“Commander Mikhailov!” It was a runner from Krupin’s force, which had been pressing hard against the remnants of the Japanese 23rd Division.

Oleg Tarasovich Mikhailov swatted him away; he was on the radio with Popov in the divisional headquarters, trying to coordinate ongoing strikes by his tanks with incoming orders from Corps Commander Zhukov. “Yes, yes. Understood. We will press the attack as ordered; I am expecting casualties, but nothing unacceptable. The Japanese surely cannot hold out for much longer.” He placed the mouthpiece down. “What is it?” he snapped at the runner.”

“Sir, I-” the runner ducked at the sound of a wheeling aircraft overhead. Mikhailov remained standing, and watched a group of Japanese fighters–Ki-27s–attempt to strafe the Soviet positions behind the hillock that shielded part of Mikhailov’s command center. There was a distant thud of anti-aircraft pom-pom guns and the fighter broke off. A flight of I-16 “donkeys” rose up to meet the attackers not long afterwards and tore them to shreds, filling the air with contrails and tracer rounds.

“Get up, you lout,” Mikhailov said, kicking at Krupin’s errand boy. “What is so important that it merits wasting my time while we are ejecting what remains of the Japanese aggressors from Mongolia? I told Krupin to report by radio only if he was victorious or dead.”

“The radio has broken, Commander Mikhailov,” the runner said, his head lowered. “Krupin dispatched me to report the capture of a Japanese supply convoy attempting to break out of our encirclement.”

“Good for him,” Mikhailov sniffed. “Distribute whatever booty and supplies they were carrying as a reward to the men and execute any prisoners without strategic value. Was there anything else?”

“Begging your pardon, Commander,” the runner said. “There was one object in the Japanese convoy that…well…” He handed a piece of notebook paper to Mikhailov. The commander’s eyes widened.

“You there!” he shouted at one of his adjutants. “Get me a staff car and a BA-10 armored escort! I am traveling to Krupin’s position immediately! Lagounov’s in charge until I return.”

The arrangements were hastily made, and after a tooth-grindingly bumpy ride along the Mongolian steppe, Mikhailov caught up with the rearmost portion of Krupin’s unit. The area was littered with bodies and smouldering vehicles, with a few Japanese prisoners under heavy Red Army guard. Krupin himself was seated at a commandeered Kwantung Army mess table alongside a disabled Nissan truck which had been towing a bulky armored trailer with a machine gun atop it.

“Show it to me,” Mikhailov barked at Krupin, without even bothering with any pleasantries.

Krupin complied, jumping to his feet and opening a side-mounted door on the captured trailer.

Mikhailov’s eyes widened. “My God…”

Inside was the very thing that had been described in top-secret orders from Corps Commander Zhukov before the Khalkhin Gol counterattack.

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On June 16, 1984, strange lights were seen over the distant and isolated farming settlement of Saraa in the Mongolian People’s Republic, as reported by a group of Soviet troops on exercises in the nearby mountains. The central government in Ulaan Bataar reported that their sole link with the isolated community, a telex line, had been cut off.

Concerned–the hills had been a refuge for pro-Buddhist rebels during the collectivization of the country in the 1930s–the governor of Ömnögovi Province asked the Soviets to investigate and to garrison Saraa temporarily. The troops found nothing amiss, and settled down for what they thought would be a leisurely occupation–a furlough from their intense training and expected combat deployment to Afghanistan.

Within a month, nearly all of the 250 men who had been stationed there were dead.

The first deaths occurred when army rations ran out and the Soviets began eating local foods. Dozens died instantly or in the following hours due to what the regimental medic described as an “intense allergic reaction.” Puzzled, the Soviet commander rounded up locals on suspicion of poisoning his men, but no evidence could be found.

Eventually, despite generous gifts of food from the locals, the other Soviets began exhibiting signs of acute malnutrition and starvation. For some reason, only their army rations seemed to have any nutritive effect at all; Merchants from relatively nearby communities and Saraa citizens returning from trips suffered the same fate. The locals and the provincial government in Dalanzadgad could not explain why.

Eventually, the Soviet commander pulled his troops out and recommended a full quarantine to deal with a suspected bioagent. Scientists from the Vozrozhdeniya Island biological weapons unit, in full NBC containment gear, found nothing. The only effects they noted were a number of odd quirks: nearly all the residents had become left-handed, for instance.

Eventually, the quarantine was made permanent, and it survived democratization. Until a group of missionaries arrived in Saraa nearly 25 years later, no Mongolian or foreigner entered or left the village.