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Maxwell Hugo knows he went wrong somewhere. He made a decent start as a helicopter pilot, dressed in snazzy blue, but thirty years later he finds himself jobless on a military base in Afghanistan, his pants splashed with mud. After a car journey through the contested countryside, he’s offered a position leading ex-Soviet pilots, who he later learns are alcoholics to a man. It’s a career decision that begs regret because nothing perpetuates a wobbly professional arc like running an aviation operation made soggy by vodka.
Hugo and his intoxicated crews are tasked to take supplies to forward NATO bases, which have been plopped amid Taliban gangs, opium growers, and locals easily upset by noisy air machines. Any of these would kill him, given opportunity and the right mood. Hugo soon suspects that his ex-Soviets are similarly inclined, and not just because they’re drunk. NATO officials play with his life also; they’re a bit more nuanced in their technique, but death is death. Hugo trods forward, wondering what will come first: the lethal embrace, the West’s final victory over the unconquerable, or another downward jog in his arc.