An interesting choice of order for your commands, Comrade Junior Company Leader,” Miao said. “Why?”
“Sir, alert means possible attack. This way I learn as soon as possible if we have visitors and need to sound the Combat Alert.”
“Very well said,” Miao remarked. “Also bring up the air defense radar.”
“Yes, Sir!” Ma said. “Comrade Staff Sergeant! Activate the air and artillery defense radars!”
“Already on it,” Staff Sergeant Sheng answered.
“Comrade Chief Sergeant Tang? Is the alert checklist ready?” Ma asked.
“Yes, Comrade Chief of Quarters!” Tang answered.
“We work down the list! The rest of you interrupt at once if anything is found!” Ma ordered. He glanced at his Battalion Leader, who nodded approvingly, then pointed at Tang.
Tang began reading from the list. “Perimeter motion radar.”
“Up in under one minute,” Sheng said.
“Air Defense Radar…” Tang continued down the check list.
Well out from the perimeter, watch posts responded to telephone calls.
“Post eight. Corporal Jiang here.” Jiang told himself they had rolled his dice to determine the time he was on duty, so he could not complain that he had the graveyard watch. It was still bitterly cold. The Tibetan air was dry and thin. Distant hills were pitch-black under a starry sky.
“Corporal Yao, Headquarters. We are on Alert Status One! Is all well?” Yao snapped.
“Post Eight. All is quiet. I will wake the rest of the detachment,” Jiang answered. Three men, he thought, but normally only two awake at a time.
“Carry on,” Yao said.
“What is this?” Private Dai Longwei asked.
“We are on alert! Look sharp!” Jiang answered. “Pan! Wake up! Get off your lazy ass!”
“What?” The still-groggy Private Pan managed to stand. “Cold tonight. Why?”
“Do you think, Private, that the fact we are in Tibet, four thousand meters above sea level, it is night, and the sky is brilliantly clear, might have something to do with it being cold?” Jiang was always astonished by how simpleminded Pan could be. This was at least the fourth time Pan had been reduced in rank from Private, First Class, always for obeying orders in a disastrous way. He was reminded of a novel he had read as a student, a fine way to learn a foreign language for when China conquered the western imperialists. Why the fascist monarchists had not simply shot Schweik had never been quite clear to him. “No matter! We are on alert, so wake up and take your section of the perimeter.”