October 1957 – Umnak Island – Part of the Aleutian Chain Off Alaska, USA – 4:14 a.m.
Engineer Marshal Sergei Popov swallowed the bile that pushed at the back of his esophagus.
Twenty minutes bobbing up and down in an inflatable black raft waiting for the all clear, was taking its toll. His moss green face seemed to glow in the dwindling moonlight, as he tried to concentrate on the nodding coast line in the distance. His round face and large eyes made him look frog-like but his aberrant fear of the water had him clinging to the craft’s seat with rigid white knuckles.
A slim, black mottled silhouette in the distance buoyed up and down with the shadowy sea. It was a land beyond desolate, where few men came and fewer survived, Umnak Island. Popov’s vision seemed to cloud with darkness in the peripherals as his head started to spin. He blinked it away and sipped a lung-full of arctic air. Somebody next to him mumbled something and the raft started to move – Thank God, he breathed.
The eight-man rubber raft pushed through the choppy water and pointed towards a small cove just visible ahead. America, Private Andrei Tatter, the youngest of the group, thought to himself. Doesn’t look like much. He took a nervous swig of water from a canteen off his belt, washing the dried salt from his lips. He glanced back to his commanding officer from his position in the bow. The man sat tall, he looked stoic and determined. He would see them through.
Colonel Tolya Alexeev rubbed the stinging sensation from his piercing blue-grey eyes and replaced the goggles that had protected them from the pelting airborne ice crystals only moments before. Five degrees below zero with a thirty-mile-an-hour wind was no picnic but he had seen it all. And if the reports were correct it was only going to get worse.
Their state-of-the-art raft was made of a new synthetic rubber, giving it twice the strength of any previous design. It had compartmentalized air pockets, that made it ride and skim across the water with ease. But it was susceptible to wind and Tolya struggled to keep it on course. Once back on, his goggles almost immediately started to fog. He absently scratched at an old scar that bordered his strong cleft chin.
Tolya squinted past the clouds as they scraped across the lava-strewn beach ahead in a battle of black versus white, truly inhospitable.
Operation Blind Pig. It had to be named after one of the politburo’s wives, he thought, as he looked over his squad. It consisted of three well-trained men, all Alpha group, OBSP formed by Minister Zhukov himself. Each with arctic training from the 379th special purpose detachment.
Corporal Misha Ivanov, a six-foot-one battle hardened commando, who was under his command during the messy Hungarian Revolution a short while back. Misha’s kind brown eyes hid the true fighter inside. He was a man Tolya could trust. Something extremely valuable, considering the current political landscape in Moscow.
Sergeant Kazimir Yegor, or Kaz, as he was called. The true pessimist of the bunch. The man never smiled but he made up for it by always being ready for anything to go wrong, at any time. He was wound tight as a longbow strung with a short string and his no nonsense attitude kept everyone in line. Kaz was probably the most loyal comrade soldier Colonel Alexeev had ever met. And one day, maybe over several shots of vodka, he would see the man laugh and smile.
Private Andrei Tatter a promising cadet from the Suvorov Military School in Saint Petersburg. The boy was from solid Russian stock and even spoke some English. He was sinewy, fast like a cheetah, with a perfect smile and biting sarcasm. Something very few Russians seemed to have.
These were the best the Soviets had to offer and he’d have no better company on any mission. Even to an island that time and God had forgotten.
The rest of Colonel Alexeev’s team were a mixed bag of the unknown. He looked across the unit, each wore matching snow camouflage outerwear with a large fur-rimmed parka hood, with no identification of any kind. All except one.
Seated on the starboard second seat, looking more like a comedy skit than a squad member was their guide, Chikuk, a Siberian Yupik Eskimo from Inupiaq island off the coast of Siberia. Chikuk had refused the snow camouflaged military clothing in favor of his own winter gear made of sealskin and caribou. And no amount of conversation would change his mind. The man had lived and flourished in some of the harshest winter conditions on the planet. He wore a perpetually disappointed expression, as though everyone around him was doing it wrong. But if anyone was going to guide them through this winter arctic operation on foot, it was him.
The raft hit a particularly large crest and subzero degree Celsius water breached over the gunwale. Tolya watched as the man next to Chikuk lifted his feet in the air, fearful of the cold.
Zampolit Traktor Yashin, what every special forces squad going to America needed, a political officer. Traktor was missing most of his hair along with a personality. His beady black eyes seemed to take in everything around him and yet see nothing. He wore a scowl that he had been nursing since fifty-two.
To Tolya, he was like a 100kg anchor on a 5kg boat, and if he thought he could get away with it, he would have pushed the man over the side an hour ago. Ideology and indoctrination had no place on this mission. But the Deputy Chairman of the MPA in the Ministry of Defense had insisted. Tolya was almost positive Traktor was the man’s nephew.
Good old mother Russia, ever fearful of defectors and the bad press it carried, like a terminal disease. Tolya scoffed at the thought. These men were battle hardened Soviet soldiers. They bled Russian red and were willing to give their lives for the motherland.
The man who looked like he was going to throw up at any second was Engineer Marshal Sergei Popov. A transfer in from the science and engineering corps. Popov was the key to this operation and Tolya’s personal responsibility. He clutched in his arms a waterproof canvas package that was the latest in Russian technology. An electrical leach, as he called it. And no matter what lay ahead, Colonel Tolya Alexeev had one responsibility. Make sure the leach was activated.
Visibility dropped to near zero, as the clouds finally won their battle, covering the world in a billowy cotton. It was a total whiteout with visibility in mere meters. His new generation optics were a joke. Sure they helped block ultraviolet radiation and the 2nd generation polarization cut snow glare significantly, but they were useless in these conditions and the damn things kept fogging up.
The GSS’s science division was great at theory, but the lack of practical application often made men like Tolya guinea pigs. I’d like to see the scientists come out here and give this shit a try, he thought, trying to navigate in the impossible conditions. His chapped lips cracked, as the thought put a smile on his face. This was what he was made for, the apex of extreme. Living on the razors edge with a life and death mission to fulfill.
Chikuk made a soft clicking sound and pointed with a flat vertical palm. Tolya adjusted his course to match the Yupik Eskimo’s gesture. Within a moment a dark mass pushed through the low clouds. And a small black rock cove mostly covered in ice appeared.