviet bloc.

And he had seen some rather gruesome things, which he had shared with his grandson the day he was accepted into special forces training.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 13

The Golden Horde, Chapter 13

Sveta walked with a funny, stilted gait. She must have been stiff from the ride in the boot—as Lip liked to call it—of the car, and probably nauseated from having her sensory deprivation. There was a scowl on her pretty face, mirroring the one on Lip’s chiseled, whiskered features. He was waiting impatiently for her to waddle over.

The captain pointed at the large binoculars, resting on a solid tripod in the middle of an old industrial rubbish heap, half-buried under weeds. “What’s there?”

About five kilometers away, where the binoculars zoomed in, there was some kind of a town. The place wasn’t marked on the maps. It didn’t really look like a town. More like a makeshift market. Perhaps a military compound of some sort.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 12

The Golden Horde, Chapter 12

A whimper.

It was a sound that did not belong in his fitful dreams.

Lee Qiang woke up, kicking the thin, camo-patterned top half of his space sleeping bag off him, rising, walking toward the source of the sound. For half a second, he felt disoriented and weak from low blood pressure before a rush of adrenaline made him alert and sharp.

He wasn’t the only one to wake up, but he was the first to intercept the situation.

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The Golden Horde, Chapter 11

The Golden Horde, Chapter 11

A woman?

When you think you’ve seen everything.

“Do not shoot,” she repeated.

“Everyone, hold your fire,” Lee Qiang instructed over the comms, his mind on fire. “This could be important.”

“Check,” Cem acknowledged.

“On your knees!” Marc ordered. He spoke urgently but did not shout.

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