How We Survived – Defenders of the Fatherland (Nano2016, chapter 11)

A colossal crack deafened several men, and outright killed two others. Grenades were flying and bullets zipped past ears close enough to sound like lead wasps. There was an immense firefight, as bodies charged hard held lines, and fell flat on their faces. Taking any kind of fortification was practically pointless, but generals gave orders, and those orders made it to the ground, and boys and men were pushed to try and follow them. An order never looked the same on the ground as it did on the small white table covered in miniature representations of war. The commanders loved playing with their toy soldiers. And then men marched to their death.

The battle and siege had already been going on for months. Yet all the while, the hammers kept falling, and the guns kept being produced. Sometimes they were made from scrap metal, panels from old cars, even cut up broken guns. Anything to keep sending bullets forwards to keep the city theirs. Karas worked in secret all those months, to produce a very special commission. The order had come in under an anonymous name just days before the armies arrived beyond the outskirts of town. The artillery shells had already started falling by the time he had started machining.

Even months afterwards, Karas was still working on it in his tiny shop. He wasn’t a famous gunsmith, or even a particularly good gunsmith, but he’d felt compelled by the note that he’d received along with the sack of pure gold nuggets. He couldn’t even fathom the hands that would hold this gun, let alone the hands that tore these huge clumps of gold from the ground. He couldn’t hide the sack for it was too heavy. He’d had to move the nuggets three or four at a time to a pit beneath his house for safekeeping. But 4 months later, it was no longer about that gold. It was about the note.

In every moment he could, he worked on this gun. He timed his machines to hit their hardest when the shelling was its loudest, he worked to the rhythm of soldiers driving and marching past his shop, he ate and drank only during the silences of late evening and early morning. The note told him that he was building Zashchitnik otechestva – the defender of the fatherland. Karas had never been a patriotic man, but he saw some divine provenance in this message, for it had arrived hours before foreign invaders had. This was the gun fit for a man that would save the city. He hoped it could be the gun of a man that could save the nation.

Zashchitnik became his obsession. As it came together, with very minimal details other than size, it became clear he was building a gun for a colossus. As the receiver grew outwards, he could barely hold it in his hands. Finding adequate stock in his stores for a barrel had been impossible, but he refused to compromise. This was the gun of the protector, and he would not keep it from him. Karas had stolen gunmetal during the height of a war, from a government stockyard. The crime would likely be punishable as an act of treason, but he didn’t care. To deny the nation its protector would play on his mind for eternity. It took him weeks to craft the barrel, and weeks more to rifle it, sometimes building custom tools just to fashion custom tooling to work on such an immense project. The average man would usually never carry a gun more than about a meter long. From butt to sight this rifle was over 3 meters.

He’d heard the legends of the giants scattered across Siberia, but had dismissed them as fairy stories, even as a child. He couldn’t imagine something so large, that looked like a monstrous version of himself, walking through the familiar streets of the city. Such a figure would stick out, and be very noticeable. The legends always spoke of far off tundra to the north and east, where they lived in huge castles, defending the country from the dragons of winter, and catching great sea monsters with harpoons before they tried to swim up rivers into the country. With each mark he made in the metal, he believed all the more. A great protector would carry this weapon, he would save the city, he would save the people, and he would save the soviet union.

He was putting the final touches on the weapon as the fighting raged on, sometimes mere doors down from his own. Something kept them away from his padlocked doors, and boarded windows. Karas wasn’t sure if he was incredibly lucky, or if the commissioner of the gun stood guard, slaughtering men outside his door. After a certain point, he stopped leaving his shop, and later he stopped looking out the windows. He still somehow had water, but his food supplies had run low so he had stopped eating some days ago. It may have been weeks, he rarely kept track of anything. The gun had to be perfect, and it had to be a symbol. He adorned it with its name, in fine script, carved with hands shaking occasionally from hunger. He fashioned badges and pins bearing the great symbols of the fatherland and attached them to the gun, and to the magazines, and to the leather case to carry them, and to the trunk the gun would be stored in. He would awake and begin work, and would fall asleep only when exhausted. His skin had paled from lack of sun, and his fingers were hard from constant work. His bones ached, and his head throbbed most days, but not a single thing would deter him.

And one day it was complete. He had managed to create ammunition for it, and cartridges. He’d made a fine sling, he’d decorated the rifle, he’d used the finest wood to make the stock, he’d put sights of dazzling clarity on it. The defender of the fatherland was complete, and it was perfect. He cleared his tools away, and arranged everything in the chest he had built to house this weapon. He placed it upon his bench and retired to bed willingly for the first time in what felt like eternity. He awoke to the smell of cooking.

Karas was fairly sure he had awoken. The artillery and far away shots continued, as they had every day. The chest sat open, with the rifle laying on top. And next to it, kneeling so as not to press his frame through the roof, was a giant. Meat sizzled from the other side of the doorway.

“Do not alarm, Karas. I am your benefactor” the giant said, “I commissioned this weapon from you, and have brought the other half of your payment. You look very underfed, so I have brought you food. I did not wish to wake you.”

“You’re the protector. The great champion of the soviet union” Karas rasped and stammered.

“I am simply Michael. I have seen this war come and destroy many. I have seen it harm you, and others like you for too long. We could no longer maintain our silence. We had to help you” Michael responded.

He reached through the doorway, and retrieved the hot meat, still cracking in the pan. He placed it on a small table next to Karas’ bed, which was now in the workshop.

“You’re a fairy story…” Karas said, his eyes ever widening.

“I can assure you, I am real.”

He shouldered the weapon. It’s balance was remarkable. Even though Karas had never seen him, the gun seemed to fit perfectly against his shoulder, and his cheek. Karas had clearly lost some of his mind, having been isolated from the world so long, but none of that manifested in his hands as he worked. He had provided Michael with absolutely everything he’d wanted and more. The trunk even held spare parts, and a detailed maintenance manual. No giant had ever owned a finer firearm. He loaded several magazines and placed them in his pockets, as Karas started at him, not touching his food.

“Eat, Karas. For you, the war is over. You need not worry another day. You will have the protection of the giants as we retake the city, and thereafter you shall never be bothered” Michael said softly.

He pushed the case to the still chained double doors, and loaded the rifle. With a simple push, he snapped the chain, and removed a chunk of the door. The chill of an autumn night rushed in, and fresh air filled Karas with new life. Michael stood to his full height in the dark of night, and pulled the case into the street. Karas followed him, lamely, and saw giants begin to emerge from the shadows, and nearby buildings. They had hidden here, for who knows how long, all in the name of protecting one frail old man. 30 giants lined up behind Michael, all brandishing large rifles, shotguns, revolvers, clubs, swords, and all manner of other weapons. They didn’t need a uniform to signal that they were an army. Karas lifted something from the pocket of his thin coat and held it aloft to Michael. The badge bore a large brass sunburst, and within there was a crossed hammer and sickle. On the nameplate beneath, it read Zashchitnik otechestva. Michael bowed in respect to him, as did the others. He attached the badge to his chest, and walked forwards, into the war torn city.

The siege was ended three days later.

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