Chapter 53, in which Russian fatalism meets the tropics
“I can’t read the signs.”
“Just follow the others.”
“And if we’re separated, what then, Yuri?”
“In that case you can just keep driving until we get back to Romny.”
“And leave this workers’ paradise?”
“I prefer a workers’ paradise where the workers can at least read the road signs.”
“So you see my point.”
“I do. Unfortunately, I do.”
“Which means you have to drive.”
Dmitri Bogdonevitch and Yuri Belyavski, not unlike the other men of the second regiment of the 43rd Guards Rocket Division, are having more than a little difficulty adjusting to their new surroundings.
At first, after word of their destination filtered down to them two days sail out of Sevastopol, they talked of nothing but what they supposed life in the tropics under a Havana moon would hold for them. As they steamed west they imagined tropical fruit drinks spiked with rum; white sand beaches mobbed by scantily-clad Cuban women welcoming the men serving the vanguard of Socialism; the slow pace and old world charm of a former capitalist colony; and an ethic well-suited to their unofficial motto of “They pretend to pay us, and we pretend to work.”
Instead they have encountered relentless heat, swarms of mosquitoes and other flying, biting things, a suspicious if not outright hostile local population, and a work schedule that is brutal by anyone’s standards. They are up before dawn and spend every day working like madmen to prepare launch sites and equipment to render their unit’s weapons operational.
Like soldiers all over the world and since the beginning of time, the men of the 43rd Guards Rocket Division complain. Like good Russian soldiers their complaints are laced with a healthy dose of irreverent humor. But beneath the complaints, beneath the humor runs a current of incredulity. Each man struggles to comprehend what they know to be the truth: they are moving the world’s two foremost nuclear superpowers rapidly towards a confrontation that could easily result in the end of life on earth as they know it.