Xu Guan Away
As he landed on the soft ground beneath his hospital room window, Xu Guan realized that his airborne training had just saved his life. Back in 2011, Xu Guan had volunteered for PLA airborne school and completed the training. At the time, it was nothing more than a way to escape the doldrums of his current assignment. The training, as it turned out, proved to be much more valuable when jumping from a hospital window than it had jumping from a plane. Xu Guan had never made a single combat jump.
This leap reminded Xu Guan of his first training tower jump. He and his classmates had jumped from a ten meter platform into a sandpit below. They had been drilled over and over again to keep their feet and knees together – to transfer the impact of the jump up the sides of their lower legs and knees and then up through the sides of their torsos.
That week of training had been painful – some of the worst pain Xu Guan had known at the time – but it had proven quite useful. As Xu Guan landed, his knees flexed absorbing much of the shock of the 25 foot fall. Reflexively, Xu Guan dropped onto his buttocks and then onto his back absorbing the remainder of the impact.
Xu Guan rolled onto his side, scrambled to his feet and collected his uniform before sprinting for a dense stand of shrubs and trees about 40 meters away.
Gunfire erupted from above and behind him as Xu Guan wove back and forth first left, then right. The bullets struck nearby but Xu Guan’s evasive moves made him difficult to track. Xu Guan focused on a gap in the shrubbery trying to make his side-to-side movements random while ensuring that he would ultimately end up at the gap.
Xu Guan felt the disturbance in the air as one of the near-misses sizzled past his head at nearly 3000 feet per second. The slap of the overpressure spurred Xu Guan forward with a burst of speed.
Just a few more feet! Xu Guan dodged purposefully to the right to disguise his intention to slip through the gap in the bushes. His foot caught a tree root and he nearly tumbled face-first into the soft, green earth. Waving his arms and speeding his pace to regain his balance, Xu Guan struggled to juke back to his left to slip through the opening. The opening yawned before him but Xu Guan was on a collision course with the tangle of branches just to the right of the break.
The branches clawed at Xu Guan’s unprotected skin and then propelled him sideways through the tiny opening. Bullets continued to rain down from the hospital’s third floor as Xu Guan slipped behind a giant Cottonwood tree to catch his breath.
Only a moment! Xu Guan’s chest heaved as his head pounded. His hospital stay had restored some of his health but the long-term effects of his death march from the West Coast were telling.
“Must move!” Xu Guan told himself. “Must go … now!”
Xu Guan pushed off of the tree and broke into a lope dodging back and forth, ducking and throwing up his arms to avoid branches and roots in the heavy woods behind the hospital. He had no idea where he was or where he was going. Xu Guan only knew that he needed to put distance and concealment between himself and his attackers.
The gunfire had gone silent replaced by shouts. Xu Guan tried to listen as he ran … to determine the distance and direction of the shouts, but it was nearly impossible in the deep tree cover. His legs were growing rubbery. His lungs were on fire. He felt as if he needed to vomit again, but he knew there was nothing left in his stomach so he kept moving forward.
The woods began to open up onto what had once been lush suburban lawns. Xu Guan paused briefly, eyeing the houses suspiciously. The once verdant lawns were now brown and choked with weeds. Wooden privacy fences were in disrepair. Several of the houses had large signs attached to them. Xu Guan couldn’t read the English but he recognized the symbol of skull and crossbones on many of the signs. Any one of the houses could be occupied by angry Americans, Xu Guan realized … angry Americans looking to protect themselves and their supplies. Xu Guan knew all too well that most of the Americans were armed and perfectly willing to shoot anyone they felt threatened them.
To the left, just beyond the edge of the woods, Xu Guan spotted what appeared to be a maintenance building. Not much bigger than the shack in which Xu Guan had grown up, the building was, nonetheless, of solid construction. The roof was covered in heavy, green corrugated metal. The walls were constructed of concrete block painted a pleasant tan color.
Xu Guan huddled down into a small ravine and took his first look at the uniform that he had tucked under his arm before he jumped from the hospital window. It was his U.N. Assimilator uniform. The digital pattern was intended to provide camouflage in both urban and rural environments. In reality, it matched neither. The unit crest, rank and name patches were all attached with a hook and loop fabric that was based on a pattern stolen from VELCRO and manufactured not far from Xu Guan’s home town in China. The United Nations name tape over the left breast pocket had been sewn on.
As Xu Guan fiddled with a loose thread dangling from the United Nations tape, he made a decision. He needed cover and concealment. Many of the houses might still be occupied. The maintenance shed was probably looted months ago, but it was less likely to be occupied than the nearby homes. Xu Guan dropped tossed uniform on the ground and removed his hospital gown. With his head on a swivel, Xu Guan slipped into the camouflage pants. As he reached for the uniform’s top, the loose thread that he had been twirling around his finger moments before caught on a branch half-buried in the ground. Xu Guan tugged at the jacket. The United Nations patch gave way as the stick ripped loose several of the threads. Xu Guan slipped into the jacket, buttoned it up and then looked down to note the dangling name tape.