I was back on my feet within that week. I started helping with putting bullets into magazines. Later, it was putting shells into tanks. I went to Gregovitch when it was time though. The last of the Soviet air force had spotted what we had feared. The fascists were finished with the north, and had brought their landcruisers south. Each one was a mobile fortress, but, to boot, an HQ. Knock one out, and it is a victory in itself.
We had shrugged off the small ones. The big ones came ferociously fast, for their size. The ground quaked beneath their seven meter wide tracks. We had to act fast. But first, and fortuitously, there was only one.
I was in the trenches when it started coming. We had about 80 anti-tank guns set up along the trenches. I heard Gregovitch give the order. 80 lights lit up the sky. 80 lights hit the beast. 80 lights bounced off, not a dent laid in. They refocused their fire on the smaller tanks. We were prepared for this. I just wish we weren't. It wasn’t long before the escorts were destroyed or retreating. Everything was left to that thousand tonne monster.
Gregovitch threw his cigar to the ground. He picked up a loudspeaker horn, and yelled: “The Fascists have burned the Ukraine, Leningrad, Moscow, all of Poland and eastern Europe. You are all that remain. They have come to our land, eaten our crops, burned our fields, raped our mothers, sisters, daughters, and wives. The Nazi filth has hung your Socialist brothers and sisters from their tanks, and murdered Millions More! They have taken everything from us, but today, we will take everything from them! Onwards, comrades, not one step back! Make the fascists repay ten thousand times what they have taken from you! Onwards! For your Families! For Stalin! For Mother Russia! Charge!”
So I went over the top. A deafening roar of machinegun fire covered myself and fifty others as we charged through mud, razor wire, and the blood of the fallen. I saw the place where the hovel once was. It was gone. I saw the iron monster. 40 feet tall, the armour sloped all around itself. Guns as big as trees. The only thing I needed to do was hit the damn treads. The only thing. I saw five men go down as soon as we went over. My eardrum exploded one of its main guns hit those behind me. the thing was spewing gasoline fumes, and antiaircraft fire. All I had were two satchels. One of ten pounds of thermite, the other of ten pounds of high explosives. Both covered in pitch. And my Papasha.
I felt my body shake, and blood splatter on my face as the five men in front of me die. I hear their screams. Their bodies are in parts. The machine guns are ripping us apart. The few that are left fire wildly, trying to hit something. anything. The thousand tonne tank is terrifying. I look back to the trenches every once in a while. Then I see Gregovitch, shooting at those who run. I’m the only one left. Either way I’m dead. The only way forward is through that tank.
I got close enough. I could reach the tread. I pull the fuse on the dynamite one and throw it into the tread. I run as fast as I bloody well can. I manage to get behind the monster. I... how did I make it this far? -- I just hear the screams of soldiers all around me, and the ringing in my ears. I hear the Germans trying to shoot at me, trying to pin me down. I cannot let them. I take one more deep breath, and do something stupid. The dynamite explodes. I stand up a second later. I pull the lever. I whirl the thermite satchel around. I throw it as hard as I can, then hit the dirt. I get the best hit I ever could ask for. White hot flame burns the top of the tank. The engine explodes. Then… there’s one moment of silence on the battlefield. Or maybe I’m just deaf.
An Ilyushin fighter-bomber flying overhead took its chance. I looked up at the tank, and saw the flashes of flak guns. Then… they stopped for a moment. That was all it needed. that was all I needed. it fired its rockets into the tank... but it didn't stop going. I looked at it, and saw that it was on fire. A moment later It rammed right into that damn thing. And still, the tank did not die. Why didn't it die?! A great roar went out from the line when the fighter hit it. But I would be first to claim the yolk of that egg.
The Ilyushin didn’t even get through half of it. I try standing up, but hear the sounds of bullets flying overhead. The Germans are close. I crawl. I crawl into the monster. I crawl into the egg. This thing has huge engines. Most of the parts were now fused to each other or completely destroyed. There is a gaping hole in it, where the Ilyushin went in. I hop up and get inside, bullets whizzing past my head. The first thing I see though, is a peculiar sight. I see a large thing in the middle. A glass dome, smashed to pieces. A glowing, green metallic orb was in the middle of it. I see some writing near the dome. It says ‘Thorstoff.’ Lucky charm, I suppose. -- No time for that.
I turn around. I see metal floors and metal hallways, kind of cramped, crumpled further by the Ilyushin. There’s a door off its hinges. I tear it down, and see the body of a German soldier. His leg is broken. Still alive. I fire my first shots. I hear screams from the rest of the tank. They know I’m here. And they will fear me.
Most aren’t armed. The ones that do have pistols. I feel a bee sting or two, but shoot them all the same. They’re old. Thirty or older. This place is a mess, with wires and sparks flying everywhere. I hear my comrades shouts. They’re coming. I climb up some stairs, and find the front of the tank. I see men with broken limbs. One of them’s still trying to fire and load the damn thing‘s main guns, the ammunition crane still running. I gun him down. And the rest. My papasha is loaded, and my bullets are taking each and every one of them down. I don’t stop. I can’t stop. Not ‘til they’re all gone. I say hello with a hail of gunfire, and goodbye with a Frag grenade.
Finally, I get to some officer. I’m out of ammo. Perfect. Knife’s better. I don’t just stab him, though. He shoots his Luger at me while I run. He misses. He starts a blood curdling scream when I throw my combat knife into his thigh. He tries to shoot me a few times more. He can’t hit me. I’m too close. I grab onto his hand holding the gun. Then I twist. I duck under, and grab the knife once more. He screams again. I stab into his shoulder and his arm goes limp. The look of terror on his face when I stab into his neck is something I won’t forget. That is the look of death. That is the look my sister had. That is the look I will never allow another one close to me to have.
At last, I plunge my combat knife into his heart. I don’t stop til I know he’s felt it.
I was covered in blood when they found me. I was twitching all over. Then I fell to the side of the captain. the men carried me back to the trench. I was wounded in about ten places. But the horrid thing is, I just smiled all the way. I stared death in the face... and won.
I hear the doctors saying I‘m the luckiest person they‘ve ever seen. Three broken fingers, a dislocated shoulder, and a sprained ankle, and four gunshot wounds. One in my gut, two grazes in my left shoulder, and one in my leg. Looked like a ricochet. I’d be out for at least a month. I drift in a morphine haze, in and out of consciousness. About two days later, I woke up completely. I had more bandages. I see my father standing over me. Then I blink again. Gregovitch is standing there.
"Vasiliy, you did well." Gregovitch says. "In recognition, I have something for you." he held out a gold star with a hammer and sickle on it. "You have done... something incredible. Something... impossible. Something that cannot go unnoticed." he pinned it to my bandaged shoulder. "You deserve better even than this. You survived, where three hundred others did not. You," he held with baited breath. "Are a hero of the Soviet Union."
At that moment, a man came into the room with a telegram. He read it out loud. Ten more of these monsters had been spotted. Gregovitch looked to me, and then back to him. “Get me a car.” he says. The man leaves. Then he looks down at me. “I know I have always said not one step back.” he starts. “But you are the last hero of the soviet union. I can make sure that you become our salvation. If you want a slogan, well…” he looks away from me. “Two steps forward, one step back.”
I look at my father and sister, sitting across from me. She’s on his knee, holding onto him. They nod towards Gregovitch. I know that staying here is suicide. “Let’s go.” I say.
The next day, the Nazis flattened Stalingrad. We started our long retreat to Novosibirsk.