“Laser,” Jiang said. He picked up the phone and rattled off the description.
“They are dropping into a wash,” Dai said. “Now they are gone.” He reset his goggles again. “But in the starlight scope I see glows off the rock.” He reported another bearing. “They are following track West Nine. If they stay, they will pass quite close to here, but behind rise 157.”
Jiang thanked his lucky stars that Dai was here. The fellow had memorized the entire map around the base. “The ready platoon will meet them soon enough,” Jiang said. “Back to perimeter sweep. I will report to Headquarters.”
“Comrade Corporal Jiang,” Pan asked.
“Yes, Comrade Private?” Jiang wondered what obvious point was about to be made.
“Do you hear a strange noise? A high-pitched rustle? Toward the lights.” Pan pointed.
Jiang slipped off his earmuffs and listened intently. Was it there? Yes, there was. Amazing. Pan had done something useful. “Excellent, Pan.” Jiang picked up the telephone again.
Two Dongfeng EQ2050s rolled along track West Nine. Squad Leader Qian wondered what he had done to deserve being out at this hour. Radio contact with base remained good, with occasional bursts of static. That was odd, he thought. The radio used rapid frequency shifting to hinder jamming.
“Please confirm objects are above ground,” he said in his throat mike.
“Headquarters confir…, that is the re..rt.” Headquarters answered.
In the distance, the blue lights were visible. It was hard to hear over the tires on the ill-leveled track. but he thought he heard a strange noise, high pitched, sounding like nothing he recognized.
“Patrol!” Qian said. “Pull up at those rocks fifty meters ahead.. All lights out. Duan. Guo. Man the QJC88s. Be ready to sweep the road. When I give the order, trigger the flare launcher. Let’s see what is coming. Wu, Yan, Chen, spread well out to the sides, looking between rocks. Yan, have your PF98 ready.” Qian plugged his long-extension optical fiber into its UBS port, then tapped his shoulder minicam. A dim image appeared on the dashboard.
“Headquarters confirms your camera is good, asks your plan,” Wu reported.
“I am letting them come to me, which they are about to do,” Qian said into his throat mike. “They should be visible in my camera.”
“Headquarters confirms,” Wu reported. “Cameras on the QJC88s are also good.”
Qian got out of his EQ2050 and strode to the center of the road. The lights were now quite close, not more than 100 meters. “Guo. Two flares,” he ordered, “100 and 200 meters.” He heard the soft whump! of two compressed air launches, counted to ten, and was greeted with bright magnesium light.
What are those things? Qian wondered. They actually are in midair. Balloons. No matter, this is the territory of China, I represent the Party and the Army, so they will stop when ordered. He held up his left hand in the universal halt gesture. If his right hand had strayed to his pistol, that was only common sense.