"Vnimanie, vnimanie! All personnel must report to duty stations immediately! Vnimanie, vnimanie!"
A groan swept the chow hall like a tsunami. Men in fatigues scrambled to their feet and raced toward the door to gather up their gear. This was the third drill in two weeks - or so everyone assumed it was a drill. Camp Aloye was on the western outskirts of První. It was a relatively small satellite base to the 1st Brigade's headquarters in the city. Unlike most other Saratov bases in Poláčekia, which were jointly populated with Poláček troops, this camp was entirely manned by Saratov paratroopers. These men specifically were the 104th battalion, 1st Brigade Fallshirmjägers, POLCOM Rapid Reaction Force.
Podpolkovnik Averiks Vlasov could see the heat rising from the concrete parade ground that stretched out beneath his air conditioned office. The sleeves on his BDU were rolled up to his elbows, and a Fantasian watch with canvas strap ticked away quietly and precisely on his wrist. He observed attentively as the men below scurried: first to the barracks, then to the armory; then finally to the parade ground. Although Vlasov was glancing at his watch, his aide-de-camp Leytenant Oleg Buranov held a stopwatch in his hand with seconds ticking by like eons.
"I'll be damned if my boys are the hold-up when the shit hits the fan," the senior officer remarked to nobody in particular. "They need to be on the field and ready to go before the first copter gets here from the aerodrome. And the helicopters will have a head start."
The ceiling fan wobbled like a top with a faint, oscillating whine - Buranov wasn't sure it had ever been shut off for the two years he had been based here. It had probably been running since the 70's, its motor and servos fused together in perpetual motion. He inhaled deeply. The office stank like mold with its dated wood paneling and off-white stained tile floor that peeled in the corners. Photos from years gone by peppered the walls, many of them in black and white. Even in the older monochrome photos, it was obvious that the men were wearing deep crimson berets with the distinctive silver badge - an eagle in descent, poised to deliver a killing blow.
Seconds, minutes - the clock was ticking. The last few stragglers were now filing out to the field. They were men who had probably been in the showers or off-duty at the time the loudspeaker called them to action. Vlasov didn't fault them for their tardiness, because they played an important role in calculating the proper timing for how long it would take the battalion to actually mobilize. He also didn't envy them, as today was a particularly hot late-June day, with the sun beating down in a cloudless sky.
After a lull in the commotion, where all the specks of green stood perfectly still and evenly spaced on a sea of gray, one of the officers on the field raised his arm with a green flag. This was the signal to those observing from the main building that all men were present and accounted for with gear and weapons in tow. Buranov jammed his thumb down on the stopwatch's plunger.
"Twelve minutes, seventeen seconds."
"Not good enough," Vlasov answered flatly, "Flight time from east of První is about eleven minutes even. We need to shave a whole minute off if we have any hope of being ready to jump at first notice. Schedule another drill for Friday."
Buranov grimaced at the thought of calling another drill so soon. Three in the past two weeks was already significantly more than usual. Drills were typically had, at most, once a month under normal circumstances. And, as far as POLCOM headquarters in Stariy Rog were concerned, these were normal circumstances. Army Headquarters in Petrograd had not handed down any special orders to increase readiness. If anything, Central Command wanted things on the south side of the border to stay quiet since all the apparent movement was in the west. The Podpolkovnik had taken this upon himself all on his own, as a personal endeavor, to have the fastest activating unit in the entire Ground Forces. The "Rapidest of the Rapid," he had called them.
Buranov leaned in to the PA system and clicked the switch to open the microphone.
"Vnimanie, vnimanie! Spasibo, rebyata, za vashu usiliyu. All off-duty personnel are hereby afforded an extra eight hours' pass for this weekend. All men on-duty this weekend are to be afforded their extra pass next weekend."
The ancient speaker mounted on the exterior wall squelched with an ear-piercing shriek as he released the button. Little did the men know that they'd be dragging themselves out to the field again right before the weekend arrived.
But Vlasov knew. Buranov could see the twinkle in his eye as he stared at the slowly emptying parade ground and twirled his gray mustache. He knew they'd drill again. He knew this because he, unlike many, knew about Radovan.
And Radovan was on the march.