Last Chance Saloon

Entry by: percypop

27th November 2015
Last Chance Saloon

The Sukhov 24 soared over Raqqa at full power. Yuri Asimov looked down and could see small figures running frantically from the targeted building. He locked in the co-ordinates and waited for final orders. This was the seventh operation he had made over Syrian territory.


The previous evening Commissar Gregov held a

mission briefing.

"I have the pleasure to inform you a new commander has been appointed for this Attack Command. Let me introduce Colonel Bugalin."

A brief round of applause and the Colonel stood to speak. Bugalin wore the insignia of a Hero (second Class) and reminded Yuri of pictures he had seen of Khrushchev, bullet headed, standing with his arms akimbo with a defiant look on his face.

"Make no mistake." He began "This is no reflection on your performance but an escalation of our project to bring this senseless combat to an end."

A thin burst of clapping soon diminished and Yuri glanced round to see who the politicos were. Later, he was dismayed to find the Colonel had commandeered his co-pilot seat to "survey the area."


The formation took off from Latakia in the usual sequence at nine a.m. local time. They flew in silence for twenty minutes and reached the target without incident. Then the colonel leant across as if the intercom didn't exist.

"Do you have autonomy?"

Yuri circled waiting for the order to fire.

"What was he on about, autonomy?" he thought.

"Can you explain what you mean?" he said

"Can you fire at will if you see a target?"

"No. Colonel-we have specified targets."

"That should keep him quiet" he mused.

The formation banked in unison then the command

came through.

"Action One. Co-ordinates 368 X 129. Fire- Repeat- Fire"

The three SU 24s formed in line and Yuri matched the concentric circles in his sights and saw the blaze of light as the missile struck. Swinging away to the north as number two went in. He saw the colonel craning over his shoulder to see the result.

"Magnificent!" he shouted into the
intercom "Stupendous!"

Ignoring him, he saw the other two complete the mission and turn north to follow him home. As they regrouped, the Base Commander came through on the
Scrambled wavelength.

"Attention! Group Leader One. Unknown fighters in flight area."

This was repeated twice. Yuri acknowledged and checked both wingmen had done so.

"What does it matter?" asked Colonel Bugalin "we are all on the same side."

Yuri concentrated on his instruments and did not answer. He scanned the skies above him and switched on radar for any signs of activity.

"Captain!" Bugalin's voice took on a military tone. "Do you read me? Why does it matter?"

"Because we may clash on similar missions and need to know where we all are."

He could not keep the tone of exasperation out of his voice and regretted it at once.

"Remind yourself, Captain, that I am the new Wing Officer and I expect to be obeyed -especially on missions under my command."

Yuri was silent for a moment then he said


There was no "visible" on any aircraft near them and the other two reported no sightings.

Bugalin spoke again. "Let me look at the Turkman border area with Turkey. There are reports of unusual activity along this perimeter."

"I have no instructions to do so." Yuri said firmly.

"Bugalin raised his voice and the intercom resonated at the high pitch of his speech.

"This is an order, Captain Asimov. I want a visible check of the border area."

Yuri stayed silent for a few moments as he scanned the sky again. It seemed clear. He examined the panel of gauges and said

"We are in the Last Chance Saloon Colonel. There is little fuel for a diversion."

"Get on with it! The longer you hesitate the less time we have."

Banking to his right, he turned the bomber towards the east again. As he did so, a blaze of light and sound flashed past the cockpit. Instinctively, he braced himself and dived. Below he could see only scrub land and he glanced at the altimeter to check his height. He came out of the dive and began to make a wide turn to bring him back to his original course.

A hissing sound, followed by an explosion, blew his canopy away. The plane shuddered. He was staring at blue sky and black smoke. Next to him, Bugalin was struggling to unstrap himself. The controls responded in a sluggish way but there it was difficult to correct the downward spiral which coiled in increasing spins.

Then the smoke became flame and his choices disappeared. Flinging himself out of the cockpit he struck cold air, tumbling head first into space. The parachute jerked open and for a moment all the world went still. Below him the plane plunged downwards in a parabola so beautiful Yuri sighed as he followed its path downwards. After a second, a plume of black smoke bloomed from the trees and it was gone.

He saw Bugalin's parachute but concentrated on his own downward path. A volley of shots rang out from somewhere nearby. Below him, men in ragged uniforms held their guns aloft but they didn't fire. They were shouting and in the silence after the explosion he plainly heard "Allu Akbar."

Then he hit the ground and his life changed.