Wednesday, December 14, 2016

The Long War, Part XXIV - Enter Chilong


If Dacheng had been a superstitious man he would have felt some trepidation at the sight of the fog rolling in from the harbor. He was standing at the foot of Happy Valley at the base of a sweeping cemetary that rose up into the hills. Improbably situated in the middle of the urban tangle of Hong Kong the cemetery was crowded with the war dead of another era. British, Canadian and Indian troops shared their repose with Chinese soldiers, all having fallen against the Japanese in a war that still colored relations between the two nations. The top levels of the crowded mass of tombstones and memorials were now shrouded in mist, and as the sun set and the shadows lengthened around him it was easy to imagine the restless revenants of bygone ages lurking in the swirling milky darkness. But Dacheng was not a superstitious man, and as he waited patiently behind a large mausoleum, his only concern was the unusually bitter cold.


"Hands up."

Dacheng recognized the voice. "Colonel." He turned around slowly, and beheld the familiar build of his former commanding officer. His features were shrouded in shadow, but there was no mistaking the silhoutte of the weapon glinting in the half light. 



"Turn around. On your knees. Take your jacket off."

"Easy, Colonel," said Dacheng. "It's me. Paoquan."

"Take your jacket off, Paoquan," said Chilong firmly. "Slowly."

Dacheng complied. "It's me, Shaojie." He shivered at the chill. "You don't recognize me?"

Chilong's reply was not unkind as he flex bound Dacheng's wrists. "If this is really you my friend you have my deepest apologies." He quickly divested Dacheng of his weapons, both the 9mm in his jacket, and the small .38 in the ankle holster. "But I have to make sure." Chilong first peered at the back of Dacheng's neck, looking for scars or incisions. He then made his way down the back, fingers probing the spinal column, looking for tell tale bulges or swellings. Satisfied, he drew out a switchblade, a movement that caused Dacheng to start with alarm.


"Wait. What are you doing?"

"As I said, Paoquan," said Chilong regretfully. "If this is really you I am deeply, deeply sorry." With that he slashed gently across Dacheng's forearm, drawing a line of blood which caused the prone soldier to wince.

Dacheng was angry, now, not so much at the mild pain, but at the liberties being taken with his person. "Get off me, Shaojie. You're starting to make me angry."

Chilong cut the plastic flex binds with the switchblade and holstered his weapon. He held out a handkerchief apologetically, which Dacheng took with an angry swipe.

"Mind telling me what that was about?"

"Just making sure you were you, and not something else." Chilong waited for Dacheng to finish binding the cut, and then returned his jacket and weapons.

"How does cutting me open accomplish that?"

"It's just a little cut, Paoquan." A ghost of a smile illuminated Chilong's face. "Nothing to cry about."

"Give me that switchblade and we'll see how you like it."

Chilong held the weapon out and offered it to Dacheng handle first. "If that will satisfy you."

Dacheng waved him off. "I should stick that switchblade up your ass," he growled. "Make me understand why that little song and dance was necessary."

"You read the file I sent you?"

"Yes, of course."

"Then you know that the infiltrators don't bleed red."

"So you say. What about that little chiropractic examination?"

"Just making sure there wasn't anything lurking inside you."

"If I had a chryssalid embryo in my gullet I would either be paralyzed, dead or shuffling around like one of the jiangshi."

"I'm not talking about the chryssalids you fought in Africa," replied Chilong enigmatically. He abruptly changed tack. "Where's your extraction?"

"We have to go west. We're going to extract from Aberdeen Country Park, two clicks from here. Too densely populated around Happy Valley."

"Nobody around now," said Chilong drily.

"See all these condominiums around us? All of those people are going to get an eyeful of the Skyranger if it comes to land here. "




The two were interrupted by the sudden flood of light from the road, and the sound of several vehicles revving noisily into the cemetary car park. The sounds of tires crunching to a rapid halt in the grey ashpalt was soon followed by the sound of several car doors opening and slamming shut.

"So much for staying covert," said Chilong grimly. "Let's move." Without waiting he began ascending the hillside, adroitly picking his way past the maze of headstones and graves.

Dacheng followed. "How did they know we were here?"

"I don't know. Maybe..." Chilong trailed off, and pointed behind Dacheng. Dacheng followed his finger, and at first he could not make out what his old commanding officer was pointing at. Then in the dim half-light he saw what looked like a firefly buzzing around in the air behind them.

"What is that?"

"It's a drone," Chilong said. "They're all over Hong Kong." He stepped towards the drone, which reacted by darting backwards out of reach. Dacheng drew his 9mm.

Chilong grinned for the first time. "If you can hit that thing I'll pay you a $1000 dollars. It'll be like shooting a fly." Below them, obscured by the mist and the darkness the sounds of pursuit grew closer. Chilong's grin faded. "No more time. Let's go."

The two soldiers kept moving up the steep hillside, weaving their way past the crowded mass of graves and tombstones like billy goats.  All the while the drone danced and whirled maddeningly out of reach, keeping pace with them and presumably relaying their exact position to their pursuers. Dacheng spoke into his collar. "Xanziee, our original E&E plan is shot. We need extraction now. Top of Hong Kong Cemetery."

"Roger that," Xanziee's voice rang in his ear. "Skyranger inbound. ETA five minutes. You have Chilong?"

"Roger, he's with me. Be advised we have hostiles on our six."

"Hostiles? What kind of hostiles? Locals?"

"Negative. X-rays. At least, I think they are."

"Better make sure, Dacheng. Last thing we need is another incident."

"We're being trailed by some kind of miniaturized drone. Definitely alien tech. The sooner we're out of here the better."

"Roger, Dacheng. Stay alive. Don't die. ETA soon."

The two soldiers kept climbing. Their pursuers were rapidly gaining ground, and now the silhouttes of men could be vaguely seen in the mists below. The shapes were human, but their movements anything but, as they loped and vaulted over gravestones with the grace of antelopes. A dark suited man suddenly emerged from the darkness, and Dacheng gasped out a quick "NO!" as Chilong aimed his weapon at the man in black and fired. The man in black exploded in a spectacular ball of green gas, the miasma coloring the mist a sickly emerald, and Dacheng's protest died as swiftly as it had begun.

"Believe me now?" Chilong gasped. He was older and more sedentary since becoming a staff officer, and the toll of the rapid ascent was beginning to wear on him.

"Yep," said Dacheng grimly. Without hesitation, he aimed at two more silhouttes and squeezed off several rounds. With a strange and strangled yelp another thin man fell down the hill, while a second exploded in spectacular fashion as before. The fire from the two soldiers stopped the headlong rush of the thin men, and their pursuers scrambled and took cover behind the headstones. Any doubt as to their origin were dispelled as green plasma fire began to rain from below. Several dark shapes could be seen moving to both sides, darting from gravestone to gravestone in the same, unnatural but fluid movement.

"They're flanking us," warned Chilong.

"Xanziee, we need you now," Dacheng said urgently. "We are under fire from plasma weapons. Hostile X-rays are in the area, over."

"Roger, Dacheng. We're here. Hold on."

Overhead the mists parted momentarily and the Skyranger thundered overhead like a chariot of the gods. It landed on the top of the hill some distance from where Chilong and Dacheng were pinned down, and immediately several X-Com soldiers disembarked and scrambled into firing positions. Two fire teams led by Xanziee and Tengu respectively headed straight down the slope, while sniper Tenshi set up on the road which ran along the ridge on the crest of the hill.

"I can't fucking see anything in this fog," grumbled Kappa as he moved down hill with Tengu's team.

Tenshi the sniper concurred. "I'm not going to be much use here, sergeant. Visibility is very limited."

"Copy," acknowledged Tengu. "Be prepared for close contact."

The sound of handgun fire rang up the hillside. Dacheng and Chilong were still making a stand somewhere below the Japanese and Chinese fire teams. Flashes of ghostly green plasma fire illuminated the mist from below.

"We're coming down the hill, Dacheng," said Xanziee.

"Copy. Beware of flankers coming up the sides." Dacheng's voice was calm but strained.

The fire teams split up and moved downhill, with Tengu's group moving down the north side, and Xanziee down the south. A man emerged from the mist and was involuntarily shot by one of Tengu's fire team. Shocked and dismayed Oni bounded forward to assist the stricken man, until she came close enough to realize that this was no person. As the thin man struggled to rise, green ichor was pouring out of a hideous stomach wound, and an emerald haze was rising from the orifice into the cold winter air. The most unnatural thing about the creature however, was how its joints articulated. It looked like a tall, well-dressed human, but its elbow moved and bent back impossibly as it scrabbled and reached for its plasma weapon.

"Don't move!" Oni said, her training reasserting itself. The thing ignored her and kept crawling for its weapon. A double tap into the creature's skull turned it into a hissing, smoking green-tinged corpse.

A burst of chatter on their radios told them that Xanziee's team had also made contact. All their weapons were fitted with suppressors, but there was no mistaking the thwacking sounds carrying over the night air as the Chinese fire team engaged more of the thin men.

"Xanziee, what's your status?"

"Contact resolved," came the reply. "We have one injured. Be advised, hostiles seem to explode when shot, and release some kind of poisonous gas. Keep your distance."

Tengu's team looked at the fallen thin man in unison. Oni moved away from the corpse, and then Kappa casually lifted his rifle and fired two more rounds into the creature. The bullets hit the chest cavity, and the creature blew apart in a puff of green gas, much to the wide-eyed astonishment of the X-Com soldiers.

"Well, that's new," said Kappa.

"Copy that, Xanziee," said Tengu. "Let's keep going."

With a final glance at the smoking ruin of the thin man the Japanese pushed further down the hill. They had two more contacts, but this time the fire team put them down without any hesitation. The nature of their adversaries revealed itself through their amazing movement and acrobaticism. The thin men vaulted tombstones and mausoleums like they were insignificant obstacles, and their mobility through three dimensions meant that the Japanese were constantly scanning above their positions as well as to their front and rear. Tengu also warned the remaining soldiers at the Skyranger to stay frosty - it was not inconceivable to think that a thin man or a group of them could bypass the X-Com fire teams moving down the hill and threaten the waiting Skyranger at the summit.

"This is Xanziee," Tengu's radio crackled into life. "We've made contact with Dacheng. He's alright. X-rays seem to be falling back, but stay alert."

The Japanese team moved down the hill, and were soon reunited with the Chinese. Xanziee's squad looked more or less intact, but the big Chinese gunner Dajie seemed to be nursing some sort of injury. Accompanying them were Dacheng and a large Chinese man with a scar running down the side of his face. Tengu's squad looked curiously at him, wondering what kind of man had prompted such a drastic response from the visitors. He returned their stares with equanimity.



"Everyone," Dacheng said. "This is Colonel Shaojie Zhang, former special forces, former Chinese intelligence, and former attache to Admiral Wu of the People's Liberation Army of China. The Taiwanese call him Chilong."

The Chinese soldiers laughed at this, while the Japanese soldiers exchanged puzzled glances. The Chinese soldier appeared unperturbed, even smiling at the joke.

"It means hornless dragon," Kappa said to his squad mates. "Someone with a large mouth, but a small penis." Oni put her hand to her mouth and tittered.

Dacheng continued. "Everyone, meet Chilong. Chilong, meet X-Com."