“Yes, Comrade Corporal Jiang! As you command, Comrade Corporal Jiang,” Pan responded.
An hour went by. Star after star settled gradually into the western horizon.
“Comrade Corporal Jiang,” Pan said, “I think I saw a light.”
“Where?” Jiang asked.
“Out there,” Pan answered.
Jiang peered in the direction Pan was pointing. Nothing was apparent. “Do you see the light now, Comrade Private?”
“No, Comrade Corporal,” Pan answered. “It was just there for a moment, to the left of the big hill.”
“What color was it? How bright was it? Brighter than a star?”
“Blue, Comrade Corporal. It was blue. Like a bright star. But down on the ground,” Pan mumbled. “Look. There it is again. But brighter.”
“Yes,” Jiang said. The light blinked out. Jiang took an approximate bearing, picked up the telephone, and waited for Headquarters to answer.
“Base Headquarters, Comrade Corporal Yao here.”
“Post Eight, Jiang here. There is an intermittent light, bearing two eight zero, below the horizon. We have seen it twice. Oh, there it is again. It went out before I got an accurate bearing. Light is blue, brighter than most stars.” Jiang took a careful bearing. “Make that bearing two eight two, between me and the hill in that direction. And remaining on.”
“Headquarters acknowledges,” Yao said. He repeated the information he had just been given.
Jiang took out his binoculars. The light was bright enough to mask its surroundings with glare. He could see where it illuminated nearby rocks and sent shadows across the ground.
“Headquarters,” Jiang said, “the light is too bright to see a source behind it. It is clearly moving toward the base. Bearing is now two eight four.”
Inside headquarters, Jiang had the full attention of the staff.
“Junior Company Leader Ma, I relieve you,” Miao said. “Compose a short message. Report this light to District headquarters. Corporal Tan. Phone Ready platoon. Two EQ2050s, a half dozen men, full combat load of ammunition. Take track West Nine and observe.”
“Two Dongfengs, six men, full combat load, track West Nine,” Tan repeated.
“Corporal Yao, phone Posts seven and nine, see if they can spot this light. If so, find bearings,” Miao ordered.
At Post Eight, three soldiers watched as the light crept across the rugged terrain outside the base.
“It is not coming straight at us,” Private Pan observed. Jiang wondered if Pan would ever say anything that was not obvious.
“Completed another perimeter sweep,” Private Dai said. “Nothing in starlight. Light saturates the starlight scope.” He hesitated. “Oh, wait. I am a fool, not checking the light in the infrared.” He waited for his scope software to reboot. “Yes, I see clearly. Three objects like eggs. They appear to be floating above the ground. That light – it vanishes in the infrared.”