Lena Boychuk guides the truck down an empty road on the open steppe. It’s morning, a clear spring day. A German shepherd sits on the passenger side and the air in the cab is humid from the dog’s panting. A sizzling hum comes from a radio beneath the truck dashboard and Lena leans over to adjust the squelch. The decrepit lorry — Lena would say vintage — is overloaded. The springs squall like they are about to blow apart. She picks her way over the frost-heaved pavement, jerking the wheel to avoid craters and rubble. Five heavy drums lashed down in the truck bed sway in unison.
“Signal okay?” she says in Ukrainian.
A crisp female voice comes from the speaker on the dash, “Loud and clear, Commander.”
All around, farmland rolls to the horizon. The fields, as if embossed, are combed in perfect rows. The low-angled sun lights the first downy wheat shoots, pale green against the black soil. On Lena’s left is an oxbow. The water is still except for faint surface frissons that coincide with distant rumbling.
The ridiculous bulk of a T-90 tank, dappled in matte shades as if it could hide, is slumped on the road ahead like a sleeping bear. A delicate morning mist frosts the armour plate. A soldier sits with feet dangling astride the cannon barrel. He studies the truck as it approaches. Eyes glitter keen and dark.
The shepherd tenses, a growl deep in its throat. Lena pulls to a halt beside the tank, the truck’s noisy brakes announce her arrival and the tires cut sharp ruts in the wet beside the road.
“Chto sluchilos’? What are you doing here?” Lena says.
“We’re out of fuel…”
“Unfortunate,” she remarks to the dog, then looks back to the soldier. “Where are you from?”
“East,” he says and taps the colourful crest on his shoulder.
“In that case, neighbour, may I give you a ride home?”
The soldier laughs quietly without smiling. “Not to change the subject, but I see your dog has three legs…”
“All dogs have three legs, neighbour sir.”
His laugh is a sniff. “True, Babusya. But seriously, you can give us a hand with our fuel problem, yes?” His eyes narrow and he tugs his leather gloves on more tightly.
“It’s possible. What do you need?”
“TS-1 kerosene. But we can also run regular diesel.” He eyes her and speaks quietly into the microphone bail that curves from his helmet to his mouth.
A hatch on the tank clanks open and a slack faced young man pokes his head out. A warm puff of air escapes the hatch. Licorice vape, gasoline, laundry detergent: an incongruent mix of indulgence blended with the distinctive reek of napalm.
The smell of victory, Lena muses.
She clears her throat. “Well, neighbour friends. I have a sweet deal for you!” She hooks a thumb at the drums strapped together in the truck bed. “All the diesel you want, if you have the grivna.” The dog whines. “But it’s gotta be cash money — no scrip.”
“Your dog sounds worried.”
“That may be, sir. But this is not my dog.”
“You are a comical one, Babusya.” He waves the back of his hand at the young soldier who salutes and clambers out.
“We can make a deal, I’m sure,” the tank commander says, sliding down from his perch.
As she drives away, Lena sees a plume of black tank exhaust in her mirror. She gentles the shepherd’s head and speaks out loudly, “You were right about the fuel, Justina!”
The radio crackles with static and the woman’s voice responds in thick Ukrainian, something about, “Women and dogs set men together by their ears…”
Lena laughs. “How true!”
Freed of its load, the truck climbs the rise as if eager and Lena watches the tank behind them. It lurches forward and then stutters, hisses, and shakes before issuing an enormous backfire. The explosion flattens the grass near the tailpipe with a “whoosh!” and sends ripples across the water of the oxbow. Smoke pouring from the hatches, the tank stops moving and Lena sees the turret start to rotate towards them before she crests the hill.
She shifts gears smoothly and revs the engine. Clattering, the cargo of hollow drums bounce in the box behind her as the truck speeds away. The dog leans against the door to brace itself, while it licks spilled sugar from the seat and sniffs at the stack of empty paper sacks beneath an old wool blanket on the cab floor.
“New war, old technology…” Lena murmurs, then raises her voice for the radio microphone, “Justina! I’ll come back to base for more fuel… there’s another T-90 stranded nearby, at Fischau village in the old Molotschna region, yes?”
“Yes. Another customer for you. See you soon, Commander.”
“New War – Old Technology” is published on TOEWS.IR by special permission of the author, Mitchell Toews, who holds the copyright.