Chapters:

Baltika Zero


***

Do you know what the most ridiculous thing about K2 was?

All of the pathways, roads and drives were paved with coarsely ground gravel. Gravel had that signature color of Portland cement. The air- conditioned tents at the base were laid out on a grid, streets named for the thoroughfares of New York: Fifth Avenue, Long Island Expressway, and Wall Street. Every street was lined with gravel. And the only footwear, that would feel comfortable on it, was army boots. I was daydreaming of US army boots.

Gravel was delivered to Uzbekistan from Ramstein, Germany. It was really hard to buy fiber optic high speed intranet cable in 2001 Uzbekistan, but, by God, there was no shortage of local rock and gravel.

My boss would scratch his forehead, trying to figure out, how much a delivery of several tons of dusty German rocks by air on a military cargo plane would add to an expensive tab on capturing terrorist number one – Sheik Osama bin Laden. They could easily afford finished Uzbek marble or granite slabs for the money. But with such a noble cause, it’s not always about the dough? Right?

By law, US army must grant contracts only in a tender competition, but originally there was no one to choose from, except Halliburton. Therefore – wild dusty Karshi steppe met noble and sophisticated German gravel.

Maynard Freedom Services – newly born American company, ran from a laptop in a small Tashkent apartment by my new boss, Donovan Van Epps – was a much needed for competition second tender participant.

We needed to establish a permanent presence in K2, so as not to miss any of small contracts Halliburton would reluctantly snub off.

There was a bad need for a permanent resident, but no one from Maynard in Tashkent would even for a second consider relocating to a shithole Karshi was. If you ever visited India or China, you know, how huge the contrast between a city and village is. Two different worlds. You can enjoy a twelve year scotch in a luxurious strip-bar, opened all night long in Tashkent. There will be a valet parking upfront, and a valet would be a trained teacher of English with a college degree.

But drive thirty miles away from Tashkent city limits, and you will find yourself in a pre-war Iraqi Kurdistan. Sheep, roaming along a freeway, like deer in Vermont. Dirty children, chewing stale bread in a pile of road dust. And flies. A lot of flies. Particularly above smoking grills with dirt cheap delicious lamb shashlik.

Though I forgot to mention that in my resume, I just did six and a half years in medium security prison. As a matter of fact. So now I reluctantly accepted the offer to relocate to Karshi. It would violate my parole arrangement, but I will be making more money than anyone in Tashkent office, and chances I can spend it here are really low.

Spending dough in Karshi is a challenge. You can make six circles around the city in a cab or have a romantic dinner for two in Imagine restaurant, the only European food joint with almost no flies, or even buy entire grill full of shashlik – all for just under one dollar. Damn, I’m gonna kick it here like Warren Buffet. Just watch, how the waitress, Lyuba The Shorty Skirty, keeps dropping and picking up silverware right in front of my table. Lyuba ain’t fucking around – she is out for a kill.

***

So far, the first and only contract Maynard Freedom Services enjoyed at Camp Stronghold Freedom was that for “near beer”.

Right – the second ridiculous rule of K2 was alcohol prohibition. Officially, soldiers were not allowed to leave the base. How were they supposed to relief war stress, if they could not have even an occasional beer? Also, what added to the stress was the first ridiculous rule. The number of servicemen and service women was almost equal – I’m not sure about gays though, “don’t ask, don’t tell” – but sex was illegal. Maybe the purpose was to turn soldiers into a pure nervous and ruthless evil. I just do not get it. American corporate culture. Love it or leave the planet Earth – because it’s pretty much turning into a global standard.

So Van Epps, who spend about fifteen years at Russian Far East, came up with “Baltica Zero” plan. Baltica Zero is a pretty decent beer, tasting almost like Heineken, but containing no alcohol. Yankee ingenuity of US military personnel discovered, that if you drink a six pack straight up, the effect would be similar to that of half a

pint of real Heineken. And Base exchange – the PX store – would buy Baltica zero from Maynard by a skid.

The store would run out of a pallet full of beers in a week, so Donovan Van Epps had to grab a taxi and hit a six hour bumpy ride through bribe sucking police infested Uzbek countryside, just to open a shipping container full of beautiful white and gold cans, an alternative currency among bored fighters with global terror threat, and drag another pallet to the Base exchange tent.

Now I would accept the powers of being a VIP beer-master at K2.

“It’s just the beginning,” – Epps kept preaching, – “wait and see, Maynard is going to hit a big time army contract, and we would go scuba-diving at Bora-Bora in no time.”

“What’s scuba diving?” – I would ask meekly. I did not know what Bora-Bora was either, but suspected it was something similar to Tora-Bora – the secret network of caves, where, they say, Osama was hiding, together with his portable kidney dialysis machine.

***

On that historic day I went to Base’s Post Office to receive my first own personal desktop computer, that Epps ordered for me from United States. I had almost the same awesome feeling of total happiness as the first hours after prison. When they finally opened the gates for me, I did not walk – I ran. And I was running for at least half an hour till I got so exhausted, my entire world flew in front of my eyes. I fell on the soft ground of a strawberry field, desperately trying to catch my breath. Yeah. Found myself in a Paradise. Yeah, paradise on Earth is for real. Just go to jail, spend there a week, get released and learn how to enjoy being. Yeah – just simply being outside the barbed wire fence, without having to communicate with uniformed correctional bio robots. The entire world lays open in front of me now, and I got to get used to it and stop running – or I will kill myself. It is not a square mile anymore, like during the last six years. It’s the whole planet.

Camp’s Post Office was real American USPS . Everything real American was sacred and filling me with awe and cult-like admiration back then. I was the scientist, learning and researching a distant planet for his entire life, without a slightest hope of ever getting on that planet. And now, out of the blue, I found myself right on the exotic surface, desired for so, so long.

USPS occupied a large air-conditioned tent, separated into cubicles

with an inch-thick plywood walls. I am not exactly a handy person myself, so I could not help admiring the state of the art creation, built by American carpenters out of simple plywood.

The biggest compartment contained a bar-like stand, where three soldiers serviced the postal customers. There was a large black scoreboard on the wall right behind clerks. There were six identical clocks on a scoreboard, showing time in different parts of the planet. The first clock said “Zulu”, then “K2”, then “Germany”, then “Afghanistan”, then American EST and PST.

While waiting in line, I was desperately trying to figure out what  “Zulu” meant until it became clear – that’s how they call Greenwich in the Army. I showed my ID and immediately received two huge heavy boxes – my new rig and a CRT monitor. No questions, or stupid customs forms, or other humiliating crap you have to go through at Uzbek post office every time you receive a box from U.S.A. Every Uzbek clerk automatically assumes that you are too rich and you got to share something, anything with them.

Boxes were heavy as hell, and there was no way I could carry them together. So I would walk like twenty feet with one of them, put it down, come back and catch up with the second one. Oh, it’s gonna be a long trip, but how can it kill my boundless joy of having my first own American personal computer! How unpredictable human fate is! Just imagine, if Osama bin Laden did not choose to attack Twin Towers! I would never turn into a lucky owner of this magic rig!

***

As I discovered later, that Humvee was following me all the way from the Post Office tent. And it was not a coincidence. Jake struck up a conversation in a terrible Polish he inherited from his grandma: “Yak tsche mash?” He obviously was sure, that Polish, or Russian, or even Uzbek are nothing, but the dialects of one barbaric meta-language.

- Yo, yo, dude, listen, did the Redhead leave the lock code for the beer container?

- What Redhead?

- Redhead Van Epps. He told you the combination, didn’t he?

I got so excited, that semi-god in American uniform, driving a scary looking Humvee with a machine gun paid attention and was actually talking to me, that I almost fired away the Boston tea-party date – that is, the lock combination. I wanted to impress him with my thorough comand of English and U.S. history.

A miracle prevented me from making a grave mistake and just giving away the secret of the Maynard Freedom Services. The secret of Baltika. The sorcerer’s stone, kept inside a most common forty feet shipping container that Epps had turned into a beer warehouse. Shipping container and Baltika Zero – main tools for Maynard permanent resident on American Military base. Secret controls for my spy network enrollment.

- You and only you, my dear Alex, can save my ass! Will you do me a solid? Let’s make a deal – I will fulfill your three innermost desires. I mean, as long as it’s not some crazy gay shit, O’ight?

Jake flushed his signature sly grin and winked:

- Judy is being transferred to goddam shitty Bagram. This is a downgrade. A degrading downgrade, I’d say. It’s even worse, than what they did to me – transferred me here from Oman! Oman is the center of the world, Alex-boy. Oman is the shit. But fucking Bagram is even worse than god-abandoned Karshi, Bagram is deadly, bro. Luke-warm water in the showers, bullshit food – they don’t enjoy a Brown and Root cook there, just a regular army cocksucker – microwave operator with honors. Base Exchange is bullshit – tent is tiny, always lines to the register, like Jewish exodus. Yeah. And on top of that, there’s actually a war going on, dude. A real one. Land mines, IEDs, fucking suicide bombers – you name the shit, it’s all there in Bagram. Gotta help that girl, bro, for real, man. Gotta help Judy out.

- Who is Judy?

- Well, bro. I’m a gentleman, ya know. I can’t tell who she is. Anyhow – would a Good Samaritan ask for driver’s license before helping people? Would he? Nope. The Good Samaritan would just drop everything and help, if you know what I’m sayin. Do you believe in Good Samaritan?

- Yes, yes, of course I do. But what can I do for her, sir?

- Don’t you “sir” me. “Sir” is my father. I’m Jake, O’ight? We are like friends, know what I’m sayin? You can help O’ight. Ya know, there’s a“no fuck” law on K2? No sex but solo, right?

I immediately felt a rush of dirtiest thoughts streaming through my, as it turns out, quite perverted mind. Wow. What a lucky day! Now I’m

not only getting a desktop computer all for myself. I will also probably have to drive some Judy to multiple orgasms before she leaves on a deadly tour of duty. That’s cool. I can help.

- Are you listening? Thing is, Judy asked me to make her a baby, ya know? Baby. If they discover she’s pregnant, they’d let her stay at K2. Of course they’d bitch about it. But bitchin ain’t no worse than going to Bagram, Huh? What tcha say, Alex-boyo?

I looked down, trying to hide my frustration. It seemed, I had my dirty thoughts tattooed in red ink right on my forehead. The feeling of guilt pushed me to agree to do anything, though I still couldn’t figure what in the world he actually wanted from me, exactly?

- Making a baby is not like a quickie, not at all like wham-bam- thank-you-ma’am, yo get what am sayin? Making baby is a responsibility, like, seriously, this is for entire mankind, get what I’m saying? Gotta be a certain day, certain position, and then she should just lay down on her back with her legs up on a 90 degree angle, you know, after I cum inside her. She should pray and hold my cum inside her. So it won’t leak out.

- Skip the details, Jake, will you?

- O’ight, O’ight! No technical details, my bad. They will keep her here, and she would even have a chance to cut the contract short without losing her pay. See how much power you got over people’s lifes, Alex? You da man, man. You da man!

***

Basically, he was offering me to facilitate three secret sessions of impregnating Judy inside the safety of Maynard Freedom services beer container, next to Baltika Zero. It was a straight and forward pimping. I did all kinda sketchy shit in my life, but no pimping yet. I vividly pictured Jake solemnly, mechanically pistoning that Judy cow with his throbbing member between her luscious, voluptuous thighs, like a real soldier should. And here I am – waiting outside, thievishly looking out, nervously smoking, sweating, and afraid of getting busted by a Military Police routine patrol. I am protecting a globally important act of humanity – the reproduction of species inside my container. Damn.

“You got some polish blood in you, sonny, mama "zrobila" you inside an APL shipping container during the Operation Enduring Freedom in the heart of hell-like Uzbekistan!”

On the other hand, it’s kinda cool – to pull a prank like that inside

of Air force base where sex is outlawed. An act of Life triumphing over Death and War. Yeah! I’m that cool!

- So, Alex-boyo, do we understand each other? We got a deal. Don’t we?

I looked at Jake. He was a wonderful specimen – tall, athletic dude looking like a real Hollywood hero from a low-budget B movie. And the uniform! What a beautiful uniform US army employs! Yeah? Got to admit, American recruiting centers get the best of the best. Their army does look like a real army nowadays. Most of the K2 soldiers, both chicks and dudes, are exceptional gene pool. Draft never provides such a great material – contract only. Big strong men! Wide thigh women with long eyelashes! Yeah!

***

Soon enough I knew Judy’s ovulation days better than she did herself. I can even say that I took indirect part in insemination of her wet and shiny ovules. The thought of that filled me with weird excitement. Alex, the parent-image, creator of ideal condition for reproducing of a little American in Uzbek Kashkadariya region. The unique experiment of the century. Would Americans multiply in captivity?

To tell you the truth, I still have no idea. Jake will never unveil the mystery and tell me the truth – after all, he is a gentleman.

And he took care of my wishes, of course. First of all, I asked my magic Gold Fish for a pair of army boots. As light as a pair of knit woolen socks, the boots are a great example of quality and endurance. Now I can walk on sharp German gravel as if it was soft golden sand of an ocean beach. I also asked for a set of uniform – not exactly military but similar to that “Brown and Root” Halliburton guys would wear. I was lucky; there were a lot of girls on the base, so I could easily get the smallest size. When you wear a uniform, you turn into a different person. Neat, accurate, prim.

Unfortunately, they would not let me wear uniform outside the base, not to disturb the locals.

So once I entered the Base, I would rush to my beer container and immediately change. Then I would walk backwards and forwards, from one check-point to another, like a happy kid all inside his own imaginary game.

My third wish was a compact Walkman – a cool CD player by Panasonic. Most people could only afford an ugly tape player back then. With my

shiny black Panasonic I looked outstandingly solid. My Panas would slide into a wide army pants pocket and transform me from a mediocre Uzbek citizen into an all-American playboy Alex.

Geography

CIA Factbook

Russia conquered the territory of present-day Uzbekistan in the late 19th century. Stiff resistance to the Red Army after the Bolshevik Revolution was eventually suppressed and a socialist republic established in 1924. During the Soviet era, intensive production of "white gold" (cotton) and grain led to overuse of agrochemicals and the depletion of water supplies, which have left the land degraded and the Aral Sea and certain rivers half dry. Independent since 1991, the country has gradually lessened its dependence on the cotton monoculture by diversifying agricultural production while developing its mineral and petroleum export capacity and increasing its manufacturing base. However, long-serving septuagenarian President Islom KARIMOV, who rose through the ranks of the Soviet- era State Planning Committee (Gosplan), remains wedded to the concepts of a command economy, creating a challenging environment for foreign investment. Current concerns include post-KARIMOV succession, economic stagnation, and pervasive corruption, declining quality of social services, persistent inability to adequately meet the country’s energy needs outside of Tashkent, the curtailment of human rights, and the lack of democratization.

History

From 1954 to 1981, the 735th Fighter Aviation Regiment of the Soviet Air Defense

Force was stationed at the base in Karshi. It was equipped with Mig-15 (July 1950 – 1955), MiG-17 (1955-1969), and then Sukhoi Su-9 aircraft (1961-1980). In 1981 it was renamed the 735th Fighter-Bomber Aviation Regiment, and in 1984 the 735th Bomber Aviation Regiment. From 1980 to 1984 the regiment was equipped with the MiG-

23M, and from 1984 to 1992 – with the Su-24.

Between 2001 and 2005 the base was used by the United States Army, Air Force and Marine Corps. It became known as K2, or "Stronghold Freedom", for support missions against AL-Qaeda in neighboring Afghanistan

Vadim Golovanov (Vincent Killpastor) "RATLANDS", novel, 2016

An excerpt from Baltika Zero chapter

Next Chapter: New Chapter