The first truck to come into Joy’s vision was older, she could see that by the design. The damn thing looked like it was made by Ford in the 1950’s, with the rounded front hood design and fenders that looked so much like an old pickup truck. Reaching for the walkie talkie next to her, she keyed her microphone. “Longwei?”
“Yes?” Longwei replied, his voice crackling with a touch of static. While the radios Billy had brought them worked over a very long range, they weren’t the best for recreating sound, and Joy was glad it was Longwei replying. Long Xue Yu style Chinese was hard enough to understand without throwing bad radio reception into it as well.
“I’ve got eyes on the first Army truck approaching the village. From the descriptions Billy gave me of PLA vehicles, I’d say it’s a CA-30.”
Joy heard a muffled curse from Longwei’s end, echoing her thoughts perfectly. The CA-30 was one of the oldest trucks still in the Chinese Army’s inventory, the last being manufactured before Joy was even born. While she knew they were being helped by a reserve unit that couldn’t exactly pull from the top of the line inventory, the idea of risking their lives to trucks older than she was, with a top speed of only sixty miles an hour was not pleasant.
Joy watched as more trucks rolled into view, and was relieved as most of them appeared newer than the first CA-30. It was a motley collection, including a few trucks that looked like they were newer versions of the CA-30, which she remembered were called the CA-1091, some smaller trucks she couldn’t identify, but most impressively were three SX-2190 flat bed tractor trailers. She wasn’t sure how they were going to get those trucks turned around, but that was the troops problem.
The final thing that helped assure her feelings were the four armed escorts, in what looked like a large pickup of some sort, each with a machine gun on top. If the Triads were going to attack, they’d have their hands full. Joy reported the results of her observations to Longwei, then shut off her radio. There were other observation points in the hills above the village, they could keep a lookout for Triad activity in the area.
As she made her way down the forested slope towards the village, the cut on her cheek, sustained during the night attack with the Triads who had ambushed the village’s advance convoy, itched and burned as sweat seeped into the light gauze covering the stitches. Tears formed in her eyes, but Joy wasn’t sure if it was from the pain in her cheek or the memories that kept flooding her mind since the attack. The sight of the man, a stranger who had volunteered to join the village in exchange for having a place to live and worship in peace, holding his dying daughter in his arms while his dead wife lay in the cab of a shot up truck kept playing through her head, and she had to stop and slap herself before the memories made her vomit what little bit of food she had managed to keep down that morning.
Thankfully, the walk down the hills was much shorter and more direct than the road approach to the village, which added another five kilometers of turns to the route. She made it to the place where the hills met the road, where she and Longwei had ambushed the first Triad attack on the village, an easy two minutes before the trucks rounded the last curve and approached. Longwei was there, waiting for them. Joy stood next to her fiance (the idea still caused a smile to come to her face, despite all the tragedy since), waiting for the trucks to stop.
The ancient CA-30 stopped a good ten meters from Longwei, and a man in his mid-fifties hopped out of the passenger seat. Trim, wearing immaculate fatigues that screamed officer, Joy was pretty sure this was the General that Billy had told them about.
“Longwei?” the General said cautiously, his hands clear of his sides. Not that it mattered, in Joy’s opinion. Even if the troops in the trucks were unarmed, the four security vehicles were easily enough to tear the village apart, and Joy doubted even Longwei could stop the heavy duty trucks fast enough. “I’m Pai Shen Chek.”
“General Pai,” Longwei said, offering his hand to shake. “Yes, I’m Longwei, and this is my fiance, Joy Roberts.”
The General looked from Joy to Longwei and back, before breaking into a smile. “Congratulations. I’ve read your work, Miss Roberts. Some very good work, although you hardly scratched the surface of how deep the corruption goes.”
“I know,” Joy replied, thinking back to the journalist she had been what seemed like a lifetime ago. “I’m surprised it was widely read in China.”
“It’s not, but Pastor Billy gave me some copies of your stories,” he said. “It was good practice for my English. By the way, you are understanding my Mandarin, yes?”
“Yes,” Joy replied, trying to emulate his accent. “But forgive my accent. Between being an American, and spending the past few months living in Long Xue Yu, I’m not sure my Mandarin accent is anywhere near correct any longer.”
The General waved it off with a smile. “Not a problem. My troops come from many districts of China, and we’ve become used to having to keep our ears flexible. Besides, we are here to transport, not worry about the niceties of spoken Chinese. If we need, my men can write things out.”
The plan progressed quickly, and Joy was actually impressed by General Pai’s troops. She had seen PLA troops in Shanghai when she worked as a journalist, and they almost invariably struck her as arrogant, bordering on bullying. Pai’s troops were all reservists however, with day jobs and regular families to go back to. They knew the situation was grim, and they worked quickly and professionally.
Not that there weren’t hiccups and misunderstandings. The villagers had done a lot to trim down their household needs, but there were still so many different things to pack, and not enough trucks to do it in. With just under two hundred households to load onto the ninety five trucks, which also had to transport the roughly eight hundred remaining villagers to the new Long Xue Yu, things had to be pared down even more.
With another two hundred hands helping, work progressed quickly though, and Joy was sure they’d be ready to roll out by the next morning. The scouts in the hills were replaced with fresh men, one Army and one villager each, both of them now armed with rifles and a full clip of ammunition. “Technically, we have this ammunition in order to qualify with our rifles for the year,” General Pai explained, “and a few other things. Most of these rifles were listed as destroyed or lost due to training accidents over the past few years, and nobody will miss them if we return with fewer than we left with.”
Joy nodded, feeling strange thrust into the role she found herself in. With Longwei handling the direct day to day leadership of the village, often interjecting himself whenever there was a misunderstanding between the transportation troops and the villagers, Joy was thrust into the role as village defense chief. Except for one old man with no teeth who had fought the Japanese back in World War II, none of the villagers had ever experienced military action other than the ambush of the Triads a few months ago. Of all the people in the village, Joy was the one with the most fighting experience after Longwei.
“We can appreciate the weapons General, but we both know a dozen or so AK’s and ammunition is not going to stop a direct large scale Triad attack.”
“Perhaps not, but it will help. And I’m not just giving you simple Kalashnikov’s either. By the way, my men do not know them as AK’s. They’re actually Type 81’s, made wholly in China itself. Although I understand, it does look a lot like the AK-74.”
“Forgive me, while I seem to be in this job, I’m no military expert.”
“Neither were many revolutionaries,” Pai replied. “Although I do hope you don’t try to take on the central government itself. Triads, yes. The PLA? No.”
“I would prefer not to have to fight anyone,” Joy said earnestly, earning a nod from the General.
“The words of the true warrior. Come, let me show you what else you will have with you, and teach you so you can teach others.”
In addition to the normal versions, there were two light machine gun versions of the Type 81 for the village to use, which were adapted to fire seventy five round drums of ammunition. The one that took Joy’s breath away though was the long, lethal lines of what could only be a sniper rifle. “This is a AMR-2 rifle, and before you ask, yes it was difficult to obtain. It fires a 12.7 millimeter round, or what you would call a fifty caliber round. Effective to over a kilometer, it can take out vehicles with little problem. The main problem, as with all sniper rifles, is not so much the rifle but the shooter. Unless you have someone with remarkable skill with a rifle already, I would not have them waste rounds by shooting over six hundred meters.”
“Thank you. How many rounds will we get with this?”
“Only two hundred, which doesn’t seem like much, but in the hands of a good sniper….”
Joy nodded at the implication. A good sniper with proper firing lines could hold an entire battalion of troops at bay with little problem. “So, I guess you don’t have a sniper you can lend us as well?”
General Pai laughed. “Hardly. I’m a reserve transport battalion. Most of my men can barely hit the broadside of a house at a hundred meters. I’ll be happiest if we never have to use our weapons during this transport.”
Using headlights and working through the darkness, by one in the morning the entire village was packed, ready to transport the next morning. Running her hands over a stack of chicken cages in the back of one of the the long, open air trailers, she was surprised at how quickly things moved. Looking along the road, she could see the drivers napping on the road in sleeping bags next to their vehicles, while the troops not on security and the villagers were gathered in the nearest buildings, catching what sleep they could before moving out the next morning.
Joy felt exhausted, but found herself unable to sleep. There were so many things running through her mind, she couldn’t calm down enough to rest. Heading back to the temple, she found Longwei sitting up with the General, both deep in conversation. “Everything looks good,” Joy said, sitting down. “Thank you for all your help, General.”
“You should get some sleep too,” Pai replied. “We’re going to need you at your best tomorrow.”
“And what about you two?”
Longwei shook his head. “I can go a day without sleeping, if I need to. Dragon blood, remember?”
Joy rolled her eyes, looking over at the General. “And you? You’re a regular human being like me.”
General Pai shrugged. “Military habit. I’ll get some sleep in the trucks after we get moving.”
“I see. I guess I’ll be doing the same then,” Joy said, reaching for the thermos of tea on the ground. Taking a deep drink, she grimaced at the bitter, cool beverage, wishing for the first time in weeks she had some honest coffee. “I’m going to miss this place. How long has this temple stood here?”
“About four hundred years,” Longwei replied, “but buildings can be replaced, stones can be relaid. The people cannot.”
“True. And there is much to do if we are to get these people to their new homes.”
The convoy got underway slowly, as Joy expected it would. The trucks stretched back over three kilometers, and it took time to get everything moving. Joy was seated in the passenger seat of one of the security trucks, one of three pretty standard looking pickups that worked in conjunction with the larger machine gun mounted trucks to provide convoy security. One of the AK’s (type 81’s, Joy reminded herself) was in a quick release clamp next to her, while her driver had a pistol strapped to his leg. Longwei was in one of the other trucks, while General Pai commanded the whole convoy from his truck, the ancient CA-30 that, while old, was in excellent mechanical condition.
For the first hour or so, things went well. The lead vehicles reached the turn off onto the first paved road, and made the turn north towards the next major road. Joy’s truck was about two thirds of the way down the convoy, able to cover the middle and the rear of the group quickly. Joy’s eyes felt blurry, and she knew she was going to doze off, but wasn’t too concerned. The driver had gotten a full night’s sleep, and was fresh this morning.
Joy felt her eyes slip closed, when the radio on the front console squawked. They had abandoned the walkie talkies for more conventional military radios, saving the batteries for later. One of the other trucks had seen something.
Joy’s eyes popped open, and her hand flew to her rifle. She tapped her driver on the shoulder, who nodded his understanding. “This is Security 3. Can you give us a location on the contact?” Joy asked, trying her best in Mandarin.
“Two kilometers ahead of your position, up on a ridgeline,” the radio called back, “I think it’s a vehicle of some sort.”
Joy’s driver pushed the accelerator down, and the truck moved smoothly over into the passing lane, rocketing ahead. Joy reached next to her, where there was a pair of binoculars, pulling them to her eyes. The bouncing of the truck over the asphalt made getting a sight picture difficult, but she could see something up ahead on a ridge, maybe in white or perhaps silver.
When they were closer to the ridge, Joy signaled for her driver to stop. Pulling over to the side of the road, Joy raised the binoculars to her eyes, fiddling with the focus knob for a moment before the image jumped into clarity. The report had been right, up on the ridge was a pretty badly concealed dirt bike, one meant for climbing the rocks and trails leading around the roadway, and not for the main roads themselves. Looking closely, she could just see the flap of some sort of netting, maybe a camouflage blind for an observer, definitely not more than two or three people. “Best guess is an observation point,” Joy radioed to General Pai and Longwei, “I can see a dirt bike and what looks like an attempt at camo. Would you like me to investigate further?”
“No,” General Pai immediately replied. “If they’ve seen us, they’ve seen us. No way to change that now. Fall back in with the rest of the convoy, assume position.”
“Understood. Security 3 rejoining convoy.”
For the next eight hours, the pattern repeated itself. Every twenty kilometers or so, another observation point was sighted, always poorly concealed, always just one bike. It was nerve wracking. When the convoy stopped for lunch and to refuel using the gas cans each vehicle had attached to it, Joy sought out Longwei and General Pai, who were looking at a map of their route. They were still about an hour from the first big turn, onto one of the national highways that headed west.
“You know they are going to have an observation point at this turn,” General Pai said vehemently. “If they see the way we turn, they can track us all the way to west of Chengdu with little problems.”
Longwei shook his head. “It doesn’t matter. Attacking them while en route increases the danger for the convoy. We can lose them in the mountains west of Chengdu.”
Pai shook his head. “That’s still at least five days away,” he said. “What if they decide to set up an ambush in the area after Xiangyang? That’s a large area with lots of open area, and not a lot of people in spots. It’s a good place for an ambush, if I was the Triad.”
“That’s still days away,” Longwei said, “and if we change our pace, we can maybe surprise them.”
“What do you mean?” Joy asked, joining the conversation. She rubbed at her eyes, the stress of the past few hours not allowing her to get any sleep. “Do you guys have any coffee?”
“No, but I do have some pills the Army gives out,” Pai replied. “Although they are a mild amphetamine, so you should be careful with them.”
Joy shook her head, waving them off. “Sorry, but no drugs. Especially not speed.”
Pai shrugged, and turned back to Longwei. “Although it brings us to a good question. What do you mean?”
Longwei looked back at the trucks, doing quick mental calculations. “How many men do you have with you?”
“Two hundred and twenty one,” Pai replied. “Why?”
“Because the way we originally had it, my villagers were only being passengers. That meant that your troops have to serve as both drivers and security. Instead, let’s take villagers, and put them in the security and observation roles. Have your troops rotate through the back of the trucks, sleeping and resting there. If we go to five hours driving, one hour rest for everyone, and change shifts, that gives us the ability to go twenty four hours a day, twenty of them on the road. It’s difficult, but it takes at least a day off of our travel time.”
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