The humid heat of the Land of the Trembling Earth was like a weight to be carried. Wei Tsu Tin had never experienced weather as oppressive as the conditions in the Okefenokee Swamp. Hong Kong had been hot and humid during the summer but Wei had quickly shuffled from air-conditioned staff car to air-conditioned buildings when he was in Hong Kong. The heat and humidity in the swamp sapped the strength of Wei and his men as they struggled through the muck and dense foliage covering the landscape. Wei’s breath came in ragged gasps even though he carried nothing more than the clothing on his back and his sidearm. Leeches clung to his skin and myriad biting insects buzzed annoyingly around his head. Only a mile and a half into the 430,000 acre swamp, Wei’s expedition had quickly turned from a vengeful mission into a torturous journey.
Wei was beginning to question the wisdom of continuing his current operation. The swamp was deep and dark and filled with predators and pests … let alone the Americans who had holed up in the depths of the mossy waters to avoid assimilation at one of the FEMA/U.N. camps.
“What sort of idiot would choose this god-forsaken place over the comfort of an assimilation camp?” Wei wondered out loud.
In his heart, Wei knew the answer to his question. The men and women inhabiting a place such as this would be tough and resolute. They would be hunkered down and hidden out in a way that would make finding them exceptionally difficult and killing them … unlikely at best. The smell of another stinging defeat drifted into Wei’s nostrils accompanying the already pungent odors of the swamp.
“Sir?” Wei’s second-in-command looked at him questioningly.
“Nothing,” Wei replied, swatting at one of the many flying annoyances attacking his face. “Keep the troops moving.”
Wei’s second-in-command turned and shouted at the platoon leaders who, in turn, shouted at their troops.
No more than 25 yards away, a group of four men listened carefully as the Chinese commanders shouted at their troops. All four were virtually invisible, blending with the undergrowth of the swamp floor. One of the four men had been a Chinese linguist prior to the crash. He spoke both Mandarin and Cantonese fluently. The man’s whispered translation of the shouted commands was all the other three needed to help them decide to immediately return to their cabin deeper in the swamp.
The news the four carried with them, based upon what they had heard and seen, pushed them as if an angry alligator was swimming on their tails. The U.N. troops were coming for them and their counterparts. To date, the blue-helmeted PLA troops had steered clear of the swamp, only accosting members of the group when they ventured out of the swamp for one reason or another.
Now, however, these “jack-booted thugs” – as they were often called – were pushing into the swamp. They were bringing the fight to the folks who had made the swamp their home after the crash – people who were merely trying the best they knew how to keep themselves and their families alive.
In the opinion of the four men hustling back to their cabin … the U.N. troops had just made a huge mistake.
“They just couldn’t leave us alone,” groaned the linguist. “Now we’re going to have to kill every last one of ‘em.”
The three other men grumbled in agreement as they moved like apparitions through the murky water and hanging vines.
Two of the men had grown up near the swamp. In their youth they had spent countless hours in aging canoes and on foot navigating the vast bastion of cottonmouth, rattlesnake and alligator. The blood coursing through their veins might as well have been as green as the emerald slurry that flowed slowly and quietly through the Okefenokee. Their lungs seemed perfectly formed for breathing the sultry air. Their skin appeared to naturally repel mosquitoes and leeches. The two were swamp rats in every positive sense of the word.
The two remaining men, keeping up as best they could, had both grown up in the southwestern United States – one in Utah, the other in Nevada. The four had come together as Rangers stationed just a few hours away at Ft. Benning. They had all been a part of a Ranger platoon on a mission in Central America when the dominoes began to fall.
Toward the end of their mission, the Rangers lost radio contact with their command center. The air support scheduled to meet them for extraction never showed up. Out of touch with the daily news, the small force of elite fighters was unaware that the U.S. military had ceased to exist as they knew it.
As Rangers will do, they took initiative, commandeered an aging C-130 cargo plane, previously in the fleet of a Honduran drug kingpin, and made their way back to the United States. When they attempted to land at Lawson Army Airfield, their radio calls went unanswered. It was mid-day. They could see that the airstrip was abandoned so they put the creaking plane down on the runway and rumbled to a stop near the control tower.
The airstrip, as well as the rest of Ft. Benning, was a ghost town. Papers floated on the gentle afternoon breeze. A bobcat hissed at the soldiers from the doorway of the fire station and then ran for the nearby woods to the east.
With no other orders and no response to their repeated attempts to raise radio contact with their command structure, the swamp rats invited the members of their platoon to return with them to the Okefenokee. A few individuals opted out, determined to try to reach their families instead. Those with family flung into the far corners of the U.S. decided it made more sense to stick together, try to figure out what had happened and ride it out with locals than to try to trek across the country on foot.
In a stroke of unbelievable luck, the Rangers discovered that the airfield’s fire engines were still in their stalls, filled with diesel and ready to go. They gathered as many supplies as they could find but Benning had been pretty well stripped. With the firetrucks packed, they said their goodbyes to their fellow fighting men and turned for the swamp.
Now, the skill and resolve of these select fighting men and those with whom they lived would be tested. The U.N. troops had them far outnumbered but, as always, the Rangers would lead the way.