The Devil’s Angle

Artyom Matevosyan

Guest Contributor:

I always thought that serious troubles will never happen to me. For some unknown reason my subconsciousness could not picture something bad happening to me or the ones I love. Every day I watched terrifying car accidents, fires, robberies on the internet and obscurely thought that I am insured from them. But life sometimes used to set me on the verge of trouble, leaving just a step from falling apart, especially when I was in the Army. Three years ago, on November, I finally got to understand that trouble may actually happen to me.

The army used to set my life in danger quite frequently, though I wasn’t noticing it. There were quite a lot of incidents where I had bullets flying towards my side, poisonous snakes, spiders and scorpions hovering around me while I was asleep, mortars and tanks shelling half a mile away from me and me standing there without means of protection. The incidents joined my library of horror stories that I will be telling for the rest of my life. Yet, the worst part is, before that day, I never realized how serious that situations could get.

It was only in the last couple of months of my service that I started thinking about this, because I was on the very edge of an incident that would not only take my freedom, but also lives of tens of other soldiers. I was a member of the fire director center in a mortar battery. We were in an abandoned area, somewhere near the Azerbaijani border, with a casual military exercise routine. Typically, every such exercise has several supervisors, who examine the process and give grades according to set measures. This one had too, but we didn’t care that much, since we were trained and confident.

It was a mellow November day, for some reason we weren’t dying from cold on the slopes of the mountains. Moreover, the sun was literally blinding our eyes, so the only thing we could do was to recall a funny event and start giggling. It was our only way of getting out of any unpleasant situation back then. But as a rule, commanders would interrupt those conversations, apparently for something more important. That day, we recalled a story from the previous exercises. One of our tank gunners fell asleep 30 minutes before the exercises would start and when the commander shouted, “Forward” he woke up and subconsciously pressed the fire button. As the tank gun was on its initial position, it wasn’t targeted towards the battlefield so the shell took an arbitrary direction and fell in front of an entrenchment, where the rest of our soldiers were. Fortunately, it caused only some small scratches and didn’t injure anybody seriously. The guy instantly became an antihero and everybody started mocking him for his inattentiveness. So did we. While we are busy laughing, the officers commanded us to get in our positions and be ready for fire.

Here we are, on our positions, ready to kill the imaginary enemy. On my mind I see the images of our successful exercises, where we, yet again literally blew the target up, got our rewards and are ready to go home. We get the numbers, calculate the angle, and the result is azimuth 6.66 (approximately 40 degree). In Armenia, superstition says 6 is the number of devil, so something bad is going to happen. I don’t believe in this, but the officer next to me does, so he is terrified. But for a moment I got scared too. With my approximate calculations, the number shouldn’t have been higher than 6.0 and to get a sense of the seriousness of the issue, a miscalculation of azimuth 0.6 in a kilometer distance is equal to a total deviation of the shell for 1.5 kilometers. So the shell would have simply fallen 1.5 kilometers away from the calculated target and we would get a zero.

The head of the fire director center begs the supervising colonel not to fire the mortar and pick another target. The supervisor commands to stop being superstitious and continue the mission. My fears grow stronger, since I know we are going to have problems, but only for the poor grades. The command goes, “FIRE,” and the firer pulls the thread to launch the shell. All of us sit down on the entrenchment, close our ears and anticipate an explosion. But nothing happens.

We rise up and see that the firer tore the worn-out thread and the missile couldn’t get launched. While the supervisor and the soldiers try to attach the wire, something in me tells that I need to recalculate the angle: maybe this is the case when life put me on the verge of a trouble (though the officer next to me would be punished much worse, since the big part of the calculations are for him to do). I do the calculations again, this time for the officer too, and the number turns out to be 5.66. We try to hide the new result from the supervisor in order not to fail the mission and continue with the new number. We pass the exercise with a good grade, cheer up and finally have some rest. Then I see the officer responsible for the calculations frozen next to the desk of calculations, with a map vibrating in his hands.

I approach him and merely from what I managed to read on his map drawings, the shell with the azimuth 6.66 would have fallen directly to the area where our battalion of tanks was. It could potentially kill or severely injure dozens of my friends. Perhaps it would send the officer to jail, me to a disciplinary battalion, which would prolong my service for another 3 or 4 months. But what made me freeze for a second and secretly cry was that it could kill my friends. Technically, not because of my error, but still, just the plain picture of having someone killed because of an error that you were arrogantly laughing at half an hour ago, was terrifying.

From that point on, I started to recreate the scenarios of the library of my horror stories and actually realized that they could take a totally other direction. It would affect my destiny and the destiny of the ones I love. This is by no means about appreciating life or the luck or the superstition that made me reconsider the calculations, but rather about how life could take a turnover in an instant and I would be nowhere near where I am now. There were hundreds of cases like this, but in this specific one, my friends who were in the azimuth 6.66 geolocation would have other destinies too.

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